Tuesday 20 December 2016

Single-flour ginger cookies from an heirloom GF recipe

I have previously mentioned the wealth of historically-GF recipes that stemmed from wheat rationing during the first World War. Though these recipes were widespread just a century ago, few of them survived the 20th century's changes to our food system and eating habits. And, like early versions of many recipes, quite a few of these formulas were not quite perfect - the rationing only lasted a couple of years, and changes in wheat production and distribution led to our GF flours falling sharply in popularity shortly after the war. (While there are vast numbers of traditionally-GF recipes that were popular for decades or centuries preceding this time, the GF formulas in vogue during rationing were primarily all-new, all-modern approaches designed to use only techniques and ratios similar to those used with wheat, so these new formulas just didn't have time to get the kinks worked out.) But! With these recipes now being in the public domain, it's easy to find potential gems worthy of attention and fine-tuning!  

The original, unspiced version with maple.
One such gem: Buckwheat Cookies. Three versions of a buckwheat cookie recipe appeared in the periodical American Cookery in 1917-1918; Maple Buckwheat Cookies, using maple syrup in place of (also rationed) sugar was given in October 1918, and Buckwheat Cookies made with plain sugar appeared two months later in December. The earliest prototypical version, using no leavening or salt, was printed in April 1917, as part of an article containing some insights on working with buckwheat flour. All three versions instruct to simply roll out and cut the dough. For this to work with the maple version, the syrup needs to be boiled until quite thick. I decided this seemed too fussy - too much guesswork about just how much boiling - so for my first trial, I made a hybrid version using mostly sugar with a little maple, following the instructions for mixing and beating the eggs. Still, rolling and cutting was not really an option with this thick sticky batter, even after chilling.

The magazine's photo of the maple recipe proves it must be possible in theory. There are, however, a number of variables at play - most notably, the fact that eggs have gotten larger in the intervening decades, and the inevitable impreciseness of volume measurements for flour. Several test batches later, I still hadn't gotten it to be worth the trouble of rolling and cutting. (You'll see some successfully cut cookies in my pictures, but it was just too fussy and messy compared to simply pressing flat balls of dough.) But in the meantime, each successive batch became tastier, so I decided to give up on the rolling part and just make round cookies. 
I will share my interpretation of the original recipes some other time, but for now - because it's Christmas - I'm sharing a delightfully spiced gingerbread spin on this cookie! Now, I have tweaked the recipe quite a bit by this point - for this version, instead of my original combination of sugar and syrup, I've used sugar and buckwheat honey to complement the buckwheat flour. Also, to combat the overly-sticky/battery nature of earlier trials, I have reduced the quantity of liquid by replacing the egg with a smaller quantity of my favorite egg substitute: bean broth, AKA the stuff from a can of chickpeas (if you've never heard of this, I have a very in-depth post in the works covering all the particulars of this ingredient and why it's way more than merely an egg sub; in the meantime, you can look up "aquafaba" as some people call it). 
I really like using an egg substitute like this because I'm not limited to the size of pre-existing eggs, making recipes both endlessly adjustable and extremely scalable! (Much nicer and simpler than ending up with those little jars containing 1/4 or 1/3 of an egg populating the fridge. ...What, surely I'm not the only one who's done this in the name of science?!) I've also simplified the mixing procedure a bit compared to the original, as with no actual egg, there is no need to develop the egg protein structure by beating. And of course, this conveniently makes the recipe all ready to go to accommodate those with egg sensitive or vegan dietary needs. Yay, cookies for all!

Makes about 20-24 small cookies - scale up or down as desired!

56 g natural palm-coconut shortening or butter, room temperature
140 g buckwheat flour (I tested with Arrowhead Mills, as it is widely available and certified GF)
74 g sugar
30 g buckwheat honey (you may also use molasses, beet syrup, or maple syrup for fully vegan)
40 g bean broth, room temperature (see note above)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
ginger and cinnamon and other spices (i.e. allspice, cardamom, cloves) or mixed spice / pumkin pie spice / etc to taste (use at least 1/2 tsp total)
optional: currants/raisins and/or candied citrus peel

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a bowl. In the bowl of a mixer or other bowl, cream together the shortening or butter and the sugar, then mix in the honey. Beat in some of the bean broth, then part of the dry mix, then the rest of each and mix until uniform. Chill the dough for a couple of hours (optional, but makes it easier to handle and improves texture). Roll the dough in small balls, press flat on a parchment-lined sheet, and if desired, decorate with currants and/or candied peel. Bake at 350ºF/175ºC until lightly browned at the edges (exact time will vary based on the size of your cookies - about 11-15 minutes).

