Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Activate Yeast

Working with yeast can be intimidating. For many years I avoided it, choosing to buy breads off the shelf, or making quickbreads instead. But if you need to eat gluten-free, or you need to avoid wheat, sooner or later you’re going to want to try to make your own bread.

I found it to be easier than I expected.

First you need to choose a yeast. The most commonly used yeasts for home baking are active dry yeast and rapid rise yeast. Active dry is what you most often find in the packets that come with bread mixes, and it needs to be activated or woken up. Rapid rise yeast is the simplest – it doesn’t require activation (but it’s good to check it every now and then to see if it’s still alive).

Here’s a short video demonstration on how to activate yeast:

When working with active dry yeast you will need about twice as long for the bread to rise than if you use rapid rise – so adjust your recipes accordingly.

And remember – yeast should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer, and replaced every six to eight months.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some New Gluten-Free Flour Finds

Sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, millet, teff, garbanzo, fava bean…

What do these grains have in common? They are all gluten-free, and recently have been found in some new gluten-free flour blends. (And of course they are also wheat-free.)

Last year I did a round up post of some of the gluten-free flours that are available on the market. At that time most of the blends available were some combination of rice (brown rice, sweet rice), potato starch, and tapioca flours. These flours make a great replacement for your standard wheat flour when baking.

More recently I’ve been finding some newer choices for flour blends – using a variety of alternative whole grains – and I’m loving that idea!

Here’s the low-down on a couple of them:

King Arthur Flour glutenfree whole grain flour blend
– I discovered this on a recent trip to the King Arthur flour store in Vermont. By now you’ve probably seen the new King Arthur gluten free multi-purpose flour in the standard blend of rice/potato/tapioca. The new whole grain blend is sorghum, brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, millet, teff, and tapioca. Like the multi-purpose flour there is no xanthan gum in this blend so you need to add your own. I’m going to try this to make some whole grain muffins!

Bob’s Red Mill glutenfree all purpose baking flour
– I recently ran across this at my local health food store. This one combines garbanzo bean, potato starch, tapioca starch, white sorghum, and fava bean flours. This one also contains no xanthan gum, so be sure to add some. I haven’t decided what to make with this one yet. Any suggestions?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cherrybrook Kitchen Vanilla Frosting

I love finding new allergen-free foods to try at the grocery store, and I recently brought home this ready-to-spread frosting from Cherrybrook Kitchen. I was excited to try it, because sometimes you just need a quick and easy solution.

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed.

The formula passed the allergen-free test, as I expected, but what I saw when I opened the container didn’t look much like frosting. It was hard as a rock, and stirring it felt a little bit like stirring a container of old glue. It didn’t spread well either – I had to almost paint it onto my cake. About halfway through frosting my cake I dipped my finger into the tub and tasted it – um… no, this didn’t taste like vanilla frosting either.

I scraped as much of it as I could off of my cake, and started over with my stand-by vanilla frosting – Duncan Hines.

Have you tried it? Did I just get a bad batch?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do I Really Need the Salt in My Baked Goods?

A salt mill for sea salt. It is fairly common to find salt in recipes for baked goods. Usually this is a small amount – ½ teaspoon or one teaspoon – but not everyone wants that extra salt.

The question is – if you’re baking allergen-free, do you really need the salt?

Salt actually provides more than one purpose when baking.

The first reason to use salt is for flavor. If you put two cookies side by side – one made with salt in the recipe and the other without – and do a taste test, you shouldn’t taste salt (it’s a cookie after all) but you may notice a slight difference in texture. It’s very subtle.

The second reason is that in traditional baked goods, salt increases the strengthening of the gluten. Of course, if you are baking without wheat, this is no longer a concern.

The most important reason to use salt is when you are using yeast, in breads or other rising doughs. The salt affects the rate at which the dough will rise; without salt it will rise faster, and could create air pockets.

Lastly, salt is a preservative. If you’re baked goods disappear within a couple days this shouldn’t be a concern, but if you want your muffins to last all week, adding a bit of salt is a good idea.

I generally do add a small amount of salt to my allergen-free recipes for baked goods. What about you?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is My Baking Soda or Baking Powder Still Good?

