Wednesday 16 March 2016

Irish Oat Soda Bread - A traditionally gluten-free recipe

When I first delved into GF baking over 8 years ago, the ingredient list required for most bread recipes was rather formidable for someone baking in a tiny dorm kitchen shared with several other people. A few months in, I was thrilled to discover an authentic traditional Irish 100%-oat soda bread that, being traditional, didn’t require any special starches or binders. It’s remained one of my standbys ever since. (I've mentioned it briefly once before, but I honestly don’t know why I’ve never shared the recipe here in all this time! Silly me…)

Sorry, oat-intolerant folks, but there’s not exactly a substitute for this one: the original recipe consists of oat flakes, steel-cut oats, and oat bran, with no other grains or flours. There’s really nothing quite like it - the texture is distinctly nubbly and it’s somehow simultaneously dense yet springy, with a delightfully chewy crust. I’ve tweaked it a little over the years, replacing some of the oat flakes with oat flour to bind it a little better, and letting the dough rest overnight in the fridge before baking to hydrate the oats more fully and develop flavor (original recipe bakes 30 minutes after mixing). More recently I’ve enjoyed using a little sourdough starter in place of part of the buttermilk. Here I’ve added a pinch of yeast instead to contribute some of that same depth of flavor, since I know most people don’t have GF sourdough starter on hand. I also like baking it in a dutch oven - it makes the crust chewier.

The original recipe also makes twice this amount - I made it smaller so the individual wedges would be more scone-sized. If you want to double it to make the full loaf, use an 8” round pan or skillet.

Irish Oaten Bread
{Adapted from a recipe in The Irish Baking Book by Ruth Isabel Ross (1995) - see above for the changes I’ve made.}

Makes 6 scone-sized wedges

100 g steel-cut oats
75 g oat bran
40 g rolled oats
20 g oat flour [or you may use more rolled oats instead]
3 g (½ tsp) salt
1/2 tsp brown sugar
3 g (about ½ tsp) baking powder - I recommend Bob’s Red Mill
3 g (about ½ tsp) baking soda
300 g (about 1 ¼ cup) buttermilk -OR- 240 g kefir/yogurt plus 60 g water
Pinch of dry yeast (optional)

Combine all dry ingredients, including yeast if using. Mix in the wet ingredients until well combined and transfer to a buttered 6” round cake pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Next day, take the pan out of the fridge and preheat the oven to 400º F/200º C, with a dutch oven or other lidded baking dish large enough to hold the cake pan. Using a stiff spatula or knife, score the loaf into 6 wedges.
Put the pan inside the hot dutch oven and cover it - immediately lower the oven temp to 350º F/175º C, and bake covered for 8-10 minutes. Remove lid and continue baking for a total of 35-45 minutes - the center should appear set and no longer moist, and the edges should be nicely browned. Let it cool in the pan a few minutes, then turn it out on a cutting board. Let cool before serving. Serve with good butter and/or jam, marmalade, or honey.

Make sure all oats/oat products are marked GF! Conventional oats are frequently contaminated with small amounts of wheat, barley, or rye due to grain processing procedures. Arrowhead Mills and Bob’s Red Mill both sell GF steel-cut oats; BRM sells GF oat bran; GF rolled oats are available from many brands including BRM and Trader Joe’s. Oat flour can be ground from rolled oats in a food processor or blender.

Monday 14 March 2016

Substitution spotlight: Traditional non-dairy milks in European baking and cooking

A traditional-style homemade seed milk.
Ah, good old-fashioned plant milks. No, that's not an oxymoron! It's often assumed that the idea of a milk substitute is a modern concept; sure, other things may fill the same culinary niche in cultures without a major tradition of dairy production, but it's not like people in previous centuries needed something to use for vegan cupcakes...right? Historically, if you couldn't have milk for whatever reason, you'd just leave it out...right?? Not necessarily! Milk is highly perishable, and it's easy to forget that until relatively recently, it was also a seasonal food. Add this to the many days with dietary restrictions imposed by the Catholic church interspersed throughout the calendar, and the existence of non-dairy milk becomes quite logical. Their use was by no means restricted to times when dairy was unavailable. From this we can see that people found them useful and enjoyable, and even practical. In some cases, they were indeed used as a milk substitute in the modern definition (though not necessarily for the same reasons) and treated as interchangeable with dairy; in other dishes, they were simply part of the recipe.

Almond milk, in particular, has a long and rich history, having originated during the middle ages in the Arabic-speaking world and becoming popular as a dairy substitute in Europe a couple of centuries later. The first English-language mention of almond milk I’m aware of was in 1390, though because it's called for as an ingredient in a larger recipe, I'm guessing it was already well-established by that time. Other nut and seed milks can also be traced back to this era; where almonds were prohibitively expensive or unavailable, milks made from regional ingredients like poppyseeds, hazelnuts, and hempseeds are also well-documented!

Milk was not even the only way people found to use nuts and seeds like dairy - recipes also detail the preparation of almonds in ways which resembled cream, butter, and even a sort of acid-curdled cheese! This is where I should point out: all these preparations bear little resemblance to modern processed, emulsified, stabilized milk substitutes, and the cheese certainly would not melt like some of the new products do (it is more like a crumbly or spreadable fresh cheese). Rest assured, though - from a food science perspective, these traditional nut and seed milks are actually much cooler! Thanks to the unique properties of their proteins, fats, etc., you can do things with them that simply can’t be done with the commercial stuff (the packaged kind is very watered-down, and on top of that, the stabilizers and other additives get in the way). (By the way, this applies to soy milk, too, which is about as old as almond milk and just as traditional, but I have not included it in this discussion as it was not considered as a deliberate dairy substitute until just a few decades ago. The same goes for coconut milk.) The real, homemade varieties of all these plant milks not only make for much better milk substitutes than the store-bought kinds, they also can do some things that dairy milk can’t! Coming up, I will show you some neat ways to use these qualities in baking and cooking.

Speaking of substitutions, I will be giving a presentation at the upcoming Charlotte, NC GFAF Event entitled "Recipe Remodeling: The Art and Science of Ingredient Substitution," in which I will explain how to keep the spirit of your traditional recipes even when you need to change key ingredients! The event is on Saturday, April 2nd - location and directions can be found here. I also have some tickets to give away!! If you’d like to win a ticket to the Charlotte GFAF Event, leave a comment telling me what kind of traditional dairy substitutes you want to see featured in a future recipe!