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.

Wheat-free at Carrefour

I’ve realised it’s time to face up to my less-serious intolerances, the ones that don’t make me obviously ill but also keep me from being in top form. Chocolate is one of these *sob* but quite an easy one to avoid. The more difficult one is wheat because it is used so heavily in baked goods. I have already purchased some wholegrain spelt flour to see if it works well for me in my next round of baking and will finally begin look more closely at other alternative flours. On the one hand, I feel tired at having to learning about new baking ingredients but trying to look on the positive side, it’s also an opportunity to expand my knowledge and improve my baking skills.

Quite by chance, I made some pleasant discoveries whilst shopping in Carrefour. The first was buckwheat crepes, a traditional staple in Brittany and Normandy, which are called galettes, from the premium in-house Reflets de France range. It was great to note that there were no nasty additives in the ingredients list. These aren’t cheap at more than S$1 a piece (pack of 6) but I’m tempted to get some to see how my own homemade version compares.

While the buckwheat crepes were huge, a small pack of organic wholegrain spelt waffles from UK brand, Dove’s Farm, costs just as much. Nevertheless, it was a great to see these organic non-wheat options right there on the shelves of a mainstream supermarket chain.

N.B.: Spelt is an ancient variety of wheat which is tolerated by some – not all – wheat-intolerant individuals. It is not gluten-free.

Custard powder substitute

Interestingly, custard powder was invented in 1837 by Alfred Bird because his wife was allergic to eggs and couldn’t tolerate real custard. Till today, Bird’s brand is one of the most popular brands of custard powder, and probably the only brand you’ll find in Singapore supermarkets.

As I noted here, commercial custard powder is basically full of nasty additives you’re better off avoiding. In this recipe which called for custard powder, I simply substituted some cornflour instead. Interestingly, many dim sum recipes call for custard powder — the British colonial influence on Hong Kong food, perhaps?

Recently, in Brown Rice Paradise, I saw a natural foods version of custard powder, which contained cornflour, yellow colourings (annatto and a turmeric-derivative) plus vanilla. However, while annatto is naturally-derived, it is the only natural food colouring “found to cause as many adverse intolerance reactions as artificial colours and to affect more consumers that artificial colour” (read here).

Anyway, this natural-foods version of custard powder shows that aside from the yellow colour (which isn’t all that important), you can pretty much duplicate the function of custard powder with some cornflour and vanilla essence. Yay (^_^).

Steamed yam cake 芋頭糕

One of the most popular reads on this blog is my posting on steamed Chinese radish cake 蘿蔔糕. The same basic recipe can be adapted for a whole range of other root vegetables — such as pumpkin, sweet potato or yam — and a supporting cast of ingredients. These are traditionally preserved Chinese sausages and meats, dried shrimp, dried Chinese mushrooms etc., but you can substitute anything of your choice.

As I discovered with the steamed radish cake, it’s also no problem to omit the secondary ingredients and still have a tasty dish, especially if you are trying to cater to food sensitivities and avoid nasty preservatives. This is a good recipe for food rotation and avoiding wheat, gluten (does the 1 Tbsp of cornflour count?), sugar etc.

This time round I used a yam (a ‘real’ yam, not the taro I have been calling ‘yams’), and a slightly different flour mixture from the radish cake. This recipe is based on a ‘Five Spices Yam Cake’ from the bilingual cookbook, ‘Steamed Cake & Kuih Muih 蒸蛋糕與糕點的喜悅’ by the Malaysian publisher, Famous Cuisine.

