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!!


  1. Hi, Thanks for this great run down on traditional gluten free recipes & methods. I love hunting these out & trying to learn from them & use them.
    There is an almost fully teff injera recipe here:
    The only other flour is in the starter, but teff starter is very easy to make.