Food and Drink


I finally gave in and looked at a “real” recipe. The book “The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking” has an interesting approach to bread and the newest edition has a chapter on gluten free breads, so I decided to start there. The 5-minute approach is very hands-off so it seemed like a good option for gluten free. A friend has been trying some of the wheat-based recipes in the book and has been pleased with the results, and the book has well defined volume and mass measurements for ingredients which will make it easy to quantify and adjust the recipes.

For my inaugural batch, I would have liked to follow the recipe exactly, but I didn’t have quite the right ingredients on hand, so I did a little improvising. OK, enough preamble, on to the recipe:

Dry Ingredients:
160g brown rice flour
100g sorghum flour
160g tapioca starch
230g potato starch
20g kosher salt
16g yeast
15g xanthan gum
The dry ingredients were combined with a paddle mixer. NOTE: Everything was loose enough that it combined well, but I might prefer to sift the dry ingredients together in future batches.

Wet Ingredients:
600g water
70g canola oil
The book recipe calls for eggs and melted butter… I don’t have eggs or butter around the house regularly, and I forgot to pick them up before baking day, so I used bland old canola oil. It provides some fat and the flavor should be neutral enough to let me evaluate the other ingredients better. The egg would have provided some protein structure, I’ll have to remember to pick up a dozen eggs next time I go to the store.

The water was microwaved just to the point that it felt warm. With the dry ingredients slowly mixing, ~400g of water was added and the dough mixed until it came together. The canola oil was added, mixing continued, and the remaining water was added. The bowl and paddle were scraped down a couple times throughout and after all the liquid was added the mixer speed was increased to thoroughly combine. The resulting dough was quite loose and a bit sticky. Between the fingers, it had a slightly gritty feeling.

The dough was turned out into a glass bowl, lightly covered, and left to rise until approximately doubled, a little over 3 hours in my cool house.

A small loaf pan was oiled (again, no butter or other solid fat to grease the pan…) and filled about half way with the dough/batter, taking care not to overly deflate the bubble structure. The bread was baked at 400F for 60 minutes, then turned out onto a rack to cool.

Procedure Notes:
I did not smooth the top of the “loaf” after putting it in the pan. A light smoothing/glazing with water would make a better looking loaf.
I didn’t really let the loaf rise in the pan before baking, and I didn’t get a very significant bloom in the oven. The dough was quite light, but a little additional rise time before baking might be good.
The loaf released very well from the pan.

Structure and Tasting Notes:
The loaf smelled wonderful while baking, and the crust set and browned very nicely.
Wait until the loaf cools completely before cutting. I was impatient. It didn’t cause a real problem, but the interior of the loaf was a bit gummy while warm. The crust was very nice, and cuts a little better when fully cooled as well. Smoothing the top of the loaf would also help with cutting it cleanly.
The crust has a very nicely developed toasty, nutty flavor. There is a bit of an “off” aftertaste; it’s not bad but it is noticeable. Strong toppings (peanut butter) cover the aftertaste cleanly.
There is a distinct sweetness to the loaf, likely from the sorghum flour. It’s a nice flavor accent but could be undesirable in some applications.
The crumb of the cooled loaf is moist and just the tiniest little bit gummy. The loaf might have been slightly underdone, but I think it was pretty close. I didn’t have a good thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the loaf.

The above recipe makes enough dough for 2-3 loaves, but I only made 1 loaf on the first day. The remaining dough was lightly covered and put in the fridge, I’ll make another loaf tomorrow that incorporates some of the changes noted above.

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Endangered Species offers a pretty wide variety of chocolate bars of varying strengths with a number of adjuncts. At $3-4 per 3oz bar, they are a reasonable value. The bar I’m reviewing here is the 72% Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans.

Endangered 72% Espresso

The Chocolate:

The 72% cocoa content provides a good chocolate hit with a mild bitterness that is well balanced. The chocolate melts smoothly on the tongue with a pleasant secondary flavor bloom. 

