Monday, 30 July 2012

Casein allergy

A glass of milk

Baking this weekend for a gluten and casein allergy sufferer. I have been baking gluten free cupcakes for a while now but this will be my first attempt at a layer cake. What's the big deal right? Well, the deal is, I'm afraid that the cake will crumble while assembling or after. So I'm trying to work out the best way to go about it. While I'm processing that in some corner of my mind, I'm checking out this casein thing. With a lot of help from the internet, this is what I gathered in a nutshell.......I think I'm beginning to sound archaic. Must be the early hour. It's just after 5am here, so a little hard to sound hip at this hour. Again an age thing.
Casein is a milk protein and it's found in a whole lot of stuff including some supposedly non-dairy spreads - how scary is that? Whey is the other culprit for dairy allergy suffers. So we have to read the list of ingredients very carefully to make sure that there is nothing toxic hidden under fancy words on the list. Stuff like lactalbumin, which is albumin found in whey, is a no-no! See, this is really hard work. In fact, it scares me so much, that I make sure I recognize everything I read on the back of a package. And fewer the number of ingredients, the better as its less processed and closer to the real deal.
Gluten free Vegan Chocolate Fudge Cake

Here is the egg free, dairy (casein) free, gluten free chocolate fudge layer cake I baked this weekend. I will follow up with the recipe really soon. Cheers!

A slice from the above cake

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Flax seed in Gluten free baking

Whole flax seeds

Previously, I only knew flax seed as a powerhouse of nutrients, great for a gazillion things, from fighting heart disease to cancer to diabetes, naming just a few - flagship of natural foods, so to speak. It was when I started exploring gluten free baking that I came across it as an essential player in replacing eggs and acting as a binder to keep cakes from crumbling. In fact, dare I go so far as to claim that it is a blessing to gluten free bakers? It certainly is for me!

Ground flax - Flaxmeal

Flax seed is a plant-based source of omega-3. Ground flax seed (aka flax meal) acts a binder in baking and is a natural egg substitute. It is commonly referred to as flax egg and gives a slightly nutty flavor to baked goods. Mixing 1 tablespoon flax meal in 3 tablespoons hot water will give the equivalent of 1 egg.

Flax egg

There are 2 common types - golden and brown flax seed. There does not appear to be much difference between the 2, nutrition wise. It's more in the appearance. Both work the same way but it may be better to use the golden flax seed in light cakes like a gluten free vegan vanilla sponge. Then when the cake is cut, it won't have a speckled appearance.....hopefully. I buy whole flax seed and grind it in the spice-ginder attachment of my food processor. Works out more economical than buying pre-ground flax meal and as has the added advantage of being fresher as I grind only what I need, when I need it.    

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Chocolate frogs anyone?

Chocolate Frogs?
My children's friends bought them some chocolate frogs at extortionist prices from the Harry Potter exhibition, here in Singapore. Well, here is my take on chocolate frogs as a 'thank you' for the gift and for being such great friends as well! Egg-free and dairy-free chocolate cupcakes with dairy-free chocolate icing, topped with a cute fondant frog. Sorry, mine don't come with cards! This ones' for you two - Priya and Prakash Nair!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Platinum Yoga Cupcakes with Figurines

The new fad in my life, is yoga. For years I have refused to even think about attending yoga classes, let alone giving it a try. I mean, why would anybody want to twist their body into pretzel shapes or force their arms and legs into hundred and eighty degree angles, right? Wrong.....I do. I'm addicted to hot yoga, Hatha yoga, hot flow name it and I'm right there in a studio "comfortably" warmed to 40 degrees Celcius, which is 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Brilliant! This weekend was the 1st anniversary celebration at Platinum Yoga where I work out. We have two great instructors, Anil and Ana. These 2 egg free and dairy free cakes were for them, as a little gesture of appreciation for all the grueling sessions of yoga I have endured..I mean enjoyed, with them. As for yoga being a fad? I don't think so. This one's for the long haul.         


