Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Butternut Polenta Bread


The first sign of fall comes not with the changing of the leaves, but rather with the appearance of recipes. Or so I realized a couple of weeks ago, as I saw - even in the summery heat - the umpteenth new food-related thing with fall or autumn in the title. Of course, it actually is autumn now, although there are enough warm days ahead to make it feel still a long way off. Late summer has that way of making time seem to stand still. Indeed, the first changes were nearly imperceptible, drowned out by the cicadas' droning in the humid air, and the continuing bounty of summer vegetables distracting from the fact that the sunset comes a bit sooner each day. Yet, rather than remain enthralled with the season, we rush its exit as we begin - as if by some kind of instinct - longing for coziness, apple cake, and casseroles (and pumpkin spice lattes, apparently). It might be strange, given how fall inevitably gives way to months of cold, that we welcome the end of summer so readily. Fall has always been my favorite season, so personally I understand getting excited over the subtle signs of the weather changing. But I think there's something special about this transition which causes us to notice things like crisp mornings and reddening leaves with a particular kind of anticipation. The onset of autumn is just so much more sudden than, say, the gradual budding of branches - in a matter of days, the color of a landscape can change completely. Is it any wonder we get so excited about it?

I realize I've written about seasons frequently here - many food blogs do, by nature of the ingredients, but unlike heirloom tomatoes or chanterelle mushrooms or delicate strawberries, the ingredients that go into bread are (generally) not a seasonal food. Yet, the essence of a particular time of year goes much deeper than what can be found at the farmers' market. Many flavors which are so imbued by a season became that way through association and memory more than any inherent quality of the ingredients. Lemons ripen in winter, yet their fresh tartness and bright color bring to mind spring and even summer. The spices which make up "pumpkin spice" or "cider spice" - cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom - also make their way into recipes throughout the year. Nonetheless, when combined, they seem to intrinsically evoke the essence of autumn, and we begin to crave them even while the leaves on the trees are still quite green. The traditions of recipes and flavors pervade the season, even after most "seasonal" foods are now available perenially.
Perhaps that's part of it - we used to have so many inherently seasonal, often ephemeral tastes and textures from fresh vegetables and fruits; in colder months, seasonal association of spices and condiments would be influenced by what stored well and even which spices helped preserve other, more perishable foods. 

Now, we're of course fortunate to have access to fresh, nutritive foods throughout the year. But even with our nutritional needs taken care of, still we remain hungry for the ritual of changing flavors. Perhaps the desire for this seasonality actually is some kind of instinct - deeper even than tradition, a biological longing to take part in a cycle of time and place. Interesting to think about, isn't it? But I'll stop there, lest I stray too far into philosophical culinary anthropologist territory. The point I was getting to is: the second sign of fall is the arrival of butternut squashes - which are a very good topping for bread, as it turns out!
I know I explained recently why I might not be posting any new yeast bread recipes for a while. However, after some further thought, I decided to also work on some breads which don't require the sourdough starters or involved techniques or unusual ingredients I've been so enamored with lately. Breads in the style of the ones so many readers here have made and enjoyed. This one is based loosely on my ciabatta recipe, but using different, more flavorful flours. It's been so long since I made a dough of this kind, I wasn't sure what to expect - I started out envisioning something similar to a focaccia, but the recipe ended up taking a different direction with the coarsely-ground cornmeal. (I was so excited a few days ago to find a local source of truly gluten-free white and yellow cornmeal, I just couldn't wait to put them in something!) It's actually somewhere in between focaccia and cornbread in its texture and flavor. But I think it's pretty good. Also like both those breads, this is good for when you want a bread that's almost more like a side dish - pleasantly savory and filling. The natural sweetness of the cornmeal and the squash complement one another nicely, and still allow the flavor of the oil and herbs to come through.
I used rosemary, but I think fresh sage would be even better. (In fact, I'd planned on using sage, but when I went out to my little garden, there were hornets on my sage. So...yeah. Rosemary it is.)

This is a simple two-stage dough: first an overnight sponge, and then the remaining ingredients are added the next day to make the final dough. It's also very easy to make, as there isn't any shaping procedure - the dough goes straight into the dutch oven as soon as it's mixed, and easily spreads to the edges as you press the toppings into the surface.

For the sponge:

60 g finely-ground yellow cornmeal
40 g coarse cornmeal/polenta (I used half yellow and half white)
25 g buckwheat flour
25 g garbanzo flour
10 g potato flour (not the same as potato starch)
180 g boiling water
1/8 tsp dry yeast

Combine the dry ingredients, except the yeast, and stir in the boiling water. Cover the bowl and let stand for about 10 minutes before mixing in the yeast. Cover bowl and set aside for about 14 hours.

For the final dough:

85 g tapioca starch
85 g potato starch (not the same as potato flour)
15 g sweet rice flour
35 g garbanzo flour
2 tsp psyllium husks
1/2 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
6 g sea salt
1 tsp double-acting baking powder
120 g water, warm
2 tsp white chia meal
up to 1/4 tsp yeast (depending on how active the sponge seems; I used 1/8 tsp)
30 g olive oil (use a flavorful one)
2-3 fresh sage leaves or fresh rosemary sprigs
about 100 g butternut squash, peeled and sliced very thinly (I used a mandoline)
(optional: a small handful of shredded lacinato kale or additional fresh herbs)

Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a dutch oven and add the whole sage leaves or rosemary sprigs. Warm the oil over low heat until the herbs have softened slightly - stir them around occasionally to help release their flavor. Remove from heat, remove the herbs and set aside. Combine all dry ingredients except the chia meal and yeast, and set aside. Stir the warm water into the sponge, followed by the chia meal and yeast. This mixture will thicken over the next couple of minutes. Next add the dry mix, about 1/3rd at a time, to form a soft dough. Then, pour out 15 g of the oil into the dough bowl (make sure it's not too hot!). Mix until the oil is just combined.
Pour most of the remaining oil over the squash slices, leaving a bit in the dutch oven to coat the bottom generously. Sprinkle ~ 1 tsp cornmeal over the bottom of the pot, and scoop the dough into the oiled dutch oven. Cut the sage leaves into small pieces (or strip the rosemary leaves from the stem) and scatter herbs over the surface of the dough. Then arrange the squash slices, overlapping them slightly, gently pressing each slice to help it stick. Cover the dutch oven and set aside to rise for 60-75 minutes. 
Don't worry if the dough doesn't quite reach the sides of the pot - it will expand as it bakes. 