The Adjuncts:

Espresso beans are a wonderful complement to a good quality chocolate bar, unfortunately in this case the espresso beans ruin what could be a good bar. The espresso bean pieces in this bar are much too hard and really interfere with the overall experience. I don’t know if this is a quality issue or just a bad batch of espresso beans, but I have tried a number of good espresso beans that provide a subtle crunch without being hard and gritty like the beans in this bar.

The Form:

These 3oz bars are divided into 15 squares that are perfect for proper enjoyment. The squares snap off cleanly, although the demarkation lines could be a little deeper. This is a form common to Endangered Species brand bars and is a very positive feature of the brand.

Endangered 72% Espresso form

Nutrition:

The Endangered Species 72% Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans bar has typical nutritional values for the quality and price-point of the bar. At 28 calories per square, this bar is ideal for an approximately 100 calorie treat of 4 squares. 

Endangered 72% Espresso nutrition

Overall:

I will not be buying this bar again. The overly hard espresso bean pieces ruin the experience of this bar, although the chocolate itself is good. I will certainly try other options in the Endangered Species line because the chocolate quality and form of the bar are both good.

What effect does a different starch have on gluten-free bread? Time to test that. GFB#03 will use potato starch in place of the tapioca starch of GFB#01 and GFB#02. Since the method used for GFB#01 has already been determined to be a little lacking, I’ll be following the GFB#02 procedure… I mean recipe.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup brown rice flour

3/4 cup potato starch

1/3 cup ground flaxseed meal

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon dry yeast

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup 110F water

All dry ingredients were combined in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle mixer. {This is a change from GFB#02 which used a dough hook. Since I’m not really developing a gluten network by kneading, the dough hook isn’t really doing anything other than mixing which the paddle does better.} The dry ingredients were mixed for ~1 minute, then the water was added. The dough was mixed for 1-2 minutes, then the bowl was scraped down and the dough was mixed for another 1-2 minutes. The dough was transferred directly into a loaf pan {another slight deviation from GFB#02} and allowed to rise for ~1 hour. The risen loaf was put in a preheated 400F oven. For ~40 minutes until the internal temperature was 200F. Turned out onto a wire rack to cool.

Evaluation:

Similar to GFB#02. The loaf didn’t rise quite as much (but not significantly different) and the finished loaf looks virtually identical. The crumb is definitely less sticky/gummy than GFB#02, and I don’t think I get the same aftertaste as with previous loaves, there’s a much cleaner finish to the flavor. The crust is the same.Image

Revisions in the next iteration:

I think the flaxseed meal is making the loaf more dense and moist and causing some of the texture issues I’m trying to fix. I used it because I happened to have most of a bag in the freezer and wanted to use some of it up. I think I’ll try a batch without the flaxseed meal. To replace some of the body that the flaxseed meal provides, I think I’ll bump up the rice flour a bit. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to have to add some other ingredients to the ultimate “best” loaf… from a number of the recipes I’ve found online, it looks like egg, oil, baking powder and buttermilk might be necessary to both improve the texture of the finished loaf and round out the flavor.

For my second attempt at gluten-free bread, I tried to modify the technique rather than the contents of the recipe. There were some minor deviations from GFB#01 ingredients, but I tried not to make any radical changes. When trying to do “good science”, it’s always best to change only 1 variable at a time so the experimenter can clearly identify the effect of that variable. In some experiments, this can be VERY difficult, but with something like a bread recipe it should be pretty easy. The reason I tweaked multiple variables here is that I wanted to make a smaller batch of bread. If I’m making disastrously hideous bricks of pseudo-bread in my quest for a good gluten-free loaf, I really don’t want to be making multiple loaves of nasty with each batch. Once I get a good recipe, I’ll work on scaling up to a “2 full-sized loaves” version of the recipe. By the way, “scaling up” is one of the big tasks that chemical engineers work on; a chemist figures out how to make a gram of material then hands the procedure off to a chemical engineer who figures out how to make 3 truckloads. But back to bread…

