November 27, 2012

Baker's Kitchen: Holiday Ready GF Kitchen

This post is a bit of a departure from posts past. But holiday baking is just around the corner. Last year we had great fun with the virtual cookie exchange. This year will be my first holiday season baking GF-style since we switched to no gluten diet six months ago. So to follow up the last post about baker's arsenal of tools, this post is about the pantry necessities to set up a GF kitchen ready for holiday baking.

Picture source

Gluten-free isn't for everyone and it may not be for you. It is hard before it gets easier.  But many people do give up wheat, beer and barley because of health, allergies, or vanity. And it isn't all THAT hard. There are plenty of excellent recipes and products. Many cooks and bakers who've walked the walk and are willing to share. So there you have it, things to stock up on to bake in style.

The Basics

When I started baking GF style, I just bought a packet of each type of flour. Research came later. But it turns out some types of flour are more indespensible than others. When  you do not use wheat flour, you have to rely on a mixture of several types of flour to bake. Some cooks vary the mixture depending on the recipe, others stick to one tried and true formula, even pre-mixing it it by the batch full. With these on hand you can make just about anything - pancakes, muffins, cookies.
  • White Rice Flour or Sorghum Flour, that's your flour foundation. Both have very neutral flavor.
  • Tapioca Starch and Potato Starch, both are lighter and are mixed in with the heavier flour. Tapioca in particular gives a nice crispiness and improves the texture of the baked goodies.
  • Xanthan Gum - not so very scary, just a tiny bit of xanthan helps ingredients stick together. The other alternative is Guar Gum but from what I hear Guar is better for cold foods, while Xanthan is preferable for baking.
Bob's Red Mill has this nifty bundle to get you started. They offer just about every type of flour you can imagine and are at most stores, I really cannot imagine what we'd do without Bob's Red Mill!

Not to state the obvious but eggs, baking soda, and baking powder come in handy too.

Nice to have
These are some additional ingredients to vary your repertoire and boost the nutrition factor.
  • Almond Flour it is excellent in power-breakfast muffins and desserts and is lower in carbs, higher in protein.
  • Amaranth Flour has a unique taste that you'll either love or not, some call it nutty. It is high in iron and protein.
  • Buckwheat Flour - despite the name, also GF. It is a very heavy flour. We've made blinis and even added it to pumpkin pie mixture.
  • Cornmeal
  • Garbanzo Flour has a very pronounced bean flavor. But surprisingly it works in sweets (I will be attempting Middle-Eastern chickpea cookie this year) and also is the main ingredient in socca, French savory pancake. 
  • Quinoa Flour is super-nutritious but a little goes a long way.
  • Brown Rice Flour is only slightly healthier, but to me it tastes grainy so I pretty much stopped using it.
A few additional flours that I have not yet tried are hazelnut (what can possibly be wrong with that?), soy, and  millet.

Wet and Fat Ingredients
I couldn't give up eggs in my baking but forgoing dairy is easy-peasy.
  • Soy or rice milk do the trick, just one-to-one substitution for regular milk. Coconut milk is also a nice substitution.
  • Coconut oil is amazing and makes the best pancakes ever!
  • Oil, olive, grape, or vegetable, works in most goodies.
  • Vegan shortening doesn't leave the funny aftertaste like animal products. Spectrum seems to be the agreed upon staple.
  • Vegan butter, thought I do not often use it for cooking, is also an easy substitution. And don't be fooled, we use gobs of Earth Balance on toast, it is tasty stuff.
Last by not least, a couple favorite sources to get you started - there are other sources for course but these are the ones that I've turned to again and again:
  • Bob's Red Mill for everything! Most stores actually carrry it.
  • Silvana Nardone's recipies have not steered me wrong! And her cookbook is super.
  • I bake something from Gluten Free Goddess at least once a week!

November 10, 2012

Baker's Kitchen: Most and Least Useful Tools

I've been baking a fair amount. No, scratch that. I've been baking at LOT. Muffins. Doughnuts. Tea cakes. Slowly but surely Klatch kitchen became more functional, more attuned to the baker's needs. The frequently used tools are now within arms reach and we've stocked up on additional baking tins, while other clutter has been relegated to the space above the fridge.

So here is a round up of the best and most undervalued baking equipment and also the items that seemed like a good idea but turned out to be utterly useless.

First, the Hall of Fame.If you have been telling yourself all these years that KitchenAid is only for serious bakers, stop this nonsense and get yourself one. Aqua or bright pink are both formidable options. And if you have one, plant it firmly on your counter and never ever move it (when you do not have to pull it out, you WILL use it). I may one day upgrade to a professional grade with extra juice, but my basic model, black with little specks, has served me well for the past few years.

I have my eye on Kitchenaid ice cream attachment but please skip fripperies like citrus juicer and meat grinder.
Don't underestimate the cookie scoop. This little fella gets a whole lot of use around our kitchen. When handling sticky dough it is the best way to fill up muffins or cupcake cups.

After countless muffins, my cookie scoop met its untimely demise just this morning. I have my eye on this slick one but will probably go with the more practical OXO.

A pretty ceramic pie dish, from France like so many other good things, goes the distance. I have not made an actual pie in some time, but this dish is a standby, whether we are making Sheppard's pie, a crumble, or just need a pretty plate to pile on the veg.
Ceramic pie dish with wavy edge just makes everything more special.

Surprisingly enough, my doughnut pan gets a whole lot of use around here.The thing is, a homemade and baked (rather than deep-fried!) doughnut isn't all that unhealthy. We had doubts, but this doughnut pan is worthy of the cabinet space.

If you are GF like us this pan is a MUST.

On these few things, the jury is still out. Obviously, measuring cups and spoons are very useful. But mine are, well, boring. I am not a fan of over-designed measuring tools but am on the look out for simple, functional, and cute ones to replace the current ones.
how cool are these measuring cups from The Container Store?

c Much of the year I wonder why a cookie press box is occupying valuable real estate in the baking cabinet. It is a one trick pony, if you know what I mean. But then holidays roll around, and I am glad to have spritz cookies, even if it means battling this deceptively simple device.

We are also fully stocked with loaf pans around here. From banana bread to meat loaf, no kitchen should be without a solid set of two (because one just doesn't cut it)l. But this Crueset loaf pan is adorable. It would look lovely next to the previously mentioned ceramic pie dish.
 Now for the overrated category. Don't get me started on the Bundt pan. Don't get me wrong, I like it and it is so pretty, but truthfully, how often does one make a bundt cake? I like my bundt pan and won't part with it, but that pan is lucky to see the daylight once a year.
Maida Heatter's Lemon White Pepper and Ginger Bundt cake is my favorite! Perhaps it is fine time to adapt it and make a GF version!
Cookie cutters are oh-so-pretty, especially the copper ones. But, seriously, how often do you bake roll-out cookies? They never quite turn out with edges slightly over-baked and oftentimes spread out in baking to look like a big doughy blob instead of intended Fleur de Lis or Lobster.

My cookie-cutters are comfortably stashed out of the way.

You might also enjoy last year's cookie posts.


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