Meanwhile, put an oven rack in the lower half of the oven, and heat the oven to 450º F. When bread is finished rising, place the covered dutch oven into the oven. Bake for 9 minutes covered, then remove the lid and lower the oven temperature to 420º F. Bake for another 40-45 minutes. (Add the kale or additional herbs, if using, about 5 minutes before the bread is done.) Let rest in the pot 10-15 minutes, then remove and let cool at least 45 minutes more before slicing.
P.S. - Speaking of seasonal things... for those of you in NC, the Triangle Gluten Intolerance Festival is this Saturday, September 27, at a pumpkin farm! Plenty of food tastings and family activities, all gluten-free - sounds like fun!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Chocolate Cherry Chestnut Torte

Every year, as Jon's birthday approaches, I ask what kind of cake he would like. Invariably, the response has been the same: "something chocolate." This leaves things very much open to interpretation. As you may have noticed, there are a lot of very different things that can be considered chocolate cake. So, as usual, I found myself looking through lots of recipes for ideas and some points of reference - after all, cakes aren't something I make very often, so it's the least I can do to make sure his birthday cake actually tastes like...well, a birthday cake. But did I mention that there are a lot of kinds of chocolate cake? Fluffy and light, rich and fudgy, dense and flourless, elegantly simple, extravagantly layered...there is no basic formula, because there are so many different approaches. All are delicious, but in such different ways. How to even begin to choose?

It would be an exaggeration to say I completely scrapped all those recipes I was comparing and just improvised, but it's actually not such a huge overstatement. The recipe I ended up with doesn't quite fit any standard ratio I've previously followed, and it probably breaks some rules here and there as far as what "should" go in a cake, or the order in which things are usually done. Yet the results speak for themselves. Despite any rules I may have broken, the cake is light-textured, tender, moist, and rich, and pairs wonderfully with the equally delightful fluffy frosting. I'm really pleased with how it turned out - and I think if you try it, you will be too.

First, the flavor: The cake has some cherry juice in it, which complements the cherry filling and really brings out the fruitiness of the chocolate. I had some homemade almond milk on hand from another project, so I used it in the cake in addition to almond meal, to further emphasize the cherry-almond combination (cherries and almonds, after all, are related, and there is some overlap in the chemistry of the flavors we associate with them). Even if you usually use regular milk, I highly recommend almond milk in this recipe for the depth of flavor it contributes.

The cake itself is similar to a genoise, containing a significant proportion of nut meal and getting its light structure from a well-developed egg network rather than any added binders. Unlike most other sponge-type cakes, though, it also features two other distinctive flours, which also happen to be two of my favorites: chestnut (as you can tell from the title), and buckwheat. If you associate buckwheat with a "harsh" or intrusive flavor, as I often see recipes describing it, you might be surprised to see it in such a delicate cake. Let me tell you something: buckwheat should not be harsh. From what I understand, that flavor - as well as the dark, gritty appearance often associated with it - comes from small fragments of the bitter black hull remaining mixed in with the grain. I grind my own buckwheat flour, and the difference is striking. I'm not using any special variety of buckwheat, it's just that buckwheat packaged as whole grains will usually have any trace of hull removed. Its flavor, while still distinctive, is mild and pleasantly nutty. As you can see, the color is also much more appealing - almost creamy. I highly recommend giving it a try. If you don't have a high-powered blender or food processor, try grinding small amounts in a clean coffee grinder.

Front: fresh-ground buckwheat;
Back: store-bought buckwheat flour.
Difference: huge!
As for the chestnut flour, I'm lucky to have a good local source; if it's not available where you are, try substituting coconut flour - it will definitely change the overall flavor composition, but I'm sure it will be equally delicious.

I'd planned to complement this cake with a meringue buttercream, both because it's a special occasion and because a sponge-type cake like this is best with something less overwhelmingly sweet than standard powdered-sugar frosting. Just a couple of days ago, though, my kitchen thermometer spontaneously broke! (It's stood up to the high temps of deep-frying and candy-making, but apparently measuring the temperature of a warm water bath was just too much for the glass to handle...) Yes, I know, a lot of people make meringue icings without needing a thermometer and everything turns out fine, but since I've only made them on a couple of occasions, I didn't want to risk it. I was very much not in the mood for last-minute thermometer-hunting, so I decided to go hunting for a different frosting recipe instead.

Well, I never thought I'd say this...but I'm kind of glad my thermometer broke. If it hadn't, I might never have discovered this frosting! It's creamy and rich-tasting, yet it is not too sweet, and it is very light, not at all oily or heavy the way some buttercreams can be. It's still a cooked frosting, but it's pretty unusual as far as those things go - rather than egg white, the thickening comes from making a sort of pudding with starch and milk, and it uses regular granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar...but the sugar is creamed right into the butter! The trick is letting the mixer run a long time - eventually the sugar will be fully incorporated, not grainy, and the thick starch pudding will be transformed into velvety, buttery fluff.

Chocolate Cherry Torte

Makes a 2-layer, 8" round cake, with frosting and cherry filling.

Because the richness in the cake comes from the chocolate, egg yolks, and almonds rather than butter or milk, the cake itself happens to be dairy-free. The frosting and filling, on the other hand, are very much dairy-full; however, I've included a note at the bottom with some suggestions if you cannot tolerate dairy.

