Saturday, 14 April 2018

A burger bun experiment

Furthering my inquiries into high-protein baking, I tried out a recipe for no less than the "Ultimate" keto burger buns. Based on my previous experience, I didn't have high hopes for it turning it as ultimate as indicated. Sure enough, what the recipe calls a "batter" that can be poured into the forms turned into a sticky dough that had to be scraped out with a spatula and sat stiffly in the forms. After 18 minutes of baking, as suggested, they were nicely browned, but didn't rise much, and were tough and crumbly:


This recipe, however, has a link to the (an) almond flour, and in one of the pictures the nutrition info was visible (not explicitly listed, alas), and it listed about 50% fat, where my almond flour comes with 10%, having being partly de-oiled. So I figured - maybe adding back some fat would help?

Thus experiment #1: To a half recipe I added 50 g of canola oil. I also instead of the staff blender used the exceedingly handy beater whisk from Normann Copenhagen to beat the eggs a bit foamy.  This made the batter almost pourable, and certainly more batter-like, in a stretchy kind of way.



While these were baking, I tried a second approach (experiment #2), based on various intuitions and the fact that we have no problem with gluten. I used half and half almond and wheat flour, added a quarter teaspoon of baking powder and 50ml water. Again I beat the eggs foamy, then mixed the other liquids together before adding the dry ingredients. This was a decidedly runny batter that I could easily pour.

The oil-enhanced version (experiment #1) rose well in the oven, then fell a bit after coming out again:


They came out of the buttered forms very easily, and cut open disclosed fairly dense dough interspersed with large holes:


They were quite tasty, though not very fluffy at all. I think they could benefit from the baking powder the original recipe warns against.

The wheaty buns (experiment #2) did not rise very much - maybe the amount of water made the bubbles needed for rising break? They were pretty fluffy, though, just thin. I could try with some more baking powder, or half oil, half water for the extra liquid.


The other experiment I should try is just using our new powerful blender to blend almonds directly, getting an almond flour that would match what the recipe is based on. If that works, it would enable a number of recipes, at the cost of a more difficult flour making process.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Bullet journal notation differences (still no pastels)

Oddly, I've been doing bullet journaling for 15 months and only now got around to watching the original video that introduced the concept in August 2013 (I was several years behind this particular trend). I no longer remember which page I took my original style from, possibly this updated version, but there are some differences:

The original bullet journal (OBJ) uses boxes for tasks and dots for notes, whereas I've followed the updated version (UBJ) with dots for tasks and dashes for notes. Originally, done tasks were marked with a checkmark in the box, the updated version uses an 'x', I turn the dot into a checkmark - checkmarks look more "done" than 'x'es.

The "migration" marks work differently in both OBJ and UBJ: A forward angle means it's moved from a day to the next month, while a backward angle means it's moved to the long-term list. Since I have four, count them, four, levels of lists (daily, "soon" (roughly weekly), monthly, and long-term), I prefer using the forward angle to indicate that it's moved to a lower (sooner) level and a backward angle for going to a higher level (think moving closer to or moving away from completion).

For things that get migrated forward on the same level, as I like to do for things that are my highest priorities, I use an arrow, with increasing number of lines as it gets moved more times. This obviously doesn't scale forever, but postponing a task for long is a sign that it's not really that important and should go to a higher level. Having too many tasks postponed makes for dissatisfaction with yourself and by proxy with the bullet journal, making you more likely to abandon the whole thing. Consider if it's really due now, if not move it to a higher level.

The OBJ and UBJ oddly suggest going over the earlier tasks once a month, checking and migrating the tasks then. I like the ability to immediately mark things as done, and if I have to move back to a previous page to find an outstanding tasks, I will not get them done. Plus I'd have to mentally track which ones are done when finding out which ones to do. I mark all a day's tasks at the latest the next morning, typically postponing any outstanding ones, though I will probably migrate more to higher levels. Here's a typical spread:


I try to keep it to at most 5 migrations per day. Ideally I'd get all things done every day, but reality is not so merciful - things that really needs to get done not some time this week or maybe next, but one of the very next days will need to stay in the daily log. Won't help to migrate "Water plants" to the next monthly task list, either.

