Tuesday 28 November 2017

2017 Greensboro GFAF Event

The second Greensboro GFAF Wellness Event just happened a couple weeks ago. I was hoping to get this post up before Thanksgiving due to the many tasty things that would be useful for the holiday, but I spent that week feeling awful with a cold - hopefully you'll still find this report helpful for other upcoming gatherings of the season!

There were a few new-to-me local food makers at the event. One of my favorite finds was these preserves and salsas from Yo Momma's Style (shown below). 

Another good local product I got to try for the first time is Simple Kneads bread (top left in large collage below) - it's exciting to see a GF whole-grain, gum-free, "real bread" sourdough available in the store! 

This is just a selection of some of the vendors at the event:
Pictured from top left: Simple Kneads sourdough; A Garnet Rose body butters and soaps; seasonal and infused honeys from Justin Case Bee Products; Italian olive oil and vinegars from Batistini Farms; elderberry and elderflower products from Norm's Farms; focaccia bread made using Mina's mix; Whole Foods pecan pie; grain-free granolas from PaleoLove, including some that is also nut-free.

My favorite part of these events (that's not so easy to photograph) is getting to meet people - I got to have some really interesting conversations about things like the food system, allergy accommodations in public schools, the current state of gluten-free beer, and a few different perspectives on navigating a gluten-free diet in the pre-internet age. (I am always interested to hear about people's unique experiences with living gluten-free!) 

And, at the end of the day I found plenty of neat treats in my Blogger Bag: a delicious cookie dough brownie from JP's Pastry, lovely peppermint shea butter soap from A Garnet Rose, locally-made mineral makeup from Pure and Light, beeswax lip balm from Justin Case Bee Products, grain-free granola from PaleoLove, cookies from Anne's, the latest issue of Simply Gluten-Free Magazine, a couple bags of Swerve (erythritol), a jar of Wowbutter soy butter, and some merch from Tito's Vodka. A big thank you to all sponsors and vendors!

As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the above 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).

Saturday 11 November 2017

Gluten-Free Montreal

I recently returned from a trip to Montreal (on my honeymoon, woohoo! Now you know one of the reasons I’ve been so busy lately!!) and the food I found there really deserves a post. 

I plan on resuming a more normal schedule of recipes with some food-science posts sprinkled in soon, but first I just have to share some stuff about the past few weeks. I’ll cover the trip first because Montreal turned out to be a fantastic city to visit as a celiac and I want to spread the word! Montreal has enough totally-GF bakeries, restaurants, and cafes that I was able to go the whole trip without ever having to ask questions/explain my needs - and there are still plenty of options I didn’t make it to yet, nor make any repeat visits! Here are the highlights of what we ate:

This was my first encounter with a Real Croissant, gluten-free (and also dairy-free, for that matter, as the entire bakery is - though I wouldn’t have guessed from the taste). What I mean by a Real Croissant is this: it’s true viennoiserie, meaning multiple separate flaky tender layers. Oh, and the chocolate croissant was still slightly warm from the oven, making it even more indulgent. 

I don’t know how they made this. Just look at the twists and turns and layers in that pastry case. Prior to walking into the bakery, I did not know it was possible. The flavor was very good as well (this was a pretty consistent feature of almost all the baked goods I ate on the trip: none of the odd off-flavors that GF baking can sometimes have; just bread flavors). 
I was so amazed by these pastries that I got a couple to eat for breakfast the next morning; unfortunately, they aren’t nearly as tasty the next day, and while reheating helps, it’s still not nearly as good as fresh. (Next time I’ll just have to make some repeat visits!)

Le Marquis
We found ourselves at Le Marquis essentially by accident. It was our last day and after finding the creperie (below) was closed, we were just about to trek over to L’Artisan again but Jon quickly looked online first just in case there was possibly anywhere else closer I could get something to eat...turns out there was yet another GF bakery in walking distance! The bakery cases contain an array of beautiful pastries, sweet and savory pies/tarts, and cookies. (It appears that earlier in the day they also sell sandwiches, but all were gone by the time we arrived.) 

And so, here I encountered my second Real Croissant, and was amazed yet again. If anything, this one had more layers and the soft inside was even more tender, much like croissants I remember. However, the flavor of this one had some noticeable egginess and was also sweeter - this isn’t a bad thing, but it does make it different from the flavor of wheat croissants, so overall I think I slightly preferred the flavor of the ones at L’Artisan while I preferred the texture of these. Both are very good!