For the cake:

80 g almond meal
60 g chestnut flour
60 g buckwheat flour (see above)
25 g arrowroot starch
2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder (I used Rumford)
1/2 tsp sea salt

170 g sugar
3 eggs, room temperature (mine weighed 155 g total)

240 g unsweetened almond milk
120 g cherry juice, very hot

60 g semisweet chocolate chips
50 g high-quality cocoa powder (look for one with relatively high cocoa butter content)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375ºF/190ºC. Prepare two 8" round pans, lining bottom with parchment and buttering lightly.
Pour hot cherry juice over chocolate and cocoa in a small bowl, stir to combine, and set aside (stir occasionally to make sure mixture is completely smooth). In the bowl of a mixer, combine eggs and sugar. Beat on medium-high for a few minutes, until foamy and glossy. This network is what will bind the batter, as well as trap air to provide leavening, so don't rush this step!
Add flour mix (including salt and baking powder) to the egg foam approximately 1/3 at a time, alternating with almond milk 1/2 at a time, stirring slowly after each addition and taking care not to deflate egg mixture. Stir vanilla and almond extract into cooled chocolate/juice mixture, then very carefully fold mixture into batter by hand, until just combined. Gently pour batter into pans, place both pans on insulated baking sheet, and bake 45-50 minutes, until cooked through to center.
Cool 15 minutes in pans, then turn out onto cooling rack. Make sure cakes are completely cooled before proceeding.

For the frosting:

The recipe I adapted this from calls it a custard frosting - despite the fact that it contains no eggs, this is a pretty accurate description of its flavor and texture. My special twist is using goat cheese in place of half of the butter, which gives the mixture a cheesecake-like flavor. This does admittedly make a softer, even lighter-textured frosting - if you want to be able to pipe it decoratively like shown in the link, it's probably best to stick with all butter. I just really love the subtle tartness the goat cheese contributes. (I think cream cheese would probably work too, though I haven't tried it.)

240 g whole milk
200 g granulated sugar
32 g starch (cornstarch recommended; see note below)
112 g unsalted butter, room temperature
112 g plain goat cheese
pinch salt
1/2 tsp almond extract

Combine milk and starch in saucepan and heat gently, with stirring, until thickened. Remove from heat and set aside to cool, stirring several times as it cools. Meanwhile, put sugar, butter, goat cheese, and almond extract in the bowl of a mixer and beat on medium-high for 4-5 minutes, until light and well-combined. It may seem more intuitive to add the sugar to the liquid, to dissolve it that way. Don't do that! The sugar would tie up too much of the liquid, leaving not enough free liquid for the starch to fully expand - meaning it won't thicken as well as it should, and will still have a raw starch aftertaste. (Trust me, I tried it.) When pudding mixture has cooled to room temperature, add it to the mixer bowl and beat a few more minutes, until fluffy and smooth.

For the filling:
120 g frosting, above
60 g additional goat cheese
50 g chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100 g high-quality jarred cherries, well-drained and roughly chopped (look for tart cherries with no added colors, in juice or sugar or in brandy/liqueur; not pie filling)

Combine frosting and cheese. Gently fold in chocolate and cherry pieces until just combined.

To assemble the cake: Spread filling mixture thickly between cake layers. Chill briefly before proceeding with frosting the rest of the cake, to ensure the filling does not get squished out the sides.
Frost sides and top of filled cake. If desired, decorate the top of the cake with cherries, finely grated chocolate, and/or almond pieces.
Keep decorated cake refrigerated.


Note about starch: The frosting pictured was made with arrowroot starch, which - as I would quickly discover, much to my dismay - apparently does not mix very well with dairy, becoming stringy and gloppy when they are combined over heat. While I was eventually able to force it to cooperate through extensive mixing (and a couple of spoonfuls of powdered sugar), I advise against using arrowroot in the frosting. I'm recommending cornstarch as per the original recipe linked above, but I confess I have not tested my full recipe as written with cornstarch, nor have I tested other starches such as tapioca.

Note about dairy substitutions: I honestly don't know yet whether this frosting would work with non-dairy milks - I'm not sure whether or not the milk is essential to the pudding thickening properly. If you want to be sure the frosting will turn out right, it might be better to use a recipe that does not call for dairy. If you do wish to experiment with this recipe, though, I would suggest possibly altering the procedure slightly depending on your ingredients. Since many ingredients used in baking as natural alternatives to butter (coconut oil, palm shortening, etc) are entirely fat, whereas butter contains some water, I think there's a chance the sugar may not be able to dissolve as completely. If you want to experiment with one of these fats, you might try reserving a small proportion of your chosen milk substitute and stirring that into the sugar before adding it to the creamed fat, then proceeding using the rest of the liquid for the pudding base as written. Blended butter substitutes (spreads, etc.) will contain some water, so while I haven't tested it to be sure, I would guess those would probably work with the regular method.
If you try making this frosting with non-dairy ingredients, please let me know how it turns out!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

A taste of things to come

OK friends. I'll just be blunt: I have been a Bad Blogger. Not only have I not posted any recipes in more than a year (a year!), I have been terrible about keeping up with emails and social media. Despite what that evidence might suggest, I'm still here. And still baking. Definitely baking. In the meantime there have some pretty big changes - some hard ones, but some exciting ones too. I don't often like to stray too far from recipe-related things in posts, but under these circumstances, some explanation seems pretty relevant. (And then we'll get back to bread.) 
In case you need proof: bread. Specifically, sourdough rolls.

Some things emerged a while back which forced me to reassess...well, pretty much everything. At first I thought I wouldn't really go into it here - after all, this is a baking blog, not a what-am-I-doing-with-my-life blog. Yet on the other hand, it felt like unless I could be open about those things, I just wasn't being honest. Every time I tried to put it all aside and just make a post about bread, it became glaringly obvious that the supposedly-personal stuff was just too big to avoid. Not to mention, with all that was going on, sometimes there weren't many recipes to post anyway - baking, unfortunately, became very infrequent for a while. 

