Thursday 24 December 2015

Cookie exchange! Part 2: The new old-fashioned way

OK, so I know it's a little last-minute, but I have some more cookies to share with you! Several of the traditionally-GF cookie recipes linked in this post make great holiday cookies and have traditionally been used as such, especially various types of amaretti cookies and other similar pastries using nut meals, such as zimmtsterne (cinnamon stars), mandelhoernchen, and kransekake. However, I’d like to focus on some of the traditional rice-flour cookies from other parts of the world. Some of these are already considered Christmas cookies - achappam, for instance, is a rice-flour-based variation on European rosette cookies, traditionally made at Christmastime. Others, though, are for different holidays or occasions, and we can build on some of these traditional rice cookie formulas to make more types of European Christmas cookies that are usually made of wheat flour!

Spritz cookies are formed by extruding the soft dough through a press to make various shapes. This means it doesn’t need to be rolled out or handled very much, which in this case is good. The texture and flavor of the wheat-flour-based recipe, from what I recall, are somewhere between that of a rich buttery shortbread and a sugar cookie. This is remarkably similar to some of the traditional Persian rice-flour shortbread cookies (naan berenji), also featured in this post. With just a few adjustments, I found a naan berenji recipe can indeed be the basis for some pretty tasty spritz cookies! As a traditionally-GF recipe, these cookies of course use no gum, nor any other binding additives (no psyllium, pectin, flax, etc).

This recipe, with some changes to the flavorings, made a stiff dough which I shaped by hand just to test it. I found the cookies quite tasty. However, they have a softly powdery mouthfeel - this is typical of some of the styles of traditional shortbread-like cookies from (what was formerly) Persia (now areas including Iran, Pakistan, etc). I personally like this texture, but it probably wouldn’t seem quite right to someone familiar with traditional spritz cookies.

First test.
Another more involved recipe, with the same changes to the flavorings, made a dough that was too soft - it melted and the shapes were lost during baking. Considering the pictures in this post, I don’t think it is supposed to be this soft. One possibility is that the author of the original recipe was using a measuring cup that actually held a little more than a cup, resulting in my dough not containing quite enough flour. The other possibility is that my syrup was not as thick and viscous as it was supposed to be - I had problems with the sugar recrystallizing, which caused it to have a sludgy consistency instead of thick and syrupy.
Second test.
These second cookies were too crisp - probably again due to the crystallized sugar, but a little more flour wouldn’t have hurt here either.

My third formula is sort of an average of the other two, and this created the best balance of flavor and texture and the dough worked perfectly in my cookie press. Egg yolks contribute a rich shortbread texture and golden color, and a little syrup helps the dough stay smooth and helps keep the cookies tender. Here is this recipe:

Merry Christmas!
Rich rice-flour spritz cookies
160 g Thai/water-milled rice flour (**see note**)
10 g potato starch (optional - you may instead simply use 10 g additional Thai rice flour)
1 tsp baking powder
70 g powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt
125 g butter
1 whole egg
2 additional egg yolks
10 g lemon juice
10 g water
10 g golden syrup (or other fairly thick syrup/honey)
½ tsp each almond extract and vanilla extract

Butter and eggs need to be at room temperature. Cream together the butter, powdered sugar, and salt until fluffy. Combine the whole egg, egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and extracts, then add this mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth. Stir the baking powder into the flour(s), then add this to the previous ingredients until well combined. Chill dough overnight, or at least for a few hours.

Preheat the oven to 350º F. To shape the cookies, gently form the chilled dough into a log and load it into the cookie press. Hold the press flat against a cookie sheet and squeeze out just enough dough so that the cookie will stick to the sheet, then lift the press straight up and the cookie should remain in place. (This is a little hard to explain if you’ve never made spritz cookies before - it’s not as complicated as it sounds! There are probably plenty of youtube videos etc. that can help clarify if this step doesn’t make sense!) Sprinkle cookies with plain or colored sugar or decorative sprinkles, if desired. Bake for 10 minutes.