We stopped in here for coffee and a snack, but after sampling some bread, I left with a bag of mini white rolls: I don’t frequently buy GF bread but this was the first bakery I visited in Montreal, and - not yet knowing how many delightful bakeries would be available in the city - I figured it would be good to have some bread on hand. Well! I did not realize at the time just how impressive this bread would turn out to be!

I just had to take a video to get the point across:

It’s fluffy. It’s soft. It’s bouncy and chewy - chewier than any other (non-homemade) GF bread I’ve had at room temp. And...it stays that way...for a week. Again, I don’t know how they did this

The ingredients list reveals no special secrets - it looks much like many store-bought GF breads I’ve eaten in the past, yet is somehow far better in texture and taste. According to their site, the bakery was founded by a couple of food science grads, so I suspect there may be something special about the mixing and/or baking process...I will perhaps have to think on this possibility and do some experimentation. One quibble/word of warning: this bakery lacked the “normal artisanal bakery” feel of the others - owing in large part to the fact that almost everything was individually wrapped - but I think this is for the reason of being able to separate allergens.

OK, let’s talk prices. As if the excellent quality weren’t enough, most of these bakery foods are also priced very reasonably - much more so than comparable “specialty” items in the USA. At L’Artisan for instance, a generously-sized baguette is $3.50, and they have a lunch special of a sandwich (falafel, tuna, chicken, or roasted vegetables), a coffee, and a dessert/pastry all for $10. Croissants at both L’Artisan and Le Marquis were (if I recall correctly) $2.50 and $2.95, respectively, for the plain ones, a little more for the fancy kind. (US readers, keep in mind this is Canadian dollars - converted to American money, it’s slightly less still!) The bread at Baked2Go was $7something for a bag of 6 long rolls - perhaps a little pricier, but still pretty reasonable, considering the quality and the shelf life.

We were at Jean-Talon intending to just get produce for dinner - I certainly wasn’t expecting a delicious hot lunch to be part of the trip. I had initially not even noticed this place when it came up in my search results because usually a crêperie is unsafe for me due to cross-contamination. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I realized all the crepes were gluten-free! 

The owner explained they only use buckwheat, rice, and chickpea flours for the batter and to thicken sauces. I got one with mushrooms, cheese, ham, and bechamel sauce; Jon’s had ham, cheese, apples, and maple syrup. Both were wonderful. We wanted to come back later in the week to sample some more of the many varieties on the menu, but for some reason they were not open. Hopefully next time!

Bonus photo: Farmer's market loveliness.
The name Zero8 refers to the fact that the restaurant excludes 8 major allergens (gluten grains, milk, eggs, peanuts, nuts, sesame, fish/seafood, soy). Let me assure you, though: despite the lack of all these ingredients, the food is the furthest thing from austere, with an enticing menu featuring plenty of variety. Between the two of us, we tried the duck confit (amazing!), wild game burger, and thick-cut fries with house-smoked duck and gravy (not truly poutine per se due to the whole no-dairy thing, but still tasty). 

In short, Montreal has really got it right when it comes to making a celiac feel normal: No matter the part of town, I was never more than a brief metro ride away from being able to go in somewhere cozy, sit down, and get a pastry and coffee, a sandwich, or some other kind of meal or treat like a civilized person, and the food is all good enough, varied enough, and reasonably-priced enough that your non-GF companions will not mind at all to join you. And really, when it comes to food, what more could I want? 

Saturday 28 October 2017

GFAF Event coming up in Greensboro NC!

Hey North Carolina friends, the 2017 Greensboro GFAF Event is coming up soon: Saturday, November 11th at Guilford Convention Center! I will be speaking about how and why to make your own gluten-free sourdough bread at 1:40 pm! And as always, there will be lots of good food to sample from local bakeries/restaurants as well as larger companies. 

I have 6 tickets to give away, so if you'd like to win a pair of tickets to attend, email me or leave a comment on this post - I just need your name. I will notify winners by November 5th. 

P.S. This is the final GFAF event for 2017, so if you're in the area, be sure to check it out!