In any case, I should probably stop being vague and just get to the point: Some long-time readers may remember the other time I've written about something totally off-topic here. In the weeks following that post, I was caught off-guard by the number of supportive and encouraging emails I received from so many people I've never even met. (To everyone who I didn't manage to reply to directly, I want to take this opportunity to say a public (ridiculously overdue) "thank you" - your messages really meant a lot to me.) Anyway, as I learned later that year, I do in fact have the disorder my doctor suspected. It wasn't exactly a surprise, but it still felt a bit strange and surreal seeing the results from the geneticist. The diagnosis was a relief, in a strange way - I had my answer, and although the condition is a major pain to deal with sometimes (both literally and figuratively), it is fairly manageable on the grand scale of things. And I am not at risk of the super-scary complications which come up with one particular sub-type of the disorder, which was a huge relief to find out. Yet after a while, I noticed the weight on my mind was much heavier than I'd initially thought. Accepting the situation wasn't such a problem, at least not in theory. The hard part - the thing I didn't anticipate - was adjusting to actually living with it, with the knowledge that it's not going to go away. Getting on with my life while running on half the energy one would expect to have at my age (plus the chronic pain) - that's a lot more difficult than just accepting the idea of having a disorder. As the prospect sank in more fully, I got a bit overwhelmed by it all. 

Baking, like all things, took energy - of which there was already not enough to go around. There were bigger, more long-term things that needed doing, so I had to compromise somewhere - thus, as I mentioned above, baking got repeatedly pushed aside. I hated not having time for something I was so passionate about, but it was just a hobby, right? Making bread wouldn't lead to a degree or a career. These other things were more pressing, more "important." 
And then it hit me. These plans I was trying to stick to were ones I made when I didn't know I'd need to account for the effects of a chronic condition, and my stubbornness was keeping me from seeing the bigger picture. Things weren't going to go back to that particular normal - if I felt like there wasn't room for baking now, I certainly wasn't going to suddenly find extra time for it while I was focused on a thesis or an internship. Sure, I'd be able to make things here and there so we could have decent bread and such at home, but actual in-depth methodical recipe development - the thing that got me interested in food science in the first place - would generally need to wait. Would that kind of compromise really be worth it? What's more, were the things I'd been aiming for even realistic at this point in time? Reluctantly, I admitted I had to acknowledge the possibility that maybe the direction I'd been heading was not currently sustainable. I would need to make some choices.

This all makes a bit more sense if I take a moment to mention that for a long time, I'd been occasionally musing about turning the food-science research and baking experience I'd gathered into something bigger. Wondering, for instance, if I might eventually put together a cookbook, or once in a while when studying got especially frustrating, making jokes about how I should just go start a bakery instead (and then daydreaming for a few moments about whether that could actually work). It was always just a "maybe someday" kind of idea, not any specific plan. And when I'd been working on the assumption that baking would have to wait, that vague possibility seemed even more remote. Now, though, as I really critically examined things, what had started as a whim began to grow into an idea I was seriously considering. 

So, gradually, I began to bake again. Now that I'd officially made it a priority, I could take the time to really focus on a recipe, and fine-tune it until it was right. The results got better and better. Especially the bread. The taste, the texture - it was even obvious just looking at them that these new breads were even better than any I'd made before. But they're different in some more essential ways too. 

You see, in the process of all this baking, my bread has evolved. Not just the results - the whole process has changed. It's not like my older recipes and techniques. As far as I know, it's not like anyone's recipes or techniques. It's still developing, but I can see that it has the potential to grow into a distinct style of breadmaking, involving steps and properties which are specific to bread made from these ingredients - and that's a good thing. These loaves pictured are not adaptations of other recipes, or GF "versions" of existing bread varieties; this bread has many familiar qualities, but it also has defining characteristics of its own. And it's definitely not a "substitute for the real stuff" or a "replacement" for bread. This is real bread. (I have some pretty strong feelings about this distinction after encountering some opinions that GF bread can't be "real," but that's for another post.) 

Yup, pretty sure this counts as real bread.

Something it does share with many existing styles of bread, though, is that a recipe is not just a recipe - it is a craft, requiring not only attention and ingredients, but also skills and methods which in some cases take a good bit of practice and experience. Several books put out by experienced traditional bakers in the past few years - and the blogs and online communities which go through them recipe by recipe - have proved that plenty of people do want to put that kind of time and effort into a really great loaf of bread, and maybe even find it fun. But many people, even people who generally enjoy baking, don't exactly enjoy monitoring long multi-stage fermentations and maintaining sourdough starters and getting the hang of tricky shaping processes. My breads aren't any more difficult than those traditional artisan-style loaves, but there are a lot of steps compared to what you'd normally expect from a GF recipe, and some of the processes are pretty unusual. Especially since gluten-free baking can be already intimidating enough for some people, I always hesitate to post recipes that are particularly complicated. I started this blog partly with the hope that I could make genuinely good gluten-free food seem at least a little bit more accessible to everyone. I know a number of people who end up on this site are new to baking, and I definitely don't want to scare people away with recipes that look overwhelmingly involved.

Of course that, by itself, is no reason to keep a good recipe to myself. I know there are plenty of people who would find it easily worth the effort, even if a few might consider the recipe somewhat formidable. Bread this good needs to be shared. 

Here's the thing, though: as I said, some of what I've been doing is different - really different. Some of the baking techniques I've been developing...well, let's just say that if anyone else is doing these same things, I haven't come across anything about it. In other words, these breads aren't simply good - they are really something special, and possibly even truly original. 

When we get overly focused on trying to make something turn out "just like the normal kind," we miss out on so many wonderful results that use unique properties of our flours. It took me far too long to realize that if, rather than combining ingredients with the aim to make something nearly indistinguishable from the food I remembered, and instead started using ingredients in ways that actually placed emphasis on their unique qualities, I could create something just as delicious yet also distinctly different. Not only that - I could create something people enjoy specifically because of its differences. As much as people like familiarity, so many of the foods we love are the result of taking an ordinary concept and giving it a fresh regional, personal, or cultural twist. You end up with something that's familiar enough to be undoubtedly delicious, yet different enough to earn a separate place of its own.