My Grandmother's Rice Milk recipe.

A glass of rice milk

Rice milk is so easily available now in most grocery stores and has been hailed as a vegan replacement to milk. It is a godsend for many dairy allergy sufferers too, provided rice is acceptable to you. Here's a little secret about rice milk. It has been a part of the poor man's diet, in Asia for centuries as a  frugal source of nutrition and not as a vegan alternative to dairy milk! Even to this day, the poor of India drink the water that rice has been boiled in as they consider it strengthening. It helps to stretch out their consumption of rice as well. It is also the poor mans' electrolyte! Yup, you read that right! Especially for babies. Babies are too small to be given commercial electrolytes and I fed my babies when they were ill, with home made rice milk as it is safer option. It's just some rice boiled in water till very soft with a little salt added to it. Sipping home made rice milk, when you are suffering from stomach flu, helps replace important nutrients in the body and prevents dehydration. I do this for my family when anyone of them is ill, throwing up and purging. Some commercial brands of rice milk add fats to give more body and mouth-feel to their rice milk as well as vitamins. Well and good, but I like my rice milk the old fashioned way - how my grandmother taught me to make it.  

My Grandmother's recipe for Rice Milk

1/2 cup long grain rice, brown or white
3 to 4 cups filtered water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Method: Put rice in a dry pan. Lightly toast it over a low flame for a couple of minutes till its lightly brown. Pour in the water and cook till the rice and water has mushed up completely. Add salt. You may have to add more water if the water level runs low before rice is porridgy. Cool and sieve through a mesh sieve. Can be processed in a food processor as well. You now have your rice milk! Store in the fridge. Does not have a long shelf life as its preservative free so it has to be consumed fairly quickly.  

Friday, 13 July 2012

Nut free Gluten free Vegan Brownies

Nut free Gluten free Vegan Brownies with glace icing
The very first gluten free recipe I tried making was brownies. Figured that it will be the most forgiving one. So it has proven to be. But since that first one, my recipe has undergone several revisions. I tried replacing xanthan gum with guar gum and found that it gave the brownies a slightly weird gel-like feel in the mouth. Too strange. I read up further on guar gum and found that it works best in cold foods, presumably ice-creams and such. It thickens without heat and a little goes a long way. Well, here's the recipe for gluten-free brownies. It contains xanthan gum, as I used a gluten free self raising flour mix to which xanthan gum had been added already. Feel free to use any flour mix of your liking in its place and add 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum to the recipe. I have used all rice flour and it turns out just fine. As I said, it is a very forgiving recipe.

Nut free & Gluten free Vegan Brownies

The Dry
1 1/4 cup gluten free self raising flour
1/2 cup pure unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons gluten free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
3/4 cup light brown sugar (increase the sugar by a 1/4 cup if you like as these aren't very sweet)

The Wet
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/4 cup rice milk
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon ground flax seed mixed with 3 tablespoon hot water (aka flax egg)
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana
1 tablespoon rice milk - extra

The Glaze
1 cup pure icing sugar
1 - 2 teaspoons cool water

Method: Preheat oven to 170 degrees celcius. Mix wet ingredients with the dry using a spoon or your hands. It will be crumbly, almost like a cookie dough. If it's very dry, add 1 tablespoon of water or rice milk. Press into an 8"x7" rectangular pan and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Check with a toothpick after 10 minutes. When ready, remove pan to a wire rack to cool. When cool, mix the glace icing and drizzle over brownie. Chill for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares. For glace icing, slowly mix water, teaspoonful at a time into icing sugar, till a thick sugar paste is formed. Use a fork and dribble over brownie.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Kinda' Gluten free, Nut free Vegan Cornbread

Nut free & Gluten free Vegan Cornbread
Cornbread? Perfectionists may not think this should be called cornbread but then, my version did start out as rice pancakes and evolved! Sorry but I do tend to make these huge fantastical leaps of faith and and mostly end up in a muddle. But this time, perhaps I got it right. This recipe contains cooked rice, rice flour and cornmeal to which I added corn(obviously), peppers and herbs to liven things up and mask the obvious gluten-freeness of the recipe. The full recipe follows so have a look, a try and bring on the comments and suggestions, please!
Chockfull of delicious herbs and veg!