I occasionally mark tasks that I've done some progress on with a checkmark in parenthesis. I'm not quite happy with this, as it's easy to take for done. Since my BJ is focused on tasks more so than events and notes, I believe it's best to stick to simple dots for tasks rather than the boxes.

I'm pretty happy with my overall task completion rate with this setup. The one thing I'd like is some way to note the thoughts I come up with while biking. Grabbing my BJ out of my backpack in my saddle bag while stopped at a red light is not optimal.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

For a better baking experience: Prepare and repair

I just made the Low-Carb Carrot Cake from ditchthecarbs.com. I used Xylitol as sweetener, added another tsp of vanilla (because that's almost always a good idea), and used a heaping tablespoon of "Mickey's Five-spice" instead of the other spices. The batter was quite satisfying and not very sweet, but the cream cheese frosting part of the recipe is all manner of wrong. The carb/protein ratio is really good, we could use 50/50 whole-wheat and almond flour and still be balanced. Let's see the results:


It set fine, but was somewhat dense and dry, falling apart too easily. It was not very sweet at all, possibly due to using a sweetener with a different amount of sweetening power

But what I really want to write about is the process, and how this was the most stress-free baking experience ever. I think of it as "prepare and repair". The "prepare" part is also beautifully known as "mise en place" ([mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) and basically means to have all the ingredients out and ready before starting to prepare anything. "Repair" refers to cleaning up as you go or immediately after work stops. While I didn't strictly follow this slightly more specific method (I started to melt the butter before everything was out), here's my approach:

  1. Read the recipe carefully. Some recipes have traps like heating the oven when the dough needs half an hour of resting, take unexpectedly long, or have special tool requirements. Running out of time or tools halfway through is no fun. I've been bad about that in the past.
  2. Take all ingredients out of storage and place them at the working surface, making sure there is enough of each ingredient. This step eliminates a common failure mode of mine: Not realizing that I'm missing some crucial ingredient until I'm halfway through the receipt. 
  3. Prepare oven/containers. Greasing baking pans shouldn't wait until the last minute. The oven takes time to heat up. But don't heat it up early if the dough will rest for a long time.
  4. Chop/grate/melt etc. ingredients. Except a few cases like apples where extended oxidation is a bad idea, this separates two very distinct modes of work. It also means that if for some reason you have to abort early, these ingredients can probably be saved for later.
  5. Combine ingredients. This is now often a trivial task, or if the recipe is tricky, a much easier task for not being intertwined with finding or processing ingredients.
  6. Pour into containers & bake. Enjoy the smell and get high on anticipatory dopamins!
  7. Clean up. This is the "repair" part, where the messy kitchen gets fixed back to a nice state. Put all ingredient containers away, either wash or at least rinse and place together all the dirty tools, and wipe down the surfaces. It doesn't take long, but makes a huge difference in how it feels to be in the kitchen.

A comparison of specialty flours


With my last flour experiment, I found a reasonable proportion of gluten to flour for making simple baking experiments: 25g gluten to 100g water gives something that's roughly bread-like in texture, if somewhat wet. But what happens when you use not just gluten, but also other flours? How do the various flours compare in terms of water absorption and baking effect? Let's find out!

Since I'd be adding other flours that have their own properties, I reduced the amount of gluten to 10g, and used 25g of each of the other flours. I still went with 100g of water, but this time I used a finer scale to make sure my measurements were much more precise. I also added 1g (a "dash") of salt, to make it potentially edible. I did three batches, because I only have four of the little baking pans, and because I don't want too much delay between the first and last concoction. This was my procedure:
  1. Measure out the gluten, flour, and salt in each baking pan in advance.
  2. Gently stir the flours to mix them, using a small whisk.
  3. For each pan, measure out 100g water in a bowl, then sift in the flour and stir it with a fork.
  4. Let them stand for half an hour to let the gluten form its plates.
  5. Put them in a pre-heated oven at 200C.
  6. Take them out when they're browning.
  7. Let them cool before cutting into them.