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Ingredients

400g yam (peeled and cubed)
handful of chopped shallots

For batter:
300g rice flour
1 Tbsp cornflour
1 Tbsp wheat starch
1 1/2 tsp salt
800ml water

1) Mix batter ingredients well, using hands to make sure that all lumps of flour are dissolved.
2) Stir fry the shallots until fragrant, then add yam cubes and fry till they are cooked.
3) All filling to the batter, keep stirring on low heat till it thickens. Be careful as the corn flour causes thickening very quickly.
4) Remove from heat and pour into a steaming tin.
5) Steam in preheated steamer at high heat for 35-40 mins or until cooked through. Leave to cool.
6) Serve with toppings of your choice, for example – as shown in photo:
* homemade chili sauce made from fresh pounded chillies only
* chopped spring onions
* fried shallots
Other possible toppings:
* sesame oil
* sesame seeds
* dried seaweed such as nori strips or aoi nori
* furikake
* soya sauce (for those who aren’t sensitive to it!)

This steamed cake turned out more firm than the radish one. And while the radish was cooked until it disintegrated and mixed with the flours to form a smooth batter, in this recipe, the yam and shallots floated to the top creating a distinct layer. This is most delicious eaten steamed & warm, but also great for bento.

Ricotta cheesecake

Cheesecake C

You’ve seen the buckwheat & okara pie crust and got a visual hint of the cheesecake there already :). This was my first cheesecake ever and will probably be my last for quite some time to come.

Not because the results were unsatisfactory – – quite the contrary — but because (a) it’s not often I’ll have unwanted homemade biscuits on hand (I certainly hope not!) to make the crust and (b) the cream cheese and ricotta cheese cost me a rather steep S$18, and they were simply supermarket cheeses (if the cake had been a failure, I would have cried at the wasted expensive ingredients!). Cheese has never been cheap in Singapore and the prices of dairy products are going up tremendously due to a worldwide shortage.

Ricotta isnt’t all that common and quite often it comes in flavoured varieties full of additives. I ended up with a plain organic ricotta from Naturally Marketplace at Vivocity, if I remember correctly, but it was no more expensive than non-organic ricotta I’d seen in other Cold Storage supermarkets. [Shopping tip: gourmet delicatessens sometimes stock cheeses at about the same price as better supermarket cheeses, but which are much better quality.]

The usual Philadelphia cream cheese in blocks is fine though it’s good to always check the label for preservatives. Earlier on, I mentioned my intolerance to mozarella and cheddar but fortunately soft white cheeses such as the ones used in this cake can be all right for those who are intolerant to the amines and glutamates in hard yellow cheeses.

It took me a long time to get round to making this recipe because often I didn’t have enough time to manage recipe of this level of complexity — when it’s important to have a calm frame of mind to follow instructions carefully, pay attention to the processes and changing foods and be able to deal with any unexpected things that crop up. There was one day when I thought I would make the cheesecake, only to discover that it required a springform pan (didn’t have one) and two large eggs (only had one). Quite often, I only have a limited block of time in which I have to produce something edible or else go hungry for the next few days. At such times, you just want a foolproof, no-fuss recipe.

This recipe came from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America. There are certainly simpler cheesecake recipes out there (such as Harumi’s “foolproof” Japanese cheesecake recipe). The description for this recipe said that the use of ricotta produced a lighter cheesecake and I thought it might be similar to those those light fluffy Japanese cheesecakes that are commonly sold in Singapore (always in an oval shape!). As you can see from the photo, it isn’t one of those and still has a dense and heavy texture.

Ingredients

1 recipe pie crust
2/3 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese [I used the whole tub, about 1 cup because I didn’t have enough cream cheese; whole-milk ricotta stays more tender when baked]
1/4 cup sugar [reduced from 1/2 cup]
1 lb cream cheese [2 full blocks of cream cheese would be just nice, but I had only 1.5 blocks of cream cheese after using some as a spread for the disastrous buckwheat biscuits]
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice [which I replaced with a pinch of citric acid dissolved in water – this is a good replacement for those trying to avoid the high level of salicylates in citrus fruits]
1 Tbs cornstarch
3 Tbs bread flour
3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and kept warm

Method

1) Preheat oven to 160ºC , a slow oven. The moderately-low temperature (and water bath) ensure that the eggs are not over-cooked and that they bake into a smooth, moist texture. Baking at an excessively high cooking method, cheesecakes are actually classified as puddings.

