Friday, January 30, 2009

Recipe for Famous Gluten-free Scones

Among my friends, family, and co-workers I am famous for my scones. I get frequent requests for the recipe.   People are usually surprised to hear that it's wheat-free and gluten-free, it tastes so much like "regular."  Well here it is!

Don't want to mix everything yourself?  I now have a Scone Mix available in my shop.

The Best Gluten-free Scone Recipe

Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix together in a large bowl:

2 cups Gluten-free Pastry Flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder (make sure it's GF)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt plus a pinch
1/4 tsp xanthan gum (if it's not included in your GF flour mix)

Cut into pieces and drop in:

6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter

Cut the butter in with a pastry blender or two knives, coating the pieces with flour as you go, until the largest pieces of butter are pea-sized. Keep this mixture cold, chilling it in the refrigerator if the butter starts to soften.

Stir in:

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional) and/or
1/2 cup dried fruit (optional)

Whisk together in a separate bowl:

3/4 cup cream (substitute unsweetened coconut cream if you are lactose intolerant)
1 egg
1-2 tsp orange or lemon zest (optional)

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir until the mixture starts to hold together, then gently knead the dough a few times with your hands. Depending on your flour mix, the dough may be very sticky. While this makes it difficult to handle, it is okay. If the dough seems dry and won't hold together easily, add 1-2 Tbsp more cream and knead it in.

Put the dough on a high-quality baking sheet. Gently push the dough into a flat disk about one inch high. Cut into eight equal pieces and arrange them on the baking sheet about one inch apart. Brush some cream onto the tops of the scones. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one comes out clean.

Enjoy your gluten-free scones!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tips for Finding the Right Bread

I wanted to write a quick note on how I have found a few store-bought breads that I like. I have a method that I employ in selecting a good loaf, and for avoiding the hard, virtually inedible bread that some well-meaning companies try to pass off as nutritious. Some of these tips can even be used for gluten-free and wheat-based breads alike! Here is a step-by step procedure on how to select the best loaf for you.

1) Pick up the bread. Note its weight. If it seems unusually heavy, it is probably a very dense bread. This can sometimes be a bad sign for gluten-free products, as it indicates that the dough hasn't risen much, a problem typical with GF products. In itself, heaviness is not always a deal-breaker.

2) Squeeze the loaf. It should be a little resilient. If the loaf is both very heavy and un-squeezable, you may have a coarse, hard bread on your hands.

3) Look at the ingredients. If there is only one type of grain in the bread, then it is probably fairly tasteless, and the texture will be lacking. I look for a good blend of several grains as well as a good percentage of potato flour. This non-grain flour gives a GF product a moistness and softness that it's hard to come by with other flours.

4) Look at the date and the packaging. Gluten-free breads get stale more quickly than wheat breads. Some products come in special vacuum packaging or are double-bagged to prevent drying.

Even if you can't find some of the breads I have mentioned in my post Loaves for the Starving, these tips can help you to find some better breads on your own.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pastry Delight

Today I would like to write an ode to the New Cascadia Traditional tart. I have gained five pounds since this gluten-free bakery kiosk opened in NW Portland not far from where I work. Am I complaining? No - I am still overwhelmed and delighted to go somewhere and be able to eat anything they sell. Their tart looks like something out of the case of a french patisserie, and the taste does not dissappoint. It has a buttery tart crust that is similar to the pastry shell of their galette. It is filled with a custard cream and topped with fruit, in this case apricot and blueberry. The fruit is in turn topped with a simple clear glaze typical of french-style tarts. The only variation from a tart you'd buy in Paris is the crust, which does not have the light flakiness that a true french pastry has. The New Cascadia crusts are a bit heavier and have a little bit of a whole-grain feel to them, but still have a buttery rich quality I love. While I have experienced this tart when the crust was a mite dry, I always really enjoy this delicious gluten-free treat. It does justice to the tradition of fine french pastries.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mixed-up Flours

The first time I tried to make scones with a GF flour mix the dough smelled like salty beans. I looked at the ingredients on the store-bought package only to find - sure enough - garbanzo bean flour. After trying a few other pre-made mixes with similarly disastrous results, I decided I could do better on my own. Over the last year or two I've been experimenting with making my own gluten-free flour mixes. While I'm not quite ready to share this secret concoction with the world, I do want share what I've learned about the properties of some basic gluten-free flours. Brown rice flour: It gives your product lots of texture and flavor. However, it is not pliable enough to be used by itself in most recipes, and it produces a dense, heavy, whole-grain feel.

