Gluten-free pumpkin muffins with carob topping

Here’s another experiment with alternative flours and this one is actually gluten-free, adapted from The Best Wheat and Gluten Free Baking Book. This is my first completely wheat and gluten-free recipe made with alternative flours intended to mimic the result of wheat flour.

I didn’t have the exact combination of flours used in the book’s recipe for Squash Muffins, so I improvised from things I had in the kitchen, and I was pleasantly surprised by the palatable result. So you too should not shy away from experimenting with alternative flour mixes. To be on the safe side, I added 1 tsp of xantham gum, which not required in the original recipe.

The original also calls for pure cocoa powder, which I replaced with carob powder.

The pumpkin is such a versatile ingredient – from savoury dishes to sweet desserts, that I often like to have one lying around in the fridge as a staple, which explains the frequency of pumpkin recipes on this blog.

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WET INGREDIENTS
170g butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups pumpkin, cooked and mashed — i didn’t have enough so made up the remainder with pureed canned pears (which I have frozen in ice cube trays for easy usage) and 1/2 cup of red lentil dip. The latter was added by accident as I thought it was pureed pear! I wasn’t concerned about the mix-up though, remember how Jessica Seinfeld puts all sorts of vegetables into sweet cakes in her Deceptively Delicious recipes.

DRY INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup sugar [reduced to 1/4 cup]

1 1/2 cups brown rice flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 tapioca flour
1/2 cup sweet potato flour

3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xantham gum
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup raisins, coated in a bit of flour to prevent them sinking in the batter
1/2 cup hulled sunflower or pumpkin seeds, oven dried and ground in a coffee grinder

TOPPING
2 Tbs carob powder
2 Tbs butter [I guessed the amount, and ended up with probably about twice that amount!]
2 Tbs cinnamon
2 Tbs brown sugar

1) Preheat oven to 200°C and grease muffin tins.
2) Beat butter and sugar until light & fluffy.
3) Beat eggs and add into butter/sugar mixture one tablespoon at a time and beat well after each addition.
4) Add mashed pumpkin and mix well.
5) Sift the dry ingredients together to mix thoroughly.
6) Add dry ingredients, raisins and ground seeds to wet mixture. Mix well
7) Spoon into muffin tins,
8) Spoon on topping mixture.
9) Bake in lower third of oven at 200°C for 20 minutes or until well done.

Verdict: The flours I used seem to have a relatively neutral taste and this muffin tastes less ‘odd’ than the Kamut cranberry muffins. The carob topping seemed far too liquid, although it hardened nicely. Could have done without the carob topping. Can’t detect pumpkin taste. I like the way the ground seeds add body and protein to this muffin.

Incidentally, I recently came across this excellent baking blog, Pattycake.ca, that includes many recipes for those facing gluten-free restrictions (and other special diets). Like me, the author enjoys the creative challenge of food restrictions!

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Kamut cranberry muffins

Kamut is another wheat substitute I’ve just tried. It’s supposed to be an ancient variety of durum wheat and replaces wheat easily in recipes. Kamut is a trademarked name for this strain.

I got some Bob’s Red Mill brand kamut flour, which can be found in health food shops and Marketplace supermarkets.

For my first kamut recipe, I also wanted to use the cranberries I had in the fridge, and fortunately I found this kamut cranberry muffin recipe. I omitted the orange peel and replaced the honey with light agave syrup.

It also happens to be a buttermilk-based muffin recipe, which is similar to my current preferred basic muffin recipe. You can see my other buttermilk muffin recipes here. As buttermilk is rather expensive in Singapore, I always substitute it with milk+citric acid or cream of tartar (as I’ve described here), or use some of the yoghurt I already have in the fridge.

I jazzed up these muffins with some inspiration from this kamut raisin walnut muffin recipe: I added a crumble topping made from kamut flour, sugar and butter (same as the recipe but I omitted the walnuts as I didn’t have any).