Monday 21 August 2017

GFAF Event recap: Raleigh 2017

Of all the GFAF events I’ve been a part of, I’m pretty sure this was the biggest and busiest! I’m going to do something a little different this time and focus mainly on new (...or at least new-to-me...) vendors and products from this event.  
Local/NC bakeries, restaurants, and other companies
My favorite find of the day was Neomonde, which has been around since long before I moved to the area (1977!) yet somehow I’ve never tried their food before. This is not a dedicated GF restaurant, but their mediterranean menu includes plenty of traditionally-GF options. Their hummus was so good that I gladly ate it by the spoonful (they were serving it up as a sort of savory parfait with the quinoa tabouli!), and the mjadarah - a rice and lentil dish with caramelized onions - was deliciously savory as well. I was very excited to learn there will soon be a new location in downtown Durham in addition to the original Raleigh restaurant! 
Neomonde's hummus: tasty AND pretty!
Some other local highlights:
Top rowAda’s Cupcakes, located in Garner, bakes treats that are all vegan/dairy- and egg-free in addition to being GF. I was really impressed by the chocolate strawberry cupcake I sampled (as well as the lemon poppyseed muffin, shown below).
Primal, Durham’s dedicated GF restaurant, had some really good pineapple upside-down cake muffins. (I really must check out their brunch sometime if these muffins are any indication!)
I have mentioned JP’s Pastry plenty of times, but this was the first time I’ve gotten to try their doughnuts - which were quite good, and also happen to be vegan.
Bottom row: A Garnet Rose Soap Co always has a lovely assortment of handmade soaps, lotions, etc.
Justin Case Bee Products, who I met last year in Greensboro, brought some new types of honey.
Patton’s Pride was sampling some catfish bites made with their GF breading mix.
National products
Whole Foods Bakehouse had some truly tasty layer cakes, cheesecake, and even cherry pie to sample. I had never seen some of these products before in my local stores, so I didn’t know about the fancy cakes - they told me any of these items can be ordered through any of their locations. 
Perfectly Free dairy-free coconut ice cream bites are a fun little treat and come in several flavors.
Lundberg, long known in the GF community as a producer of California-grown rice (and more recently quinoa!), had a variety of snacks made from these ingredients. 
Veggie Fries now has cauliflower and bean rings in addition to their fries and tots. I liked these.
I also got to hear a very informative talk from Dr. Nicole DiNezza about the low FODMAP diet - specifically, why it’s often treating a symptom rather than the underlying cause of these food reactions and so may be more useful as a diagnostic rather than a good long-term solution. I think education like this is really important because I meet so many people who are living with a very restricted diet indefinitely, without being told that addressing underlying things such as issues with gut bacteria may eventually allow them to eat a much wider variety of foods.
In my Blogger Bag I found all kinds of good stuff: a vegan lemon poppyseed muffin from Ada’s, a very pretty rose-shaped marbled soap from A Garnet Rose, a bottle of elderberry extract from Norm’s Farms, some bean- and nut-based mixes from Neat (the burger mix has now been reformulated to work without egg - when I get a chance to try it I will let you know how it goes!), beeswax lip balm from Justin Case, free pizza from Zpizza, Wowbutter soy butter, chips and snacks from Lundberg, Loma soy “tuna,” and a hot/cold pack from Verve (...useful after carrying all this around!) I also picked up some other samples from vendors, including a new flavor of Plentils (Thai Chili, yum!) and other snacks from Enjoy Life, Kind bars, Pamela’s, and Lundberg, to name a few. Thank you to all vendors and sponsors!
As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the above 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 17 July 2017

Raleigh GFAF Wellness Event 2017

Hi everyone! I know I've been absent lately - it's because I've both been 
1) Hard at work on some big things, and
2) Hardly at home (and thus, without a kitchen) - I've been on the road for basically three weeks out of the past month!

Things will probably continue to be pretty busy for a little while, but I do have a few new posts lined up for the near future. Meanwhile, I'm stopping in to let you know about the upcoming Raleigh, NC GFAF Event! The main event is Saturday, August 12th, starting at 10 a.m. (see here for full details and directions). I will be speaking at 2:20 p.m. on Gluten-Free Sourdough: Recipes, Science, and Nutrition. I will have samples for you to try and you will learn all about how to make your own! I have 4 free tickets to the event to give away - leave a comment below or send me an email with your info and I will notify the winners shortly. Be sure to also join us for the webcast on July 31st at 7:30 p.m. for an intro to all the speakers and their topics (more info here). 

I hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday 16 May 2017

The difference fermentation makes: GF sourdough from an older bread recipe

Recently when I was preparing a talk on gluten-free sourdough baking, I advised evaluating a new sourdough starter’s activity and flavor by using it in a variety of trusted yeast bread formulas. Wanting to demonstrate my own advice, I tried my starter in several yeast recipes, both other people’s and my own. With one recipe in particular, the results were so good I just had to share!  
The yeasted baguette aux céréales as it appeared on Food52.

To be clear, there are about as many ways to make bread as there are to eat it. Some other sourdough recipes I’ve developed in the past were not adapted from existing recipes and were rather different from any of the ways I make yeast-raised bread. The following is indeed a recipe for a good loaf of bread, but it’s also a demonstration of the difference sourdough makes in a loaf compared to plain baker’s yeast. My original base recipe and the multigrain baguette variation that follows were posted 6 years ago. Recent years have seen gluten-free baking tend towards fewer or single flours and less or no added starch; I too have developed plenty of recipes that reflect these changes, but as the point of this experiment was to use a familiar recipe, this formula remains as it was. 

That said - in the many times I’ve made this bread over the years, my preferred base formula has in fact evolved and changed a little from the version on the blog, including some simplifications and tweaks, but at its heart, it’s definitely still the same recipe. The major changes are as follows:
Chia instead of pectin: I’ve found that chia meal provides a similar function to the pectin I used to use, and is also superior in some ways. (There will be much more information on the starch interactions and other functions of these molecules in my upcoming book - more on this to come!) Because of chia’s mucilaginous properties, I also find it’s most effective when mixed with the water rather than added to the dry mix as the pectin was. Either one will make the dough easier to handle (among other effects), but you can also experiment with leaving it out altogether since this loaf shaped as a boule requires less handling than the original elongated loaf. 
Teff flour instead of grain: teff grains are small enough that they can be used whole in bread, as I did in the old recipe. However, the flour gives a smoother crumb. Flour absorbs water differently than intact grains, so the water’s been adjusted accordingly as well.
Sorghum option: the original recipe calls for brown rice flour, but these days I prefer sorghum. Either one should work fine in this recipe. 
Covered bake: this is a technique to trap steam in the early stages of baking, which helps the loaf expand better and form a nicer crust compared to baking normally in a home oven (it mimics the steamy conditions in a professional bakery oven). I started doing this a few years ago and now bake nearly all my bread this way - the difference is impressive. (You’ll also notice the sourdough version omits the baking powder in the original; a combination of the sourdough and the covered bake produces plenty of expansion - aka oven spring - without it.)

These above changes are still just tweaks and details - the real star of this recipe modification is the sourdough. Why? The key is the mixed fermentation by a variety of lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast, which break down molecules in the flour in a way that creates different texture, flavor, and structure than domestic yeast. This is true even of wheat breads, but the difference is especially striking in GF formulas. I believe that in the case of the properties of many GF flours, this mixed fermentation is a better fit than that of baker’s yeast.  

Gluten-Free Sourdough Boule

Part 1: Sponge
50 g sorghum flour or brown rice flour
35 g light buckwheat flour (see this post for more about the difference between standard and light buckwheat flours)
35 g garbanzo flour
25 g teff flour
120 g filtered/spring water, slightly warm 
40 g GF sourdough starter (see part 1 and part 2 of starter tutorial)
[Optional: 4 g (1 tsp) sugar (recommended if your starter has been in the fridge)]

Combine sponge flours in medium bowl. Stir together the water and starter (and sugar if using) and let sit for 15 minutes. Stir into the flours. Cover and set aside at room temp for 12 hours.
The sponge won't rise a whole lot, but it will be split on top and bubbly underneath.
Part 2: Dough - 12 hours later
125 g tapioca starch
25 g sweet rice flour
7 g psyllium husks (not powder)
3 g (½ tsp) sea salt
125-135 g filtered/spring water, slightly warm (start with 125 and add more if needed - see below)
¼ tsp chia meal
[Optional: a little sugar (2-4 g)]
[Optional: a tiny pinch (like 1/16 tsp) yeast (see Note below)] 
6 g (about 1 ½ tsp) olive oil
2-5 g honey, to taste