More GF Christmas cookies and cookie tips:
The above recipe can be iced for a more festive cookie. The round one in this picture is an earlier version of this recipe made with beet syrup instead of honey; these are iced with a vegan royal icing made from the same bean broth used in the cookies! 

"Magic cookie bars" or "Seven layer bars" are conventionally made with graham cracker crumbs - you can use GF cookie crumbs, but you can also easily make a from-scratch crust, such as this one, for a simple, economical, and slightly different treat (this is how I always make them now)! A couple hints:
- You do not need to pre-bake the crust when using it for these cookies. 
- Instead of the mixture of oats and oat flour the crust recipe calls for, you may also use all oat flour in the cookie crust.

Assorted cookies from last Christmas, made with various mixes
Spritz cookie recipe from last Christmas

Monday 12 September 2016

Greensboro GFAF Event

This was the first-ever GFAF Event in Greensboro, and I’d say it went pretty great! Greensboro seems to have a fairly active celiac/GF community, including a monthly support group for those in the area. One of my favorite things about these events is getting to connect and talk with such a wide variety of others who are living GF. I have met people who were diagnosed with celiac decades ago, and people who were just diagnosed last week! It's so cool to hear all these different perspectives and experiences from the GF community.

But I know you’re probably here to hear about the food, so let me show you!

As usual, I especially want to spotlight some of the local vendors and smaller companies. 

Kalo Foods, a GF bakery in Stokesdale NC, was sampling several of their products. I especially recommend their pancake mix - the pancake I tasted was light, fluffy, soft, yet springy - in other words, it was exactly what a good pancake should be like. The pumpkin pie was quite good also. 
Kalo Foods
Summerfield Farms (shown in collage at top) is a producer of pastured/grass-fed beef in Summerfield NC (near Greensboro). The farm also has a market selling local meat and dairy, local produce, and other good stuff (including some products from Kalo Foods above).

This NC honey producer, Justin Case Bee Products, brought some very special wild honey - wild, as in collected from a hollow old oak tree that was taken down (and the hive was relocated). After tasting it, I just had to bring home a jar - imagine an already-complex multifloral honey, with the additional flavor of the oak it was stored inside of! 

Justin Case Bee Products
I first found out about Mina’s flour mixes at the Raleigh event last month. I personally have not used these blends in baking (as I tend to just use my own formulas), but from the wide variety of things made with it that I’ve sampled at these events, I would say this is a pretty versatile and well-formulated blend if you’re looking for a multipurpose flour - I don’t know if it works on a cup-for-cup basis in regular recipes, but there are plenty of recipes on the No Gluten Inc site that are made for the blend, including a very yummy cranberry cake. (P.S. That’s Mina herself at the table there!) 

Mrs Pound Cakes (shown in collage at top), based in Charlotte, was there with (yep, you guessed it) pound cake. 

A few more small and/or local vendors: 
Aleia's (top), Norm's Farms (bottom)
Anne's Heavenly Bites
And, because it’s not just about food, but other aspects of health as well…I also want to spotlight some people who are helping build more awareness of food sensitivity:
Left: The event included a screening of The Celiac Project, a documentary that follows individuals’ experiences surrounding diagnosis. 
Right: Tarah Jakubiak, AKA The Allergic Traveler, makes customized cards to list a person’s food sensitivities in various languages - this can help make travel so much more accessible for people with dietary restrictions.

All in all, it was a fun, informative, and tasty experience! And, of course, I got to come home with plenty of treats for later. 

In my Blogger Bag I found some exciting and lovely things: a coconut cake from Mrs. Pound Cakessome cookies and brownie mix from Enjoy Life, Norm’s Farms elderberry jam, oatmeal raisin cookies from No Gluten Inc (made with Mina’s flour mix), seasoned breadcrumb mixes from Aleia’s, some beeswax lip balms from Justin Case Bee Products, and a flourless cashew butter cookie from The GGF Gourmet. Thank you all! (Also thank you Aleia’s and Milton’s for generously giving me some extra treats!) Of the things in my bag, I’ve so far just tried the pound cake, which is moist and tasty (and also dairy-free, made with coconut milk). I’ll try to tell you about the rest when I get a chance to taste them!

As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the 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). If I mention a specific product or company, it's because it's something I think my readers would find helpful and/or is something I personally like.

P.S. I have planned some upcoming posts expanding on concepts I brought up in my talk on recipe substitution because people seemed interested in more info, so check back soon for some tasty science!

Saturday 27 August 2016

Join us at the Greensboro GFAF Event!