**Note on rice flour: For this recipe you’ll need wet-milled rice flour, not stone-ground. You can get wet-milled Thai rice flour at an Asian market - I’ve seen several sources saying Erawan brand is trusted to be gluten-free. Please do not try making this with stone-ground flour (Bob’s Red Mill, etc) - it will probably not work right! Stone-ground flour is not only more coarse, it also has a higher proportion of damaged starch; both of these factors will affect the amount of water needed, the stickiness of the dough, and the texture of the final product.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Cookie exchange! Part 1: Mixes and other shortcuts

A couple of weeks ago I was on the local radio (!) talking about GF baking, including some ways of building structure using the properties of GF flours without using gums - recipes that are built from the bottom up rather than viewed as making substitutions. That's the approach I most prefer to take on a number of levels. As a result, I hardly ever use baking mixes or premade flour blends. That said, I think substitute-type methods can come in handy sometimes, and the hectic nature of the holidays can be one of those times. 

Since I've ended up with several mixes in my pantry from various events and projects, I decided to see how I could use some of them to simplify holiday baking! Between traveling, having houseguests, going to events and parties, and everything else going on in these busy few weeks, the prospect of locating and measuring multiple flours and finding good recipes/tinkering with recipes to make them work is daunting. It's a time when even the most seasoned bakers may be wary of experimenting with new recipes, and even more so if you're relatively new to GF baking and unfamiliar with the characteristics of these ingredients!

So, there are a few shortcuts that can help here. One approach is to start with a mix and strategically embellish it to make it more festive - I have a couple of examples of this below. Another option is to find a flour blend that can be directly substituted in your familiar, trusted recipes originally based on wheat flour. I'll focus more on this further on in the post.      

These Chocolate Crinkle Cookies start with a chocolate cookie mix from Ardenne Farm, one of the "goodies" from the GFAF event a few months ago. I was intrigued by the simplicity of this mix - all it calls for to add is butter (or non-dairy equivalent) and 3 T water. I wanted to stay true to this uncomplicated formula while still achieving the chewiness that makes crinkle cookies so good - one very simple way to make cookies more chewy is to use some kind of syrup. 3 tablespoons of water adds up to 45 grams, so I simply substituted in 10 grams of sorghum syrup for the same amount of water. The only other change is to roll the balls of raw dough in powdered sugar until thoroughly coated. They also spread and crinkled more nicely when I tried chilling a sheet of the dough balls for about 20 minutes before baking. 
To make easy Chocolate Crinkle Cookies: Cream 1 stick (113 g) of butter (or equivalent) until fluffy. Beat in 10 g syrup (sorghum syrup, molasses, or other thick syrup). Add in the mix and 35 g of water. Mix just until it forms a dough - it will look like a collection of crumbs at first, but it should come together with continued mixing. If it still doesn’t come together after a minute, sprinkle in more water a few drops at a time. Form into balls and roll each ball in powdered sugar. Leave at least a couple of inches in between them, as they will spread. Chill for about 20 minutes. Bake at 350º F 12-14 minutes. Makes about 20-22 cookies.
Verdict: Nice and chewy inside, with crispy surface and good chocolate flavor. Well-liked by (non-GF) taste testers. Very simple and quick to make. Side note: this mix is also allergy friendly (egg-free and can easily be made dairy-free).

These Peanut Butter Blossoms use another mix I received from the GFAF event, a cookie mix from Our House. There's a variation for peanut butter cookies on the back of the box, which I modified slightly to get the right flavor and dough consistency for this classic (added a little milk and vanilla, and coated in sugar). Wait, shouldn't there should be a bag of Hershey's Kisses in this picture too? Yes, there should. But when I went to take the picture after making the cookies, I discovered the leftovers had been polished off by a certain someone the previous evening, and the evidence had already been disposed of. Just pretend they're there, I guess!
To make Peanut Butter Blossoms: Beat 240 g (about a cup) of creamy peanut butter and 113 g (1 stick) of soft unsalted butter until fluffy. Beat in 2 eggs and a teaspoon of vanilla, followed by the mix. Lastly, add 1-2 tablespoons of milk to form a soft dough - the exact amount you need will depend on the consistency of your peanut butter. Chill the dough for at least a few hours or overnight. Form chilled dough into balls about 1 tablespoon each in size, and roll each ball in granulated sugar. Arrange the balls on a baking sheet, squashing each one slightly, and leave a little space between them - they won’t spread very much. Bake at 350º F for about 16 minutes. Immediately press one chocolate kiss onto each cookie while still warm. The chocolate will soften and will stay soft even as the cookies cool completely, but will then firm up again within several hours (they taste best after this has happened). Makes about 48 cookies.
Verdict: I was worried at first that these were a little gritty, which is a common issue with stone-ground GF flours. But after I saw how quickly they disappeared when I brought a tray to a gathering of (non-GF) people where there was also plenty of other (non-GF) food to snack on, I'm not too concerned about it! They are pretty tasty, and stay soft for several days.