Combine the tapioca, sweet rice flour, salt, and psyllium in a large bowl. Stir together 125 g water and chia (and yeast and sugar, if using) and stir this into the fermented sponge, making sure there are no lumps. Pour this mixture over the dry mix and stir/knead with a spatula until it comes together, then knead a little by hand. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes. Mix in the oil and honey. Knead again by hand and assess the stiffness - add up to 10 g reserved water if necessary to make the dough smooth, silky, and slightly elastic. Shape the dough into a smooth ball. (If you have a banneton/brotform/rising basket, this is a great time to use it! You can even try using a well-floured bowl to rise the loaf. Otherwise, just let the loaf rise on parchment.) The dough will need to rise 2 hours. After about an hour or so, preheat the oven (with a baking stone or dutch oven) to 450º F to make sure it is thoroughly heated. Once the dough has risen for about 2 hours, turn it out from the rising basket/bowl (if using) and cut slashes in the top crust. Put the loaf on the heated stone (or in the dutch oven) and cover with a large metal bowl (or lid). Bake covered for the first 11 minutes, then uncover; total bake time 50 minutes.

Let the loaf cool completely (minimum ~4 hours) before cutting. (I know, I know! It smells so good you’ll want to tear it open right away! But trust me, you’ll be glad you waited - the starch structure of the bread needs to set for you to enjoy its texture.) Thanks to the sourdough, this bread should stay soft for at least a couple days if you store it cut-side down on a wooden board...but if it gets a little stiff, it will also make excellent toast!

Sourdough toast with honey: simple, yet delectable.

Note on added yeast: Dry baker’s yeast is a particular strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae that has been selected for certain traits, including plentiful production of carbon dioxide to make bread rise rapidly. S. cerevisiae is far from the only yeast species useful for bread, though - in fact, when it comes to sourdough other yeast species are far more likely to occur as S. cerevisiae doesn’t thrive well in many starters. The wild yeasts produce better flavor and texture, but you might find the rise produced by your starter is slightly less than expected. If so, try adding the suggested pinch of yeast to your bread - you’ll still get all the benefits of the sourdough, plus just a little boost from the baker’s yeast.

Thursday 4 May 2017

GF sourdough tutorial, part 2: Feeding and maintenance

If you started your starter on Tuesday, it is now two days old. (If you haven’t started yet, see part 1 for instructions.) You’ve hopefully been stirring it every 12 hours for the reasons I mentioned, but you have not refreshed or fed it yet. To get a healthy fermentation, you will now need to refresh it once a day for the next several days. 

Feeding your starter:
Here’s how to do it: remove half the mixture so you are left with 50 g starter. Add 50 g fresh flour and 50 g filtered/bottled water (a 1:1:1 ratio of starter:flour:water). Keep refreshing in this manner once every 24 hours, and also keep stirring it every 12 hours as before, and it should be ready in about one week from when you started. With this formula using brown rice flour, I find it starts smelling really nice around day 6, when I usually test it for baking, and continues to mature for another day or two. You may notice different things or on a different timeline depending on what flour you’re using; because of this, I’ve avoided going into too much detail about what your starter “should” be doing day by day. The following information should apply to all flours. (See below for signs it’s ready and how to tell if you need to alter your procedure at all.)

This 1:1:1 feeding ratio is a pretty standard one for starters of all types at 100% hydration, though some people like to further reduce the ratio of existing starter (perhaps 1:2:2). This ratio is what’s important, in order to maintain enough fresh nutrients for a healthy, robust fermentation - as nutrients deplete and waste products build up, the cells’ metabolism changes and can quickly turn into something that won’t make good bread as other species take over. We remove part of the mixture rather than just feeding exponentially in order to keep the starter at a manageable size. 

Waiting to refresh/feed until the 48-hour point is my personal twist - it seems to get the starter going faster and seems to help avoid some of the funkier stages of fermentation, probably (though I currently have no good way to verify this) due to allowing the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) to outcompete other bacterial species more rapidly by acidifying the undiluted mixture over those first 48 hours.

People have varying opinions on what to do with the removed portion (often termed “discard”). As the term might suggest, many people do recommend simply discarding it. This is because in a new immature starter, the mixture has not sufficiently acidified and balanced out to ensure that it contains only the desirable bacteria and yeasts - at first, there can be all kinds of things growing in there, not all of them pleasant. Nevertheless, some people do use the immature discards. (There are also plenty of examples of traditional spontaneous grain ferments that go for several days, though these are usually fermented at warmer temperatures which encourage desirable LAB.) It’s kind of up to you. A good piece of common sense: if it smells bad, definitely don’t use those discards. Smelling neutral or pleasant is not a guarantee of safety, but smelling bad is a pretty sure indicator that you don’t want to eat it! Even if it might not strictly make you sick, it’d probably taste pretty gross. Don’t feel too bad about being “wasteful” if you feel more comfortable discarding them - the flour has served a purpose. It’s natural that starters may go through a phase of smelling unpleasant in the first week - keep refreshing and stirring as scheduled and it should balance out.

