Oct 132012
 
tortilladora de madera mezquite

Tortilladora de madera mezquite

Corn (maize) tortillas have to be the quintessential American bread. American as in ‘from the Americas’, not ‘USiAn’. Several highly organized civilizations flourished in North, Central and South America, all without wheat which was unknown to them. Maize was their staple, and alongside beans, a grass somewhat resembling rice, and potatoes in the South. With these sources of complex carbohydrates who would want for wheat (or barley)?

Of these cultures and culinary traditions practically only one survives, that of the Nahua (Aztec, if you insist), and that is amalgamated with Spanish traditions to form the wonder that is Mexican food. Stuck for a G-F meal? Look no further than Mexico.

We bought a tortilla press many years ago from Zabar‘s in NYC. It was made of aluminium, cost about $20 and broke on its first outing. Sad to say we never made tortillas again… until this morning and, like the granola and the oatcakes we are again finding our palms firmly smacking our heads. WHY did we not do this before? The difference in flavor between these puppies and the corn tortillas we have been subsisting on from Trader Joe’s is like the difference between cheese and chalk. These tlaxcalli are sublime, especially the first run off the comal, slathered with farm butter.

Ingredients:

  • Masa harina (very fine maize flour)
  • Salt
  • Warm water
  • Ratio of water to harina was ~ 1.2 : 1 (350ml : 300g)

Lest I upset any real Mexican that happens to find this page, we used Maseca (masa seca = dry dough, if you ask me) brand masa harina, but that is not real masa harina… it is itself an ‘instant’ dough (masa) flour (harina), that has some other ingredients added, most notably lard. But it is close enough for me. To be any more authentic we’d have to grow our own corn (done that, actually), and develop a nixtamalization process.

Method:

  1. Add water bit by bit until a dough resembling kids’ playdough is formed
  2. Break off small pieces of dough and form golf-ball sized spheres
  3. Flatten into a circle to your required thickness (our first batch varied a _lot_)
  4. Cook on a comal/griddle* until golden and delicious, or
  5. partially cook on a a griddle, making a batch that can be further grilled at a more convenient time.

* We were given a very thin steel comal by a Mexican friend several years ago that I swear was beaten out of an old trashcan lid, and this did the trick perfectly as it was very quick to heat up and cool down. That is rusting overseas right now, so we have co-opted an old cast iron griddle that has been used solely for making sincronizadas (quesadillas).

Ah, method. #3 is the one to watch out for here. Since we are without a tortilladora two alternate methods were tried.

#1 Rolling pin: The first was rolling out a tortilla on a floured surface. This was entirely unacceptable as the dough is very frangible and frequently tore, and even when it did not, the shape is irregular, and it makes a mess. We are looking for a quick and clean method so that making tortillas becomes second nature, making it next to no hassle to make a fresh batch for breakfast before the kids head off to school in the mornings.

#2 Ad hoc press: The second method was opening up a 1 gallon (US ~ 3.78L) zip lock bag, and placing a ball of masa between the layers. The ball was then pressed flat with body weight behind a cast iron skillet. This led to circular tortillas, but considerable stress on our work surface. It seems pretty clear that the real way to go is to get a tortilla press. Internet ‘research’ thus far seems to indicate that a heavy wooden press made of mesquite wood would be ideal– most reviews of cast iron tortilladoras indicate a problem with the handle snapping under compression, just like our old aluminium press.

And a little light reading: Breve historia de un invento olvidado: Las máquinas tortilladoras en México

ad hoc tortilla press

Skillet as tortilladora

Tortilla grilling on a comal

Tortilla grilling on a comal

 

Oct 112012
 

Lest y’all think that everything works out in our GF kitchen, I’ve decided to add that the following did not. Well, not quite. The bread is darned tasty, and is wonderful toasted with a bit of fresh butter. We are BIG butter fans, especially locally made stuff (not Cabots or Land o’ Lakes, or anything ‘stick’ form, really), the sort of butter that is pretty close to tasting of cheese.

I think it is really just a question of getting the right flour combination down, and practising technique. Bread making is hard enough to get right with regular wheat flour, let alone with the added complexity of a bread sans gluten.