This is just a quick announcement about the GFAF Wellness Event in Greensboro, NC on Saturday, September 10th - that’s coming up fast! And I have some free tickets to give away! I will be giving a presentation entitled Recipe Remodeling: The Art and Science of Ingredient Substitution, in which I will explain how to keep the spirit and authenticity of your traditional recipes even when you need to change key ingredients like wheat, milk, and eggs. You will learn how to choose the right real-food ingredients to best fit your recipe, as well as some of the practical advantages these whole-food-based substitutes have over their conventional counterparts. 

I hope to see you there! For a chance to win tickets, leave a comment telling me an ingredient substitution you’d like to see featured on the blog!
Gluten-free (& vegan) bread, demonstrating some fantastically useful alternative ingredients
that are far more than just substitutes!

Wednesday 24 August 2016

La Pasta Madre: Italian GF sourdough starter experiment, Day 14

[I’ve been following instructions for the wild-fermented starter in A Tavola Senza Glutine - if you’re new to this series, see the first and second posts for introduction and more info about GF sourdoughs in general!]

When we last left off, I'd just given the starter its first refresh. As the book instructed, I continued to refresh the dough in the same manner every 1 ½ - 2 days, removing 50 g of the dough and replacing it with an equal total of fresh material (20 g rice flour, 10 g corn flour, and 10 g water). After a total of 5 refreshings in this way, the book said, the starter can be used for bread. 
Day 6...
Day 9...
Well, by the fourth refresh - a little more than a week in - the dough seemed pretty lifeless. A lievito madre is often more concentrated than the sourdough starters many of us are used to, and as such it’s generally used in quantities similar to fresh yeast - a spoonful, as opposed to sourdough bread recipes that use a few ounces of starter per loaf. So I knew that, like the similarly slow-growing yeast formulas found in old cookbooks, it wouldn’t be as active as my normal starters. But I expected more than this! There weren’t many bubbles visible and the increase in height in the jar was negligible. On the final refresh I also added in 5 g more honey, hoping the free sugars might spark some visible activity, but even that didn’t do much. I kept going only because the gradual changes in smell had hinted that something was still happening. 

Day 11...Not much going on here.
So finally, I tried it with one of the recipes in the book: the focaccia, as pictured on the cover, which you can see in the Day 1 post. Well...it didn’t work. The “dough” was a runny mess, it didn’t rise or develop much flavor, and the final product - far from the lovely springy-looking bread in the pictures - was a dense, tough cracker/pancake hybrid. 

I have some ideas about what might have gone wrong, and hopefully I’ll be able to fix it. For now, though, I put the starter in the fridge (note: the book did not instruct this, but at the stated 15 days between feeding of the mature pasta madre, I assume refrigeration is wise!) and will come back to it when I’m feeling patient enough to test a few things - I’ll keep you updated!

Monday 15 August 2016

La Pasta Madre: Italian GF sourdough starter experiment, Day 4

Per the book’s instructions, I left the jar alone for 3 days to do its thing. The mixture showed significant activity (as indicated by bubbles and rising height) within the first 48 hrs - this is typical of new starters. Despite looking like a very active dough, this initial burst of activity is a mix of a whole bunch of funky bacteria that will be largely replaced by other types as the starter matures. By 72 hrs the starter had begun to acquire a vaguely acetone-like smell, typically an indicator that the stuff living in it is getting very “hungry” and stressed (see below for further explanation). Nonetheless, as instructed, I removed just 20% (50 g) of the mixture, and replaced it with an equal amount of fresh material: 20 g rice flour, 10 g corn flour, and 20 g water.

As I stated on Day 1, I had some doubts about whether I was understanding this part of the recipe correctly. Often recipes for a new starter will instruct to discard 50% or more of the fermenting mixture, and replace it with (at least) as much new material. That's about the ratio I'm used to with my previous successful GF starters too.

Why discard so much flour? To answer this question we need to look closely at what’s happening in a new starter. We begin with flour and water; these provide all the nutrients necessary for whatever kinds of bacteria and fungus are present to grow. At first, we have all kinds of things growing - the kinds we want for bread, which will produce good flavors and make the bread rise, but also plenty of things that make funky smells, molds, and perhaps even some things that (if allowed to grow in sufficient quantities) could make us sick. As these various organisms break down the starches, proteins, and other metabolic processes in order to grow and reproduce, the mixture grows more acidic. The increased acidity is crucial to the process of becoming sourdough - the organisms we don’t want can’t grow very well in the acidic environment, allowing the acid-tolerant bread bacteria and yeasts to thrive with less competition. However, this is far from the only chemical change: you also have other metabolic products of the fermentation process and the old cells that have died.
When these products build up in proportion to the fresh resources in the mixture, the bacteria and yeasts may go into “survival mode” - they start producing molecules that aren’t desirable for bread, and also in turn the altered chemical environment of the mixture negatively affects the diversity of the microbial community. So, when you remove some of the starter, you’re not just removing flour, water, and the stuff living in it - you’re removing dead stuff, undesirable chemicals, and other things that would get in the way of a robust sourdough community. Discarding and feeding the starter both controls this buildup and provides fresh resources at a ratio that allows the desirable organisms to take over. 