Verdict:

Buttermilk muffins generally give a good texture so no problems there. The taste is discernable from wheat, but still very palatable. With the crumble topping, this muffin is sweeter than than the sugar-free muffins I tend to make, and cranberries provided a welcome change to the usual raisins, so this was a sweet treat rather than just a solid tummy-filler.

Kamut flour is quite expensive though – a 567g (20oz) packet costing over S$5 would probably only last me two batches of muffins, so I don’t think I will be using it as a staple flour.

Spelt pumpkin muffins (no sugar)

Here’s my first experiment with non-wheat flour. It really doesn’t taste very different, but that’s because spelt is actually a variety of wheat. Even if you don’t have an outright wheat intolerance problem, food rotation is a good idea.

I came up with this recipe after comparing the Pumpkin muffin recipes from the following books:
Diana Linfoot, Muffin Magic (Perth, Western Australia: Diana Linfoot, 1990)
Miriam Kasin Hospodar, Heaven’s Banquet: Vegetarian Cooking for Lifelong Health the Ayurveda Way
Mary Ann and Mace Wenniger, The Best-Ever Wheat and Gluten Free Baking Book

Spelt is not gluten-free so there really was no need for the last book, but it was still interesting to note the spices, raisins and nuts as well as orange juice used as milk replacement in the recipe (no citrus juices in large quantities for me – high in salicylates).

Both the vegetarian and gluten-free books’ muffin recipes use buttermilk or yoghurt, and I’ve found I prefer the texture from this mix than the old recipe I was using. I also use 2 eggs now instead of the 1 egg I did before.

The Ayurvedic book also melted ghee, butter or oil interchangeably for muffins, so I opened the first tin of ghee I’ve ever used . I already had it sitting in the cupboard, waiting to be experimented with.

For the flour mix, you can replace up to half a cup out of a total of two cups with alternative non-gluten flours.

You don’t need any sugar as the pumpkin, raisins and walnuts give this plenty of flavour.

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Ingredients

1 1/2 cups wholegrain spelt flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon

2 eggs
1/4 cup melted ghee
3/4 cup yoghurt
1/4 cup water

1 cup pureed cooked pumpkin (if you have extra you can freeze it)

1 cup chopped walnuts, lightly roasted by dry-frying without oil in a skillet over low heat – you may want to sieve out the tiny pieces which get burnt during the roasting process
1/2 cup sultanas

1) Sift together dry ingredients. This is important to combine the leavening agents and flours properly. If they are not evenly mixed, there will be large holes in your muffins. I often have a problem sifting wholegrain flours with leavening agents because the large flakes in wholegrain flour don’t go through the sieve and I can’t get at the smaller clumps of baking powder/soda to break them up and press them through the mesh. Right now, I’m trying to get round the problem by using my sieve which has a coarser mesh.

2) Mix wet ingredients together. Put the eggs in last, because if you mix raw eggs with hot melted butter you will get cooked egg (yes, this happened to me before!).

3) Mix the pumpkin puree thoroughly with the wet ingredients. I like to use a whisk for the wet ingredients.

4) Coat the raisins and nuts with flour to prevent them from sinking in the batter whilst baking.

5) Mix all the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients all at once quickly and lightly with just a few strokes. It’s ok if there mixture is clumpy.

6) Mix in the raisins & nuts.

7) Put into greased muffin tins. Paper casing is unnecessary. I have discovered that unless the cake has a high fat content (such as this cake recipe), it will stick to the casing. Pour water into any unused holes in the muffin tin to keep the tin from warping, and to produce steam which helps to create crispy tops on the muffins.

8) Bake at 180°C for at least 20 mins, or until toothpick comes out clean and muffins are fragrant.

Crème Caramel

I often go through phases where I try out several dishes from the same cooking method in order to teach myself new skills through trial and error. Recently, I’ve been doing puddings, which the green tea silken tofu can be considered one type of.