Now, on to the Sugar Cookies, and the subject of "cup-for-cup" or "1-for-1" flour blends...
For a blend to be considered a direct substitute for all-purpose flour in a range of recipes, it should usually have three major attributes:
  1. Neutral flavor
  2. Neutral texture (i.e. not gritty, not noticeably gummy or pasty)
  3. Absorption of water and fat similar to that of wheat flour, and consistent across a wide range of formula types and hydration ratios

This last point is probably where we run into the most problems, and in fact, I believe there is no flour blend that is truly an all-purpose direct substitute in this respect. It would be more accurate to call these blends multi-purpose - - using them in place of the same amount of wheat flour may work in a variety of batters and doughs, but sheerly because of the differences in chemistry and structure, there is no GF blend that will provide all of the properties of wheat. Some of these blends may work well in a variety of recipes for stiff doughs (cookies, etc.) but not perform so nicely when substituted in batter recipes like muffins or pancakes; for others, the opposite may be true. Some may be an approximate substitute - you can eventually get it to work in a wide range of recipes, but you'll almost always need to tweak each recipe in one way or another. And even if a mix works great in batters and doughs alike, yeast breads will always require another approach entirely. 

Because of all these complications, I haven't really focused on 1-to-1 blends in several years - I find it's actually easier and makes more sense to me overall to just completely rebuild a recipe/formula. But again, this kind of holiday baking is a case where it may be important to stay as true to your particular traditional recipe as possible, and so a 1-to-1 blend may be useful.     

I happened to have in my pantry one such blend, which was given to me by someone who had used it for a different project. A sugar cookie recipe seemed like the perfect test, because it brings the flour's flavor and texture to the forefront and also plainly shows whether the dough is easy to work with. I chose a recipe that used a fairly ordinary formula and appeared to give consistently good results for bakers using wheat flour

This Bob's Red Mill flour is labeled as a "1-to-1" blend. But wait - is it 1-for-1 by weight, or by cup? Or both? According to the side of the package of the BRM flour, ¼ cup weighs 37 g. That seemed a good bit heavier than AP flour. Not surprising, considering the density of sweet rice flour, which is the first ingredient in the BRM blend - but still an important question. Sure enough, the internet told me a cup of AP flour weighs about 125 g. In a recipe that calls for 3 cups of flour, substituting by weight would mean using 375 g, compared to a whopping 444 g if I went according to volume. That’s a huge difference in the consistency of the dough! Hmm…

A bit of googling indicated that most people were using it cup-for-cup, not weight. Still, I decided to start with scant measurements to be safe - you can always add more flour, but you can’t take it out! A very scant 3 cups, by my measurement, turned out to be ~400 g. If I were going to make this recipe again, I think that I would be still more conservative (perhaps 380-390 g) - the cookies turned out a little dry, with a slightly powdery/floury mouthfeel. This is not uncommon in blends combining xanthan gum and a high proportion of starches. That said, there is no grittiness nor any off-flavors, and the dough was very easy to work with after chilling overnight. So, while it might not be a true cup-for-cup substitute, I do think this flour blend could be useful in a wide variety of “regular” cookie recipes if you just remember to go easy on the amount of flour used.

Coming up soon: Part 2, in which I will show you how to make some traditional Christmas cookies from scratch, using simple ingredients, with no gum or other additives!

Thursday 3 September 2015

Traditional techniques for baking, and some food for thought

The above video is of the talk I gave at the GFAF event a couple of weeks back about traditional uses of GF flours - check it out! I've added a few more details in the presentation itself, and the recipes & other links I mention in the video are further down in the post. But first, there are a few related thoughts I'd also like to share, some things that have been on my mind following some recent conversations: 

As I mention in the video, I'm kind of puzzled by the way people use the term "naturally gluten-free" as almost an antonym for things like cake, cookies, and especially bread. Just think of all the grains, seeds, and other starchy foods that inarguably meet the definition of "naturally gluten-free." Grinding them up and making them into dough is exactly as natural - or at the very least, it's no less natural than doing the same with gluten grains. 