White rice flour: This gives you a somewhat lighter and more pliable dough than brown rice flour, but without the benefit of the flavor of the whole grain. It is made from raw white rice.

Glutinous rice flour (or sticky rice flour): This flour does not contain gluten! The term is only meant to convey the gluey texture the flour has when wet. It is to be distinguished from white rice flour in that it is made from cooked white rice.

Potato flour and potato starch: This is the one flour that changed my mix the most. Bob's Red Mill says it best when they say it "lends a moist crumb." It also improves the elasticity of your dough quite a bit.

Tapioca starch: This flour is instrumental in getting your product to brown when cooked. You don't need to use a lot to reap its benefits, but if you use too much the dough will be gluey and dense.

Sorghum: This flour improved the taste of my flour mixes immensely. It has a sweet, nutty flavor. Use too much, however, and the dough will be wet and sticky.

Xanthan gum: This is not a flour but a gluten substitute. It is absolutely necessary for making your dough elastic.

These are the basic flours you will need to make all your gluten-free fantasies come true. Stay tuned - next week you can get my take on flours for more specialized purposes.

Vieng Lao Asian Market in NE Portland

I had been debating over whether or not to get internet at my house for months, if not years. Finally last week I did it. One reason I caved in was so that I could start this blog. Another reason was to potentially save myself money by making my life easier.
Today I put this idea into action. I have been meaning to go out to Uwajimaya in Beaverton for some time. They have a great selection of gluten-free flours that you can't always find in regular grocery stores - even New Seasons. I wanted to find something a little closer to home, and the internet got me part way there.

After some confusion over the address (which was posted wrong) I found Vieng Lao Oriental Market at 1032 N. Killingsworth. It's nothing on the scale of Uwajimaya, but they have some fresh produce, rice noodles, rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch for a reasonable price. I've been driving past this place on my way home from work every day and it took me getting internet installed to find it! It probably would have been less expensive to just pay attention, but that would have been too much work.

GF Pizza Review: pizza a go-go

Customer Service: *****
Staff Knowledge: *****
Dining Experience: ***
Food: ****

I was driving down the street when a sign caught my eye. I thought I had read it wrong. "Now Serving Gluten-Free Pizza!" was written on a huge banner on pizza a go-go. I had to check it out.

My sister and her husband Andy had previously taken me to Pizza Oasis for my first gluten-free restaurant pizza experience. I was heartened by the results of that visit, so I was eager to explore further. Portland has several GF pizza joints now - it seems they are all competing with each other. My sister volunteered to assist me in checking out some of these restaurants.

You have to order a whole pie if you want the GF crust. We ordered two pizzas, both vegetarian so my sister and Andy could compare the two (they eat wheat but not meat). We ordered the 12" Mirror Ball on GF crust (the only size available for that crust) and the 12" Midnight Boogaloo on regular crust. The woman who took our order let us know it takes a little longer for the GF pizzas - about 25 minutes. I was impressed that they posted the ingredients of the dough clearly on the counter. It is mostly composed of Rice, Tapioca, and potato flours. They used no dairy or nut products in it.

Fifteen minutes or so later the same woman came over to the table with an apologetic look on her face. I feared the worst: that they forgot to make the pizza with the special crust. But no! She said they accidentally made BOTH pizzas gluten-free and they were giving us the regular one in addition for FREE! My sister was slightly put off by the mistake, but I was delighted.