However, tofu-making a quite different from custard puddings, which involve gently heating eggs and milk (sometimes cream as well) to set it into a soft, smooth consistency.

Crème caramel certainly isn’t healthy or allergy-friendly by any means (fortunately I can tolerate dairy products) but I wanted to make something classic, basic and follow the instructions very precisely in order to become familiar with the cooking technique.

First of all, I needed to acquire suitable dishes of the appropriate size that were also oven-safe. Compared to unlabelled ceramic ramekins, Pyrex glassware seemed the most reliable and they sell custard cups in packs of 4 (or individually at Sia Huat). These also make pretty serving dishes and are great for cooking prep too.

However, my purchase was initially derailed by a Tangs sales assistant who told me that only Pyrex ‘Bakeware’ range was oven-safe and the custard cups were not part of this series. A check on the Pyrex website showed this information was incorrect and I phoned the Singapore distributor to get a definitive answer. Fortunately I managed to rush back to Tangs in time to take advantage of the 20% discount on Pyrex going on during that period : ).

I used the detailed instructions in Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America, which turned out extremely well. It says 6 servings, which fit six Pyrex custard cups perfectly.

The process of making crème caramel basically involves three important cooking steps, plus a crucial fourth stage of refrigeration for at least 24 hours.

Don’t forget to preheat the oven to 325°F/ 160°C — a slow oven.

Part I: making the caramel

1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp lemon juice
3 Tbs warm water

Put sugar and lemon juice in a pot and bring to the boil over high heat. It’s important to keep stirring constantly to prevent the sugar from burning. Once all has melted, stop stirring and begin swirling the pan to cook under the sugar is a rich golden brown, 3-4 minutes. It’s important not to stir the melted sugar or else you will end up with gritty bits that spoilt the texture of the caramel. When caramel has reached the desired colour, add the warm water and stir over low heat until all hard bits are dissolved. Divide the caramel amongst the 6 custard cups.

I wonder if I overcooked the caramel as it tasted slightly bitter, or perhaps it was the amount of citric acid (in place of lemon juice) that I used?

Part II: making the custard

1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1/8 tsp salt
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the milk, 1/4 cup of sugar and the salt in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Be careful not to scorch the milk which will result in it sticking to the bottom of the pan and having a burnt flavour. To avoid this, don’t use too high a heat, keep stirring the milk and use a heavy bottomed-pan. Once the milk starts to simmer, remove from heat and keep warm.

Blend the egg and egg yolks with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a heatproof bowl. The important thing at this stage is handling the eggs so that they do not get cooked by the hot milk, so temper the eggs by gradually adding the hot milk a little bit at a time and whisking constantly. Then add the vanilla extract.

To achieve a fine, uniform smoothness of the custard, strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the prepared custard cups, filling them 3/4 full.

Part II: baking the custard

Prepare your custard cups by coating lightly with cooking spray or a bit of oil. Place them in a deep baking pan, into which a kitchen towel has been placed over the bottom.

Put the baking pan on a pulled-out oven rack. You should have a kettle full of boiling water ready at this point. Add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the custard cups. The kitchen towel will prevent the dishes from sliding around in the water-filled pan.

The water bath and the slow oven ensure the custard cooks evenly and smoothly. Here is a photo of my pumpkin custard which I tried to speed up by using ‘Fan Bake’ function — you’ll notice that the top is overcooked, resulting in the uneven texture and it formed a leathery skin o the top compared to the smooth custard below. Hence, slow even cooking is what one is trying to achieve with puddings.

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Slide the rack back into the oven and bake for for 20-25 mins until the edges have set and a coin-sized spot in the centre jiggles slightly when a custard is shaken. I had some difficulty interpreting this instruction so I relied on a bit of intelligent guesswork to figure out if the custard was ready.