Things to watch for:
Most GF starters will not look quite like wheat starters because they lack the sticky, elastic properties of air-trapping gluten proteins. While they will generally not have the dramatic height increase of wheat flour, there are more subtle cues to look for to gauge activity.
Hungry starter...
The starter above has cavernous bubbles that have grown large and collapsed; a couple of hours prior, this not-quite-mature starter was nicely domed on top but has since fallen. This is a sign the starter burnt through the available nutrients a couple hours sooner than expected. If you notice this, feed it ASAP even though it’s not the scheduled feeding time, perhaps even at a somewhat higher ratio than usual. When the starter gets really stressed/hungry, it may even smell unpleasantly sharp, like acetone. If this happens, immediately feed at a higher ratio than usual and stir frequently until it starts seeming healthier again. This is kind of a “danger zone” for the health of a starter - stressed cells’ metabolism changes, and these chemical changes in a stressed starter can result in an altered ecosystem where it can become difficult to return it to the desired balance.
Healthier starter.
The starter in the second picture has plentiful small, round, evenly distributed bubbles and bounces back to this same activity level within a few hours after a feeding. At this point it may also develop pleasantly tart and/or yeasty smells. Try to maintain it at this level of activity; if it looks like this around day 6-7, try using it to bake with. If you are satisfied with the results, you may refrigerate it (see next paragraph for maintenance instructions). If not, keep feeding it as above and test it again in a day or two.

Maintaining your starter:
Once it’s ready, it will still need some maintenance. The mature starter will still need regular feeding to stay healthy (like most other living things!) so you can either use it every day for bread, pancakes, porridge - and whatever else you can think of - and keep feeding it at the same ratio as above, or put it in the fridge to slow down its metabolism and feed it about once a week. The latter option is more realistic for most people! I tend to keep just enough starter to make 2-3 loaves before needing to replenish it, so I use it gradually until there is only a little starter left. Then when there’s only 30-40 grams of starter left in the jar, I feed it 40 g of flour and 40 g of water like usual, leaving it out on the counter for a few hours to make sure it is fermenting properly before returning it to the refrigerator.  

Troubleshooting your starter:
“My starter looks ready to use, but it’s only 3 days old!” You may see a lot of bubbles, but this doesn’t mean it’s mature - in fact, it probably isn’t even yeast producing this gas. A common culprit is any of several species of the lactic acid bacteria Leuconostoc, such as L. mesenteroides. It is a contributor to the chemical changes that pave the way for a stable sourdough. Yeasts will appear in significant numbers after the mixture has been fermented by LAB for at least a few days.
Mold on sides of jar: Carefully transfer starter to a clean jar, avoiding the mold. This is exacerbated by condensation in the jar; try moving the starter to a cooler place and/or covering the jar with a cloth or other breathable cover.
Mold on top of starter: Have you been stirring it every 12 hours? Mold does not establish easily on frequently-disturbed surfaces. It’s up to you whether you want to just remove the surface mold or start over. (Removing the surface mold is generally considered OK because whatever traces might still be in the mix are going to be both diluted by subsequent refreshments and inhibited by the fermentation process. However, if you’re allergic to mold, you may be safer just starting over.) Make sure you’re feeding & stirring on schedule, make sure your jar and utensils are clean, and avoid condensation (see above).
Starter just won’t start: With rice flour, I find it quite common for the starter to look fairly inert until day 5 or 6, when it seemingly suddenly springs to life with bubbles and begins to smell yeasty. If you’re past this point and still not noticing activity, try seeing if maybe your mixture needs a fresher source of flour (even grinding it yourself if possible), purer water (in case traces of chlorine or other chemicals might be inhibiting growth), and/or try boosting things by adding some honey or sugar. (If you’ve tried these things and are still having trouble, contact me and hopefully we can figure it out.) 

Coming up this weekend: How to use your starter to make bread, with a recipe!
Check back in a few days if you want some of this!!