As it was World Porridge Day we went with the following:

Ingredients:

  • 80g GF porridge oats
  • 150g rice flour
  • 50g tapioca flour
  • 60g buckwheat flour
  • 1tsp GF baking powder
  • 1tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 packet dried bakers’ yeast
  • 50g butter
  • 30g sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
I should repeat again that we use a nifty electronic scale, which is just so convenient for baking. Place on a bowl, zero (or ‘tare’) it, add ingedient, zero once more… add ingredient. Rinse and repeat.

 

Method:

  1. Set the yeast in a warm sugar solution and cover
  2. ‘Biltz’ the oats in a food processor to break them up
  3. Add other dry ingredients, and give the processor a few spins to mix the ingredients
  4. Add honey and butter and rub in until one has what looks and feels like fine breadcrumbs
  5. When the yeast starter is starting to bubble, add it and 400ml of warm water to the dry ingredients and beat to form a batter. Cover and set aside to let the yeast get all saccharomycidal on those complex sugars, and the batter to rise
  6. Preheat oven to 200C
  7. Grease a 450g loaf tin, pour in batter
  8. Bake until golden brown and cooked through (45-50 minutes)

Gluten-Free Oat Bread

 

A few thoughts for next time… Higher oven temperature at least initially. Buckwheat is, we think, a little bit heavy. Perhaps 50g less rice flour, and replace that deficit AND the tapioca for 100g of potato flour. Maybe also leave out the sesame seeds (add a little sesame oil instead), and give longer for the yeast to really get going.

Oct 082012
 

One can’t have Thanksgiving without cornbread. This recipe comes as a surprise: I picked up a bag of almond meal whilst shopping and decided to try it as a straight substitute for flour in cornbread. Normally, I use some combination of tapioca flour, garbanzo flour, masa, or any of the other GF powders I have lying around.

With almond meal in hand, I surfed up a couple of recipes, and used this one for inspiration. The result? A nice, surprisingly moist, cornbread that was good enough to reheat and enjoy the following day. This one really hit the spot.

Moist, and not too cakey.

Ingredients:

  • 100g (1/2 cup) each of white and yellow cornmeal (could use 200g/1cup of either)
  • 75g (3/4 cup) almond meal
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 250 ml (1 cup) buttermilk
  • 25g (2-3 tbsp.) honey
  • 85g unsweetened applesauce [NOTE: Recipe calls for: 60g (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and really this should have meant about 70g applesauce, but I had extra to use up.]
  • grease for the skillet (I used ~ 1 tbsp bacon fat)
  • Other possible additions: bacon bits, cheese, corn, hot peppers…anything else that strikes your fancy.

 Method: 

The batter will look nice and hearty.

  1. Preheat the oven to 425F/218C
  2. Put 1 tbsp fat in the skillet and place in the oven to heat
  3. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl
  4. Mix the eggs, milk, and honey in a separate bowl
  5. Stir the wet mixture into the dry, then add the melted butter and mix thoroughly
  6.  When the fat in the skillet is sizzling hot, pour in the batter
  7. Cook until the bread is golden on top and firm in the middle. (The recipe said 15-20 mins, but with the extra applesauce, I cooked ours for 30 mins.)
  8. Serve straight from the pan! (Or not.)
And, voilà!

 

 

Oct 072012
 

Please, someone, tell me why I did not make granola earlier: for years, I have shied away from purchasing the stuff at the store because it all seems too “fancy” with artificial fruit flavours, etc., that simply do not appeal. What set me to work was seeing “GF granola” on our shopping lists, and realizing just how expensive it is. Really? For what is basically glorified oats? So, I set to; and behold:

GF granola made to order!

 

What I used (apologies in advance I did not measure out this recipe with the scale):

  • 4 c. gluten-free oats  (note that these should be “old-fashioned” oats)
  • ¼  c. chopped almonds
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup peanut oil
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • raisins and dried cranberries. Oh, and more almonds.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven 300F/150C.
  2. Mix together the almonds, oats, and brown sugar.
  3. Warm the oil and syrup, then pour it slowly over the oats mixture while stirring.
  4. Stir together with a spoon, then make it uniform by using your hands.
  5. Spread the mixture evenly on a baking tray (or trays).
  6. Bake for 40 minutes, stirring the mixture on the tray every 10 minutes.
  7. Let the granola cool on the baking trays.
  8. Add nuts, raisins, or other dried fruit as desired.

Future variations:

  • Experiment with coconut, olive, and other oils.
  • For the liquid sugar, try agave, honey, molasses, or treacle.
  • Additions may include any variety of nuts, dried fruits, and other morsels: our favourites include cashews, dark chocolate chunks, macadamia nuts, and sunflower seeds.