Round 1: Some "common" specialty flours

Almond flour

The most popular low-carb flour. The almond flour mixture was fairly thin, like a pancake batter. It didn't change much during baking, behaving more or less like a pie filling.

Sunflour seed flour ("sunflour")

Sunflour is still fairly new to me, but I at least know not to mix it with baking soda. The sunflour mixture was quite doughy. At the end of the resting period, a bit of water had collected around the sides. Didn't rise very much either

Flaxseed flour

Flaxseed flour is a standby in low-carb cooking. The flaxseed flour mixture was surprisingly sticky and lumpy, and rose a lot in the oven, keeping structure after cooldown. That marks it as a good substitute - it can form a structure that allows bubbles to expand.

Chestnut flour

Found this in a shop, and bought it despite it not having any nutrition information. It turned out to be somewhat high in carbs. Haven't tried using it yet. The chestnut flour was decidedly runny, not even batter-like, but more like water. After resting, there was some liquid on top. Did not really rise at all.

First batch of flours, with the fine scale (0.01g precision)

The flaxseed flour stands out with the amount of rise. The chestnut flour isn't bad either.

After cooldown: The flaxseed flour kept its shape nicely.

Cut open: All were somewhat moist, but generally had a good structure
Round 2: Wheat and weird flours

Chickpea flour

Not very low-carb, but we got it anyway. Haven't used it before. Dough was fairly runny, not a lot of rise to it, but at least stayed together afterwards.

White wheat flour

Your standard, average, normal, common, everyday, typical flour. Type 405, to be specific. Dough was runny like a batter, and it rose beautifully, collapsing afterwards.

Whole wheat flour

Wheat with all the bits and pieces. Rose like the white wheat flour and collapsed the same way.

Chia seed flour

I haven't used this before, but chia seeds are known to make a sticky, tapioca-like substance when soaked, so it's interesting what will come of the flour. The result was about as weird as expected: A sticky lump that stayed lumpy, just getting brown on the outside. The inside did not get cooked. Conclusion: Use with extreme care, this is not a direct replacement for anything.

Second batch. The regular flours were somewhat runny, the chia seed a sticky lump.
During baking: The wheat flours poof up nicely, the chiaseed flour stays mostly unchanged.

After cooldown: The wheat flours have collapsed like a souffle (that's essentially what this is, anyway), the chiaseed flour is a lump.

Cut open: The wheat flours are a bit clammy, the chickpea flour has a pretty nice structure, the chiaseed flour is entirely uncooked on the inside.

Round 3: Strange and corny flours

Hemp flour

I tried using hemp flour in a cake once, but the greenish color and strong smell has kept me from using it again. It didn't absorb much water, nor did it rise, and the baked product fell apart. Not very useful.

Corn Flour

Not a lot of rise during cooking here, but the result was at least somewhat appealing and had structural integrity.

Sesame flour

This is the first time I've used sesame flour for anything. It's rather coarse, on par with the coarser almond flours. Thus it didn't absorb much water or form structures, just sat there and fell apart.

Coconut flour

Quite popular in gluten-free baking, known to absorb quite a lot of water. The dough was indeed quite firm, but the rise was missing, and the end result was again falling apart.

Third batch: Hemp flour was very runny, the coconut flour quite dry

During baking: Nothing happens!

Result of third batch: The corn flour holds its own, the others just fall apart.

 Bonus discovery

I did the first round without any grease in the pans - hey, they're teflon, right? Wrong! Well, they are teflon, but that doesn't mean things don't stick. Getting the pans clean was a nightmare. For the second batch, I used oil, which didn't help very much. The third batch was done with butter, and that was substantially easier to get out and clean. Now of course these flours were all different, but the amount of stuck-ness didn't vary much between each pan in a batch. I'm sticking (pun intended) with butter for greasing. 