Using a gluten network is one way of baking, and it's a common one, and a useful one for people who have that option. But it's far from the only way. Based on my combined studies of food science and food history, I really believe that if the cause of celiac disease had been identified earlier in history, we'd have a thriving array of baking traditions just as rich and diverse as those based on wheat. And we still can. See, GF baking culture may be only just emerging as a cohesive collection of knowledge, but now that we know the need for it, we know it isn't going away. This means techniques from traditionally-GF recipes, including those outlined in the presentation, are just a starting point - one component of a foundation for something that will continue to grow.

At the event I had several people ask me where they can go to learn more about this - not just the traditional recipes and techniques, but also how we can build upon them. As far as I know, there isn't currently a resource that puts it all together - that's something I'm working on creating, something I've been working towards for several years now. Part of this project is a book. 

Calling it a cookbook doesn't quite cover it - yes, there will be plenty of recipes, but that's only one piece of it. I'll save elaborating on that statement for another post so I don't end up rambling. But I will say that the book will focus heavily on the theory behind the recipes - the techniques we can use to approach GF baking as a matter of synthesis, rather than mere substitution. I've stayed pretty quiet about the specifics of the more unusual ideas and methods I've been using to put these techniques into practice, for reasons I alluded to here, but after some conversations I've had recently I've begun to question this reasoning altogether. For one thing, considering the evolving nature of a gluten-free food culture, keeping these ideas to myself until I feel like it's totally "finished" doesn't feel right. More to the point, though, it doesn't even make sense - if these baking traditions are indeed a living thing, that means it can't ever be truly finished, per se; techniques will continue to grow and change and be improved upon, with or without my contributions, so given that choice I'd rather contribute as much as I can. 

I'm still conflicted about exactly how much to share with this in mind, and which parts might be better to continue saving for the moment. It will take some thought. In the meantime, then, I'll just say this: The examples given in the presentation and the recipes listed below - and recipes in general, for that matter - are just a few of the places our ingredients have already been. I'm so excited to see where else they will go.

Some examples of techniques outlined in presentation, in order introduced:
Egg based techniques 
Potato sponge cake (dairy-free)
Buckwheat cake, with yeast
Buckwheat & almond sponge cake
Almond orange sponge cake
Amaretti (almond cookies - chewy variety) (dairy-free)
Ricciarelli (almond cookies - soft variety) (dairy-free)
Precooking of flour
Rice poori (fried rice-flour bread), dough made by scalding flour (vegan)
Buckwheat roti (buckwheat & potato flatbread), dough made with mashed potato (vegan)
Sorghum roti, dough cooked prior to shaping (vegan) 
Pão de queijo (cassava cheese buns) with sour cassava starch, scalded flour
Tapioca cheese bread, egg-free variation, scalded flour
Tapioca cheese bread, dough made with mashed potato (scroll down to 2nd recipe on page)
Pandebono (tapioca & corn cheese bread), flour made from precooked cornmeal (masarepa)
Mochi doughnuts, pre-gel with portion of flour
Note about the first 5 of these recipes: Dhokla (a steamed savory cake/bread) has a spiced oil/syrup mixture poured over it after it's cooked, referred to in these recipes as 'tempering' - although this is considered necessary to finish the authentic dish and adds another interesting layer of flavor & texture, the base recipe itself will be the same without this step. Feel free to play with different seasonings, or omit. (I've made a version with Mediterranean-type seasoning - olive oil, garlic, rosemary, & other fresh herbs, and some red pepper flakes - definitely different than the authentic way, but still very good, kind of like a cross between focaccia and socca!)
Chickpea Dhokla, quick (uses yogurt)
Chickpea Dhokla, quick (vegan)
Chickpea Dhokla, fermented, starting with split chickpeas (uses yogurt)
Rice & Chickpea Dhokla, fermented, starting with whole rice & split chickpeas (uses yogurt)
Rice & Lentil Dhokla, fermented, starting with whole rice & split lentils (uses yogurt)
Idli (soft sourdough rice bread), fermented, starting with whole rice  & split lentils (vegan)
Combination steaming/baking
Appam (rice bread/pancake), fermented, starting with whole rice (vegan)
Injera (teff sourdough bread/pancake) (I have not yet found a reliable recipe online which meets all three criteria: 100% teff, natural/wild fermentation, and covered cooking step. If you know of one, please post in the comments!)
Paniyaram (savory rice "pancake balls"), fermented (Note: these use the same sourdough batter as idli - see above) (vegan)
Paniyaram - sweet variety, fermented (vegan)
Bonus recipes - these are traditionally GF recipes that don't use the few techniques I focused on in the presentation, but are also great examples of the variety to be found.
Rice flour shortbread (dairy-free)
Rice flour shortbread - another way, using a sugar syrup in the dough
Achappam (rice flour rosette cookies) (dairy-free)
Almond ring cake - related to macaroons, but does not beat the eggs separately
Soft amaretti (almond cookies) - these do not beat the eggs separately (dairy-free)
Cornmeal pound cake
Hazelnut & rice flour cookies (egg-free)

