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.


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!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Homemade Coconut Milk

Have you run out of your favorite dairy-free milk? Don't feel like running out to the grocery store (or stuck inside due to cold or snow)? No problem! It's super-easy to make your own non-dairy milk. I shared a few recipes for do-it-yourself, dairy-free milks in The Allergy-Free Pantry.

Here is the missing (super-simple) coconut milk beverage recipe:

Coconut Milk is easy to make at home from coconut flakes. Recipe at Learning to Eat Allergy-Free

Homemade Coconut Milk

1 cup coconut flakes or shredded coconut flakes
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

The vanilla extract is optional (or is can be replaced by another flavor that you prefer). You also have the option to add a little bit (not more than one tablespoon) of sugar, if sweetened milks are your thing. Here we go...

1. Combine the coconut flakes, water, and vanilla extract (if using) in the vessel for a blender:

2. Blend on high speed until smooth:

3. Strain the milk (trust me, it's yucky if you don't):

4. Refrigerate until ready to use and then enjoy!