Approaching baking with this new philosophy has helped solidify my decision to turn this from just a hobby into something greater. That's partly what I've been working on all this time - trying to decide what exactly that means and how to go about it. The bread recipes are only one element of it, but their originality is crucial to being able to make these plans a reality. I hope you'll understand, then, why I hesitate to post any of the recipes at this point in time. As much as I'd love to share these breads with everyone, I think the wisest choice is to keep certain things as "secret recipes," at least for now. The wait will be worth it.

So what does this mean for the blog?

Well, for one thing, there will still be other recipes that I can happily share. I plan to update the blog much more frequently now that I've reached some decisions about which recipes I can post and which ones are essential to keep under wraps. Unfortunately that means there may not be new yeast bread recipes for a while, until I can figure out the best thing to do about that. (Hopefully sooner than later!) There will also be a lot more chances to talk in depth about techniques and information that are useful for gluten-free baking. There are some questions about techniques, substitutions, and recipe conversion that I see a lot, both in emails and around the internet in general, so I will also be devoting some posts to these questions specifically - there will be an FAQs section so those posts can be found all in one place. 


I'm really excited about the bigger projects I have planned. I can't go into detail about the specifics just yet, but I will definitely be able to post updates as things develop further! And, of course, I can post plenty of pictures - I know it's not as good as a recipe, but while I'm working on the rest of it, I still want to share these breads in some way at least. 
Sourdough loaf shown above, sliced.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

{Ratio Rally} Lemon Bars

Spring begins early here. I started noticing it on my morning walk several weeks ago; the air was still cold and dry, but there were little hints all around me that it wouldn't be that way for too much longer. Even when many parts of the country were covered in snow, here the trees had already begun to bud. Clusters of little wildflowers sprung up, tiny dashes of violet and white accents scattered throughout the patches of green that were spreading over the ground. The fresh, bright green means that winter is ending, but - to me at least - yellow is the color that means spring has arrived for good. Daffodils, forsythia, and little wild buttercups, all a cheery lemon yellow.  

Perhaps that's why lemony treats are so popular this time of year. After another not-quite-perfect batch of hot cross buns last weekend left me tired of zesting lemons and oranges, I went looking for a less complicated Easter bread to make...only to find that nearly every traditional Easter bread required just as much zest! It's true of course that citrus fruits are some of the only things in season in these chilly months, and their fresh bright scent is welcome after a winter of rich and hearty foods. Yet oranges, limes, and grapefruit don't seem to be associated with spring baking quite the way lemons are - I like to think it's at least partly due to their vivid color, bright and welcome as the sunshine that's warming the ground back to life. 

Lemon bars are one of these quintessential springtime sweets. They also happen to be one of the treats I've missed most since I've been gluten-free, so when I saw Meaghan at The Wicked Good Vegan had chosen shortbread for this month's theme, I knew just what to do! I hadn't had a lemon bar in more than 5 years...until making these, that is! These are every bit as good as the ones I remember - tart and luscious lemon curd on top of a buttery, not-too-sweet crust. 

They are so simple to make, too. I would say it's "easy as pie," but this is actually easier than pie - it's as easy as "1-2-3"! Really, that's the ratio: 1 part sugar:2 parts fat:3 parts flour. For this particular recipe, 1 part = 85 g, but as with other ratio recipes, you can scale it up or down as long as you keep the proportions the same.

A few notes before we begin:
Because the shortbread crust is so simple, the quality of your ingredients is important - for the most flavor, try to find cultured or "European-style" butter from grass-fed dairy (one common brand is Kerrygold). Likewise, you will taste the flours more than you would in something with lots of other flavors such as brownies or gingerbread, and because there's very little moisture in the crust, you'll notice the flours' texture more too. Keep these things in mind if you want to substitute one of the flours! I'm lucky to have a local source for chestnut flour, but I know it might be hard to find in some places - if you can't find it, you might try sorghum flour or more millet flour as a substitute. 

This same shortbread recipe can be made in an 8x11 pan or a 9x13 pan, depending on whether you like a very thin crust or a more substantial crust. (The bars in the picture were made in an 8x11.) However, you'll notice there are two recipes for the lemon curd topping depending on which size pan you use, so you can have a nice thick lemon layer regardless of how thin you want the crust to be. (Sorry about the grainy picture quality - I was dealing with less-than-optimal photography conditions, to say the least!)


Shortbread Crust
160 g tapioca starch
50 g almond meal
25 g millet flour
20 g chestnut flour
1/2 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
3/4 tsp salt
85 g sugar
1-2 tsp lemon zest
170 g high-quality unsalted butter, slightly softened

The brown flecks are from the almond meal; use blanched almond meal if you prefer a smoother appearance.

Lemon Topping
If using 8x11 pan:
140-160 mL lemon juice (around 2/3 cup)
300 g sugar
30-50 g tapioca starch
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 T or more lemon zest
Powdered sugar, as needed, for decoration after baking
If using 9x13 pan:
210-230 mL lemon juice (not quite a cup)
450 g sugar
45-75 g tapioca starch
6 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 - 2 T lemon zest
Powdered sugar, as needed, for decoration after baking


Mix the flours, pectin, and salt in one bowl, and mix the zest into the sugar in a smaller bowl. Cream the sugar-zest mixture into the butter until well blended (use paddle attachment if using stand mixer). Gradually blend in the flour mixture until dough forms a ball, scraping sides of the bowl occasionally. (If the dough is very soft or paste-like, you might want to chill it briefly before shaping - it should be stiff enough to handle.) Press the dough evenly into the baking dish with your hands and bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on thickness, until lightly browned and flaky. Let it cool somewhat before adding the topping - it will firm up as it cools, which will prevent the liquid from soaking in too much.


