Amaranth Spelt Bread

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Before going gluten free I didn’t realize how much I relied on wheat. I ate sandwiches and pizza occasionally, but I didn’t consider that wheat thickens béchamel, blankets wontons, and binds granola. Cutting wheat out of your diet doesn’t just change taste, it changes technique. You find new ways to thicken, add chewiness, make things fluffy. After spending the last month dairy free I’ve had a similar revelation.

I had stopped noticing all the ways I consumed milk products: yogurt for breakfast, milk in my tea, a sprinkle of parmesan every time I make pasta—actually a sprinkle of cheese over most meals. Milk and cheese bind sauces, smooth over rough edges. A month of topping tacos with cilantro and eating pasta sprinkled with toasted nuts made me realize how much I used dairy as a flavor crutch. Without it, I tasted other ingredients more clearly.

Wheat and dairy both flavor and structure most of our diets. Get rid of them and you have to find new methods, new tastes. When I began baking gluten free, I was obsessed with finding the perfect replacement for wheat flour, but as I experimented more I realized that the flours I was using could do far more than mimic wheat. They had their own tastes and textures.

Amaranth flour was one of the last ones I experimented with. Early in my explorations, I read on Gluten Free Girl that amaranth had a strong, grassy taste and tended to overpower other flavors, so I stayed away from it. But later on I encountered this article on the benefits of amaranth and I read elsewhere that this tiny grain made bread more tender and extended shelf life—crucial with gluten free baked goods, which seem to go stale almost immediately.

This bread isn’t gluten free, but if you don’t have celiac disease and simply find wheat difficult to digest you may want to give it a try. You can read more about why I eat spelt—and why maybe you can too—here. This boule is high fiber and high protein with a lovely earthy flavor that works beautifully plain, spread with jam, or made into a grilled cheese sandwich.

Please let me know how you like it and tell me about your own favorite alternative flours in the comments.

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Amaranth Spelt Bread

1 1/4 cups (300 ml) warm water
2 teaspoons (7 g) dry active yeast
3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey (or maple syrup to make it vegan)
2 cups white (280 ml) spelt flour
1 cup (140 ml) whole grain spelt, plus more for rolling out
1 cup (108 g) amaranth flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (10 g) sea salt

Mix warm water, yeast, olive oil and honey and set aside for 5-10 minutes.Stir in flours to create a shaggy dough.Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes.

Return to bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes.

Heat over to 375°.

Turn dough out onto a lightly flour surface and knead for another 2 minutes, until smooth. Shape into a ball and set on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and make 2 shallow slices in the top surface. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, another 30 minutes or so.

Spray surface lightly with water and place in the center of pre-heated oven. Spray inside of oven with more water and bake for 40 minutes.

Cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

 

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Dreamy Mishaps: Pecan Milk and Praline Macarons

Sometimes recipes are inspired by memories, sometimes by cravings, and some come from eccentricities. These recipes started with a cheesecake. My boyfriend got me a food processor as a gift for our two-year anniversary and, to express my gratitude, I whipped up his favorite dessert, a classic New York style cheesecake, which left me with two unused egg whites. These egg whites nagged at me until I decided I would use them to make macaroons—I had already used my new gadget to make almond milk and dried the remaining meal to produce almond flour—but I couldn’t get excited about going classic. I wanted something more exotic than chocolate or vanilla, and the withered late season peaches and tough pre-season pears at the market weren’t inspiring me to make jam. Searching for regional inspiration, I recalled my recent first experience with pralines, a buttery, cookie-shaped candy, and like macarons, gluten free. Pralines are made with pecans, which grow in abundance here in Georgia.

After my delight at the sweet, creamy deliciousness of homemade almond milk, I decided to make pecan milk from my nuts before using the powdered remains in macaroon batter. (It gave me something to do while my egg whites aged.) The pecan milk has a richer, nuttier flavor that went beautifully with a drizzle of honey and a dash of nutmeg. I’ve also been enjoying it with Minimalist Baker‘s Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola. I dried my pulverized pecans in the oven and the next day I was ready to make macarons.