2) Lightly butter an 8-inch springform pan and wrap the outside carefully with aluminium foil. This is to prevent water from seeping in when the cake is baked in a water bath. Initially, I thought I could get away with the existing baking tins in my home but soon realised that this fragile cake probably shouldn’t be tipped upside down to be released from the pan! Phoon Huat of course had a variety of springform pans but they were not cheap: an 8-inch pan cost about S$21 (then again, even simple doughnut baking trays can cost that much!).

3) Prepare the biscuit pie crust in the springform pan.

4) Purée the ricotta and sugar with a food processor or handheld mixer until smooth. 3-5 mins.

5) Using the handheld mixer, combine the cream cream cheese with the ricotta mixture until smooth, about 10 mins.

6 ) Add the eggs and mix on low speed until very smooth, scraping down the bowl thoroughly.

7) Add vanilla extract, lemon juice, cornstarch and flour to the batter and blend on medium speed until smooth.

8) Gradually add the melted butter, mixing until evenly blended.

9) Pour the batter over the biscuit crust in the springform pan. Smoothen the surface. Drop the pan onto the kitchen counter from a height of 1 inch to get rid of any air bubbles.

10) Place the pan in a shallow baking dish on a pulled-out oven rack and add 1 inch of hot water. Carefully slide the rack back into the oven and bake until the edges are set and start to pull away from the side, and the top is just starting to brown. The centre of the cake should still be soft. 50-60 mins.

1 1) Remove the cake from the water bath and cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate for at least 3 hrs or overnight before unmoulding from the springform pan.

As a big fan of cheesecake, I was extremely pleased with the result. It tasted great, and despite being less sweet than bought cheesecakes, it managed to please the tastebuds of the rest of my family too. Eating this gave me tremedous satisfaction because my conscientious attention to the cake-making process paid off. And I’m savouring this because as I mentioned, who knows when I’ll ever attempt this again.

Buckwheat & okara pie crust

It’s quite amazing how this wonderful discovery was the result of a kitchen disaster that looked like this:

Soba Boro disaster

They are Japanese-style buckwheat cookies, soba boro (recipes here and here), that went wrong. The cookie dough was way too dry and I ended up adding a lot more oil to the mixture and when they came out of the oven, they were rock hard. Well, still edible but aside from the unpalatable hardness, the unrefined buckwheat flour and wholewheat flour which I used produced a coarse, rough texture, and the cookies were pretty tasteless. I did manage to eat up half the batch by slathering them with cream cheese and occasionally drizzling honey-tasting Organic Blue Agave Nectar.

However my plan was to recycle them into a pie or cheesecake crust that’s normally made with graham crackers or digestive biscuits. I wouldn’t want to use any commercially-prepared biscuits and it would be a shame to use some delicious cookies I had gone through the trouble of baking, so this was an ideal opportunity to bake a biscuit crust.

This is adapted from the graham cracker crust recipe from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America.

Buckwheat Okara crust

Ingredients (for one pie crust)

Recipe calls for 10-12 graham crackers – I used the amount of cookies I had, as shown in the photo above.
3/4 Tbs sugar [reduced from 2 Tbs]
4 Tbs/60g unsalted butter, melted

Method

I crushed the biscuits in two steps. Firstly by putting them into a plastic bag and using a rolling pin to smash them into smaller pieces. As the biscuits were so hard, the sharp crumb corners tended to pierce the plastic bag, so I wrapped the bag with a towel whilst smashing the biscuits. The smaller biscuit pieces could then be ground into a fine crumb with a food processor.

As the required amount of crumbs was 1.5 cups, I made up the shortfall with okara (leftover from the last batch of soya bean milk I made), which I also crushed using the food processor.

I then mixed the crumbs together with the sugar and butter. It looked a bit dry so I added another half tablespoon of sunflower oil.

After greasing a pie pan (or rather the springform pan I was going to use to make a cheesecake), I compressed the crumbs into the base using the bottom of a glass. Voila!

In the final cheesecake, the crust tasted great with perfect texture :).