Archive for the 'Ingredients' Category

Coconut Flour

Friends, I am EXCITED!

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently – for the first time ever! – baked with coconut flour.  And I am officially, completely, utterly and hopelessly enamored with it.  Allow me to elaborate.

Coconut flour is made from coconut meat that has most of the oil taken out.  It’s dried up and then finely ground into a soft powder.  Simple!  The result is a flour with a beautiful creamy color and natural sweetness.  Open a bag and take a whiff – you will inhale coconut deliciousness!

But that’s not the best part.  Because coconut flour is made from just coconut, that means it’s also gluten-free and grain-free!  Amazing for anyone dealing with such intolerances.  Coconut flour is also a fiber-istic superstar – it has more fiber than wheat bran, oat bran, soybeans – even flax seeds!  And just as much protein as you can find in the traditional whole wheat flour that everyone knows so well.

Are you jazzed yet?

I am.

So how can we use it in our baked goodies?!  Well, this part requires a bit of attention.  Because coconut flour doesn’t have gluten – which helps keep it all together – your treats will just fall apart if you substitute it 100% for another flour.  Now, keep in mind I’m a newbie here, but from some quite extensive Googling, it seems you can replace about 20% of regular flour in a recipe with coconut flour – as long as you add an equal amount of liquid.  All the fiber sucks that stuff up!  So, let’s say your recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour.  You can use 2 cups whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup coconut flour and add 1/2 cup milk or water or juice.  If you want to use ALL coconut flour – which I totally do! – I’ve read that you should add one egg per ounce of coconut flour.  Eggs bind – just like gluten!  I really want to try a vegan ALL coconut flour recipe, so I’m thinking bananas or flax eggs could work too.  What do you think? Oh, and because coconut flour is already a bit sweet, you don’t need as much sugar in your recipe!

Whew!  I swear it’s not all that complicated.  It’s just baking after all!  Get out there and experiment – and let me know how it goes!

Do you have any great coconut flour recipes?

Brown Rice Flour

She’s alive!!!

I hope you guys are still out there.

So I’ve been super MIA for the past few weeks!  Many apologies to you, but I promise it is not without good excuse.  I’ve been traveling like a mad women – for work and for play.  And my time actually in NYC has been devoted to apartment hunting.  For my non-New-York friends, let me tell you that this is a job in and of itself.   I adore this city, but looking for a home here is like nothing you will ever experience.  Very stressful and exhausting and you have to act FAST or your potential digs will be snatched up in the blink of an eye! 

Great news though!  I found my new place and signed the lease on Friday.  West Village here I come!  Could not be more thrilled.  Imagine walking out of your building to this…

CIMG2952

Le sigh.  So quintessential West Village.

Alright, enough about me and my obsession with my new hood.  Let’s talk about brown rice flour!

Brown Rice

BRF is ground from brown rice kernels.  Duh. The grains are harvested and then dried so they can be processed in the mill. Most mills make their BRF with a coarse grind, so the flour is slightly grainy and gritty.  You can feel the difference between BRF and whole wheat just by grabbing a handful of each and letting them slip between your fingers.  Try it!

You’ll get a mild, nutty flavor to your baked goodies when using BRF.  It’s also high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.  Love it.

BRF is entirely gluten-free.  Because of this, it does not behave exactly like wheat, so bakers like us should be ready to experiment with proportions and grain mixtures.  Now, I’m not an expert whatsoever in baking with this ingredient, so here’s where I ask for your help! 

Do you guys have any brown rice flour baking tips for me?  I’ve heard about adding gums – xanthan or guar – but have no clue how to do it or if I really have to!  Tell me what I need to know!

Molasses

SW025Molasses is:

(a) an awesome natural sweetener

(b) an example of how slow I’ve been at getting a new post up.  Badum-ching!  Cue laugh track.

How about all of the above?

Friends!  I know, I know.  I’ve been gone for far too long.  It’s been a busy couple of weeks – full of work craziness, business travels, fun travels, friends in town, etc.  And this post just sat on my To Do list.  And sat.  And sat.

And molasses doesn’t deserve that!  It treated me so well in my Walnut Molasses Whole Wheat Bread.  It’s only right that I return the favor and write it up for you all!  So here goes.

Molasses is the thick by-product from the processing of sugar cane into suger.  It has a syrupy texture, dark, caramel color and robust, bittersweet flavor.  Quick history…It was first imported into the U.S. from the Caribbean during colonial times – for use in rum!  It was a very popular sweetener until the late 19th century because, at the time, it was much more affordable than refined sugar.  But when refined sugar got cheaper, molasses was displaced.  It still has a fan in me!