Meanwhile, mix up the lemon topping: Combine sugar, starch, and zest, then beat in the eggs. Gradually add the lemon juice and mix until smooth. Don't whip a lot of air into it though - it should be like custard, not foamy! Pour the mixture evenly over the crust and return to the oven for another 20 minutes, until topping is set. Don't worry about the browning - that's what the powdered sugar is for! Make sure the bars are completely cooled before dusting with powdered sugar and slicing - mine are a bit messy-looking at the edges because I was a little too impatient (it may help to chill them first). 

Store bars in the refrigerator.



Sunday, 17 March 2013

Brown Bread, Simplified

Hello again everyone! I know, I've been gone awhile. (Again.) I won't go into that now, though - this post will be a quick one. As you may have noticed, food-related sites in the past week or so have been filled with pictures of Irish-themed recipes, some authentic - lamb stew, scones and tea breads, colcannon - and others...well, not so much (green cupcakes, anyone?). And then, of course, there's soda bread. Many, many different types of bread get called "Irish soda bread." Some are more traditional than others, of course, but pretty much all of them are tasty in their own way. And, well, I wanted to contribute my personal favorite type to the mix - a hearty, homestyle brown bread, with a tender crumb and the pleasant flavor of buttermilk. Even the name is straightforward: "brown bread." Although I have posted a recipe for this type of bread before, this version is easier to make and has a simplified ingredients list. It's a pretty "forgiving" recipe as well - I've mentioned a few possible substitutions below. I've made it with a number of different flour combinations in the past and most have turned out fine, so don't be afraid to experiment if you don't have or can't use one of the flours called for. Whether you're looking for a last-minute bread to have with dinner, or simply looking for something that's lovely with butter or jam, give it a try! 

Brown Bread
makes 1 loaf

30 g buckwheat flour
30 g brown rice flour
30 g white rice flour
15 g potato flour (not starch)
15 g chestnut flour (if you can't find it, may substitute bean flour, oat flour, or extra buckwheat flour)
70 g potato starch
100 g tapioca starch
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
12 g unrefined sugar or brown sugar
8 g psyllium husks
3/8 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
12 g cold butter
240 g buttermilk (or substitute, see note below)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (if needed, see note below)

Optional, but recommended:
30 g rolled oats and/or 30 g steel-cut oats
Extra rolled oats for top of loaf

Method:
In a small bowl combine buckwheat, rice, potato, and chestnut flours with the psyllium, pectin, salt, and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture has uniform consistency. In another bowl combine starches, baking powder, and baking soda (and cream of tartar, if using) - set aside. 

Pour buttermilk into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, blend in the first flour mixture (and optional oats, if using) and let stand for ~20 minutes. Preheat oven to 205º C/400º F, with baking stone or cast-iron skillet on middle rack. (You can use a regular baking sheet, but I find having a heavy, heat-retaining baking surface helps the bread rise better and bake more evenly.) 

Once the oven is hot, blend starch mixture into the wet batter; it should form a soft but shapeable dough. If it still resembles a batter, add a spoonful of starch and/or rolled oats until it comes together (see note on buttermilk below). As soon as the dough comes together, dump/scrape it out of the bowl onto a floured surface or baking sheet and form it into a roughly circular shape; it will be soft and sticky, that's ok. You must work quickly now since the leavening is in the dough! (If you want oats on the crust like in my picture, pat them onto the loaf at this point.) Score an "x" across the top of the loaf and transfer it to the baking stone (or place baking sheet in oven). 

Bake for ~1 hour, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Immediately after removing the bread from the oven, wrap it up in a dry tea towel to cool (this helps keep it moist) - let it cool for at least an hour. 

**Note**
- Buttermilk: most buttermilk in stores is stronger-tasting and thicker than old-fashioned buttermilk. It's essentially like thin, slightly salty yogurt - it's generally made as a separate product these days rather than the traditional liquid left over from making cultured butter. The modern kind can be identified by the ingredients, as it will often have thickeners, emulsifiers, and other stuff added; in my experience it doesn't always work the same in baking. If you can find old-fashioned buttermilk, go for it! If not, you may want to thin out plain yogurt with some milk until it is pourable consistency, or make your own "buttermilk" as follows: stir 30 g of yogurt into 210 g warm milk and let stand for a couple of hours until thickened slightly. If you use a substitute, though, it may not be sour/acidic enough to react with the baking soda completely - in that case you may want to add 1/2 tsp cream of tartar.








Wednesday, 5 September 2012

{Ratio Rally} Norwegian potato lefse


Having lived in the Midwest, I'm pretty familiar with the food stereotypes of the region...several of which can probably be traced back to the areas with a lot of Scandinavian influence. And while anyone who's spent time in that region (or listened to A Prairie Home Companion) has likely heard jokes about the ubiquitous cream-of-something-soup casseroles and the notoriously-polarizing lutefisk, it seems some of the best foods are virtually unknown in most other parts of the country! Lefse is one of those foods, and when I saw that Brooke had chosen "Tortillas and Wraps" for this month's theme, it's exactly what came to mind.

For all two of you reading this who have heard of lefse, the title of this post probably seems a bit redundant. (Norwegian potato lefse? As opposed to....?) For the rest of you, though, let me introduce you to a new, very versatile traditional flatbread/wrap...made in a decidedly untraditional manner. 

You see, lefse is generally made by peeling, boiling, and mashing starchy potatoes with cream and butter, letting the potato mixture cool completely, then incorporating flour. As with anything "traditional," of course, every family recipe I found was different - many use just those ingredients, but others insist milk is essential, while still others add a little sugar. Even the consistency of the dough is not universally agreed upon; in fact, I was pretty surprised by just how widely the ratio of flour to potato could vary. Additionally, some people have re-worked their family recipes by making the mashed potatoes from instant potato flakes, then proceeding as usual. It saves the work and time of peeling all those potatoes, but still, most of those recipes instruct to refrigerate the mash overnight before making the dough. 