As allergen-free bakers we need to rely on our baking soda and baking powder more than those using traditional baking methods. After all, we don’t have eggs to provide extra lift, or gluten to help make our baked goods springy. When my baked goods come out too flat my first reaction is to wonder whether the baking powder or baking soda that I used is bad.

There’s a really simple way to test these products. In this video blog post, I show you how:

If your baking soda or baking powder passes the test, and your baked goods still came out too flat, trying doubling the amount you used. Also check out this post to make sure you understand the difference between baking soda and baking powder, and when to use each one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Should Mom’s Breastfeed to Avoid Food Allergies?

Breastfeeding an infantI recently came across a poll at MedPage Today which asked doctors and health care professionals whether they recommended breastfeeding for six months, or whether solid foods should be introduced earlier. The poll was sparked by research that suggests that babies who are exclusively breastfed for six months might have higher occurrences of food allergies.

That’s right, some researchers are now saying that breastfeeding too long – or more specifically, not introducing the proteins in solid foods before six months of age – may actually cause food allergies. The studies which were done in the U.K. and reported on in the UK Guardian, also note that rates of celiac disease increased in Sweden following advice to delay introducing foods containing gluten until six months.

The World Health Organization announced in 2001 that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months was optimal, and they are sticking by their opinion. Note that none of the parties are suggesting that breastfeeding is bad, and all agree that milk from the mother is best (as opposed to formula or cow’s milk).

So what’s a mother to do?

Did you breastfeed your food-allergic child? If so, for how long?

Monday, February 7, 2011

The New Enjoy Life Cookies are Here!

If you live in the US, chances are sometime in the next couple of months your doorbell will ring and you will be greeted by a girl in a green uniform selling cookies. But those Girl Scout cookies that I remember selling door to door are full of food allergens and I always feel badly when I tell today’s scouts that we can’t buy her cookies.

One company I can always count on when I am looking for foods that allergen-free and gluten-free is Enjoy Life. I use their chocolate chips in many of my recipes, and I rely on their on-the-go packaged snacks when I need to throw something in my purse or a lunch bag for my son. So I was thrilled when Enjoy Life sent me some of their new and improved cookies to try.

I started with the Double Chocolate Brownie cookies (because if there’s a choice I always choose chocolate). Like the original formula these cookies are still soft baked, making them more cake-like than your standard cookie. And like the original they are completely free of the top eight allergens and gluten. Most importantly, they are made in a dedicated facility, so food allergy Mom’s can be very confident when they buy these.

The new cookies are not a big departure from the original – I’d call the new formula more of a tweak than a change, with just a bit of a sweeter and smoother taste. The chocolate brownie cookies have the great Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips in them – perfect for true chocolate lovers!

Checking the package validates what my taste buds told me. The new formula is very similar to the old, with just a bit more sugar (13 grams per serving compared with 12 grams per serving for the double chocolate brownie cookies) and 10 more calories per serving (130 calories).

If you liked the originals I think you will definitely be happy with the new formula!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cranberry Orange Scones and How to Form Scones

I’ve been in a scone mood lately.

Scones just might be the perfect breakfast food – they aren’t quite as sweet as muffins, but they’re not as bland as bread. But before I share my recipe for cranberry-orange scones, I think I promised you some video this year. So here in my first video post is a quick and easy way to form scones:

Now you’re hungry, right?

Allergen-free Cranberry Orange Scones

¼ cup applesauce
¼ cup grapeseed oil
¼ cup honey
½ tbsp lemon zest
½ cup orange juice
2 cups of your favorite gluten-free flour blend with xantham gum (or 2 cups of gluten-free flour blend plus ½ tsp xantham gum)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup roughly chopped cranberries

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Blend together applesauce, oil, honey, orange juice, and lemon zest on medium speed about 2 minutes.
3. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
4. Gradually add flour mixture to wet ingredients. Blend completely.
5. Add cranberries and blend for thirty seconds longer.
6. Wet hands and form batter into a ball. Flatten the ball and place it on the prepared baking sheet. Using a pastry cutter, divide the batter into pie-shaped pieces and flatten the tops. Arrange on the baking sheet with space in-between.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 16-18 minutes until browned.

These scones also make a great tea-time snack!