Monthly Archives: November 2010

Flour

I am the last person you should ask: ‘what kind of Gluten free flour do you use’? So, instead of waiting for you to ask, I’ll make a stab at telling you. My answer to the question above is rather complex. That is to say, I have not condensed my answer to a usefully short reply. But here is the what I have found:

I use a number of flours that about 4 years ago I would have labeled ‘exotic’. In fact, I now have a flour stock that looks like it belongs in an apothecary (and another cabinet that is an apothecary, but that’s a different story). From the South American supergrain Quina flour to the (slightly odd) Italian Chestnut flour, my chosen powders are collected from around the world. I also us a considerable amount of Buckwheat since it’s pretty cheap. (Don’t let the Buckwheat name fool you, it is not related to Brussels sprouts. It’s actually in the same family as Rhubarb and Burdock1. Oh, that means it’s not related to wheat either.)

So, when mixing up a flour for a recipe, I try to envision the end product, and then examine my opinion of my flours. I usually have some fine powdery types like Tapioca (my favorite), Arrowroot, or Potato starch (I haven’t used potato). I also keep some ‘soft’ flours, like Sorghum, Quina, or Amaranth, and some dense, or oily flours, such as those from Hazelnuts, Walnuts, or Chestnuts (Chestnut flour has a very smokey flavor, which is amazing–but use sparingly). I also think about using stronger tasting flours such as Buckwheat, but it depends on what I’m making. It needs to balance with the other flavors. I have started toying with Rice flour, but it sucks all the moisture out of my baked goods, so I’m keeping it around for very moist recipes. I think it works okay for dusting a surface to roll out dough, especially since I don’t like throwing away expensive flours.

So, how do I choose? First off, I have had very little success making an all-purpose-blend. If I’m mixing flour for a nice moist chocolate brownie, I’ll lean toward soft and oily flours. If I want a doughy-soft fluffy bread-like cakes, I go for mostly soft flour, but some powdery, and I’ll focus on trying to make things stick together. Now, this sounds a lot like chaos, but in fact it’s a bit more like experimental Chemistry. Once you try out a combination, you get a feel for what the flours will do for you.

So, grab yourself a test tube (mixing bowl), a couple simple reagents (we shouldn’t try for nuclear-pharmacology right off), and try substituting your own Gluten free flour in a recipe. It’ll be fun!

Oh yeah, and don’t be afraid to throw out any really terrible results. After all, good Chemists know the difference between an experiment and a lab accident (unless it’s Cold Fusion…)

 

1. There is some discussion as to whether Burdock will stay in the family, but it’s pretty closely related one way or another.

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Sans Gluten

Gluten is a protein, and protein is healthy stuff, so that means Gluten should be good for you. And for me. Which it probably is. Gluten is not, however, good for my wife. Nope, this little protein, crafted in the endosperm of certain grains, can knock her down for a good day, with migraines, joint and muscle pain, and similar debilitating effects.

Why Gluten? The reason this otherwise indistinguishable portion of a grain has such a response is not well known (at least to me), but it shows up in a remarkable variety of foods. The reason it shows up in food has something to do with the versatility of the host grain, and the clever application of food engineering. The primary source of Gluten is Wheat, which is often used in bread and bread-like products. Aside from direct uses, Wheat can be included in food as thickener, or to enhance some aspect of the food like it’s energy content. Wheat is particularly useful for making Beer, and the starch from Wheat was used to stiffen cloth during weaving (I think they use a different process now). Gluten is also generated by grains other than Wheat, such as Barley, Rye, and depending on who you ask, maybe Oats. Other names for Wheat are usually historical in nature, since what we call Wheat today is the descendant of some super-evil grain quite some time back. So, you may encounter the locally derived names for Wheat, such as Kamut, Spelt, Bulgar, or Durum. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but at least the biggest offenders. The most interesting hiding place for a Wheat derivative I have seen is Soy Sauce. In particular, the traditionally brewed variety. If you avoid Soy for any of the numerous good reasons to do so, keeping away from the Gluten in Soy Sauce should be pretty easy.

So, in this journey through a life of eating food, we have learned to craft our food without the easy engineering techniques that include Wheat. Several Gluten-free grains are available, but require some practice to use (if you are used to Wheat flour).

While this step is a rather daunting task to most, my wife and I were already pursuing the non-processed food route before we had to leave Gluten behind. My wife has been off Gluten for several years, and we have found that most foods can be made without Wheat. All the recipes I have discussed here we made without Gluten, for the recipes that have flour we use a mix of Gluten free flours.

One interesting note: We have found that soaking Gluten free grains overnight in Raw Milk works wonderfully. A fairly consistent issue with Gluten free flours is the stuff you make with them tends to crumble or fall apart. A good night with the friendly milk bacteria seems to convince this flour to settle down and play nice. However it works, I’m glad that it does. The general approach to ‘fixing’ Gluten free flour mixes is to add Xanthan or Guar gum, or a similar bonding additive. Instead of these shortcuts, we are grateful we can make use of the soaking process to keep our food together.