Sunday, June 21, 2015

Against The Grain Cookbook FAQ

General Questions

Note: If you make substitutions, please understand that you are experimenting. My recipes are tested with the exact ingredients specified, and I can’t guarantee the outcome if you make substitutions.

My recipe didn’t work. What went wrong?
Did you follow the recipe exactly? This means using the same ingredients, the specified pan sizes, the same rest times and rising times, and the same baking times. Are you sure your oven is to the exact temperature? Oven thermometers are inexpensive and available in every grocery store—I never bake without one. Are you sure your yeast is working? If all of these are true, read on.

Is my problem with the flour(s)?
Typically the most vexing problem in GF baking is the differences between and within different flours. Flour weights vary by brand and by the milling process used. Think about how you can pack more small shapes like sesame seeds in a cup than larger shapes like raisins. This is the same with finely milled flours versus more coarsely milled flours. The biggest challenge in gluten free baking is dealing with variability between and among brands of gluten free flours. Different brands of the same flours weigh different amounts per cup and have different fiber and protein contents.

Please make sure you read the sections carefully on p.42 “How to Adjust for Weight Differences in Flours,” and you will probably find most of your questions answered. Look at the nutritional label on your flour, and if the weight per measure is different from that specified in the recipe, you may have to adjust the amount of your flour or liquid amount to compensate for differences in flour weights. If the recipe describes at any step what your dough should look like and it looks different, this is an indication that there are differences in flour weights.

Why doesn’t my yeast-bread dough look like regular bread dough?
Starch is not soluble in cold water, and without gluten to hold things together, bread and other baked goods don’t have their own structure. Unless you are using industrial ingredients like guar gum and xanthan gum to artificially bind the ingredients, which I don’t, GF breads typically need external structure like high-walled bread pans, muffin cups, spring form pans, and the like that create structure until the baking process acts on the protein and starches to create self-sustaining structure.

All About Tapioca 

Is cassava flour the same as tapioca flour?
Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably but cassava flour is tapioca starch with the fiber included (see page 42.) Look at the nutritional panel, and if there is fiber, you are dealing with cassava flour and it will absorb more liquid than tapioca starch because it has a greater amount of fiber.

When I make tapioca-based recipes, the dough appears to be either runny or too thick. Why is this happening?

Read the section in the cookbook on p.42 “How to Adjust for Weight Differences in Flours,” on working with the variability in GF flours. Tapioca flour weights vary considerably between brands as shown below.

Brand                          Weight per Cup (g)
Ener-G                        100
King Arthur                113
Bob’s Red Mill           120
Arrowhead Mills        128
NOW Foods               128
Authentic Foods         160
Goya                           160
Let’s Do Organic        160                    176

I specified tapioca in each recipe that is 140g/cup. The most common ones I hear people use are Bob’s Red Mill (BRM) and Ener-G. If you are baking using cup measures and BRM, you need to add about 2-1/2 more tablespoons of tapioca. If you are using Ener-G, add about 1/3 cup more tapioca.

My baked goods made with tapioca seem gummy. What am I doing wrong? Tapioca is a starch and starches gel when heated. If there is  a little too much liquid, it won’t gel completely and will not rise as well with leaveners like yeast, baking  powder, and eggs. If there is not enough liquid, it doesn’t have the elasticity sufficient to expand. If you are working with a scale, make sure your water weight is exactly a cup—240g. If using a measuring cup, be as precise as possible. In any case, tapioca doesn’t produce a dry, crumbly crumb like other GF flours. It adds a chewiness and springiness to baked goods.

What happens if I over-mix my tapioca/flours during the pregelatinizing stage? When starch granules are heated, they absorb liquid and swell. If you mix or heat them too much, the granules break down and release the liquid they absorbed. The starch will no longer have elastic properties and may affect the rise and crumb of your baked goods. For this reason, you should be very cautious not to over-mix the flour and hot/emulsified liquid when combining them in a food processor.

All About Buckwheat

Is regular buckwheat flour the same as light buckwheat flour?
No, they are not. Regular buckwheat flour has both more fiber and more protein. As a result it is a darker, coarser, and stronger-tasting flour that absorbs more liquid. You will have to add more liquids to compensate. Start by adding 1 tablespoon of liquid at a time. Read the section in the cookbook on p.42 “How to Adjust for Weight Differences in Flours,” on working with the variability in GF flours.