General resources - for more info related to topics discussed in the video.
Food Science
Book: On Food and Cooking, Harold Mc Gee - a general reference for the science behind everyday ingredients and cooking methods
Book: BakeWise, Shirley Corriher - demonstrating the science of baking ingredients and techniques (no GF recipes, but still useful for understanding recipe formulas). There is also a predecessor to this book by the same author, CookWise, which I have not yet read.
Website: The Food Lab (part of Serious Eats) - a recipe-by-recipe scientific approach to formulas and cooking techniques
Historical recipes
Lots of old cookbooks that are now in the public domain have been digitized and are freely available online. Some great resources are:
Google Books - many cookbooks published ~100+ years ago available as free ebooks
Project Gutenberg
Internet Archive
Feeding America - A collection of notable American cookbooks at Michigan State University
Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts at University of Iowa - A collection of private handwritten recipe books from America and Britain, spanning almost 300 years. Some of them have been digitized page-by-page, others are still in the process.
The Carolina Housewife, first published in 1847, is one book that provides a look at the variety of rice breads in use in the South Carolina area in the first half of the 1800s. (Unfortunately many of the recipes themselves are a little hard to use as written, due to lack of information like consistent measurements, mixing procedure, rising time, baking time, baking temperature, and other "details.") I have been working on adapting some of the more interesting examples of these to modern recipe standards, and I think some of them are getting close to being share-worthy!
Wheatless recipes from WWI - Some early examples of baking recipes designed intentionally to be wheat-free come from the period of wheat rationing due to the war. A lot of the recipes do use barley or rye because those were not generally restricted, but there are also a lot of examples that end up being entirely gluten-free. I'd planned to include some of these with this post, but ended up having so much to say about these recipes and this part of history that I am saving this topic for an upcoming post of its own!
Other resources
Carolina Gold Rice Foundation - for information on history of this heirloom rice
Anson Mills - source for high-quality heirloom grains & flours, including Carolina Gold rice, a wide variety of cornmeal, grits, & polenta, etc. (make sure product page states "this product is gluten-free" - I have been assured that these are kept GF at all stages of production)

Coming up on the blog: 
- Retro GF recipes: A look at wheatless wartime recipes, wheat-free baking for 'allergics,' and cookbooks from the early days of celiac disease!
- Different milling methods & how they influence the behavior of flours
- Strange & wonderful techniques found in antique cookbooks
- New recipes for BREAD!!

Monday 17 August 2015

Post-Event Post!

The Raleigh GFAF Event was this past weekend. This was my first time being a part of the Blogger Team - but I can definitely say it won't be my last! It's all been so much fun.

As promised, I will be posting my presentation from the event very soon, along with additional links, information, and other resources. But first I want to focus on some things from the rest of the event:

Almost ready to start!
First off, yes, there was a lot of good food involved! But it wasn't just about the food - I also got to meet and talk with a lot of people, and heard some interesting presentations from other speakers. Overall, the whole thing has left me really inspired & energized! 

As for the food: First was the blogger dinner at Primal, a completely GF restaurant here in Durham. Everything I've had there has been delicious, including this dinner, and I think all of us were stuffed by the end of the night.