All that said, I have definitely found plenty of old and traditional examples of fermentation methods that seemingly go against this wisdom yet still produce bread. Some of those are also fairly dry/stiff mixtures like this one is, which may be significant. So, for now, I am continuing to give this recipe (and my translation skills) the benefit of the doubt. Check back in a few days to see the progress!

Raleigh GFAF Event recap!

This past weekend was the annual Raleigh GFAF Wellness Event - as always, it was full of good things to eat, people to meet, and lots of fun. But don't just take my word for it, let me show you:

Right, top to bottom: Grass-fed beef shawerma sandwich on GF pita; 
Salmon appetizer; Salad with GF pita croutons.
Left: GF cinnamon roll
The night before the event, the bloggers and speakers met for dinner at Fresh Levant Bistro, a 100% GF restaurant/bakery in Raleigh. As the name suggests, the menu is very much influenced by mediterranean cuisine and flavors. In addition to being conscious of food sensitivities, many of the ingredients are sustainably sourced - for instance, all of the beef and dairy used is grass-fed. All this is on top of the fact that everything I tried was delicious! I will definitely be back here as there are lots more things I want to try, especially their house-made savory flatbreads. I should mention their pastry case is filled with gorgeous treats too - I was too full for dessert after the dinner, but I just had to swing by the next day to get a cinnamon roll to take home with me!

On to the event itself! I know I've said it before, but it's so nice every once in a while to just taste whatever looks good, without having to make it myself or even ask questions. I know I'm pretty fortunate in this regard - although gluten isn't exactly easy to avoid in everyday situations, it is the only thing I have to be super careful about food-wise, so I get the privilege of experiencing carefree snacking at these events. People with additional allergies/sensitivities will still need to ask questions and be cautious, but I think there's still plenty for pretty much everyone here, whether it's food or connecting with other people and resources.

Some special NC products:
Top - Norm's Farms elderberry jams; Bull City Ciderworks
Middle - Bamboo Ladies bamboo pickles, made of guess what - yep, bamboo grown in the NC mountains, from a family recipe with some interesting history. Now there's something you don't see every day!
Bottom - Peggy Rose's pepper jellies and other condiments - the Habanero Ketchup is my favorite; Garnet Rose Soap Co handcrafted soaps
Local Raleigh & Durham bakeries:
Durham-based Cheenies cheese breads. These come ready to bake and, as you can see, can also be made into cute little sandwiches or even "waffled." 
JP's Pastries in Raleigh has now added bread along with their popular sweet treats. The strawberry frosting on this pretty pink cake was good enough to eat by the spoonful!
Baking mixes:
Ardenne Farms was sampling their baking mixes, including some very fluffy and soft pancakes.
Mina's offered a wide assortment of samples, all made from their regular flour blend and bread mix. The cranberry cake and the oatmeal raisin cookies, both made with the flour blend, were especially tasty.
A few more interesting things:
Top - assorted offerings from The Produce Box, a local-centric grocery delivery service
Middle - some grainless cookies from Our Paleo Family (L) using minimally processed ingredients, and flourless cookie from The Gluten- and Grain-Free Gourmet (R)
Bottom - Veggie Fries
Blogger bag, samples, etc:
Top - Goodies in my Blogger Team bag! Norm's Farms elderberry jam, a grainfree gingerbread cookie from Our Paleo Family, a nifty lunch bag from Cheenies, Glutino toaster pastries, some Wowbutter soy butter spread, Neat egg replacer made from chia and garbanzo beans, and a whole loaf of Udi's sandwich bread. Also, Itchy Pig, a children's story by Nicole Bruno Cox about a little pig with allergies.
Bottom right - The other tasty stuff I brought home! Various samples from many vendors, including Enjoy Life, Bakery on Main, Nature's Path, Kind, and others, plus some flavors of Milton's baked chips and a cake mix from Ardenne Farm. 
Bottom left - The full list of vendors, including food producers, support resources, and more.
A big thank you to all the vendors and sponsors! 

If you couldn't make it to the Raleigh event, don't worry - there is another event in Greensboro NC coming up on September 10th! 