How do regular buckwheat flours compare?

Grams per cup
Grams Fiber
Grams Protein
Bob’s Red Mill
Arrowhead Mills
Hodgson Mills

Where can I buy light buckwheat flour?
Light buckwheat flour is available in the regular flour section of many grocery stores and can be bought in bulk at coops and natural food stores. If you can’t find it, some online sources that I have ordered GF items from include:                $2.40/lb                                           $2.25/lb (6lbs/13.50)                                               $3.49/lb                                    $4.30/lb (10 lbs/43.00)

What if I can’t find (or don’t like) light buckwheat? What can I substitute?
Sorghum flour works pretty well, but unlike buckwheat, it is a grain. You can experiment around with other grains, acknowledging that you may have to adjust your hydration ratio up or down depending on the protein and fiber profile of the flour. Although I have not tested it in every recipe, I have found very positive results in some breads substituting an equal amount by weight of King Arthur All Purpose Gluten Free Flour for the buckwheat only in a recipe. In other words, if the recipe calls for tapioca starch or oat flour or coconut flour in addition to buckwheat, the buckwheat component can be replaced with King Arthur flour.

Why does buckwheat sometimes turn green or golden when baked?
Buckwheat is a seed that contains naturally occurring chlorogenic acid, which is an antioxidant found in all plant leaves, stems, and seeds. If the batter is too alkaline (doesn’t contain enough acid,) some seeds high in chlorogenic acid, as well as and other plant foods, will turn bluish or greenish in color. Light buckwheat also contains higher levels of copper than other GF flours, which gives also gives it a naturally greenish-golden hue. When light buckwheat is exposed to baking soda, it may turn an ocher-like color. The problem can be too much baking soda or not enough acid. Lowering the amount of baking soda may affect the rise, so the best correction is to add a small amount of acid—either a teaspoon or two of vinegar or lemon juice—which will not affect the taste but will neutralize the baking soda while still leavening the baked good. Another alternative in muffins is to disguise the color with a small amount of cocoa, molasses, or other dark spices, as long as they work with the flavor profile. Other foods that may turn blue or green when exposed to too much baking soda include sunflower seeds, walnuts, blueberries, and carrots.


As mentioned above, if you make substitutions, please understand that you are experimenting. My recipes are tested with the exact ingredients specified, and I can’t guarantee the outcome if you make substitutions.

Can I substitute dairy-free ingredients for milk, butter, sour cream, and the like? Many of the recipes are dairy-free, but I have found that I can almost always substitute coconut milk for regular milk. You will get the same texture but it may taste quite a bit different. You can also substitute Spectrum Vegetable shortening (palm oil) or coconut oil for butter, but bear in mind that butter is 20% water and these two substitutes are all oil. In order to avoid a more oily product, use about 20% less of vegetable shortening and coconut oil. I don’t use non-dairy butter substitutes such as Earth Balance, so I can’t give advice on that. I am intolerant to soy so I also don’t use soy-based substitutes or tofu for sour cream and yogurt, so I can’t comment on how these may or may not work. One of the key things ingredients like sour cream and buttermilk add is an acidic environment to activate baking soda and baking powder. For baked goods like cakes and quick breads, I have found that orange juice is an effective substitute for buttermilk. Again, the texture might not be quite as tender, but it tastes really good.

Can I use sugar substitutes? I’m not sure since I haven’t attempted to use any but Truvia (in products like muffins, cakes, and brownies and they came out okay but a little chemical-tasting.)

Do I have to use canola oil as specified? No, I use minimally processed cold expeller pressed non-GMO canola so I’m fine with it, but if you want to use a substitute oil, I would suggest safflower. Olive oil can have very different baking characteristics from canola.

I don’t like coconut. What can I substitute? That’s kind of a problem because I love it baking wise, flavor-wise, nutritionally, and as a very cool lower carb flour. Typically, you can’t taste coconut flour when it is added as one of multiple flour ingredients. Although I haven’t done it, you might try almond flour as a substitute when the predominant flour is coconut flour (as in the Yellow Cake.) If a recipe specifies coconut oil, you can buy some unscented coconut oil (like Spectrum Organic.) If a recipe specifies shredded coconut, you can just leave it out, or do what seems even weirder to me, but people swear by: use bagged (not canned) sauerkraut that has been blotted dry. Hey, everyone’s taste is different! Finally, there are a few recipes that rely on coconut butter (for example the Coconut Raisinete Brownies, Energy Bars, or the Coconut Raspberry Chocolate Tartlets.) For these, you might try commercially-available almond paste. I haven’t tried it, but logically it should work. Oh, and don’t bother to try the Coconut Caramels without coconut. Just make regular caramels using whole cream.