Of course, the next morning at the event meant even more things to eat! Because I bake from scratch so much, I very rarely buy pre-made baked things or baking mixes. This means I kind of forget just how much is out there - particularly the local (NC-based) companies that weren't really on my radar until now. I don't generally eat a lot of packaged food, but even I have to admit that after nearly 8 years gluten-free, there's something pretty exciting about entering a huge room full of tables with all sorts of food and realizing I can eat anything in here

Going around the room feels like trick-or-treating for grown-ups. Seriously. To add to the excitement, there was a blogger gift bag of items from some of the vendors & sponsors: 
I wonder what's inside??
Stuffed as I was from munching on samples all day, after the event was all over I still felt really excited to go home and find out what was in the bag and sort through all the little samples I'd grabbed. (See? Just like trick-or-treating.)

Some of the samples from the tables.
In the blogger bag - Thank you to all the vendors & sponsors!

Some highlights from the bag:
Cookie mix from Ardenne Farm, one of the local companies. They had several different samples out at the event too...including some very good blueberry muffins and cinnamon crumb muffins. I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of the muffins! I guess it's because I was too busy eating the samples...seriously, they were really tasty.

A very nice gift box from Caly's Kitchen, another NC bakery, containing banana bread mix, granola, and assorted cookies. 

A (delicious!!) cheesecake brownie from JP's Pastry in Raleigh.

(I might also mention more things in future posts, as I get a chance to try more of the mixes, samples, etc.)

Some other tasty things I found at the event:

Lemon bars and brownies made by Moonflour Bakery

More from JP's Pastry
Baking mixes from Our House
Also forgot to take a picture of the pizza from zpizza - again, got too distracted by eating it. I still wanted to mention it because theirs is one of my favorite restaurant pizza crusts - the crust is crisp and chewy, not at all cakey or eggy the way some commercial GF crusts are.

These were just a few of the things to see, do, and taste! There are still a few more events and expos coming up this year, so if you didn't make it to this one, see if there might be one near you - it's a lot of fun! 

Coming up on the blog: Traditional techniques for baking with GF flours, new recipes, & more - stay tuned!

As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the bag of items provided by vendors and sponsors, but I was not otherwise compensated and I was not obligated to write about or feature any specific product(s) or vendor(s). 

Monday 3 August 2015

Announcements & a Giveaway!

I have some exciting announcements about the upcoming GFAF Event on August 15th in Raleigh, NC! First of all, I have 4 tickets to give away - so if you're in the area and would like a ticket, leave a comment! (Or, if you pre-register for the event online, you will get a free subscription to Delight Gluten-Free magazine for a year.)
Traditional American yeasted rice bread - wonderfully
chewy crust, and the inside is soft and moist.

Also, I will be speaking at the event!! The title of my topic is "No Gums Required!: Heirloom recipes, regional specialties, & forgotten techniques for baking with GF whole-food ingredients." I will be covering some of the special techniques involved in making traditionally-GF recipes work, and explaining how to apply selected techniques to other recipes. 

Some background: As you may know, one of my main areas of research is the chemistry of GF flours. Common minimally-processed binders such as flax, chia, and even psyllium have long been used as food in various ways, but as far as I know, using them specifically to give structure to bread is actually a pretty recent development. This means the enormous variety of traditionally-gluten-free baking - and it really is an enormous variety! - relies on different methods for structure. A number of these techniques and traditions involve eggs, but there are also plenty that don't, with all the structure coming from the flour(s). 
Fluffy, puffy rice-flour bun, hot from the oven.

Some of these traditional recipes have gotten some attention in the GF community and/or the food community in general - just a few well-known examples include pão de queijo, socca/farinata, and of course the ever-popular macaron (of which there are actually many, many varieties and similar treats - some of which bear little resemblance to the trendy colorful sandwich cookies). Others are less known in the US but are popular in other parts of the world, particularly throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East - these include a large number of flatbreads, steamed breads, cakes, and pastries made from pretty much every GF grain, bean, starch, and/or nut you can think of. 

Oat bran bread - very springy and soft,
with lots of flavor.
Even less known are the many styles of breads and cakes from American and European history. These breads gradually disappeared as wheat flour became cheaper and more widely available than other flours. (There were, of course, loads of other factors involved - but the changes in the food system were certainly major contributors.) Most frequently, these use rice, corn, buckwheat, pea, sweet potato, white potato, oat, chestnut, and (in the case of cakes/cookies) various other nuts, depending on the region. These pictures are just a few examples! I will be posting more pictures, along with some of these traditional recipes, soon!

Again, the event will be on August 15th from 10 am - 4 pm. Directions are on the event websiteI am super excited, and I hope to see some of you there!!

