Improvised gluten-free muffins (basic recipe)

improvised gluten-free pear muffins

improvised gluten-free pear muffins

I remember the time when I was really scared to start gluten-free baking because it seemed so complicated, so many types of flour, so easy for things to go wrong, for the baking to fail. A couple of weeks ago, I baked some muffins (if you can call them that) without following any gluten-free recipe book and amazingly, the product was edible!

All I did was to try a direct substition of wheat flour with a gluten-free flour blend in my original basic muffin recipe. Yes, the very first basic muffin recipe, which I subsequently stopped using when I found basic recipe no. 2 gave better results. Basic muffin recipe no. 1 is so easy that you can easily by heart:

2 cups flour
1 cup milk/liquid
1/4 cup oil/butter
1 egg (2 , if you prefer)
1 tsp baking powder
other ingredients of choice – e.g. 1 chopped apple, handful of nuts/dried fruit etc.

I used exactly those quantities together with a few large chunks of tinned pears, and made up the 1 cup liquid with half milk and half pear juice from the tin. Apart from the pears and pear juice, no added sugar. (If you are avoiding salicylates, remember to choose pears in syrup as commercial pear juice contains the peel which has salicylates. Of course if you are on an anti-candida diet, the syrup is probably worse!)

The gluten-free flour blend is the one I described earlier:

8oz/225g brown rice flour
8oz/225g tapioca starch
8oz/225g soy flour

No xanthan gum, no gelatine.

The batter was extremely wet, but I decided to go ahead without adding extra flour. The consistency (and eventual effect) reminded on a crazy improvisation attempt when I dumped a load of mashed pumpkin into a gluten-free sponge cake recipe, thereby completely altering the ratio of liquid to other ingredients — a crazy attempt which I did not blog about because I can’t even remember exactly what I did (brain must have gone on strike, hence giving rise to the mad improvisation to begin with); started out being utterly disappointed with the result and subsequently very pleased when put aside my preconceptions and realised the texture was quite appealing and the taste pretty good.

The result:

It looked beautiful at the end of baking, but collapsed as it cooled after coming out of the oven, just as this gluten-free bean bread did. I’ve discovered the quick bread gluten-free recipe that doesn’t sink is this one that uses gelatine as well.

Taste-wise, I was very pleased although visitors to my home who tasted a bite responded only with a grimace masquerading as a polite smile :). Texture-wise, I’ll repeat what I’ve said in my other gluten-free baking entries; it reminds me of Southeast Asian kueh or steamed cakes, soft and very close-textured, no ‘crumb’, kind of squishy.

The overall effect of the non-wheat taste and texture is certainly very reminiscent of local desserts, so perhaps if I dropped names like ‘muffin’ or ‘cake’ and called it kueh, people would have different expectations and not react so negatively towards my gluten-free baking!

Weight-volume ratios in gluten-free baking

In my last posting giving a rice, tapioca and soy gluten-free flour mix, I provided the quantities in weight measures:

8oz/225g white rice flour
8oz/225g tapioca starch
8oz/225g defatted soy flour

These are also provided in the original recipe book,  Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America, in terms of volume measures:

1 1/2 cups white rice flour
1 3/4 cups  tapioca starch
2 1/4 cups defatted soy flour

However, it’s worth remembering that different flours have varying weight to volume ratios. Given that ‘alternative’ non-wheat flours can be prepared in many ways, one cannot be sure that the type used by the recipe book author is the same as the one you are using. For example, I’ve noticed that white rice flour produced for Chinese cooking seems to be finer and more white than white rice flour available in Indian grocery shops, and of course these are quite different from the brown rice flour from the organic shop.Even for regular, non-gluten-free baking, it’s always better to use weight measures for accuracy. (See also my page on Flours.)

In Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America, the base measurement is in weight, as each flour blend recipe makes up 1.5lb, so it’s better to go with the weight measures rather than the volume measures.

In my case, I also substitute flours a lot. As I mentioned, I replaced the white rice flour with brown rice flour and defatted soy flour with regular organic soy flour (US product, purchased in Phoon Huat; possibly different from Asian soy flours and homemade soy flours). So if you are a reckless substituter like me — I must be congenitally predisposed to being unable to follow recipes exactly :) — always use weight measures.

After substitution, these are the approximate weight-volume ratios I ended up with — quite different from the ones in the recipe book:

8oz/225g brown rice flour = slightly less than 1 3/4 cups
8oz/225g tapioca starch = 1 3/4 cups + 1 Tbs
8oz/225g soy flour = slightly less than 2 cups

Gluten-free flour mix: rice, tapioca & soy flours

When it comes to learning about baking, I swear by the detailed explanations of baking theory as well as excellent recipes in Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America, so I was thrilled to find a new book from the Culinary Institute of America on gluten-free baking, Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America by Richard J. Coppedge Jr.

The most important principle I’ve learnt from this book is considering the protein content of flour mixes, and then selecting flour of the appropriate protein-level for the recipe. This is similar to using standard wheat flour of differing protein levels in the form of cake flour, pastry flour, bread flour etc. In Chinese language, wheat flour is labelled as low, medium or high protein. Do take a look at the page I wrote earlier about flour, including points on protein levels.

In Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America, Richard Coppedge gives five different flour blends listed in order of protein content. In the 150 recipes in the book, he uses each flour blend according to the texture required. Often he also uses a mixture of the different flour blends to refine the final product.

The only flours he uses are:

white rice flour
brown rice flour
potato starch
tapioca starch
soy flour, defatted (the natural oil content has been removed resulting in a higher percentage of protein content; defatted soy flour is noted to improve crumb body resilience, produce a more tender crumb, crumb colour and toasting properties, make smoother batter and give a more even distribution of air cells; see here and here)

as well as:

guar gum
albumen
whey powder
[BTW, can anyone tell me where to find albumen and whey powder in Singapore?]

Not being quite as fussy or precise about my baking results, I haven’t been following his recipes exactly, but simply putting together the flour blend that I find most convenient. Besides, not having albumen and whey powder, I’ve been unable to make up Flour Blend #3 (moderately strong; made with white rice flour, potato starch, guar gum and albumen) not Flour Blend #5 (the strongest; white rice flour, tapioca starch, defatted soy flour, whey powder).

Having already tried Flour Blend #2 (second weakest; white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch) several times, I got some soy flour (not defatted though) to try an adaptation of Flour Blend #4 (stronger; white rice flour, tapioca starch, defatted soy flour). The proportions are:

8oz/225g white rice flour [which I replaced with brown rice flour]
8oz/225g tapioca starch
8oz/225g defatted soy flour [I used regular soy flour; using brown rice flour instead of white rice flour helped to raise the overall protein conten]

As compared to the gluten-free recipes posted earlier which use bean flours liberally, this flour blend has less of a strong taste.

Report of muffin recipe using this rice, tapioca & soy flour mix coming soon.

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