I decided to make things even lazier easier and faster - I simply used the appropriate amount of potato flour along with the rest of my dry ingredients, then mixed in the wet ingredients, and the dough is ready to go! (Potato flour is just dried potato, like instant mashed potatoes; in one batch I did try reconstituting the potato flour separately and then adding the other flours, but I couldn't tell a difference in taste or texture, and the dough was much more difficult to work with.) Whether it tastes all that different compared to the traditional method, well, I can't really remember - I haven't had "real" lefse in several years, and Jon (who is not gluten-free, and therefore is responsible for taste-testing my recipes for authenticity) has never tried it at all. However, he did think this bread tastes like naan - with its nice chewy texture and griddle-blistered surface, I can't say I disagree. 

I think it tastes pretty close to what I remember, though. Either way, I do know that this is a quick, very satisfying wrap bread, with a slightly sweet, hearty potato taste that complements all kinds of fillings. Unlike many gluten-free wraps, it is soft enough to roll up around a filling, and won't fall apart. Try it as a snack spread with butter and cinnamon sugar, or for lunch wrapped around cheese and lettuce, or even rolled up with peanut butter and jelly. (Yes, I used to take that last one to school for lunch. And got some funny looks for it. But I didn't care, because it was delicious.)

As I mentioned above, every recipe I found for lefse was a bit different, because every family has a slightly different version of the same food. The recipe below just happens to be a balance I like: not too floury or dry, a little bit buttery, moist yet not too heavy. My ratio, if I count the dried potato as part of the flour, is 6 parts flour:4 parts liquid:1 part fat

I calculated my ratio based on how many total grams of fat, rather than how many grams of butter and cream, went into it. Hopefully this will make substitution more successful for those of you who need to avoid dairy. If you try making a dairy-free version, let me know how it goes!


Lefse (the lazy way)
Makes 8 wrap-sized flatbreads

70g potato flour (not potato starch!)
70g white rice flour
55g potato starch, plus more for rolling out dough
15g buckwheat flour
2 tsp psyllium husk
1/4 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

2 T butter, melted (this contributes about 22 grams of fat) 
35 g cream (approximately 13 grams of this weight come from fat, for a total of 35 g of fat; roughly 20 grams remaining counts as liquid) 
190 g water (this plus the ~20 grams from the cream equals about 210 g liquid)

Method:
Blend all dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix in cream, melted butter, & water, knead until dough forms a ball. --At this point I recommend putting the dough in the refrigerator for about half an hour - the dough is much easier to work with if it's cold.-- When the dough is chilled, flour your work surface and rolling pin with some starch, and heat a heavy griddle over medium heat. Divide the dough into eight balls. To roll out, press each ball flat with your hand, making sure there is plenty of starch on both sides, and gently roll as thin as you can without tearing. Picture yourself using the rolling pin to stretch the dough outwards, rather than pressing downwards on it. (If it does tear, use damp fingers to repair it - just make sure to dust extra starch on that spot so it doesn't stick to the rolling pin. Also, don't worry if they're not perfect - it takes practice, and they'll still taste just as good!) To cook, roll the round of dough up onto/around the rolling pin - so it is draped over the rolling pin - then carefully "roll" it off onto the hot griddle. It should start to bubble up after about a minute, at most - if it doesn't, turn up the heat a little more. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side. Place the lefse between folded dish towels to cool (this keeps them soft). 

Leftover lefse should be frozen for best texture (not refrigerated). Keep them in a freezer bag and thaw in the microwave as needed.

~Check out all of this month's recipes for tortillas & wraps, hosted by Brooke of B & the Boy!~

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

{Ratio Rally} More bread for the table


When I saw that Karen of Cooking Gluten Free had chosen bread for this month's Ratio Rally, I immediately thought of three things:
- I had to make some kind of bread I'd never done before (which I did!)
- I had do a science post (well, that part didn't happen. But more on that later.)
- I was really, really excited. Not just excited about baking bread - excited to see everyone baking bread, proving to the world that even without gluten, flour and water can be transformed into something amazing, something you can proudly have on your table.

After all, bread has essentially been this blog's raison d'être since the very beginning - even the name says it all. A bakery of bread - real bread - which happens to all be gluten-free. I knew from the start, of course, that I would create recipes for many other things as well, but bread in particular holds a special importance to me (a fact which has come up in quite a few of these posts).

But where to start? Since my first post a couple of years ago, I've made dozens and dozens of breads. Nowhere near all of them made it into a post of course, but the best ones did. And each of those "best breads" was posted because when I saw that loaf of real bread browning in my oven, or smelled that fresh-baked crust, or - most of all - tasted something that was truly good, I wanted to share it. There was the first time I discovered that yeast bread not only could be made without eggs or gums, but also that it was so much better that way! Then there was the delicious, authentic-tasting French multigrain bread that had no gums, eggs, or dairy (and the even simpler base recipe, from when I came up with a loaf-shaping strategy that consistently produced an attractive loaf). There was when I finally developed a truly satisfying pizza dough. And though it seems like so long ago now, it's been just two years since I made my very first best bread - at the time I knew next to nothing about food chemistry (meaning baking felt closer to superstition than science), and I still hadn't branched out beyond the eggs-and-xanthan gum formula, but at the time it was by far the best gluten-free bread I'd had. (Some of my newer recipes have what I consider much better taste and texture, but that old bread remains the most popular recipe on this blog - I will admit, the eggs do help things rise quite impressively.)