The pizzas came several minutes later and I jumped up to get forks for all of us. Unfortunately, the fork was useless on my pizza. The crust was a little tough to cut. However, when I decided to throw caution to the wind and pick up the piece to eat by hand I found the crust thin and crisp. It was a little hard, and slightly chewy. After waiting so long for it to arrive, I suspect they over-cooked it. The crust did not have a lot of flavor, but its taste was more neutral than pasty. I noticed that the GF crust was thinner than the wheat crust, and it didn't appear to be hand-tossed. The toppings were the best part, but isn't that always the case? And who cares about the crust if the toppings are good? If you are of this mindset you will fare well at pizza a go-go. The mirror Ball was our favorite: chipotle tomato sauce, roasted garlic, mozzerella, ricotta, basil. The pizza pictured is the Midnight Boogaloo.

In the end I decided that I liked the Gluten-free crust at Oasis better. However, the toppings were more interesting at pizza a go-go, and it was cooked more evenly. My sister and Andy both commented that they wouldn't have known that it was wheat-free crust if they hadn't been told, and they preferred both the GF and the regular pizza at pizza a go-go.

"I've never been cold in a pizza restaurant before," my sister commented as we were leaving. It's true that the place is very small and there are no seats that are away from the door. However, any place that serves a decent GF pizza is a place I'll go back to.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Loaves for the Starving

It's the dreaded moment: I have just bought my first loaf of gluten-free bread, and I am about to consume the first slice. I wonder if all my sandwich-eating days are over. Then, thoughts racing and with fear in my heart, I bite into the first slice of what I imagine I'll eat for the rest of my life, only to encounter something so hard, so gritty, so foreign in taste and texture, that I think my culinary world has ended.
My first gluten-free bread didn't go over very well for me. It was the Brown Rice Bread from Trader Joe's that I tried almost two years ago with such disappointing results. The pity is that I kept buying it on occasion for a sandwich fix, but usually some of the loaf would end up going bad in the fridge because I was so unmotivated to eat it. The slices are small and barely practical for the task at hand, and the body of the loaf has no resilience to it. It is made with mostly brown rice flour, which gives it little elasticity.

I gave up on breads for a long time and concentrated on eating foods that are naturally gluten-free. Recently, however, I have discovered several good GF breads that I enjoy eating and that make my life easier. In the two years since I stopped eating wheat, barley and rye I have also experimented extensively with my own baking mixes, and I've deduced some things about gluten-free baking that help me to make educated selections in the store.

New Cascadia Traditional is a dedicated gluten-free bakery that makes breads, desserts, muffins, and cupcakes, among other delights. I especially like their pastry crust, which is very crisp and flakey. It is featured to good effect in their savory and sweet gallettes. The bread loaves they offer are not large, and the slices are a bit small for sandwiches, but I make due in a pinch. As with most GF breads, they are best eaten the day they are baked, and tend to get stiff the day after. They are easily refreshed by sprinkling them with water and toasting them, but nothing beats fresh bread and I try to eat a good portion of it the first day. They rely a lot on teff flour for their doughs, which has a good flavor and a naturally spongy texture. However, the dough lacks the natural soft springiness that a good wheat bread has, and which I have found in a few rare GF breads.

Angeline's is the bread that comes to mind for a soft, springy texture. I am trying the "Just Right White Rice Bread" now, and I'm very impressed. The loaves are almost a full sandwich-loaf size, and come unsliced and refrigerated to preserve freshness. The bread tends to stay fresh for a surprising amount of time. It has a good feel to it without being as delicate as most GF dough tends to be. The flavor is full and rich, but my only quibble is that it is a touch too sweet for my taste. The recipe is mostly a mix of white rice and potato flours, with a little tapioca flour added in for its browning properties. I believe it is the potato flour that gives the bread such a soft feel and moist texture.

For pure sandwich utility, I have also recently discovered the Ener G Tapioca loaf. It lacks the springiness of the New Cascade and the Angeline's breads, but it has a smooth, almost chewy white-bread texture that is almost nostalgic of your childhood favorite white sandwich bread. While they managed to make the dough light rather than dense, the texture is still a little brittle and delicate as GF breads tend to be. However, it manages to hold together enough to be practical for sandwiches, and the flavor is neutral. As the name suggests, it contains a high percentage of tapioca flour, which gives it a nice brown top. However, the tapioca and rice flour combination doesn't lend it a soft, springy texture. The loaves come sliced and vacuum-packed to preserve freshness. It was definitely softest on the day that I bought it, but it held up enough to be edible for several days.