Gluten free vegan cornbread

The wet
1 cup tomato juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sunflower or coconut oil
1/4 cup apple sauce
1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoon hot water (aka flax egg)
1/4 cup soft cooked rice

The dry
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup white or brown rice flour
2 teaspoons gluten free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon fine sugar

And the Wild
1 cup cooked corn kernels
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 cup finely diced red pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions

Method of madness: Place the dry and the wet in a food processor and blend till well mixed. Then add the interesting stuff and mix by hand till well combined. Pour into an 8"x5" rectangular pan or muffin cases and bake for about 25 minutes at 180 degrees (medium oven) for the pan and about 15 minutes for the muffins. Test with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before turning out and cutting into whatever shapes you like. I grilled the leftovers in a grill pan and they were great the next day.

As muffins.....

Btw, these can be baked in muffin cases as well, for great easy to grab-and-go corn muffins. Brekkie and lunch box friendly.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

More trials.....half a loaf is better?

Yet another Gluten-free Bread attempt 
Here's the next episode in my on going gluten-free bread-making saga...lots of hyphens there and more to come! I'm trying to make a (here it comes!) gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, yeast-free, corn-free  (no xantham gum), soy-free and gelatine-free bread using a gluten-free sour dough starter. Till now, my sour dough starters have been non-starters (sorry,couldn't resist). At last, in my latest attempt, the starter turned out the way I perceived it should. I was so excited! Then I got into the actual mixing and baking. For this loaf, I used a store bought gluten-free bread mix. It was a premix of rice, tapioca and potato flour with xantham gum added. I know I keep going on about xantham gum having corn in it but I figured I'll give the premix a go to see if I could actually make a reasonable tasting gluten-free bread. The bread flour with the sour dough starter mixed up fine. I kept it in my oven with just the light on to let the bread dough rise. Then when I carefully transferred the beautifully risen loaf to a heated pan, poof! My bubble burst......literally. The dough started sinking and I ended up where I started.......with a bookend! Back to the drawing board..........sigh. 

A note of caution about Xanthan Gum

Thought I would share something interesting about the use of Xanthan Gum in gluten-free vegan baking. Xanthan gum is a plant derivative commonly found in commercial foods. On the food packaging label, it can be listed as food additive E415, or simply as xanthan gum. Many gluten free vegan cake recipes include xanthan gum as a binder to thicken and hold the batter together. But take note - those sensitive to corn - xanthan gum is usually made from corn

Xantham Gum

In some of my gluten-free vegan recipes like my gooey, fudgey brownies, I replace xanthan gum with flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed). The bake turns out fine. Next time, I will have more about flaxseed. Until then, Happy Baking!

Brownies, with flaxseed meal

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Is it really gluten-free?

Hi there! Be warned before you proceed any further with your reading. I'm about to embark on one of my pet peeves - the lack of allergy and content information in foods. The latest incident to trigger of my spiel on this happened yesterday. I was at local food fair, held at one of the malls close to home standing in a long and winding line to buy rice flour cakes, when I overheard a man asking the lady behind the counter if the tapioca pancakes she was cooking on the hotplate were wheat free. Despite the crowds, his question caught my attention as this is an area very close to my heart. We of the label/disclaimer-reading lot would totally understand this guy's query, right?  Not so the lady behind the counter. Her answer was a vague, "Just sugar, water and tapioca flour. Would you like to try one?" Well, the gentleman decided to bite the bullet and bought one. But this brings me to my pet peeve. The tapioca flour used to make the pancakes was probably not certified as being wheat-free. It probably IS wheat-free but without the guarantee of certification. See where I'm going with this? There is a huge grey area here which is a real nightmare zone for those of us dealing with with allergies and food intolerance on a daily basis though a minute by minute basis would be more accurate. We are living it.