Baking Equipment Questions

Should I get a scale?
Yes, most definitely. You will save the amount you pay for the scale in avoiding potentially costly mistakes with gluten free flours. On the high end (about $50,) consider an OXO Good Grips scale. We use them for many things in a commercial setting. That being said, I have had great luck at home with a Ozeri scale, and it is one-quarter of the price. Whatever you buy, make sure you have precision down to 1 gram. These digital kitchen scales are battery operated, and for someone who bakes all the time, I find I only have to change the batteries every 2-3 years.

Do I need a big stand mixer?

Do I need a food processor?
You can get by if you have a really strong arm or in some cases a blender, but a food processor is right up there with parchment paper as my indispensable GF aids. The food processor makes pre-gelatinizing the flours far easier, but I did it for years with patience and a wooden spoon. You can’t get the dough as smooth without a food processor, but it seems to bake out fairly well if you take the time to smooth the top of your loaf.

Do bread pans really make a difference?
Yes, you definitely need a high-walled pan with a depth of 3 or more inches. All of the loaf recipes in this book are scaled for a 4x8 pan. Norpro makes an inexpensive, dimple-walled pan (I got mine at Target for about $8.) Traditional 5x8 glass loaf pans will work if that is all you have and you are itching to bake, but your loaf will be flatter and the cooking time may vary since glass conducts heat differently than metal pans. Glass pans bake faster; the glass is slower to heat up than metal, but once it's hot, it tends to retain the heat longer than metal. For this reason, you need to watch your bread and most likely reduce the baking time for 5 to 10 minutes.

Do other baking containers—baking sheets, baking dishes, skillets, muffin tins, etc. make a difference? Yes, dark pans and glass pans, pans of different sizes than specified, and pans without parchment paper liners (if specified) will all produce different results. You can certainly learn to work around these factors, but it is best to first follow the recipe directly as written.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rhubarb Crisp Bars

Here in southern Vermont, we thought winter would never end—the last snow went out of our yard on May 2, which was pretty disheartening. But the first green to appear in the garden was rhubarb. Our initial plants, of the green variety, were given to us by a friend three years ago.

Last summer I bought a few more red ones, so I was eager to see the results. With the first rhubarb cutting, I made rhubarb pickles using a recipe in the March/April 2015 issue of Eating Well Magazine.

They are still doing their pickle thing; the flavor is great but they are not quite as crisp as I had hoped.For my next rhubarb culinary experiment, I hit a home run with these Rhubarb Crisp Bars. Many people add strawberries to their rhubarb, but I prefer the tanginess of pure rhubarb. In these bars, the combination of oats, light buckwheat flour, and brown sugar pairs extremely well with the rhubarb. 

These bars are firm enough to hold, yet crumbly like a fruit crisp. Perfect with tea or served with a side of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Note: these bars can easily be made vegan with the substitution of 7 tablespoons of coconut oil for the 8 tablespoons of butter (butter has 20% more water than coconut oil so you use less of the coconut oil.)

Makes 10 bars

Crust and crumble topping:
8 tablespoons chilled salted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup (100g) old-fashioned oats
½ cup (70g) tapioca starch
¾ cup (90g) light buckwheat flour
1/3 cup (70g) sugar
1/3 cup (64g) packed light brown sugar
3 cups (about 315g) chopped rhubarb (1-inch slices sliced into halves)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon tapioca
¼ cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 8 x 8-inch square pan with butter and line with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, toss the rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice together. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of tapioca and toss again. Set aside.

3. In another medium bowl, blend the oats, tapioca, buckwheat, and both sugars. Work in the butter with your fingers until the butter is incorporated and the mixture is crumbly. Pour approximately ½ of the mixture into the prepared pan and press down until evenly packed. Spread the rhubarb mixture over the crust and top with the remaining crumbled flour mixture.

4. Bake in the center of the oven until lightly browned or about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven. Let the bars totally cool in pan before removing and slicing into bars.