I thought about all these things as I was deciding just what kind of bread to make for this month's Rally, and suddenly I found myself feeling, well, pretty overwhelmed. And perfectionistic. Little things I brush off when baking just for myself suddenly seemed like huge issues: the crumb was too dark, or too dense; the crust didn't brown enough; there was too much whole-grain flavor, or not enough flavor at all. After several loaves of this criticism, I was growing weary of fighting the properties of gluten-less flours (and the laws of gravity) - it was time to try a different approach. Don't worry, I'm certainly not giving up on a wonderful baguette or boule or any of those other delicious things. In fact, I'll be devoting an upcoming post to exactly why those big loaves are so difficult, and what to do about it...with science!

Just...not this week. And that's where ciabatta comes in.

You see, ciabatta could be considered the odd bread out in the gluten-bread baking world (and I don't just mean its history - I'm talking about the dough itself). We tend to think of gluten dough as something that is, compared to GF dough, so easy to handle; so much more resilient and cooperative. Yet when I was looking at recipes for this particular type of bread, I noticed something odd. Nearly every one stated the dough must be worked using a stand mixer or bread machine knead cycle; they said it simply can't be kneaded by hand. A couple of recipes even went so far as to instruct "throw everything you know about bread dough out the window"! (Any of this sound familiar, gluten-free bakers?!)

Now, don't get me wrong -- ciabatta, just like other regular breads, is definitely very much dependent on gluten for its structure and texture. But while we lack the advantages of gluten to work with, this is one case where we can also avoid its disadvantages - in the case of ciabatta, the fact that its flour:water ratio means the gluten is really sticky. My ciabatta dough may not be strong and stretchy like regular dough, but it's actually quite easy to handle if you follow the instructions. And oh, the texture! With the loaf being so flat, it's not weighing itself down as much - so you'll get an airier crumb than you usually see in (eggless) GF breads. I even included a video clip to show you just how nice the texture is. (Sorry for the poor video quality - it was filmed on a phone - but I think it gets the point across!)

video
See how soft and stretchy it is?! I hope that after that, you really want to make some of your own now. Just a couple more quick notes to add before I get to the recipe:

- If you want to try to get your bread to rise up more (rather than spread out), try placing something on either side of it (separated by parchment) during the final part of the rising, somewhat akin to how a couche works.
- You can use potato starch in place of some of the tapioca starch if you want the insides of the bread to be whiter (have a look at this pizza dough, which is mostly a very similar flour composition, and you'll see what I mean). You may need to add a bit more water if using some potato starch, though.


Ciabatta (Gluten-free, gum-free, egg-free/vegan)
The ratio for this recipe is 4 parts flour:3 parts water. This is fairly typical for this style of bread, even when made with wheat (whereas wheat sandwich bread, for instance, is usually a 5:3 ratio). Though there is some oil in this bread, the amount is too small to make a clean ratio - there is however a similar concept that can accommodate small amounts of oil, etc using percentages (called baker's percentage) which I will introduce in an upcoming post, or you can look it up if you want.


For the sponge:
40 g oat flour
100 g brown rice flour
12 g buckwheat flour
16 g potato flour (not starch)
12 g tapioca starch
1/2 tsp yeast (preferably "bread machine/rapid" yeast)
20 mL organic apple cider vinegar
160 mL warm water

For the final dough:
220 g tapioca starch
1 2/3 T (5 tsp) psyllium
1/2 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp yeast (preferably "bread machine/rapid" yeast)
120 mL warm water
30 mL (2 T) olive oil

For shaping the loaves:
1 tsp double-acting baking powder
2-4 tsp olive oil
rice flour
tapioca starch

Method
1. The night before you want to make bread, you'll need to make the sponge: Combine the dry ingredients for the sponge (including yeast) in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the vinegar and warm water and stir until it forms a stiff dough - it will become more fluid as it ferments. Cover tightly, and set aside to ferment for 12-14 hours.
2. In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients for the final loaf (including yeast).
3. Stir about half of this dry mixture into the fermented sponge, followed by about half the water; then add the rest of the dry mixture, the rest of the water, and the olive oil. (If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment.) The dough will be more loose and slack than usual, but it should not be sticky.

4. Prepare 2 or 4 pieces of parchment (depending on whether you are making small or large loaves). Put a generous splash of olive oil on each parchment for ease of handling the dough.
5. Divide the dough into 2 or 4 pieces, and flatten each into a rectangle as if making very thin pizza:
Be careful not to tear or poke holes in it.
6. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp baking powder evenly on each rectangle (or 1/4 tsp if making 4 smaller loaves). Then fold two of the parallel edges inward, like this:
7. Now fold those edges in once more, overlapping slightly to form a seam:
8. Prepare a baking sheet or pizza peel with a very generous dusting of rice flour.
9. Once the shaped loaves have been resting seam-side up for 15-20 minutes, you will "flip" them onto the baking sheet so they are seam-side down for the rest of the rising time. Do this by grasping the edges of the parchment paper and lifting one side to quickly (but gently!) transfer them onto the floured area:
Handle gently to avoid deflating the loaf.
10. When all your loaves are resting seam-side down on the floured baking sheet/pizza peel, allow them to continue rising for another ~40 minutes (they will approximately double in size). Meanwhile preheat the oven to 230ºC/450ºF with a baking stone on the bottom rack. (If you don't have one, you can bake on a cookie sheet.) 
11. Shortly before putting them in the oven, dust the top of each loaf with a good amount of rice flour and/or tapioca starch. Optional: place a pan of water on the top rack of the oven to create steam - this helps produce a crisp crust. 
12. Gently slide each loaf onto the baking stone - the rice flour will mostly keep them from sticking, but a dough scraper may be useful to ease the transfer with minimal disturbance to the risen loaf. (If you will be baking on the baking sheet, simply place the sheet on the bottom rack of the oven.) Bake for 40-60 minutes (the shorter time will produce a crisp crust; the longer time will give a crunchy crust but will allow more steam to escape from the bread for a lighter loaf overall). Remove from the oven and cover with a dish towel until cool - do not cut until completely cool.
Crusty bread, olive oil, pepper: Enjoy!
~ Check out the rest of this month's bread creations over at Cooking Gluten Free! ~