Conclusion

In short: If a recipe calls for "nut or seed flour" without being more specific, avoid that recipe. These flours each behave in their own very different ways, changing color, taste, structure, rising properties and more. This test is simple compared to doing actual bread or cake, in order to bring out the differences, now I at least have some rough idea of which flours go in what direction.

Substituting wheat flour with other flour is not easy. The wheat flours did a ballooning that only the flaxseed flour could emulate, so I guess I was lucky to hit on the flaxseed flour early on in my process of making balanced bread.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Bread without flour

They said it couldn't be done! They called me mad! But I SHOWED THEM! Muahahaha!

Yes, this is indeed a bread made without flour. Well, without wheat flour. Actually, without the carbohydrate parts of the wheat flour. It uses gluten and seed flours instead, but it comes out nice and springy, slightly denser than I would normally get it, but delicious.


I ended up using less flour than usual for this, since my flour tests (post coming up on them as soon as I get the third part done) show that both sunflour and flaxseed flour soak up more water than regular flour. And indeed, with 4/5 the usual amount the dough was at the same time tough and sticky. Next time I'll lower the amount of flour a bit and see if that improves the oven spring by virtue of leaving more water available to boil and expand.

Ingredients:

100g gluten, 150g flaxseed flour, 250g sunflower seed flour, 1/2 tsp baker's malt (Backmalz), 2 tsp salt. Mixed these together, but ended up putting 100g of the mix aside. 50g seed mix, soaked in boiled water for a while, then drained. 350ml water, 2 eggs, 20g yeast, ~20ml oil, all mixed together then added to 300g of the flour mix in the LeKue. Another 100g of the flour mix slowly added, along with the seed mix and 50g finely chopped walnuts. Left to rise in the oven with the light on for 1 hour, then kneaded and put into a grease loaf pan before rising for another 1/2 hour. Baked in a pre-heated oven for 1 hour at 200C.

For the nutritionally curious: This comes out to roughly 37g of carbohydrates and 287g of protein, for a mindboggling 1:8 carb:protein ratio.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Flax and sunflour bread - for great rising!

A simple but successful bread, made with flax flour and sunflour. After doing some testing of various flours (results to be posted later when I've tested the rest of my 12 different flours) and looking through my notes, I came to the conclusion that almond flour, even the fine varieties, is just not good for bread. So I used sunflower seed flour (sunflour) instead of the almond flour, plus I added just a bit (0.5% by weight) of baker's malt, which supposedly helps feed the yeast. The result was just excellent - rose like a charm, and did an oven spring I could palpably watch happening.


I also this time put it into a hot oven, rather than as usual heating the oven with the bread in it. I still don't know which gives the better result - it seems to me the slow heating would allow the inner parts to get warmer and expand before the outer parts get too baked and fixed, but maybe that's not an issue, and the loss of gas by slower heating is counterproductive.

Another sneaky tricky I just realized is to use the LeKue to help shape the read. I wasn't quite able to make it full-length in there, but by pushing it around I managed to make a good shape that when flipped into the loaf pan I could cut very easily. Thus the nice two-way cuts you see in the result.


It became brown very fast, so I covered the top with foil after 35 minutes. I should probably put it in a lower rack in the oven to prevent that, or maybe it's just the baker's malt that's adding enough caramelization to make it brown. After all, that's one of the purposes it's used for.

I also tried some pancakes from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook, but I had to do some substitution, and they turned out awful. I'm starting to have misgivings about almond flour in general.

Upon cutting open the bread, I find it fluffy and springy. Not quite the largest bubbles I've seen, but definitely satisfactory, and the taste was quite nice, a bit more mellow than it's otherwise been with flax seed flour. The texture is maybe a bit chewy, but certainly has that airiness that makes it pleasant to eat, rather than the dense lumps I've had with almond flour.