Tuesday 2 May 2017

GF sourdough tutorial, part 1

A young starter, just starting out in life.
If you were following along last year when I tried making the pasta madre from an Italian GF cookbook...it was a bit of a disaster. Though it promised to be a yeast-rich traditional leaven and even got off to a promising start, I ended up with a nearly inert paste that provided neither leavening nor character and soon spoiled altogether. I still wonder if a good portion of the fault may be with differences in flours rather than the recipe itself. For one thing, milling is different - the Italian recipe, as I mentioned, calls for a grade of fine maize flour that isn’t really a thing in the US. What’s more, the rice flour I used was on the gritty side as well (a fact that wasn’t clear until I tried baking with it). For another thing, the grain varieties have different characteristics: I brought up differences between different types of rice in the pasta madre post, and a reader in Italy confirmed that Italian rice flour is likely to be from short-grain rice. (The only reason I didn’t use short-grain flour in the first place was because I was worried flour I ground myself would be too coarse - so much for that!) I honestly don’t know if the resulting difference in amylopectin ratio was enough to make any difference in this case. Perhaps someday I’ll have the patience to try again with short-grain rice flour and the proper grind/variety of fine polenta flour (if I can obtain it). 

For the time being, though, I eventually returned to a more conventional approach to making sourdough as I’ve been doing for the past few years. My posts from the pasta madre saga do contain a lot of good information about sourdough chemistry, so they’re still worth a read - see part 1, 2, and 3 - but now I’m going to teach you how to make the starter I've been using recently. Just to be clear, this is far from the only way to make a starter! But, it’s more streamlined than some of the other starters I’ve made in the past, and I’ve found this one to be quite reliable and is consistently ready in about a week. 

You may use just about any starch-rich, whole-grain (or blend with at least half whole-grain) flour(s) to make a sourdough starter. The simplest, most economical option for most people will probably be brown rice or a mixture of brown and white rice, both of which I’ve used successfully in this formula, but more suggestions are below. I am able to grind my own short-grain brown rice flour (see note above), which I’ve been getting good results with, but I know other people have also used standard brown rice for sourdough starter with no issue. The pasta madre used a blend of rice and maize/corn, and I have used this same blend for the following sourdough as well. In the past I have made sourdough with buckwheat, fine cornmeal, and also with cooked potatoes and sweet potatoes (however, these last two are not flour, which complicates things due to unpredictable moisture content and other factors - for today we’ll stick with flours). Others have had success with quinoa, millet, sorghum, amaranth, teff, and more.

Keep in mind that each flour will have its own somewhat different fermentation signature - this is due to the natural surface flora of the grain/seed as well as differences in chemical composition of the flour supporting different organisms. Also keep in mind that you must use a starch-rich flour (grains and pseudocereals) - almost anything will ferment, but starchy flours are needed to support the distinct community of bacteria and yeast that defines a sourdough. I also recommend using whole grain because the fiber and trace minerals help support a diverse sourdough community.

Stir together 50 grams of brown rice flour or other GF whole-grain starchy flour (see above) and 50 g water in a glass jar. (Please use filtered or bottled water - chlorinated tap water will kill some of the fragile sourdough organisms.)
Optional addition: a small teaspoon of raw honey can help get the fermentation going by contributing some free sugars and possibly also some enzymes. This is a tip I got from the pasta madre formula which I have found to be helpful.
Stir at 12 hours, again at 24 hours, and again at 36 hours. In other words, if you start it at 8 pm, stir it at 8 am the next morning, 8pm that night, and 8am the following morning. Don’t add or remove anything for now, just stick with the stirring. It probably won’t seem like it’s doing anything yet, but there are in fact all kinds of organisms in there that are slowly but surely beginning to ferment: stirring redistributes nutrients, introduces fresh oxygen, and helps prevent mold spores from getting a chance to grow.

At 48 hours, you will (finally!) do something different - Come back in 2 days to learn what to do next and how to get a mature starter! (Also, for a sneak peek of where we’re going with this, see here!)

