19 March 2014

The Best Gluten-Free Brownies in the Known Universe

It is probably time to move on from the postmodern Twinkie, a.k.a. NOT-winkie, and formulate something truly useful, such as a baked treat that people like to eat. One reliable figure of merit is: what sells the best at bake sales?

At a recent high school fundraiser, I had the misfortune to sample a gluten-free brownie that was mushy, gummy, starchy, and too dang sweet; probably came from a box with the usual xanthan or guar gum. And I donated a buck for this?

Well, this shall not stand, thought I. Therefore it was off to the lab to develop a suitable GF brownie that would be a pleasure to eat, be nutritious, and notably lack the exotic GRAS gunk that the big food processors think is okay to sneak into as food.

And so below:

The Best Gluten-Free Brownies in the Known Universe

Makes: 24 or 30 plump, chocolatey brownies.
Prep Time: I don't really know, actually

Recommended equipment: 

  • Stand mixer with at least 5 qt.-capacity bowl.
  • Accurate kitchen scale measuring in grams units
  • Jellyroll pan, 15"x10"x1", nonstick if available
  • Baker’s parchment, 15" wide
  • Baking stone at least as large as jellyroll pan
  • Household grain mill, e.g. the L’EQUIP NutriMill
  • The usual bowls, measuring spoons & cups, scrapers etc.
  • Still-air oven—verify that the oven temperature setting is accurate.

Ingredient Notes: 

·   Weight measures are preferable to volume measures, and will give more consistent results.
·  The rice flour recommended is finely milled from Tamaki Haiga germ-retained white rice, a good-tasting and extraordinarily nutritious rice. In the L’EQUIP NutriMill, set the mill to highest speed and lowest feed rate.
·  The cooked-rice flour is the same Haiga rice: parboil as typical, pressure-cook at 1.2bar for 20 minutes. Wrap and cool slowly overnight, dry in an oven or food dryer at 160ºF or 71C until quite dry, then mill finely as above.
·  The flax hydrocolloid is a dry powdered extract of hulled, defatted non-GMO flaxseed; it is actually food, and replaces the weird and exotic xanthan and guar gums found in 99% of mainstream GF flour replacers. A sample of Optisol 5300 may be ordered from Glanbia Nutritionals. Possibly finely-ground flax seed could be substituted, but with no guarantees of a successful bake or good taste.
·  The rice bran extract is Nu-Bake, used for its properties in enhancing texture and moisture in typical GF formulas. A sample may be ordered from RIBUS Inc. of St. Louis, Missouri. Its use is optional.
·  The potato and tapioca starches can be of the Bob’s Red Mill brand.
·  The baking powder is any nontoxic (aluminum-free) double-acting type, such as Red Star or Rumford.

Prep: Mill uncooked and cooked/dried rices as described above. Place baking stone in cold oven, preheat to 320ºF or 160C. Prepare pan by buttering, overlaying with parchment, then buttering the parchment. Squeeze out any air “blisters” trapped under the parchment; set aside.


Ingredient                    grams     U.S. volume measure 
Butter, Unsalted Irish         190       ½ cup + 5 Tbs + 1 tsp
Olive Oil, extra light          23      1½ tsp
Sugar, Superfine Granular      500      2½ cup + 1 Tbs
Cocoa Powder                   118       1 cup + 3 Tbs

·  Melt butter and oil in a stainless saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sugar, and whisk occasionally until sugar has melted, and mixture becomes uniform,  light and cohesive; whisk continually until it becomes frothy and light. Pour cocoa into mixer bowl. Remove melt from heat, pour over cocoa, and stir with paddle attachment until mixture is just warm; scrape bowl and beater as necessary. Meanwhile measure & sift together the drys listed below.

Ingredient                    grams     U.S. volume measure 
Vanilla Extract                  7       2 tsp
Eggs, Whole, medium            250       5 eggs
·  Restart mixer on low speed, add vanilla, then eggs; then beat at medium speed with scraping until smooth and glossy.

Ingredient                    grams     U.S. volume measure 
Flour, White Rice              63      7 Tbs + 2 tsp (½ cup less 1 tsp)
Starch, Potato                 54      6 Tbs
Starch, Tapioca                49      7 Tbs + 2 tsp (½ cup less 1 tsp)
Flour, cooked & dried rice     19      2 Tbs
*Flax Hydrocolloid, Dry        9.5    4 tsp
**Rice Bran Extract              1.4    ½ tsp (optional)
Baking Soda                     3.8    ¾ tsp

·  Sift together the above drys. Add drys to pre-batter and beat a full seven minutes at medium-high speed until thick and smooth. Scrape down bowl sides and beater as necessary to ensure uniformity of mix.
*   Alternate: try 2 Tbs. golden flax meal instead of the Glanbia Optisol 5300 flaxseed extract.
** Update: given the very real concerns about trace heavy metals such a cadmium present in rice bran, this ingredient is no longer recommended. The manufacturer of this particular extract, Nu-BAKE®, has failed to respond to a product analysis request.