Oct 072012
 

When we wanted a gluten-free graham cracker crust for our key lime meringue pie, we looked to Gluten-Free Girl because we wanted a recipe that included the making of graham crackers, rather than a trip to the store for ready-made, GF graham crackers. We followed that recipe pretty closely and came up with crackers that looked like this:

 

I am often imprecise with measurements, but note them as closely as I can. A few grams on either side should not make a difference. This is the recipe for graham crackers as I followed it, which has a few modifications from the one referenced above.

  • 70g garbanzo flour
  • 70g tapioca flour
  • 70g white rice flour
  • ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ¼ teaspoon guar gum
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 100g melted butter
  • 85g honey
  • 3-6 tablespoons cold water

Method:

Preheat the oven to 325F/160C

  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients
  2. Cut the butter into the mixture until the texture is mealy. It’s easiest to do this in a food processor.
  3. Combine the honey and a few tablespoons of cold water and pour it into the batter while mixing.
  4. Keep mixing until the dough sticks together in a ball: add more water if necessary.
  5. Roll the dough into two balls. Wrap each dough ball and cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out (one ball at a time) on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. The flattened dough should be about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.
  7. Cut the dough to match the pattern you want for your graham crackers.
  8. Refrigerate the rolled out dough for 15 minutes.
  9. Prick the dough all over with a fork.
  10. Bake the graham crackers until they are golden and firm to the touch.
  11. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet. They should become quite crisp.

Verdict on the result: the kids liked them, but I’m going to work with the recipe. It’s probably me, or perhaps my mixture of flours, but I found them to be a bit dense. That said, we made them mainly so that we could make graham cracker crumbs, and for that they were great.

The graham cracker crust

  • 200g graham cracker crumbs
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Method:

  1. Blitz the graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar, in a food processor until uniformly mixed. The crumbs should hold together when pressed.
  2. Pour into a pie dish and press up against the bottom and sides.
  3. We did not pre-bake this, but it can be browned at 375F/190C for 5-10 minutes if desired.

Once pressed into the dish, the crust looked like this:

The pie crust, before pouring in the key lime mixture.

 

The pie was lovely, and disappeared quickly. I’ll still work to improve this recipe, though. The crust was a bit dense, which may be because my own measurements of butter and sugar were off, or because the graham crackers I worked with were dense.

 

Oct 072012
 

We can thank STS-133 for our family’s appreciation of key lime pie. While we did see it launch in the end, our first journey to Florida included a trip to the Keys while we waited to hear whether the mission would go ahead. That first trip may end up being the first and last time we sample proper Key Lime Pie, but we’ll continue to experiment on our own versions that bring us back to Islamorada. The current recipe is not key lime pie, even if it was inspired by that dessert. First, key limes were out of season and therefore not available. Secondly, we decided to add a meringue using the leftover egg whites. That and Joseph was very much into the ‘science’ of meringues.

The finished product

 The recipe we followed was based on this:

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 14 oz. (1 can) condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup (key) lime juice

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F/190 degrees C
  • Beat the yolks, then add in condensed milk and lime juice and mix thoroughly.
  • Pour the mixture into a graham cracker crust (we mostly followed the recipe from Gluten-Free Girl).
  • Bake for 15 minutes, then let cool.
  • Whip the egg whites (after adding some green food coloring to keep in theme) and 1/4 cup of icing/confectioners’ sugar until stiff, and forming peaks. Spread on top of the pie.
  • Bake until golden brown (10-15 minutes)

Right, so our crust was a bit large, and the consistency of the crust was such that it flopped over onto the pie filling. We rather liked the effect, one child claiming that it looked a bit like some weird planetoid. In any event, we covered all of this with the colored meringue.

Modifications: for a start, we try to use key limes! That said, the slightly milder taste meant that everyone in the family liked this one. One time we included rind and made an incredibly intense pie. I’d recommend that for anyone who wants pie tasting to be an experience.

Jul 152012
 

Gluten-free beef pasties. (This is one where you’ll have to use your own judgment regarding amounts: we just threw it together, but the addition of lamb stock made the filling especially rich. The point of this post? You can be gluten-free and still feed that craving for a pasty.)