Store-bought tapioca pancakes - are they gluten-free?
Much of the local food products in Singapore, while having the ingredients listed, do not carry allergy information.  The ingredients lists can be vague as well. A packet of tapioca flour from the local market, would list under ingredients just tapioca flour, which is fine. Cheap too. But there is no assurance or disclaimers that it contains just tapioca. For that, we have to head for over-priced specialist organic food shops. Even then, the range of products available is pretty limited. This leads to a great deal of frustration for most of us with allergies to contend with in our daily lives, especially when we call home, a real food paradise! Hopefully, this will change soon and we will have a better range of well-labelled food products with all the necessary information at lower prices available at local markets.....sounds like a dream.   

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Animal Safari fondant decor workshop

Busy at work with the animal toppers
Ong Sansan and her two boys, Nathaniel and Immanuel have been such staunch supporters of my cakes from the the early days of my baking career, with Foodinfinity. I have been making their birthday cakes for them for over 3 years. Last year, we did things a little differently! All of us together, baked and decorated the birthday cakes for the boys. A real family effort with just a wee bit of input from yours truly. 

Beautifully decorated cupcakes!
Here are the pictures from our latest cake decorating venture together. A few weeks ago, I did a decorating class for Sansan. There were 6 kids including Sansan's two sons, and between the lot of them, we had a whole gamut of allergies. The cupcakes I baked for the class were egg-free and dairy-free chocolate cupcakes with dairy-free icing. They were nut-free as well.

Animal Safari cupcake toppers
"Animal Safari" was the theme for the fondant decor and the toppers for the cupcakes were a reflection of that. There was an elephant, tiger, lion, monkey, snake and hippo.I did a set of toppers so that the kids could have some idea of the finished result. But apart from the basics, I left it to them to make their own toppers as they saw fit. We had a great time, and so did my hired hands - the Princess and Pee-Wee. Thank you Sansan, for bringing together your wonderful kids, their cousins and friends for the 'Animal Safari' theme workshop 

A very pleased little cutie with her elephant cupcake

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Easy Gluten-free Vegan Rice Pancakes

Decorating gluten-free brownies
I had the greatest pleasure in having Dr Melanie Phuah (nutritionist and GP), her 2 lovely, lovely, lovely kids(did I mention that they were lovely?) and their wonderful housekeeper, Mary over at the So Intricake! studio for a gluten-free, egg-free and dairy-free pow-wow. One of Dr Phuah's daughters suffers from a host of allergies including yeast, egg and dairy. So we made fudgy gluten-free vegan brownies together. The children enthusiastically, did the sifting and mixing and after the brownie was baked, they decorated the warm brownie with glace icing. While waiting for the brownies to be done, I made rice pancakes for everyone and served them with pure maple syrup and a vegan spread. Big hit! Served a vegan gluten-free cornbread as well, to balance out all the sweet flavors. Here's the recipe for the Gluten-free Vegan Rice Pancakes. Hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
Kids approve of rice pancakes!

Gluten-free Vegan Rice Pancakes

1 1/2 cups rice flour (brown or white)
1/2 cup soft cooked rice
1 tablespoon fine sugar
1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/2 cups rice milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoon applesauce
1 teaspoon sunflower oil

Method: Blend everything together in a food processor till smooth. Make each pancake using a 1/4 cup measure. Lightly oil a frying pan, keep it on medium heat and pour batter to form a circle (hopefully!). When bubbles start rising to the top, carefully flip pancake over and cook other side for about a minute. Slide onto plate, add favorite topping and tuck in!

Note: You may want to thin it down a wee bit with rice milk and try making crepes. Let me know if you do!