Part IV: refrigeration

Remove the custards from the water bath; you might like to use a pair of tongs to remove them; tongs with slip-proof silicon tips would be great. Let the custards cool on a wire rack, wrap individually then refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 3 days. I have kept custards in the fridge for longer than that, and after day 4, there is a distinct drop on taste and texture.

The 24-hour resting period is required for the custard to cool and become firm enough to unmould, and for the caramel sauce beneath needs time to reabsorb some moisture and turn into a liquid.

To serve, warm a sharp knife in warm water and run around the edges of each cup. Turn the custards out onto chilled plates.

Pumpkin loaf cake

A while back I noted my unpleasant reaction to Dole bananas. While I suspect the intolerance is specific to certain strains of banana, I have been avoiding all bananas to be on the safe side.

At the same time, I’ve been dying to have grandma’s wonderful banana cake again. After cracking my head as to a suitable replacement for banana (what has the same consistency?), I decided to try pumpkin.

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And the result was fabulous!! The taste had the same underlying flavours as the banana version, but with an added creamy richness from the pumpkin.

I used wholewheat flour, which gave a slightly gritty texture that my friend mistook for semolina/sugee.

Instead of the 115g instructed by the original recipe, I put in 60g — definitely more than sweet enough. Although my tendency is to reduce the sugar as much as possible in most recipes, I recently read that sugar grains help to create pockets of air that make the cake light and airy when baked. So far using a little as 1/4 the recommended amount of sugar has worked well for me, but I wonder if my baking would have turned out with better texture more of the time if I wasn’t so radical with the sugar reduction.

I used quite a lot of pumpkin, probably equal to the volume of two bananas. This produced a close-textured cake that was at the same time extremely soft and moist. Will definitely be doing this one again!

Apple soy muffins (no sugar)

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I’m back on the anti-candida diet so that means no more sweet snacks for the time being. No matter what Sue Dengate says about the counter-productiveness of combining anti-candida with Failsafe diets, I’m trying! It seems pretty logical to stay off sugars that feed the growth of yeast in the body. I think I’m experienced enough at trying to manage both individually to attempt to do both together. Recently I had to make a series of bento that were suitable for a vegetarian environment. Now that’s a major creativity challenge (admittedly, I didn’t keep to either an anti-candida or Failsafe diet strictly for that whole series of vegetarian bento :P)!

Frustrated with the less-than-satisfactory muffin results of my last batch (see the update on Green tea, azuki bean and pine nut muffins), I decided to make some apple muffins, which were my fortnightly staple — alternating with scones — when I was following the anti-candida diet a few years ago. Apples provide flavour and a hint of sweetness, and I’ve even had friends unable to detect the complete absence of sugar.

This time I decided to try something a little different. Have been thinking of trying a buttermilk muffin recipe for some time, hoping that the buttermilk will provide a bit more lift in the batter. It just so happened that I came across one in an Ayurvedic vegetarian cookbook I recently picked up, Heaven’s Banquet by Miriam Kasin Hospodar. I like the detailed explanations about each category of recipes, the thorough background information makes this book much better than simply a collection of recipes. The book has a half page on the ‘The Seven Pillars of Eggless Muffin Wisdom’, the last being that ‘eggless muffins become leaden and clunky if they sit too long, so it is best to bake them just before serving’. That didn’t sound so good to me, especially after suffering heavy gummy muffins of late, so I decided to keep the 1 egg I have been using all along, but adapt the instructions for including buttermilk+bicarbonate of soda (which react with each other, as I explained here).

I also made soya bean milk yesterday, with okara as a by-product, so I added in a handful of dried okara into the flours. This is supposed to help produce a lighter texture.

Ingredients

1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup plain flour
handful of okara
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
cinnamon, generous sprinkle (approx. 1 tsp?)