Beef fresh from the village butcher

 

 

 

Filling (ingredients):

  • Fresh string beef from the local butcher
  • Gluten-free flour
  • Olive oil or animal fat
  • Red wine
  • Lamb stock (made with bones from yesterday’s lamb chops)
  • Peas and parboiled carrots and potatoes (we used small new potatoes)

We tossed the beef in gluten-free flour

Filling (method):

  • Dice the meet into small- and medium-sized cubes
  • Toss the beef in gluten-free flour
  • Brown the beef in oil/fat
  • Remove the beef from the pan and deglaze with red wine
  • Restore beef to the pan
  • Add lamb stock, carrots, peas, and potatoes
  • Cook until the mixture is nice and thick

Preparing the pasties:

  • Roll out pastry (look at other entries for gluten-free pastry)
  • Cut the dough into large ovals (roughly double the size you want your pasty to be)
  • Spoon a heap of filling onto one half of each cut-out portion of dough, being careful to leave room at the edges
  • Fold the remaining dough over the filling so that you can crimp the sides together to create a filled packet of pastry
  • Brush the pastry with milk if desired
  • Bake at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the pastry is golden

Nice, meaty filling

Note: gluten-free pastry does not hold together as well as regular pastry, so you will probably want to eat these on a plate with a knife and fork, for they are unlikely to stay together if you try to eat them with your hands.

 

The pasties might not look perfect, but they tasted delicious

Feb 182012
 

As if a Yorkshire pudding can be gluten-free: please send suggestions of a suitable name for a GF version of something akin to a Yorkshire pudding.

The pudding, still reasonably puffed up.

Ingredients:

  • 150 g gluten-free flour[1]
  • 50 g buckwheat flour
  • 50 g brown rice flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 4 eggs
  • 450 ml milk[2]
  • 1 tbsp animal fat (beef dripping, lard)

[1] I had exactly 150 g left of a large batch of GF flour I’d made with: equal parts rice flour and garbanzo flour, plus a bit of corn starch to equal 150 g; 1 tsp each of xanthan gum and baking powder

[2] The non-GF recipe called for 150 ml milk and this is quite an increase. However, since many GF flours are very fine and have a high surface-to-volume ratio, they absorb more liquid than wheat flours. In order to achieve the proper consistency in the batter before setting, I added quite a bit of extra milk. I would suggest adding the liquid bit by bit– putting the extra in by additional 50-100 ml measures.

Method:

  • Whisk together the dry ingredients
  • Make a well in the middle of the flour mix, add the eggs, and beat the eggs together first, then with the flour
  • Add the milk and mix until evenly blended and the batter is thin
  • Let the batter set for about half an hour
  • In this time, preheat the oven to 245 C or 475 F. [I started at 230/450 but went up to 260/500 after 15 minutes]
  • While the oven is heating up, put the animal fat in a cast iron skillet/frying pan
  • When the oven is heated and the fat is sizzling, pour in the batter
  • Place in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes (original flour recipe called for 15-20, mine was in for 30)

A slice: lighter in taste and texture than it looks

The batter should be quite runny before resting
Feb 182012
 

The first time I tried to make gluten-free dumplings, they worked out beautifully. Indeed, the existence of this blog is largely down to our desire to record those things that go well. For the record: I have not yet replicated those wonderful dumplings, but am working on it.

Cornmeal buckwheat dumplings.

Recipe 1: Cornmeal buckwheat soy dumplings

  • 1/3 cup (75 g) yellow cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup (35 g) soy flour
  • 1/3 cup (55 g) buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup (60 g) grated suet
  • cold water (about 1/3 cup?)
  • Salt/pepper/seasoning to taste

Method

  • Whisk together the dry ingredients
  • Mix in the suet until evenly blended
  • Add cold water bit by bit until the dough just sticks together.
  • You should be able to shape the dough into small balls (see picture under recipe 2).
  • Drop the balls into a simmering pot of stew or soup
  • Heat for 10-15 minutes at least, or until ready to eat
  • The dumplings should float when ready

Verdict: Tasty. We like the earthiness added by the buckwheat, and the hearty texture from the cornmeal. However, I do not expect these to hold up. If you want something that will turn into a thickener, these are perfect. I still need to work on the balance a bit, but this batch went down well.