Friday 12 August 2016

La Pasta Madre: Italian GF sourdough starter experiment, Day 1

Sourdough or natural leaven is the natural fermentation of starchy material by a mixture of many types of wild yeasts and bacteria that are adapted to coexistence. This complex fermentation results in a diverse assortment of molecules contributing to the flavor, nutrition, and even the texture of bread differently than the single strain of yeast we buy at the store. The difference is even more pronounced in GF bread. Based on a wide body of research, I believe that the traits selected for store-bought yeast are simply not the best match for the properties of our GF flours; wild yeasts and associated bacteria are much better for turning these flours into bread - real bread, with only a few simple ingredients and no additives needed to compensate. In fact, one of the ways certain sourdough bacteria benefit bread texture and reduce staling is by producing a molecule that functions similarly to a gum! 

I recently acquired an Italian gluten-free book, A Tavola Senza Glutine, which was published by Slow Food Editore - between that fact and the amazing-looking pictures, I knew it had to be good! Unsurprisingly, all of the leavened breads use a natural sourdough starter, which I was eager to make. However, I found the method of making the starter quite surprising indeed. Let me explain:

Conventional sourdough starter methods usually advise refreshing (discarding a portion and feeding fresh flour) frequently, up to 2 or even 3 times a day until the microbial community is established, and this approach is often used in GF sourdough tutorials as well. Some recent artisan-bread experts feel the starter grows more robustly when fed/divided just once a day and at the other 12 hour intervals simply stirred to ensure enough oxygen for aerobic fermentation throughout the mixture. I’ve found this latter strategy to work well in the past with my own sweet-potato-based GF starters also. Certain traditional methods, on the other hand, involve a straight batch fermentation - nothing is discarded or divided, the flour-water mixture is just left alone until it balances itself out! It is more often done in situations where the entire batter is used (as opposed to maintaining a continuous starter for future batches) but I have also seen examples of long-lived starters created in this way. This last method is of course the least reliable and the success or failure of it seems highly dependent on temperature, ingredients, and multiple other conditions, because without intervention it is harder for the desirable bacteria and yeasts to gain a stronghold. (I personally have never gotten it to work right.) But the simplicity of it is intriguing - and tradition hints our ingredients’ natural course of fermentation may be suited to this approach, as seen in recipes for various Asian rice- and bean-based batters and Ethiopian teff flatbread as well as some of the traditional American methods of making potato yeast. 

So I was very interested (albeit a little nervous) to try the starter method in A Tavola Senza Glutine, which seems to strike a nice balance between the high-turnover and the hands-off approach: the starter is left alone for 2-3 days at a time, and at each interval, 20% of the mixture is discarded and replaced with fresh flour and water to maintain a constant quantity. Simple and unfussy, right? But...in addition to the low-maintenance schedule, this is a much lower discard ratio than with a typical sourdough starter recipe. So much lower, in fact, that I began to question whether I was reading the recipe correctly, and if it in fact might be the other way around. The word used, sostituitelo, means replace - does this mean replace as in “swap out” or could it mean replace in the sense of “return / put back with”? Am I supposed to add the fresh flour to the original jar (unusual ratio, but seemed to be what was instructed) or the removed portion? Had it been the reverse - removing a small portion to combine with fresh flour and discarding the rest, then also discarding and replacing half of the mixture at each subsequent feeding - this procedure would be far more typical, though less economical. To clarify, I went looking for some other instances of the same wording in other types of recipes where the intended procedure is more obvious, and it seems pretty clear that the usage of “replace” here does indeed mean the fresh flour is to be added to the main mixture, not combined with the small removed portion. (If you’re wondering why this difference matters so much, don’t worry - I will explain further about the role of discarding during the establishing phase in the Day 4 update.)
Regardless, that wasn’t the only odd thing about this starter recipe. It is also a lower hydration percentage - it starts out at just 60% hydration (not including the small amount of honey to get things going). The subsequent feedings/waterings add liquid at 67% of the flour weight, meaning the starter does become a little less dry with each discard, but even 67% remains a much lower hydration than the starters I’m most familiar with. 

But! In spite of all these doubts, I still want to try it the way it's (I think?) written. I know, I should have asked someone about the confusing wording, and I will feel very silly if I misunderstood the procedure. At the very least, it will be interesting, right? Let’s see what happens!

FIRST, some notes on what you’ll need: 

Rice - I might be overthinking this, but I figure I ought to at least bring it up in case it turns out to be relevant: The rice varieties grown in Italy are mostly medium-short-grain japonica varieties (think risotto), some of which are available made into flour. However, I can’t figure out if the regular rice flour available in Italy is made from one of these or from a more common rice type, as most do not specify. Likewise, most rice flour sold in the US does not specify the rice variety, but I’d guess it’s mostly made from medium-long grain types - a different amylose/amylopectin ratio than shorter grains. Anyway, I’m working under the assumption that standard rice flour here is similar enough to the standard rice flour there to suit the purposes of this experiment. Let’s hope I’m right!