For GFB#02, I’m going to try and do a single mix and rise rather than letting the yeast develop as a starter before the rest of the flour is mixed in. There are a couple other little tweaks that I’ll mention when they come up in the experimental procedure, uh, I mean, recipe.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup brown rice flour

3/4 cup tapioca starch

1/3 cup ground flaxseed meal

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon dry yeast

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup 110°F water (a “heavy” 1 cup…)

All the dry ingredients were combined in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. {This is one of the minor tweaks over GFB#01 in which I mixed by hand…} With the mixer running, the warm water was slowly poured in. After mixing for ~1 minute, the sides were scraped down and the dough was mixed for an additional 1-2 minutes. I’m calling this a “dough”, but it is very loose and soft, so it’s really more of a thick batter than a dough, but I’ll probably randomly swap those two terms. The dough was transferred to a glass bowl and allowed to rise. My oven hadn’t completely cooled to room temperature from its last use, so I put the dough in the slightly-above-room-temp oven to give the yeast a good kickstart. After ~1 hour, the dough had doubled in volume {Good sign!} and was transferred to a loaf pan. The dough was allowed to rise in the loaf pan for another ~1 hour and the oven was preheated to 435°F. The loaf was put in the oven, after ~15 minutes the temperature was lowered to 400°F, and the loaf was baked for ~25 additional minutes. The internal temperature of the loaf was check and was only at ~165°F, so it was returned to the oven for another 25 minutes. Internal loaf temperature was ~200°F, so the loaf was removed and allowed to cool.

Evaluation:

Not much different than GFB#01… the loaf is a little lighter, but it’s still pretty dense. The crumb is a little sticky/gummy, but the air bubble structure is OK. Similar to GFB#01, this loaf did not have any noticeable rise/bloom when it was initially put in the oven, in fact, it seems to have shrunk a little. I though that starting with a warmer over would get the trapped gases to expand quickly enough to plump up the loaf before the starches and other gluten substitutes had a chance to set, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Flavor is comparable to GFB#01 which is expected since the ingredients didn’t really change. There’s still a slight aftertaste, but it’s not as obvious with the slightly less dense loaf. I’m pretty pleased with the crust formation, the loaf has a nice crunchy/chewy crust that’s developed a bit of nutty flavor. The top crust is still kind of white and nasty looking, but if I close my eyes it’s good.Image

Revisions in the next iteration:

I’m not sure what I learned from GFB#02. From the processing side, it looks like doing a 1-step mix/rise is a little better than messing with a starter, but the poor bloom and gummy texture are not great. I’ve read a number of sources that say rice-flour-based gluten-free breads tend to have a grainy texture, and I’m clearly avoiding that problem, but dense and gummy aren’t really that much better than grainy. I think I’m going to try modifying the starch source next. Tapioca starch is supposed to be good for the crust, but a number of sources say that potato starch gives better internal structure. I think for GFB#03, I’ll try swapping potato starch for the tapioca starch. Ultimately, I’d imagine that some combination of the two will be best, but I’ll go all-potato for now, just to see what happens.

A couple of other modifications I’m going to look at in future attempts are:

1. Sorghum flour – I’ve seen a few very positive descriptions of sorghum flour for gluten-free breads, and it’s available at one of my local grocery stores. I might also try some of the bean flours… many people note a significant “beany” flavor in these flours so they might not be the best choice for a lighter flavored plain sandwich bread.

2. Other leavening agents – In the gluten-free pizza crust recipe I tried, baking powder was used as well as yeast, maybe I’m not getting good bloom because I need a little extra “oomph” in the oven. This might also call for some dried buttermilk powder to provide some acid, and maybe help with browning the crust.

3. Speaking of crust… The dusty white looking crust is a real turn-off. I’m tempted to brush it with a little oil to intensify the heat transfer and maybe smooth it out a bit. If I can get a good, strong bloom when the loaves go into the oven, the top crust issue may solve itself, but a little oil or egg or milk on that top crust might help its appearance and texture.