I'm really encouraged by some of the gluten-free bread options I have encountered recently, and I'm looking forward to trying out a few more. Please let me know if there's one out there that you like, and maybe it will make it into my next bread review.

The Best and the Worst of Gluten-free Pasta

I hold fast to the belief that going gluten-free doesn't mean eating meals that a person with normal digestion would never tolerate. However, in my quest for gluten-free alternatives I have braved many a meal some would qualify as inedible. In all my days I can't think of anything I've eaten that was worse than soy pasta.

Not only is soy pasta not a standard grain substitute, but it hardly deserves the label "food." The texture is so far removed from what one expects from a pasta that it is disturbing to eat. The texture is so wrong that it is useless to ruin your favorite sauce by placing it on top of this noodle product.

It is experiences like eating soy pasta that might convince a gluten-free novice to give up on experimenting with new brands or substitutes. However, I personally have not considered giving up on food as a practical option. And what I must consume to live I will find a way to enjoy eating. After the soy pasta fiasco I was determined to find or make a delectable GF pasta. The following is what I found.
Ancient Harvest is your best bet if you're trying to pass a dish off as regular pasta. The color is exactly right, and this quinoa and corn pasta has a firm texture. It is slightly more brittle or dry than a standard pasta, but it is the one that comes closest to replicating the taste and texture of standard semolina. It is also a relatively very nutritious product, quinoa being the only grain that contains a full protein. It has plenty of fiber without the gritty texture of other whole-grain pastas. Ancient Harvest brand offers a variety of pasta shapes.

Mrs. Leeper's is my other favorite GF pasta. It is made from 100% corn flour. Surprisingly, it does not have a hard corn texture. It is the most brittle pasta I have tried, but it is a lot less susceptible to over-cooking than other GF pastas, and never develops a pasty or gluey texture. In spite of its relative brittleness, it holds up better than most to dishes that have to be handled a lot as they are sauced, like pasta carbonara, which is cooked in the pan after draining. The color is quite a bit more orange-yellow than other brands, but a mere color couldn't put me off this all-around great pasta.

Brown rice pastas tend to be a bit too wet, gluey, and gritty for my taste. That being said, there is one brown rice pasta that I can recommend in good conscience. That is the Trader Joe's brand Organic Brown Rice Spaghetti Pasta. While it still succumbs to the pitfalls of other brown rice pastas, it is noticeably less gritty than others I have tried. It is nearly impossible to cook this pasta correctly, however, and I have been unable to avoid getting a starchy film on the noodles. Never over-cook a brown rice pasta, and rinsing is helpful. Sauce it immediately so it doesn't have a chance to stick to itself. (The spiral shaped pasta is perhaps less prone to sticking.) This is more of a cheap stay-at-home pasta than a show-off-your-best-sauce pasta, and probably will not impress wheat-eating guests.

I have experimented with making my own gluten-free pastas. The reward of this hours-long cooking project is a very tender, full-flavored pasta. However, I have not yet come up with a recipe that produces a dough that is easy to handle, and the noodles have always been extremely delicate. That being said, I have found that using a standard egg pasta recipe and substituting the semolina flour with a combination of one-third white rice flour, one-third glutinous rice flour* and one-third brown rice flour or corn flour worked reasonably well. Be sure to use a little xanthan gum or the dough will not be elastic enough to roll out. This is a good place to start from if you are willing to put some time and experimentation into making your own pastas. Let me know when you come up with a winning recipe!

For more pasta reviews, click see my posts on Ener-G white rice spaghetti and Tinkyada white rice pasta.

*Glutinous rice flour does not contain gluten. The word glutinous is a reference to the gluey texture this flour has when wet. It is made from cooked rice rather than raw rice and has a much starchier appearance than regular white rice flour. I usually find it in Asian grocery stores. See my post Mixed-up Flours for more information on rice flours.