Corn - Italian corn meals/flours can be divided into 3 categories: bramata (coarse, like for polenta), fioretto (fine, like US stone-ground corn flour), and finally fumetto (superfine and consisting only of the softer endosperm, or inner part of the corn kernel). This last grade is what the book calls for, but it isn’t really a thing in the US, so I had to do the best I could with my finest sieve and hope the tiny bits of harder outer layer remaining wouldn’t be too disruptive. 

Water - Please do NOT use tap water - the chlorine compounds and other things in municipal tap water will interfere with the growth of the more fragile members of the sourdough microbial community. Use spring water, or filtered water may be OK if your water filter is very very efficient.

Honey - I suspect the recipe specifies acacia honey for only a few particular reasons. For one, it has a higher fructose content than many other honeys, meaning it won’t crystallize and, being fairly thin, will dissolve evenly in the mixture. The other reason is that it has a very bright unintrusive flavor - it is a light, cleanly sweet spring honey, without the waxy, earthy, or tangy notes found in some other varietals or wildflower blends. 
With these criteria in mind I was all set to use another kind of honey I already had. But combined with the already unusual nature of this formula, I decided at the last minute to err on the side of caution, worried that there is something special about acacia that I wasn’t aware of. (Perhaps it may be particularly conducive to yeast fermentation, considering its popularity among mead producers?) If it doesn’t work right, I didn’t want to be stuck wondering if it was because I used the wrong honey. Besides, I was already having to change one thing with the cornmeal - changing two things just wouldn’t be scientific, after all. 

Jar - OK, it’s not exactly an ingredient, but it’s definitely necessary and I want to bring up one point: The book recommends covering the jar with a cloth, which is indeed the traditional way. However, newer science indicates that contrary to popular (and traditional) belief, the vast majority of the characteristic yeasts and bacteria in a sourdough starter come not from the surrounding air, but are already present on the surface of the grains. So, I just use a loose-fitting lid because it’s less cumbersome. You shouldn’t have an airtight seal, and you may still want to use a cloth if you are having issues with condensation in the jar, but really, any cover that keeps out the fruit flies and such should be fine. 

The starter, day 1: 100 g rice flour, 50 g fine corn flour, 180 g water, 1 tablespoon (~16 g) acacia honey
Combine in jar and set aside in a cool place for 3 days. The book specifies 18º C (about 65º F) - it’s nowhere near that cold in my house at this time of year, so I put it near the AC vent and hope it averages out! (By the way, the quantities above are half of the recipe as written in the book, because this quantity seemed more manageable. If you want to do it exactly as written, double all the measurements above.)

Check back on Day 4 - that’s Monday - to see what happens next!

Saturday 6 August 2016

Pastuccia (Italian polenta pie)

The nature of my research means I end up studying a lot of cookbooks from a purely academic perspective - I read far more recipes than I could ever possibly cook, and the ones I do select to prepare are carefully chosen for their research value. But occasionally a book I initially intended to use merely for investigative purposes ends up going above and beyond its usefulness as an academic reference and earns a spot as a treasured resource in my kitchen as well. (This means I have to get my own copy to keep, so I can quit monopolizing the library’s one!) 

La Cucina (originally published in Italian as La Cucina del Bel Paese), if you’re not familiar with it, is essentially a giant community cookbook comprising the entirety of Italy. It represents the culmination of 50 years of research by the Accademia italiana della cucina, started in 1953 to record and preserve Italy’s regional culinary heritage. A fantastic project! But because the recipes were collected from regular people rather than developed by a test kitchen, some of the instructions are a little sparse - and because it’s been translated and adapted for an English-speaking audience, some words also become less specific. In the recipe I wanted to make, it wasn’t clear to me what type of sausage should be used, or even how thickly or thinly the dough should be spread, so I turned to the internet hoping to find some clarification.

Well, after comparing the variety of recipes available online, it appears that this dish - like pretty much everything that is baked in a casserole, come to think of it! - is the kind of food where you use what you’ve got. So what makes it a pastuccia? The common defining elements seem to be cornmeal, pork (usually a combination of sausage and pancetta), almost always egg yolks in the dough, and usually some raisins too. The proportions, procedure, and other specifics are open to much freedom of interpretation. To answer my initial question, it turns out some recipes use fresh sausage, some use dry, and many use something in between. What’s more, some versions are essentially a giant savory corn-cake, mixed with cold water to form a crackled, crumbly dough; others are rich casseroles which require first cooking a soft polenta. Oh, and the additions may be mixed into the dough or distributed mostly on the bottom and top. Most versions go in the oven, but a few apparently are cooked entirely on the stove. And so on...As I said, it’s pretty flexible.