Ingredients: 125g gluten, 100g flax flour, 100g sunflour, 75g whole wheat flour, 100g all-purpose flour, 1/2 tsp baker's malt (Backmalz), 360g lukewarm water, 20g yeast, 2 eggs, a splash of canola oil, and 50g seeds soaked in boiling water and drained. Dry ingredients mixed in LeKue bowl, wet ingredients mixed separately, then added and stirred, then kneaded for about 5 minutes. First rise for 1 hour, second rise about 45 minutes, baked 1 hour at 200C.


Saturday, 27 January 2018

A gluten experiment

It's Saturday, and you know what that means: Baking experiments! Ok, maybe you didn't know, since I haven't posted so much about it, but at least today I did one, testing how gluten behaves in various solutions. Would it poof up in the oven? Would it form durable bubbles? How wet would it get? What would the final consistency be? I decided to keep the tests as simple as possible, using just a liquid and gluten, not even adding salt.

I did four tests in little teflon pans:

#1: I took 50ml cold water and poured 25g gluten into it, stirring as best I could, then let it stand for half an hour.
#2: Seeing how #1 clumped up, I now took 100ml cold water and slowly poured 25g gluten into it while stirring, then let it stand for half an hour.
#3: With the oven preheated, I again took 100 ml cold water and slowly poured 25g gluten into it while stirring.
#4: Lastly, I beat one egg and slowly poured 10g gluten into it while stirring, then beat it some more.

I pour four into the oven, preheated to 200C:


As you can see, #1 (on the left) is very lumpy, looks like porridge, but is a lot stickier. #2 and #3 are similar, though I think I poured #3 more carefully, having pre-measured the gluten, so it's a bit more even. #4 (on the right) is slightly foamy.

I let them stay in the oven until they started browning. After 10 minutes, #4, having the egg advantage, had poofed up quite a bit, while the water-based ones were only changed a little bit:


At T+13 minutes, things are clearly starting to happen.  #1 is getting weirdly blobby, and #4 is splitting.


At this point, perhaps due to being exposed to sudden heat, my phone camera stopped working, so I switched to my DSLR. After 20 minutes, #1 has formed a glistening ball, and #2 and #3 are poofing up as well. I took out #4 at this point, it being nicely golden-brown. The heat change from doing this caused #1 to collapse somewhat, but it recovered.


At 23 minutes, #1 was getting quite brown on the inside (our own heats a bit more from the back), and there's yet more movement in #2 and #3. I took out #1, this time noticing #2 and #3 deflating slightly, then pumping themselves up again when the door was closed - #3 looked like it was breathing for a bit!


It took until 32 minutes before #2 was ready to come out.


#3, the laggard, took a full 37 minutes before it was brown enough to escape the heat, and it wasn't even that brown:


Of course, as soon as they came out of the oven, they started collapsing. #1 deflated drastically at once, #2 and #3 not so much, and #4 somewhere in between. This show is after they had time to cool down.


Now to the important part: What was the structure like? I used a wooden butterknife to get each of them out (I hadn't greased the pans at all), then as carefully as possible cut each of them through with a breadknife.


The results:

#1 was rather soggy. While it grew immensely, it also deflated the most, ending up being a shrunken flop, smaller than the rest of them. It was quite rubbery when chewed, while also being wet. Very unpleasant.


#2 had a rather nice texture, better than #3, probably from standing around for a while and letting the gluten act. It was slightly wet and somewhat rubbery, but not a bad basis for further experiments. See how the crumb looks like an English muffin? Not bad for standing around for half an hour.


#3 was like #2, but slightly less pleasant, wetter and not as well formed. Letting the gluten work does make a difference, though less than I expected.


#4, with the eggs, were a surprise: It was totally hollow! I'm amazed that it kept as much of its shape as it did. This has potential for being filled with something right after coming out of the oven, or maybe even in the oven, or could take other ingredients and still be interesting. The texture was chewy but not rubbery like the other ones, not as wet, with a very eggy taste.