Tuesday 30 June 2015

Coconut flour spoonbread

First of all, if the term "spoonbread" has you puzzled, let me introduce you: Spoonbread is a very old traditional American dish which is somewhat similar to corn pudding, but with a bit more substance - essentially a hybrid of cornbread and baked custardBecause of this custardy consistency, it is generally served with a spoon right out of the baking dish, which is presumably where the name comes from. The relative proportions of cornmeal, milk/cream, eggs, & butter can vary quite a bit from recipe to recipe, with some versions being almost like pudding and others with more of a soufflé texture. Some also add other ingredients such as cheese, sweet potato, or peppers. This version keeps it fairly simple, but with a twist - it's made with coconut flour and coconut milk instead of the traditional cornmeal and dairy milk! As with the conventional version, this is not a sweet dish per se; there is some subtle sweetness from the ingredients, but it's definitely savory enough to pair well with classic picnic foods like baked beans. 

That said, if you're wondering what the strawberry shortcake pictured above has to do with all this, that's one example of something you can do with leftover coconut spoonbread! So while it is not inherently sweet, it can be used for sweeter foods as well - I've included some suggestions for this at the bottom of the post. But first, let me back up a bit...

Recently I was invited to participate in a project is putting together for the 4th of July, centered on American-themed recipes featuring coconut flour. This combination of themes intrigued me - especially the coconut flour part, as it's an ingredient I haven't used much and this seemed like a good opportunity to learn more. The learning process has been lots of fun! Coconut has some really interesting and useful properties that make it not quite like any other flour I've used.

Thus, I wanted to make something that would really feature the properties of coconut (as opposed to something that "just happens" to use coconut flour, or something that hides it under a bunch of other ingredients). Here's some of what I've learned through research and experimentation:

Coconut flour is usually made from coconut that has already been pressed for oil and/or milk - as a result, it's very absorbent and surprisingly lightweight, behaving almost more like a whole-grain flour than like a nut flour. In contrast to those other lightweight flours, however, much of its substance comes from fiber, not starch. You may see this mentioned a lot in the context of nutrition - some people select this flour on the basis of the high fiber content / low carbohydrate content / low impact on blood sugar. Personally, I tend to avoid focusing heavily on the potential health benefits of individual foods or nutrients - my approach to nutrition is a bit more...holistic, I guess? However, it's important to point out that these same traits that make coconut flour attractive nutritionally - specifically the type of fiber and the lack of starch - are also responsible for its unique baking qualities. For one thing, it won't taste pasty or gummy like some flours can in high-moisture formulas, and also doesn't stale (harden) the way many flours tend to. I am still in the process of learning the best applications for these properties, but I know these are two reasons I will definitely be using this flour more frequently! 

I do also want to bring up a different kind of health-related aspect: 

There are a lot of reasons someone might need or want to reduce or avoid certain grains, or even all grains, and this means even GF baking is frequently off-limits. Coconut flour seems to me to be more versatile than some other non-grain flours such as almond meal, and provides a slight natural sweetness without adding any other sweeteners. These qualities mean it's an especially useful ingredient for people who avoid grains or other high-starch foods, in addition to being an interesting flour in general. I'm always happy to find ingredients that not only make good food, but also make it available to more people who would otherwise be left out!

OK, so these are all good things. But what about the other theme? I was struggling to find a way to connect coconut to the 4th of July. I mean, when most people think of coconut, "America" isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind. 

...Except for one particular part of it. Back in 1959, when Hawaii became the 50th state, the event spurred a huge increase in already-popular "Hawaiian" and "tiki"-themed things - especially food. And yes, the quotation marks are there for a reason: This trend usually meant simply taking a normal sort of recipe and adding canned pineapple and/or shredded coconut (and then, for bonus points, arranging it in some kitschy way). So, I didn't manage to find much inspiration in those retro recipes.

However, I felt the larger concept - reinterpreting a traditional American food using distinctive ingredients - had potential.

Well, OK, it wasn't actually quite that simple. I went through a few different ideas and a great deal of frustration before that train of thought eventually led me to spoonbread, and learned some important things about ingredients along the way. (Which I will save for a different post because this one's already really long! The frustration with ingredients resulted from one of those earlier ideas, a very different coconut recipe which I still want to share but it needs a little polishing before I can post it. So I will share the lessons I learned along with that recipe. For now, I'll just say please check out the note about coconut milk at the bottom of the page before you start!)

