Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Cup Is Not Always A Cup.

Flour straight out of the bag.
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My favorite kitchen tool is a digital food scale. It has really changed the way I cook. My infatuation with the scale no doubt has something to do with my training as a chemist (that, and my perfectionist tendencies). I spent a lot of time measuring out reagents on a lab scale. The kitchen has now become my laboratory, and I swear, once you get used to cooking with a scale (especially baking) you will wonder how you ever lived without it.  Here's why -- a cup of flour can vary dramatically in weight, depending on how it is milled, or whether it is sifted. But, 125 grams is always 125 grams.

I did a simple little experiment to demonstrate this. I pulled my recently purchase bag of flour out of the cupboard, scooped out a cup, leveled it with the back of a knife, and weighed it: 159 grams.

Then I took the same flour and "aerated" it, by just gently whisking the flour in a bowl. I scooped out a cup, leveled and weighed: 128 grams! 31 grams less flour, about 20% less than the original measurement. My cup now looked more like 1 1/4 cups. If you are baking, which is all about ratios of ingredients, this is a big difference.

Measuring the whisked flour.
Just for kicks, I took the same flour and sifted it, scooped a cup, leveled and weighed again: 129 grams. Kind of interesting -- whisked, or sifted, didn't make much difference, but chances are if you are scooping your flour straight from the bag, you are using too much flour.

A couple of years ago I started experimenting with gluten-free recipes. We are not a gluten-free house, however, my food ethos is variety, variety and more variety. I like to incorporate lots of different kinds of grains into our diet. Things like pancakes and muffins are great for this. They are not yeast risen and therefore don't depend on gluten for the structure of their crumb. Plus, kids love them. Sometimes I like to make a double batch on the weekend and freeze half. Then you can just pop them in the toaster when you want a quick, delicious breakfast.

Gluten-free Girl and the Chef has been a great resource for me in exploring this subject. They have a fabulous post on how to make your own gluten-free whole grain flour blend. It is super cool because you get to choose from a bunch of whole grain flours and make your own mix. Basically you weigh out 70% of a whole grain flour, and 30% of a starch. I used that formula to develop these gluten-free pumpkin pancakes.

I have tried quinoa flour, sorghum flour, almond meal, oat flour, teff and brown rice flour in different combinations throughout the years. For the starches, Cornstarch and Arrowroot have been my favorites. I tried the potato starch with less than great results. It just sucked up so much moisture that the batter became to thick. Feel free to choose your own flours to find the taste and texture combination you like best.

For these pancakes I used fresh pumpkin puree that I had made the day before. If you have never used fresh pumpkin puree in your baking, I highly recommend giving it a try. It is easy to do and, while canned works, the fresh pure has a lighter texture and purer flavor. You could also use other squash purees in this recipe; butternut squash would be delicious.

Bosc pear and spices.
There is a great post here on how to make pumpkin puree. I had a nice sugar pie pumpkin that I cut in half, roasted until tender, and then, here's the important part for baking applications--let the extra moisture drain off overnight. My set up looked like this. I used a fine mesh strainer and coffee filters. Cheese cloth also works wonderfully, I just didn't have any on hand and was in the mood to head out to the store.

You may remember me mentioning  Sonoma Harvest here before, this time I used their Pear & Cinnamon Honey, to make a pear topping for these pancakes. I have to say, it turned out even more delicious than I had imagined when I was dreaming this recipe up. I am dying to try it over vanilla or hazelnut gelato.

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