I do realize that at this point I’m putting some real effort into re-inventing the wheel here. There are a LOT of gluten-free bread recipes on the internet, and many of them make very good bread. The reason I’m doing this is because there is a lot of variability in the “good” recipes, and I have no feel for what effect different ingredients have on the final product. This makes it very hard to evaluate different recipes without making them all. By systematically varying the ingredients, I can develop that “feel” for different flours and starches and other adjuncts… When in doubt, I fall back on my training as a scientist; change 1 variable, repeat the experiment, evaluate the results, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Time to bake some more…

My sister has recently developed a sensitivity to gluten. She has never been a big on baking or other “complex” recipes, but has become a bit frustrated with the gluten-free options available in stores, both in quality and price. Although I am no master baker, I told her that I would do a little exploring and see if I could find a relatively simple bread recipe for her. I already tried a pizza crust recipe at her house and we were both quite satisfied with the result… I used a bean-based flour and we didn’t notice any off flavor, but the sauce and toppings on the pizza were strongly flavored so that may have been overpowering any unpleasant flavor from the bean flour.

To hopefully broaden her options, I decided to try a rice-based flour recipe for bread. Rice flours are said to have a more neutral flavor, but they can lead to “gritty” textures… When I went to my local grocery store, they had brown rice flour readily available at a reasonable price so I thought I’d give it a try. To make things more adventurous, I decided to try a longer rise time to let more of the yeast flavor develop.

This will be Gluten-Free Bread #01 (GFB#01). Unless I accidentally make the perfect loaf on the first attempt, I will most likely have many more, but I’m optimistically using “GFB#01” in the anticipation that I won’t need to get higher than “GFB#99” before I get a good result.

Dry flour mix:

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup tapioca starch

2 teaspoons xanthan gum

1/2 cup ground flaxseed meal

Combined brown rice flour, tapioca starch and xanthan gum and sifted twice to combine. Blended flaxseed meal in well after sifting. (Flaxseed meal was a little too coarse to make it through my sifter.)

Starter:

1 cup flour mix

1 cup 110ºF (43ºC) water

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry yeast

Mixed dry ingredients well, then added water. Mixed well. This starter is more wet than I’d expect a wheat-based starter to be, but that’s what I would expect from a gluten-free mixture. The sugar and salt amounts are estimates, I measured those by eye in my palm. The starter was allowed to, well, start at room temperature for about an hour before moving to the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, the starter was quite spongy. The remaining flour mix and the rest of the yeast packet (~1 teaspoon) was stirred in resulting in a very dry mix. A few additional tablespoons of water were worked in to loosen the dough. The dough mass was still quite dense. It was separated into 2 small oiled loaf pans and left to rise.

After ~2 hours, the loaves had not risen noticeably. The dough seems very dense, and I think these will make some hideous bricks of “bread”. The oven was pre-heated to 420ºF, loaves put in and the temperature dropped to 390ºF. After ~15 minutes, the loaves had set but not risen much. The loaves were baked for ~45 minutes until a wooden pick came out clean. The loaves were moved to a rack to cool.

Evaluation:

For the most part, this was a failure, but an informative first attempt.

Texture – The bread is very dense and has the consistency of a quickbread rather than a proper yeast bread. The crumb is quite moist; this could be a result of the flaxseed meal. I have found that flaxseed meal retains moisture in wheat breads as well so this is not a surprising result. The crust that was in contact with the pan is quite nice with a little bit of color and a nice crunch. The top crust has a crunch but is very pale in color.

Flavor – The bread has a relatively neutral flavor. I can clearly taste the flax, and there is a slight lingering aftertaste that’s not exactly unpleasant but I would prefer a cleaner finish.