Recipe 2: Masa dumplings

  • 1 cup gluten free flour (my mixture: 75 g masa harina; 5 g tapioca flour; 30 g garfava flour)
  • 1 cup (50 g) grated suet
  • pinch salt
  • pepper to taste
  • Cold water

Method:

See above: the same method applies for these as for the cornmeal buckwheat dumplings.

Mix the dough until it just comes together

Then form bite-sized balls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verdict:

I actually made two versions of the masa dumplings: in one batch, I added a bit of xanthan gum and baking powder. Those fell apart immediately. The others had a nice texture and were quite light, but fell apart overnight. I suspect that masa is not the best flour to use but will need to do more tests to see if it is the culprit (a while back I had another batch of masa dumplings that fell apart). In other words, nice taste and texture, but only good for one meal. After that, they become thickener.

Some notes:

  1. The first thing is, note that when using weights there should be about double the weight of flour to fat (so, 100 g flour to 50 g fat). When using measuring cups, the amount of flour is about the same as fat (about 1 cup flour and 1 cup loosely shredded fat).
  2. From (1) it should be clear that the measurements for cups/weights do not always add up. This is because measuring cups are inherently less precise than scales. For instance, shredded suet has a lot of air in it, so don’t worry too much that I have noted a 10g difference in weight for the suet used in two recipes where I estimated it to be “about a cup”. If in doubt, use scales; in most cases, it is fine to give or take a few grams or milliliters.
  3. I do not normally use soy flour but had it to hand. For decent cornmeal dumplings, 1/3 cup cornmeal to 2/3 cup other gluten-free flour should work just fine. Fool around with different flours until you find a texture/taste that works for you.
  4. While I normally season the dumplings with black pepper, sometimes chili pepper, and with a dash of salt. I did not season the cornmeal buckwheat ones, and they tasted fine.
  5. I am not convinced that the xanthan gum is necessary in the second recipe; baking powder may not be, either. Experiment!
  6. If you cannot get suet, try freezing and then grating butter. One normally thinks of the suet as being shredded, but I buy a large frozen chunk from a local farm shop and grate it on demand.

 

Feb 122012
 

Shortly after going gluten-free, we tried Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free pizza crust. Having lived in New Haven for many years, we like pizza. Bob’s didn’t measure up, so that was it…until now. This might not be apizza, but as long as we’re gluten-free we may have to settle for a bit less.

Having found a hit with buckwheat pancakes, I decided to try a buckwheat pizza crust. The recipe I adopted was basically the one described here, but without the garlic powder.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¼ cups (275 g) buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup (60 g) tapioca flour
  • pinch salt
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 ¼ cup (280 ml) warm water
  • ¼ cup (85 ml) olive oil*
  • ½ tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. cider vinegar
  • cornmeal (optional)

* I used rosemary and peppercorn infused olive oil

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)
  • Grease a baking tray and sprinkle with cornmeal (cornmeal is optional)
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt
  • In a medium-sized bowl, combine the water, oil, honey, and vinegar
  • Add the wet to the dry ingredients and mix them until well blended
  • The batter should be fairly moist
  • Pour the batter onto the baking tray and spread it until even in thickness
  • Pre-bake the crust for 15-20 minutes or until it seems just cooked
  • Take it out and add toppings. I first spread olive oil over the crust, this time some I had left over from a tub of marinated mozzarella balls.
  • Once you’ve created your pizza, bake until the toppings look done, about 10-15 minutes.

The batter will be surprisingly runny.                                               I spread olive oil and cornmeal on the tray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is how the batter looked before it went into the oven:             and this is how it looked after:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a little sneaky. My kids don’t normally eat carrots, so I grated one and spread it on top of the crust where I could hide it. I did the same with some diced fresh tomatoes:

The sauce I used was a combination of homemade red sauce and Trader Joe’s Organic Marinara with no salt added. Other toppings included fresh mozzarella, grated cheddar, and bacon. I added sliced jalapeños to my corner.

The verdict: two very happy boys. Neither noticed the carrots and their only complaint was that the toppings fell off too easily. In terms of the crust, it tasted good but was not like a traditional crust because the texture was somehow dense yet light at the same time. It’s possible that I didn’t pre-cook it for long enough, so next time I’ll go for a golden look. Overall, I found it to be nice and manageable. Unlike so many other crusts, the boys could cut up their slices without any problem. It was soft, yet not soggy. I’ll have to play around with this one to make it a bit thinner and crispier, but it seems like a winner. Not too shabby the morning after, either.

 

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