To make molasses, the sugar cane plant is harvested and its juice is extracted.  The juice is then boiled, which causes the sugar to crystallize. This happens in three different stages.  When this first boiling is over and the sugar crystals are removed, you have first molasses, or light molasses.  Light molasses has the highest sugar content of all types of molasses because not much sugar has been taken out.  Second molasses, or dark molasses, comes from the second boiling and crystal removal.  The third creates blackstrap molasses, which has the least amount of sugar of all the molasses types.  Blackstrap molasses is pretty great.  Extracting all the sugar leaves behind a bunch of good stuff – manganese, copper, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium.  Vitamins and minerals galore!

Molasses can be sulfured or unsulfured.  But go for the unsulfured.  That means the fumes used in processing the sugar aren’t retained as sulfur in the molasses.  No one wants that!

Molasses is about 65% as sweet as refined sugar.  If you want to substitute it in your recipes, your best bet is to use it in place of brown sugar.  The flavor profile and moisture content of molasses lend themselves well to this swap.  Try 1 cup molasses for every 3/4 cup brown sugar.  Molasses can also be used cup for cup in place of honey, agave nectar or maple syrup.  The taste will obviously change, but it could make for some fun experiments!

Do you use molasses in your baking?  What’s your favorite recipe?

Spelt Flour

 

20050509061813speltI’ve been intrigued by spelt flour for a long while.  So much buzz about its nutritious qualities and nutty taste!  But for whatever reason, it always eluded me at the grocery store.  It would catch my eye on the baking shelf, but I’d hesitate.  Next time for sure, I would reassure it.  But I always had an excuse.  I already have three bags of flour at home.  I should finish those first.  Or, I need to bake banana bread for my co-workers.  I don’t want to risk using an unfamiliar flour when I’m looking to dazzle them all with my sweet treat. 

I needed a motive to break out of my comfort zone.  So I schemed up a Flour Face-Off and named spelt flour one of the competitors.  Brilliant!  I finally baked with spelt.  Whee!

So what’s up with this stuff anyway?

Spelt is an ancient cereal grain similar to wheat, but with a tougher husk.  It was initially grown in the Fertile Crescent around 5000 to 6000 B.C. and was one of the first grains used to make bread.  The Greek and Roman civilizations found a staple in the grain – for eating and for using as a gift to the gods to encourage harvest and fertility.  Spelt eventually migrated to Europe about 300 years ago and finally made its way to North America around the turn of the 20th century.  It soon faded from notice in favor of easier-to-process wheat, but it’s now making a come back!

Spelt flour’s popularity has grown in recent years for a bazillion reasons.  Ok, I exaggerate, but it’s still pretty awesome. It has a somewhat nuttier and sweeter flavor than wheat flours.  Plus, it packs a nutrient-rich punch.  Spelt flour has between 10 and 25 percent more protein than wheat.  And its protein is generally easier to digest – which can possibly be helpful to those with wheat allergies.  It’s also chock full of good stuff like fiber and B vitamins. 

I used Arrowhead Mills spelt flour.  And I’m no certified spelt expert yet, but from what I’ve read, you can substitute spelt flour one-for-one with regular wheat flour.  But there are a couple things to note.  Spelt flour has what they call a “fragile” gluten content, so it’s important to not overmix your batter.  And you might need to reduce the liquid in your recipe just a tad.  Seems you have to play around a bit depending on what you’re making – that just means more experimenting!  I think it could make some killer cookies.  Yum!

Have you ever baked with spelt flour?  What’s your favorite recipe that uses it?

Honey

624785_29980377You know sugar never ever was so sweet…

Honey was the first unrefined sweetener I ever used in baking.  I still consider it my favorite to this day.  And it’s not because of the nostalgia factor.  It’s because honey is awesome.

Honey is a liquid sweetener produced naturally by honey bees and derived from the nectar of flowers.  The human hunt for honey began at least 10,000 years ago.  We know so because there’s a Mesolithic rock painting on a cave in Valencia, Spain that shows two hunters collecting honey and honeycomb from a wild nest.  Honey went on for centuries to be regarded as sacred because of its sweetness and rarity.  I know I still bow down to the honey gods.  You?

The honey-making process begins when bees – 20,000-40,000 of them per hive! – collect sugary flower nectar in their mouths.  They may travel up to 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar for just one pound of honey.  I wish I had that kind of endurance!  This nectar then mixes with special enzymes in the bees’ saliva and – voila! – it’s transformed into honey. Back in the hive, bees deposit the honey into wax cells that line the walls – the honeycomb – and flutter their wings to evaporate excess nectar water and make the honey sticky sweet.  Oh, and the honeycomb?  They make that too.  Ever hear the phrase “busy as a bee”?!  When all is said and done, the honey is removed from the hive by a beekeeper.  And to market it goes!