Revisions in the next iteration:

Since the flavor wasn’t bad, I’ll focus on texture. Although this bread was too moist, I think the key might be making the dough/batter more moist. After the starter developed overnight, it had a rather light body; if this is baked directly, the dough will set with much more air incorporated which should yield a lighter loaf. The water-to-flour ratio can be shifted a little more in the direction of flour for the “starter”, but not much. I think it’s time to bake again..Image

Everyone needs a good non-stick pan, but what kind? Cast iron can develop a nice season and be a good non-stick surface, but establishing and maintaining that seasoned cast iron can take a little work. Classic teflon is great, but is prone to scratching, can be destroyed by overheating, and the perfluorinated monomers/oligomers that can leech out might pose some health concerns. I have a “new” non-stick pan that claims to be perfluorooctanoic acid free, and it is a wonderful non-stick surface. On a whim, I picked up a 10″ “Orgreenic” ceramic-coated non-stick pan and I’m thrilled with its performance. I usually try out a new pan by making an omelette because eggs and cheese are both prone to sticking. I’ve made dozens of omelettes in my “Orgreenic” and it’s been an absolute champ. When I see the claims made in infomercials, I am naturally skeptical, but this pan lives up to the hype. The only place anything sticks is on the heads of the rivets holding the handle onto the pan, an unfortunately uncoated part of the pan interior.

If you’re looking for a pan that performs well, is relatively inexpensive, and is easy to use and maintain, you could do much worse than an “Orgreenic”. Yes, this sounds like a shameless infomercial for this “As Seen On TV” products, but in my experience, it just plain works.

The word “perfect” has a lot to live up to, and although the truly “perfect” spatula may not exist, I think there are a few that come close. The criteria I use to evaluate spatulas are pretty simple.

1. Material – At this point in time, I really don’t see any good reason to buy a spatula that is not heat-resistant. A good silicone spatula is flexible, durable, stable, stain resistant, and should be heat resistant to 600ºF or more. Although a good new rubber spatula might have a few advantages, rubber spatulas are not heat resistant, prone to stains, and can get a bit “gummy” over time. If I had an active enough kitchen that I could take advantage of a wide variety of spatulas, I might be willing to stock a few silicone spatulas and a few rubber spatulas, each for their own unique purpose, but personally, I would greatly prefer to have consistent spatulas that are all good (or at least good enough) for any application

2. Construction – Spatulas (and many other kitchen tools) have the potential to be fertile grounds for contamination and bacteria or mold growth. The best way to prevent this is to clean utensils well, and this is infinitely easier if there are fewer gaps and seams and joints. That means any spatula that is a single piece will be much easier to clean and keep clean. One-piece construction also means that the head of the spatula will never fall off or slip from the handle. There are very few rubber spatulas that offer 1-piece construction, so once again, silicone offers a distinct advantage. Having 1-piece, all-silicone construction also means that when using the spatula for “hot” applications, you never have to worry about melting or scorching the handle of a silicone-headed 2-piece spatula.

3. Price – This is, honestly, a minor consideration. A good quality $10 spatula will usually be much more durable than a $2 spatula, but the difference in price between a “good” spatula and a “cheap” spatula isn’t really that significant. With some kitchen tool, the price range is pretty broad. For example, frying pans can range from $10 to $200+, but even a very high quality spatula with a prestigious brand name probably won’t cost more than $25-30, and a good quality tool can be found quite easily for $10-15.

My favorite spatula is a Chef’n brand 1-piece silicone model similar to this one {http://www.target.com/p/vibe-switchit-spatula/-/A-13385306#prodSlot=medium_1_1 }, although my specific spatula is not colored.

This has been a wonderful tool in my kitchen for quite a few years, but has picked up a couple small nicks and dings, so I’m probably in need of a new one. I’ll probably wander through local stores for a new spatula, but I’d be pretty happy if I could either find the exact same model or perhaps something like this one {http://www.chefn.com/Product.aspx?id=143 }

I would be perfectly content to use a brand other than Chef’n, but my current Chef’n spatula has been a wonderful tool so I’d be happy to display some brand loyalty.

Do I really put this much thought into something as pedestrian and work-a-day as a spatula? Well, yes, but it’s almost by accident. As with many kitchen tools and other things, you don’t really think about preferences or quality until you accidentally buy something that has some very obvious advantages. That was the case with this spatula.

{Re-post of a post originally on http://scienceofcooking100.blogspot.com/}

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