Monday, February 1, 2016

Chocolate Truffles and a Big Valentine's Day Giveaway

Who needs chocolates in a heart-shaped box when you can make your own (without milk, gluten, or nuts) at home?  I've never been a fan of those chocolates in the heart boxes anyway. I admit, I like my chocolate dark and plain.

Today I am sharing my favorite chocolate truffle recipe... AND... I have teamed up with some fabulous gluten-free bloggers to bring you an awesome giveaway.


Allergy-friendly Chocolate Truffles

¼ cup So Delicious coconut creamer
1 ½ tablespoons Earth Balance Vegan Shortening (or another shortening)
1 cup allergen-free chocolate chips
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup cocoa (I prefer natural unsweetened) and/or candy sprinkles

The coconut creamer is the perfect replacement for traditional cream in these truffles because it contains thickeners. Use your favorite allergen-free chocolate chips with this recipe. Pascha, Enjoy Life, and Divvies chocolate chips all work beautifully, and any size chocolate chip will work.

Let's get started making truffles, shall we?

Melt the coconut creamer and shortening together over medium heat. Slowly bring it to a boil. When boiling, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate chips and vanilla (if desired). Mix vigorously until you have a creamy ganache:


Refrigerate for an hour. Before refrigerating, I transferred the ganache to a mixing bowl to prepare for the next step -- soften the ganache with a mixer (use the paddle blade for about 30 seconds). It should look like this:



Scoop out truffle-sized balls of chocolate using a small spoon, and place them on a lined cookie sheet. Don't worry about how they look at this point.


Use your hands to gently roll the chocolate into smooth balls. (This works best with gentle pressure and cool hands.) Place them back on the cookie sheet. If you want Classic Chocolate Truffles, place the cocoa in a shallow bowl and gently roll each truffle into the chocolate until just coated:


Or, to make the wonderful Valentine's Chocolate Truffles you see below, roll the truffles in the candy sprinkles to coat them on all sides.


Refrigerate the truffles for an hour before sharing them with someone you love! 

Now for the BIG giveaway.

More than a dozen bloggers have teamed up to bring you Sweets for Your Sweeties and a fabulous giveaway, a KitchenAid Stand Mixer (in choice of color) and the accessory stainless steel bowl. (I love having two bowls for my stand mixer!) The contest is open to U.S. residents only,18 and older and ends Wednesday, 2/10 at 11:59 pm Mountain Time. To enter, please leave a comment here, and then maximize your chances to win with all of the entry methods allowed:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


And, be sure to visit all of the participating blogs and check out the goodies:


Happy Valentine's Day!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Case for Weighing Gluten-Free Flours

The mistake most often made when baking with gluten-free flours is using the wrong amount of flour. Most often, a reader will declare that their baked goods came out too dry, too gummy, or hard as a rock, and they conclude that they need to add more liquid. But that's the wrong fix. Most of the time the correct answer is to use less flour.

Why?

Most gluten-free flour blends (and most individual gluten-free flours) weigh more per cup than wheat flour. Wheat flour weighs about 124 grams per cup (and varies little from brand to brand). Gluten-free flours can weigh as much as 160 grams per cup (nearly 30% more than wheat flour). If you substitute cup for cup you will not be happy with the results.

Then there is the issue of how we measure from person to person and how some of these flours (especially superfine and starchy flours) settle.

Here is an example. I weighed one cup each (using a dry measuring cup) of three different Gluten-free flour blends:

The first flour blend weighed in at 121 grams, the second at 142, and the third at 159. The manufacturer's weights for these flours are 120 grams, 140 grams, and 160 grams, respectively. 

If I substituted these by volume I would get different results in each case.

The better way, is to measure flour by weight. The correct volume to use will vary. 

Next, I weighed 128 grams of each of these flours and put them in a similar glass so that you could see the difference. I chose 128 grams because that's the weight I use in the recipes I develop.  

 

On the left you can see that there is more flour in the glass (slightly more than 1 cup by volume). In the center we have slightly less than 1 cup by volume. And on the right, with the heaviest of the flours, we would use considerably less than 1 cup by volume.

If the recipe you are using was developed with 1 cup of flour equal to a different weight (many are) then weigh the flour to the correct weight.

The bottom line: Always weigh your gluten-free flours to get the best results.

I use a Primo Digital Kitchen Scale. Another great (and less expensive) option is the Ozeri Pronto Digital Scale. (affiliate links)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Food Photography: The Magic of Unsharp Mask

I call it a secret weapon, and it's become a critical step in my post-processing workflow for food photography. In your photo editing software there is an option to correct sharpness using what is called "unsharp mask." This is yet another reason to shoot RAW (or RAW + JPG), as this option only exists with RAW photos.

Regardless of how well-focused your photo is, and regardless of where you select your focal point, I believe "unsharp mask" should be addressed every time you take a photo of food. Why? Most cameras are optimized for portrait and/or landscape photography, where a softer look is usually more appealing. When photographing food, we often want to focus on detail. That sometimes means that we want a sharper photo. (Another way of saying this is that we may want to remove the mask that made the photo less sharp.)

Software usually gives you the ability to change the amount (sharpness), radius (fineness), and threshold. I find that adjusting the amount/sharpness is all I usually need to change. Don't go crazy here, just a little bit is all you need. My software (Canon's DPP) gives me a sharpness slider that can be adjusted from 0 to 10. The default is 3 and provides a nice image:


As you look at these photos, pay attention to the background as well as the blueberries and the cereal to see how the image changes. To achieve the softest photo, I set the unsharp mask sharpness slider to 0:


Notice how the detail in the cereal has disappeared and the background has blurred. 

Next, I will sharpen as much as possible with the slider at 10:



Yikes, this is looking a bit harsh. The cereal almost looks stale and the background looks a bit grainy.

My final edit with the slider set at 5 provides just a bit more detail than the original, not too soft, not too harsh, just right:

Learn how to make details stand out in your food photography with unsharp mask


When photographing food in natural light I nearly always end up with unsharp mask around 5 or 6 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Try it and let me know what you think!