1 apple, chopped

3/4 cup yoghurt [to replace buttermilk; there’s a large tub of yoghurt with live cultures in my fridge to assist in the anti-candida diet]
1 cup soya bean milk
1 egg
1/4 cup oil

1) Sift dry ingredients together.
2) Toss apple bits in flour mixture.
3) Mix together wet ingredients.
4) Put all of the dry ingredients into wet mixture. Combine quickly till just mixed, about 15 strokes. Over-mixing will produce a heavy muffin.
5) Bake in preheated oven. I made it hotter than the 180℃, which I used to use, by using the ‘fan bake’ function. Hospodar’s muffin recipe recommends 200℃. Bake until golden brown and fragrant, 20-30 mins. I had a really big apple so there were lots of apple bits that made the surrounding batter soft and wet, even when the muffins were done, so skewers didn’t come out clean but upon dissecting a muffin, they seemed to be ready.

Recently, for some reason I seem to have lost my ability to determine whether something in the oven is done. The baking instructions never seem to be right and skewers come out clean but they aren’t done, or skewers are not clean but they seem ready. I’m beginning to wonder about the temperature control in my rather old oven; will have to invest in an oven thermometer. Another problem is having the baking trays on different racks on the oven, necessitating switching them around half way to ensure even baking. This never works for me though – the lower rack inevitably gets less heat at the all-important initial rising period so that tray is always not as good. I also must start paying more attention to my bakeware as dark and silver surfaces produce different results.

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You can see an airy texture inside, without large tunneling or the gummy texture of the green tea muffins.

But guess what, I forgot to crush the dried okara chunks into a fine powder texture, so I ended up with these dry airy bits inside (the white part in the centre of photo). Okara is tasteless and I don’t really notice these dry chunks, but they don’t really add anything to the muffin, so it would be better to have all the okara crushed into a coarse grain instead.

To serve these sugarless muffins to friends and family with more conventional tastes, I cut a small hollow in the centre of each muffin and filled it with jam or marmalade.

I often don’t use paper cases because it’s wasteful and unnecessary. In this case, I wanted to make the muffins more presentable to give to friends, and also I used the paper cases to measure out smaller muffins (as compared to the giant size of normal muffin tins). I have a stack of 1000 paper cases to use up anyway (yes, that is the standard pack size in baking stores, or you can get packs of a few tens for an exorbitant price at supermarkets).

One problem of paper cases is that some of the muffin will stick to the paper. Muffins stick to the paper cases much more when they are hot; at room temperature, the paper cases will peel off relatively nicely, though there is the small problem of paper fibres sticking to the muffin (rather than bits of muffin sticking to the paper). [29/6/08 update: the more expensive glazed paper cases have less muffin sticking to them; they usually come in black or dark brown (think of the cases for expensive chocolates).]

Making salted eggs II

One of the very earliest things I wrote about on this blog was making Chinese sated eggs at home (as well as a good reason to do so). Eight months and four batches of a dozen eggs later, I’m extremely happy with my eggs but have realised that the eggs do not keep so well once they have been removed from the brine (I use five weeks of soaking in brine).

The first week out of the brine, they have beautiful, bright orange yolks with an even tone. Three or four weeks later, they look like this:

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Notice that the yolks have become a strange colour and developed an uneven texture. The whites also taste more salty than before. Overall, the taste is still fine and I enjoy my homemade eggs very much, not to mention feeling reassured that there are no unwanted artificial colours or preservatives and having sense of satisfaction of having made them myself.

The solution is to make a smaller batch of salted eggs each time and try to finish them within two weeks. As it takes five weeks to make them, one might start a mini-production line and have a few lots of eggs at different stages of the process.

However, that means finding space to lay out the all bowls of brine. They do get a bit sticky on the outside of the container and there may be flakes of crystallised brine so you’ll want a hardy kitchen surface, or else a plastic tray to place beneath the bowls if it’s a surface that needs protecting. Perhaps if one has a set of large stackable containers, you can use those for soaking and stack them vertically to save space, with the eggs that will be ready first put on the top.

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