Sunday, 18 March 2018

For a better baking experience: Prepare and repair

I just made the Low-Carb Carrot Cake from 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. 


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.


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.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

What low carb eating has done for me

Due to +Mickey Blake's recent insulin resistance diagnosis, we've been eating a low-carb diet for the last several months. While I don't have a diagnosis myself, I have followed the diet, initially mainly to make cooking easier, but after a while also because it just made me feel better in several different ways:

Disclaimer: I'm not a medical doctor or even close, this is just what changed for me.
  • I have noticeably more energy. Where I would usually wear out in the late afternoon with my mind just fizzling until I got some food, I now keep fresh throughout the day. At the end of the day, I feel tired, but more in a physical way rather than a mental way. I still like to take a short nap mid-afternoon, especially on busy days, but I can certainly keep doing more things for longer than before.
  • I need less sleep. My daily sleep need has dropped from 8-9 hours down to between 6 and 7 hours. Even when I stay up late, like this New Year's Eve where I didn't get to bed until 2:30, I still got up at 8 and was quite fresh. I also less often feel tired when waking up.
  • My shirts have started getting smelly faster. Usually I was able to wear my shirts for 4 days at least, but suddenly I found them getting noticeably smelly after two or sometimes even just one day. It might have become less extreme recently, so maybe it was just the body flushing out some smelly bits now that it had stored and previously not been able to process. Why this only seems to affect my shirts and not, say, my socks, I really can't say.
  • I lost weight. I wasn't really overweight to begin with, with my BMI at about 25, but I did have a bit of tummy rounding. Without me really changing my exercise or trying to eat less, I just lost 6 kilos - actually, I have done less exercise since late October since fighting stopped. I seem to have settled at between 82 and 83, or else the Christmas food and less biking is showing. 
  • I don't get hangovers anymore. This was probably the biggest surprise. At the various Christmastime parties, I didn't hold back from drinking, and was quite surprised on three out of three mornings after just waking up as normal, no headache, no extra tiredness, no nothing. All I can figure is that with the liver no longer having to deal with excess carbs, it can process alcohol much better.
  • I don't wolf down sweets. Every so often, I will get some of my old favorite sweets, but I don't go through them nearly as quickly. A Ritter Sport marzipan that would previously have disappeared within 10 minutes lasted almost 10 days in my pocket. A small bag of peanut M&Ms that would usually have disappeared instantly and left me craving more has been partly consumed over a couple of days and then forgotten.
  • Sweets are sweeter. This is no surprise, really, since we had previously done a very strict 2-week no-sugar experiment, and ended up finding that even carrots tasted sweet. But now, when I eat something that's high in sugar, it almost stings on my tongue, possibly just overloading the receptors.
The extra energy and less sleep seems less pronounced now than in November, but I'm liking how I feel. What I don't like is how many things at the supermarket are full of sugars and simple carbs. We've picked up more cooking and baking out of necessity, but it's frankly weird to suddenly see sugar everywhere. And it's a cruel irony to move to a city full of great bakeries, only to switch to a diet that make the bakeries useless. I hope I can convince some that low-carb is at least a useful a thing to sell as gluten-free - there are probably more people who can benefit from low-carb than from gluten-free food.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Low Carb Brunkager

As promised, an update on the brunkager after they were done. They worked, and even though I used the sunflower seed flour together with baking soda, they didn't turn green. It appears this particular reaction also requires oxygen, and this is a very compressed dough that was then wrapped and put in the fridge. They came out quite nice (I forgot to get some Zitronat, so they were lacking that lemony taste), but definitely softer than the usual ones. Now I like a softer cookie and eschew the efforts to make them as crunchy as possibly, so this was very much my thing, but your mileage may vary. Over all it was a success that I will repeat and refine next Christmas.


This is a modified recipe based on God Mad (no, nothing to do with a Divine Hulk), 6th edition. I'll only write the recipe with my replacements and modifications, for the original, get the book. Note that this recipe takes some planning, so read carefully before commencing.
  • 125 g butter
  • 100 g xylitol in crystals, e.g. Xucker
  • 100 g sugar syrup - I used Goldsyrup, which has a fairly high fiber content
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cold water
  • 100 g almond flour
  • 100 g gluten (e.g. Seitan Basis)
  • 100 g flour
  • 200 g sunflower seed flour
  • 1 tbsp Mickey's 5-spice (3 parts cinnamon, 2 parts cardamom, 1 parts each nutmeg, cloves, and allspice)
  • 100 g finely chopped almonds
Gently melt together the butter and sugars and bring them to a boil. Dissolve the baking soda in the water. Take the butter-sugar sauce off the heat and stir in the dissolved baking soda. (I accidentally stirred the baking soda directly in, didn't seem to hurt.) Let cool until luke-warm, roughly 1/2 hour in the fridge or outside in winter, longer inside.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix together well, by hand or machine. It should form a tough slightly sticky dough. Roll the dough into 5 cm thick rolls, wrap these and put them in the fridge for 1-2 days (yes, days).

Preheat the oven to 200C. Slice the dough in thin slices (1-2mm) and place them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake for 6-7 minutes atop the oven.