Sunday 30 April 2017

Columbia SC GFAF Event

Yesterday I was down in Columbia SC for the GFAF Wellness Event, where I spoke about how and why to make GF sourdough bread. I also got to share some of my homemade GF sourdough, which was a joyful experience. (When was the last time you saw a bunch of celiacs getting genuinely excited over the texture, flavor, and delightful aroma of a loaf of bread?!)
This is the honey-oatmeal sourdough I took to share!
My favorite new-to-me find was the local Puckerbutt Pepper Company. They have a diverse range of hot sauces, from fairly mild all the way up to intensely hot. I’m not afraid of spicy food, but for tasting by itself on a spoon, I stayed on the milder side of things! I especially liked the strawberry hot sauce - the fruitiness of the strawberries really comes through to nicely complement the heat of the peppers without being sweet. They sell dried peppers and seeds for pepper plants, too. 
Simple ingredients: Just vinegar, fruit, and peppers.
Here’s a sampling of the many other sights and tastes from the event! Some of them I’ve mentioned before, but several were new and local too. If you’re in central SC, you especially might want to check out the pasture-raised beef and chicken from Boss Farms. (They were selling some there, but I had a long drive home!)
In my Blogger Bag, I found a chocolate cake mix from Mina’s, some Norm’s Farms elderberry syrup, Wowbutter soy butter, and handmade goat milk soap from A Garnet Rose. (This particular soap has patchouli and lavender - it smells just lovely!)
Thank you to all vendors and sponsors! As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the above 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).

Saturday 29 April 2017

Gluten-free sourdough: Sneak peek!

Today I’m at the Columbia SC GFAF Event and I will be giving a talk on gluten-free sourdough at 12:45! We will go over the hows and whys of making and using a gluten-free sourdough starter, including some of the science behind why sourdough makes better GF bread than yeast. If you can’t make it, though, don’t worry - check back this coming week for a brand-new sourdough starter tutorial and an upcoming recipe for BREAD! In the meantime, here are some pictures to pique your interest (and your appetite):

Friday 14 April 2017

Simnel torte

Simnel cake is a classic English springtime spiced cake, lighter than the fruitcakes of the winter holidays. Its formula as well as its occasion has evolved pretty significantly over the past two centuries or so - while it’s more recently become an Easter cake made from a quick batter, it was originally a yeast-leavened rich bread dough and made for an earlier spring holiday (typically Mothering Sunday). A few features have remained constant throughout those changes: the mixed fruit, the spice, the egg- and butter-enriched but not-too-sugary base, and - perhaps most distinctively - a layer of almond paste baked inside the cake and one more layer atop the cake. 

I wanted to pay homage to the many varied forms this cake has taken, yet also reinvent it further. The result - a Simnel torte, if you will - is a sort of deconstructed version, more relaxed and effortless than the classic cake, and with added elements of some other light European cakes that might be considered its distant cousins. Rather than layering with almond paste, I’ve incorporated ground almonds into the batter itself, as featured in so many classic tea cakes, sponges, and other pastries. (The apricot jam that conventionally moistens the top of the cake simply goes in the batter of my version also.) I use potato starch and a little buckwheat for the rest of the flour - both also appearing in numerous traditional European cakes. And as an acknowledgement to the original Simnel formula, I’ve returned the yeast to the cake to make it pleasantly light and bready. It’s a nice accompaniment to tea or coffee for a springtime afternoon.

Notes: Like most spiced cakes, this tastes even better when it’s rested for a day - so if you want it for Easter, I suggest making it tonight or tomorrow. 

Simnel Torte
60 g milk + 60 g water, warmed
15 g buckwheat flour
⅛ tsp yeast

100 g almond flour
60 g potato starch
¾ tsp mixed spice (or ½ tsp ginger plus a pinch each of nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon)
30 g brown sugar
35 g butter, soft
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, separated, room temperature
18 g (a good tablespoonful) apricot preserves or ginger preserves (I used a combination!)
80 g currants, raisins, or a combination
15 g candied peel (you can make your own if you like)
40 g sliced almonds, for the top

For the glaze:
30 g powdered sugar
2 tsp brandy
1 tsp rosewater
½ tsp apricot preserves

Combine the buckwheat flour, yeast, milk, and water and set aside in a warm spot for about an hour. (If the flour settles, give it an occasional stir.)
Combine the almond flour, potato starch, and spices and set aside. Lightly whisk the egg whites. Cream together the butter, sugar, salt, yolks, and preserves. Beat in about half the dry mix, then the milk mixture, the beaten whites, and finally the remaining dry mix. Fold in the dried fruit and peel. Pour the mixture into a buttered 8” tart pan or springform pan and sprinkle the slivered almonds on top. Let it rise for 45-60 minutes (depending on how warm it is in your kitchen) - meanwhile heat the oven to 350º F / 175º C. Bake the cake for about 45 minutes. When the cake is almost done, whisk together the glaze ingredients. Pour the glaze over the cake immediately after removing it from the oven. Let the cake rest for several hours before serving.