There are 300 unique kinds of honey in the United States.  Wowza.  They range in color from white to amber to red to brown to black.  In general, the lighter colors have a mild flavor and the darker colors are more robust. Polyfloral honey – aka wildflower honey – is made from the nectar of many types of flowers.  Monofloral honeys – like clover, orange blossom, tupelo – are made from the nectar of one type of flower.  They have the most distinctive color and flavor. The honey you find in your regular old grocery store – the one in that cute little bear jar – is a blended honey, which means it’s a mixture of two or more different kinds.  You can read up on some different honeys here

If you don’t think honey is cool by now, I should also tell you that it contains a wide array of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Hello antioxidants!

In baking, I substitute about 3/4 cup honey for 1 cup sugar.  Honey is sweeter, so you can use less!  I also reduce the other liquid in the recipe and add a bit extra baking soda.  “Experts” are very precise and say to reduce liquid by 1/4 cup and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for each cup honey.  But I just go with whatever seems to be a nice, rounded amount for the recipe I’m using.  They also say to reduce the oven temperature by 25*F to prevent over-browning, but I only do this if I’m feelin’ it.  So reckless, I know.

Fun tip – Coat your measuring cup with non-stick cooking spray before adding the honey.  It’ll be way easier to get out!

What’s your favorite way to use honey in baking?

Sucanat

sucanat-1I’m pretty excited about this post.  And since a bunch of you have asked about the ingredient at hand, I hope you’re just as pumped!  Without further ado, let’s get talking about…

SUCANAT!

Sucanat is a type of evaporated cane juice.  The history of evaporated cane juice is interesting to me.  It was only recently that sugar cane processing technology was developed to create the white, refined sugar with which we’re all familiar.  This doesn’t mean people haven’t been enjoying sugar cane.  They have – for centuries!  So back in the day, when white, refined sugar didn’t exist, our fancily named evaporated cane juice was actually the sweetener of choice by any culture that used sugar cane.  Now that unprocessed, all-natural foods are gaining in popularity, evaporated cane juice is back in action.  We’ve come full circle.

Sucanat stands for “Sugar Cane Natural.”  It’s an unrefined sweetener made from the WHOLE sugar cane – every last bit.  It’s sugar in its most natural form.  Like all evaporated cane juices, Sucanat is produced by extracting juice from the sugar cane and boiling it in a large vat to remove the water.  But unlike other evaporated cane juices, such as turbinado sugar, the sweet syrup left over is not spun and crystallized in that vat.  Instead, it’s hand-paddled to cool it and dry it.  This process creates the dry, brown granules that are Sucanat and keeps ALL the sugar cane molasses in those granules.  Turbinado sugar, to compare, holds on to SOME of the sugar cane molasses.

Because Sucanat retains 100% of the sugar cane, and all that molasses, it ranks highest in nutritional value of all the sweeteners that come from the sugar cane.  It also means it has the most distinct and natural flavor.

When I made my Blueberry Coconut Oaties – first time using Sucanat! – I substituted Sucanat one-for-one for refined sugar.  And I plan on doing the same in the future.  Check out Wholesome Sweeteners if you’re looking for a brand of Sucanat to try!

Have you ever baked with Sucanat?  What do you think of it?

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

447031_12793172You’ve probably noticed by now that the main flours I use in baking up my goods are whole wheat pastry flour and white whole wheat flour.  I promise I’ll branch out to other flours one day.  There just happen to be rather large bags of said grains currently occupying space in my kitchen cabinet.  And since that kitchen cabinet is already spilling baking products onto my bedroom shelves – have I mentioned my tiny apartment?! – I think it’s best to use up what I have before purchasing more.  But I do have every intention of getting out of my comfort zone that is the world of wheat – there’s spelt, brown rice, quinoa to explore!

I wrote about white whole wheat flour a while back, so it’s time to give whole wheat pastry flour the stage.

Sidebar: Let’s just call them WWWF – remember that one? – and WWPF from here out.  Way easier. 

So what’s the diff?  Well, they’re both made from whole wheat – obviously – yay whole grains!  Actually, they’re both made from whole white wheat.  But WWPF is produced from a “soft” variety whereas WWWF is made from a “hard” variety.  And WWPF is milled to a very fine texture while WWWF is more coursely ground.  WWPF is also lower in protein and gluten.  Add all these things together and you get a flour that’ll give you baked goods more light and tender than regular whole wheat flour, or even WWWF, ever could.

I tend to turn to WWPF for delicate treats – like cakes – and WWWF for things that can handle a heartier texture – like muffins or quick breads.  But sometimes I just go with whatever I’m feeling.  Like I’m kind of liking WWPF better right now.  Shhh…don’t tell WWWF.  When substituting it for white, all-purpose flour in recipes, I replace it cup for cup.

Have you used whole wheat pastry flour?  What do you think?


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