In the spirit of this variability, writing it out as a recipe seems a bit stuffy - instead, I’m just going to tell you what I did. You can do the same, or you can change things depending on your tastes and what you have available. 

How I made the pastuccia:
(These measurements are for a small pastuccia - most recipes use at least double the amounts I’ve given here, so scale it as you see fit. It was so delicious, I wish I’d made a larger one!)
First, I took about ¼ lb of raw local pork sausage and browned it in a cast-iron skillet, then added 70 grams of minced semi-dry andouille sausage (I didn’t have any pancetta/guanciale, so I improvised - I know it’s very different, but it worked anyway!) and cooked it until the bits were nice and crispy. Meanwhile, I put about a cup (140 g) of cornmeal in a bowl along with a pinch of salt - this was mostly Arrowhead Mills’ organic cornmeal, but I also used a little of Anson Mills’ heirloom Italian polenta integrale for the flavor - and stirred in 120 g (½ cup) very hot water to form a stiff dough. Next, I mixed in 40 g (¼ cup) of golden raisins (I had previously soaked these in water for a few minutes to plump them up), followed by one raw egg yolk, which made the dough quite soft and sticky. 

At this point I removed about half of the sausage mixture from the cast iron pan, pressed the dough into the hot pan with the remaining sausage and cooked it a moment to brown the bottom, then scattered the reserved sausage mixture over the top of the dough. Then I put the whole thing into the oven (preheated to 200º C/395º F) and baked it until it was golden and cooked through - this took about half an hour I think, or maybe a little less. 
Cut it into wedges to serve as part of a main course or as an appetizer. These types of cornmeal cakes are traditionally frequently paired with cooked green vegetables. Leftovers (if you have any!) can be reheated in the oven or enjoyed cold.
P.S. Don't forget, the Raleigh GFAF Event is in one week! See here for the details, and go to this post to win free tickets!

Thursday 28 July 2016

Raleigh GFAF Event Announcement!

It’s that time again! Yes, the Raleigh, NC GFAF event is coming up on August 13th - that’s just 2 weeks away - and I have tickets to give away! You’ll get to meet local food producers, sample all sorts of GF foods, learn about navigating life with food intolerances safely and happily, and meet other people in NC and beyond who live with celiac disease and other dietary restrictions. 

To show you an example of the kinds of things you’ll get to try at the event, I finally got around to making this Double Chocolate Chip Cookie mix, which I got from Caly’s Kitchen at the Charlotte event this spring. (And then I decided to make the cookies into ice cream sandwiches. It was a good decision.) Leave a comment if you want to enter to win free tickets - hope to see you there!

Monday 16 May 2016

The Gluten-Free History Project

May is Celiac Awareness Month, so this seemed like the perfect time to officially introduce a project I'm organizing: The Gluten-Free History Project

I am aiming to document the food traditions of individuals and families with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. The ultimate purpose of this project is to establish a cultural history and unite people for whom gluten-free is a necessary way of life. 

You may already know about my ongoing obsession with traditionally-GF recipes - I've been cataloging the many uses of our flours from all around the world. For a while now, I have also been researching the history of cooking and baking with food sensitivities - I even have a (small but growing) collection of vintage gluten-free and food allergy cookbooks! 
Part of Gluten-Free History...three of the earliest GF books I've found!
But cookbooks and journal articles only tell a part of the story...so that's where YOU come in! I am looking for people to contribute experiences and information, and/or are willing to answer some informal interview questions, regarding things like:

  • Adaptation of established family/cultural food traditions and creation of new ones
  • The evolution over the past several decades of GF cookbooks/recipe resources and how people use them
  • The availability of GF supplies/products across time, particularly flours & other scratch ingredients
  • Community and culture surrounding GF food online and in person, including the role of blogs, forums, restaurants/bakeries, and support groups

I have a list of informal interview-type questions I will be posting soon, and you are also welcome to contribute information apart from these questions. I’d love to hear from anyone who would like to share some of their experiences with living gluten-free! 

The project is ongoing - I am just announcing it this month because it coincides so well with the topic of Celiac Awareness. All new information and updates related to the project will also be collected on this page.

If you or someone you know would like to contribute to the project, or if you have any questions about it, please contact me!

Monday 11 April 2016

Of crusts and crumbs

I first developed this crust when I wanted to try this pie filling, which originally calls for a saltine-cracker crumb crust. Mine doesn’t taste like saltines, of course, but it works great anyway - it’s exactly the right amount of crumbliness and has the right salty-sweet flavor to complement the tart, rich lemon filling. I took the above pie to a gathering of non-GF people and it disappeared pretty fast! Proof that despite being different than the original, this crust does exactly what it’s supposed to. I’ve since used the same crust successfully in layer bar cookies that normally use a graham cracker crust, and most recently in this lighter lemon-lime pie I’m sharing with you now.