At this point I should probably admit that I’ve never made macarons before. They are famously difficult. And it rained. Okay, enough excuses. These little guys are not the prettiest. They could have used another five minutes in the oven and I applied the filling when it was too hot, destroying the fragile foot that I swear showed up on about half of them. If I was a professional chef, I’d say that my macarons where a failure, but I’m a home baker and since everyone I fed these too—including my boyfriend who only likes two other desserts: warm brownies a la mode and cheesecake—loved them, in my book, that’s close enough to success to share.

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Pecan Milk

2 c. pecans
1/8th tsp. salt
5 c. filtered water, plus more for soaking

*You will need cheesecloth and a blender or food processor.

Cover pecans with water and let them sit overnight. Drain, rinse and combine with 5 c. water in a blender or food processor, blend on high for 30 sec. or until nuts are pulverized and liquid looks milky. Drain through 3-4 layers of cheesecloth, squeezing to release as much liquid as possible.

Spread the nut pulp in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and dry in oven on the lowest setting for 3 hours r so, until light and dry.

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Pecan Praline Macarons

(adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

For the Macarons:

200g confectioners’ sugar (approx. 2 cups)
100g pulverized, dried pecans (approx.. 1 cup)
120g room temperature egg whites (around 3 large egg whites) left out at room             temperature for at least a few hours or up to 3 days
1/8 teaspoon salt
40g sifted granulated sugar or caster sugar (approx.. 3 Tbsp.)

For the Filling:

1/4 c. heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp. butter
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. pulverized, dried pecans
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

To make the macarons: Blend pecans and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until well mixed and finely textured. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat salt and egg whites slowly until stiff peaks form, then increase to high speed and add caster sugar, incorporating quickly. Do not over mix. Fold in vanilla. Sprinkle pecan mixture over egg whites and fold together gently until just incorporated. Allow mixture to rest while you prepare 2 double layered baking sheets topped with parchment paper, fit a piping bag with a round tip, and preheat oven to 325°. Pipe 2” mounds onto baking sheets, spacing about 1” apart. Rest at room temperature for 1 hour. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet, then remove to rack to cool completely.

To make the filling: Set oven to 350°. Combine whipping cream, butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisking frequently. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla. Remove nuts from oven and stir in. Allow sauce to cool for 15 minutes, beating frequently to prevent hardening.

To Assemble: When macarons are completely cooled, stick pairs together with filling. For best results, wait 1 full day to enjoy.

Impossible Challenge Recipe: Gluten Free Bagels, Part 1

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Frequently reading fairy tales distorts my sense of what is possible. If Beauty can turn a beast into a prince, I think, surely I can make a killer gluten free bagel on the first try. This post is part of a new series “Impossible Challenge Recipes,” an apt designation I decided on before attempting my first installment.

I confess, I haven’t been baking very often and when I do, instead of baking gluten free I’ve been using spelt flour, a wheat relative that my body (thankfully) tolerates. Spelt is not a perfect substitute for wheat. It has less gluten, more protein, and absorbs more liquid than standard flour. But it’s close, close enough that it can be used on its own instead of as a part of a complicated blend, close enough that it doesn’t require the support of xanthan gum, guar gum, or psyllium husk powder, close enough that milk powder and extra eggs are not required. In short, spelt flour is a lot easier to work with than gluten free flours. It’s a great option when I’m baking just for me.

But the thing about food, and especially baked goods, is that are often meant for sharing. I get frustrated at parties when everyone else is eating fluffy cupcakes, chewy brownies, and delicious sandwiches and I’m supposed to be grateful because someone brought a quinoa salad. Of course, before I discovered my own wheat intolerance I never even considered baking anything gluten free, but now I understand how hard it can be constantly deprived of options.

So, I’ve decided to re-embrace gluten free baking, and take on the most challenging baking tasks I can think up, things that would have scared me even when I was still using wheat flour.

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This bagel was my first challenge. It combines tapioca starch, glutinous rice flour, potato starch, millet flour, and teff flour. It has both xanthan gum and psyllium husk powder. It has one egg and some ground flax seed. All of this combined to make a bagel that is very chewy and not at all fluffy.

The picture up top looks pretty good, but you can see in the one just above that I didn’t get much of a rise. Also, they cooked unevenly, with oily looking tops and crunchy, over-browned bottoms. I could feel discouraged, but if there’s one thing that fairy tales have taught me it’s that it usually takes 3 tries to get something right. Time to try again!

I’m open to suggestions and magical assistance.