Now, on to the recipe! 

Coconut Spoonbread

100 g coconut flour, divided
3 g (1/2 tsp) sea salt
320 g coconut milk, divided (**see note at bottom of post**)
40 g coconut oil
20 g arrowroot starch 
5 eggs, room temperature

1. Put 40 g of the coconut flour in a small pan and toast over low heat, stirring frequently. This brings out a biscuity, savory quality that really complements the subtle sweetness of the bread. Once it begins to lightly brown, remove from heat and combine with the other 60 g coconut flour. Mix salt into flour, & let flour cool before proceeding. 

2. Put the coconut oil into a mixer bowl and set aside. 

3. The silky texture of traditional spoonbread is due in part to recipes commonly involving partially pregelatinizing (pre-cooking) the starch in the cornmeal, either by cooking it in milk like mush or by stirring boiling liquid into it. Coconut flour, though, has none of this starch - that's
where the arrowroot comes in. The arrowroot is cooked into a sort of pudding which helps stabilize the mixture and keep the bread moist, in addition to contributing to the texture. 

To do this, put the arrowroot into a small bowl and stir in 20 g coconut milk to make a smooth paste, then heat the remaining 300 g coconut milk in a small saucepan, stirring constantly. (You can use the same pan you toasted the flour in - it's OK if there are a few crumbs of flour still in there.) When the milk is very warm, stir a couple spoonfuls of it into the arrowroot mixture, then add that mixture back into the saucepan, stirring constantly over low heat until thickened. Immediately add the milk-arrowroot mixture to the mixer bowl. 

4. Using paddle attachment, slowly increase speed so the oil does not splash out - then beat until the mixture is well combined. (I recommend doing it this way, rather than cooking the oil together with the milk, because I had trouble getting the arrowroot to incorporate smoothly with the latter method.)

Continue beating until the mixture is homogenous and sticking to the sides of the bowl, and it has cooled down enough that you can comfortably put your hand on the bottom of the bowl. Then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. When all eggs have been added, beat on medium speed until it becomes noticeably light and foamy, but not too dry - about 2 minutes. Then add the coconut flour a little at a time, mixing until there are no lumps, but stirring gently so as not to deflate the mixture too much.

5. Gently pour the batter into an oiled casserole dish. Carefully spoon a little thinned coconut milk over the top and, if desired, grate a little nutmeg over it (optional, but traditional). 

Bake on center rack of oven at 375º F/190º C for 10-15 minutes (depending on how deep your baking dish is), then reset oven temperature to 350º F/175º C and continue baking another ~20 minutes, until the center is set but still soft. The bread will be puffy when you first remove it from the oven, as shown at the bottom of the post. 

It will fall a bit as it cools - that's OK.

Serve warm or cold. Leftovers should be refrigerated.  

Bonus "recipe" for shortcake: Cut cold leftover coconut spoonbread into slices. Add strawberries, peach slices, or other fresh summer fruit. Top with a big dollop of coconut cream, whipped cream, or thick yogurt. I've been eating this for breakfast! (To get coconut cream, simply refrigerate a can of full-fat coconut milk overnight - the thickest, creamiest part will rise to the top.)

**Note on coconut milk: Be sure to use a brand of coconut milk that does not have guar gum or other added stabilizers - ideally the only ingredients should be coconut & water! This is important for both the texture and flavor of the recipe. (Guess how I know.) You might have to go to an Asian grocery to find one without gum - that was the only place I could find it.
And this probably goes without saying, but definitely don't use that watery "milk substitute" stuff.

*Notes on substitutions

- Regardless of what kind of flour it's made of, the characteristic texture and rich flavor of spoon bread is very much influenced by eggs. I have not found a satisfactory egg substitute here - I think a different recipe would be needed for an eggless bread, as opposed to using a substitute. (That said, if you do come up with an eggless adaptation of this recipe, please let me know in the comments!)
- Because of the arrowroot in this particular recipe, this bread does contain some starch; however, it's still much lower in starch than cornmeal-based bread. I recognize that for some people, even this minimal amount of starch is a problem. If you want to try making an even lower-carbohydrate version, please let me know how it turns out!

All the opinions here are my own - I was not compensated for this post. I simply thought the project sounded fun!