But, you may be wondering, why not just use GF crumbs? Well:

First, let’s take a look at why crumb crusts are used in the context of wheat based baking. For one thing, crumbs provide an alternative to both the tougher flaky pie crust or the denser, more solid shortcrust pastry made of wheat flour. The latter types require some liquid to mobilize and develop a little gluten and allow some starch to gelatinize during baking (among other reasons), whereas crumb crusts are made with cookies or crackers that have already taken care of that step, and so can be made with just fat and sugar.

The second thing to consider, though, is far more utilitarian: graham crackers/cookies/etc are convenient - they’re cheap and something most people would already have on hand. When adapting to gluten free, then, this convenience ingredient starts to look less and less convenient! It’s both expensive and time consuming to hunt down GF graham crackers - or worse, make them from scratch - just to turn around and pulverize them into crumbs.

So, when neither of the two main reasons crumbs are used in this recipe apply to GF ingredients...it suddenly makes sense to look for another approach! Because we have such a diverse array of GF ingredients available, it’s possible to make a crust with similar texture and flavor from scratch, in one step, no crumbs needed. I find this approach more elegant and far simpler, on top of being delicious. This particular recipe is just one way to do this, but I like it a lot.

This is a nice uncomplicated formula - just rolled oats (half ground into flour), coconut flour, brown sugar, salt, and melted butter (or equivalent). A crumb crust doesn’t need to hold together on its own beyond the most basic level: there’s no dough to roll out, and after baking it’s attached to a stiff, sliceable filling/topping such as cheesecake or key lime pie - the filling supports itself. As a result, this recipe doesn’t need any added binder - the slight binding ability of the oat flour is enough. Coconut flour is unusual amongst flours, as it’s made from the fibrous pulp that is left after fresh coconut has been pressed for oil or grated for milk. As a result, it’s much better at absorbing both moisture and oil than nut meal, almost like a starchy flour in that regard, yet its texture and properties are unlike any other flour. A crust made with starchy flour would be more of a shortbread texture, while coconut flour instead contributes a pleasant crumbliness and unique mouthfeel along with a nice toasty taste (surprisingly enough, the flavor is not particularly coconut-y).
Press and bake the crust...

Lemon-Lime Pie

120 g (heaping cup) rolled oats, divided (see note below)
45 g coconut flour
36 g (3 T) brown sugar
½ tsp salt (or less, to taste)
65 g butter, melted (see note below)

Put half of the oats into a food processor or blender and grind into flour. Combine remaining oat flakes, oat flour, coconut flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Stir in melted butter - mixture will still seem dry and floury, but will cling together a bit. Press the mixture evenly into a 9” round glass pie plate, making sure to come up the sides to contain the filling. Put the plate in the fridge to chill about 15 minutes, then bake 15 minutes at 350º F and let cool.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

250 g coconut milk (the kind in a can, not the thin drink)
150 g sugar
2 eggs, separated
60 g (¼ c) lemon juice
60 g (¼ c) lime juice
15 g arrowroot starch

...and it will hold together nicely once the filling has set.
Put the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Put egg yolks in a small dish. Combine coconut milk, sugar, and starch in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently with a silicone spatula, until smooth - it will start to feel slick/slippery when you run the spatula along the bottom of the pan. Carefully whisk some of the warm liquid into the egg yolks, then add that mixture back to the pan (this prevents the yolks from curdling) and continue stirring over low heat until it thickens to the consistency of a thin custard. Remove from heat. Gradually stir in the lemon and lime juice, then turn the mixer on at low speed and with mixer running, slowly pour the whole mixture into the egg whites and mix until smooth.

Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust (it’s OK if it’s not totally cold) and bake the pie until filling is no longer liquidy, about 25-30 minutes.

Chill pie in fridge several hours before cutting. Serve with coconut cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Recipe notes:
  1. I personally like the textural contrast of the oat flakes, but if you don’t want such obvious bits in your crust, you could replace the rolled oat flakes with instant oats, or possibly even just grind them all into oat flour. I haven’t tried an oat-free variation yet - if you do, please let me know how it turns out!
  2. I imagine coconut oil would probably work just fine instead of butter. That said, keep in mind the fact that butter contains a little water (around 14%), while coconut oil is pure fat. I’m not sure whether that little bit makes a difference in this particular recipe, but to be on the safe side, if using coconut oil you might want to sprinkle in about a teaspoon of water. Any dairy-free butter equivalent should work as written.