Ingredient                    grams     U.S. volume measure  
Baking Powder                   7.7   1¾ tsp (Aluminum-free)
Sea Salt, Fine                  5.0   1 scant tsp

·   Stir together baking powder and salt. Stop the mixer, scatter the powder-salt mix uniformly over the batter surface, and beat an additional two minutes, scraping bowl and beater as needed.

Ingredient                    grams     U.S. volume measure 
Milk Chocolate Chips           100     ½ cup
·  Stop mixer, dump in chocolate chips, and stir batter at low speed until uniformly well-incorporated. Scrape bowl once or twice for uniformity.

Turn batter into pan and smoothen it until uniformly level. Set pan on hot baking stone in oven and bake at 320ºF or 160C for 36 minutes. If using a different-sized pan, baking time may have to be adjusted. Test with toothpick: the brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with just a bit of moist cake sticking to the very tip; a clean toothpick means they’re getting overdone and crunchy.

Cool pan on wire rack for an entire hour. Cut downward with a soft-bladed cheese knife into 24 rectangles in a 4 or 5 x 6 array. Gently slide parchment out of pan, and separate squares for placement onto serving tray or storage tin.

So there you have it. These brownies are consistently well-liked, appreciated by the GF crowd, and are profitable at bake sales. They are long gone by the time the usual cupcakes and store-bought stale cookies are left behind in their lonely embarrassment.

 “—” ‘—’’

26 July 2013

Sweetest Comeback in the History of... Whatever

The “New” Twinkies, reintroduced on 15 July 2013 after a half-year hiatus, deserve a bit of attention. Twinkie the Kid may have been banished from the box artwork, but the new Overlords of Golden Sponge Cake nevertheless seem to think that the world has not yet moved on from the concept of snack cakes.

As several news reports have mentioned, the rebooted Hostess Brands reformulated the Twinkie to extend shelf life to 45 days, a 73% increase over the stated 26-day target of the old product. Also rumored but not exactly substantiated is that the New Twinkie is or will be “smaller” somehow than the Old Twinkie.

Well, the only way to resolve the facts is to directly compare Old and New, duh. Fortunately the wise Management of Browne Crowe Bakes had had the foresight to procure one of the last boxes of Old Twinkies and, after double-wrapping in foil, stash said box in the deep freeze on 16 November 2012. There they were kept at 0°F for 8 months, until the inevitable New Twinkies hit the market.

Twinkies: New (Top) and Old (Bottom)

Size Matters

So are the New Twinkies really “smaller”?

Weight of entire Old Twinkies Box of 10: 453.4g; declared net weight 383g.
Weight of entire New Twinkies Box of 10: 459.1g; declared net weight 385g.

Yes, yes, a sample size of one box each makes for a statistical analysis of just about zero significance, but the evidence to date shows no downsizing of the Twinkie... yet.

As an aside, the box width has indeed shrunk to 21cm from 26cm; perhaps this is the source of the downsizing rumors.

 Ingredients for a L-o-n-g-e-r Shelf Life

Would there have been blood in the streets if the New Twinkies formula had been changed too much? Perhaps Hostess feared a debacle like the New Coke fiasco (which some suspected as having been a marketing gimmick).

But to meet revenue goals even after post-bankruptcy restructuring and smacking the bakers’ and truckers’ unions, Hostess seemingly had no choice but to make their products even less prone to staling and outright spoilage. Pity, for the result is that the Twinkie has become even less foodlike than before.

Let us glance at the New and Old ingredients declarations, with the deltas highlighted: Added and Omitted.

Enriched bleached wheat flour:
  Reduced iron
  Thiamine mononitrate (B1)
  Riboflavin (B2)
  Folic acid
Corn syrup
High fructose corn syrup
Shortening, partially hydrogenated:
  Soybean oil
  Cottonseed and/or canola oil
  Beef fat
Whole eggs
Soy lecithin
  Sodium acid pyrophosphate
  Baking soda
  Corn starch
  Monocalcium phosphate
Modified corn starch
Glycerin  New
Soy flour Old
Soybean oil New
Mono- and diglycerides
Cellulose gum
Sodium stearoyl lactylate
Natural flavor
Artificial flavor
Sorbic acid
Artificial flavor
Polysorbate 60
Corn starch
Xanthan gum  New
Soy protein isolate  Old
Calcium caseinate  Old
Sodium caseinate  Old
Enzyme  New 
Wheat flour  New
Yellow 5
Red 40

and the FDA-mandated Nutrition Facts; Old Twinkies label with New annotation:

Serving Size 2 Cakes (77g)
Servings Per Container 5
Amount Per Serving
Calories 290    Calories from Fat 80
Total Fat           9g    14%
    Saturated Fat   4.5g  23%
    Trans Fat       0g
Cholesterol         35mg  12%
Sodium              400mg 17%  360mg 15%

Total Carbohydrate    49g 16%  46g 15%
Dietary Fiber          0g  0%
Sugars                35g      33g
Protein                2g

Vitamin A   0%
Calcium     2%
Vitamin C   0%
Iron        6%  4%

The Caseinates were used to improve sponge texture and uniformity, to increase cake volume, and as an aid to ingredient dispersion in batter mixing. The 10% sodium reduction possibly resulted not so much from less salt being added, and more from elimination of the sodium caseinate.
The soy protein isolate worked with the caseinates and whey as a milk replacer in the cake formula. Soy flour is an old-school enzyme-active additive still widely used to retard staling in breads and other baked goods. Both soy protein ingredients are therefore gone—maybe part of a long-term soy-free market strategy? Change to canola oil and non-soy lecithin and they’re there.

Possibly the Enriched Wheat Flour content has been reduced (is wheat more expensive than corn starch?), as suggested by the drop in iron content and 1g-decrease in non-sugar total carbohydrate.

Pulling Out All the Stops: “Freshness” or Bust

The bacterial slime Xanthan gum hydrocolloid was likely added to compensate for the change in batter and/or cake properties resulting from the changeover in shelf-life extension additives; also, xanthan itself is known to retard starch retrogradation, the baking industry's two-dollar jargon for staling.

The non-hydrogenated and ultra-cheap Soybean oil also helps keeps things soft, while amounts of other ingredients have been juggled to keep the fat percentage unchanged.

The Enzyme ingredient now listed may comprise one or more bacterial and/or fungal enzymes—alpha amylase, lipase, phospholipase, etc.—that modify complex starch-sugar-fat batter chemistries, enhancing initial crumb softness and moisture retention, and retarding the staling that leads over time to brittle, crumbly cake texture.

Such enzymes, heavily promoted over the last 5-7 years or so by the Usual Suspects in factory-food chemicals manufacturing, offer a solution to exactly the production and price pressures that helped drive Old Hostess into the ground.

Something to watch for in future revisions of the Twinkies ingredients labels—well, who doesn’t keep track of them?—would be the disappearance of Enzyme from the list. This does not necessarily mean that they stopped using enzymes, but rather that they were able to change the formulation or successfully petition the FDA to permit reclassification of them as processing aids, and therefore don’t have to list them. Sneaky, no?

But then again, given Hostess’ all-out imperative to extend shelf life, “enzyme” is likely to persist indefinitely. It is worth bearing in mind that “enzyme” is in fact an FDA-sanctioned synonym for “fungal alpha-amylase”, an enzyme produced from factory-scale vats of fungus, and which remains active post-baking to retard staling.
The Glycerin was surely added as a humectant to attract and retain moisture, again for shelf-life extension. In fact, glycerin has traditionally been added to wedding- and Madeira-cake batters so the cakes stay “fresh” longer. And as the Twinkies’ sugar content seems to have dropped 2g per serving, the glycerin’s sweetness could partially compensate for any loss in sugar-sweetness.

Next: Sensory Evaluation of New vs. Old Twinkies

Nahhh... what would be the point?

 “—” ‘—’’

12 July 2013

Gluten-Free Spice Redux

Baking Trial 056, 12 July 2013

Resurrecting the gluten-free spice cake -014 of last March, an update was performed, tweaking the formula with more-accessible ingredients and a simplified-improved batter makeup process.

The chiffon-based method (emulsion plus French meringue) formerly used was abandoned after it was recognized (and reinforced by failure after failure!) that GF blends are unable to stabilize the pre-aerated batter sponge’s delicate structure after baking & cooling.

Also, the guar and flax hydrocolloids repacing the gluten generally need a lot of working to develop, and it was suspected that the egg whites might beneficially be added early in the batter processing, instead of being incorporated at the last moment as a French meringue.

Finally, it has been mentioned elsewhere that salt and leavening might best be added late in batter systems, so as not to interfered with air incorporation and to forestall premature gas generation. This is reflected in the late-addition step in the process described below.

Milk, Whole         50.1g heat-treat to 175°F: ~40s. in microwave
Raisins, Whole      30.7g
Honey               25.9g
Butter, Unsalted     6.9g softened
Vanilla Extract      2.8g
Cinnamon             2.2g
Nutmeg               1.4g
Allspice             1.1g
Cloves               1.0g

Ginger               0.5g
Lemon Extract        8 drops
Lecithin, Sunflower  0.9g  hydrolyzed, powdered blend
Rice Bran Extract    0.6g
Milled Defatted Flax 0.4g

Egg Whites          64.1g from 2 large eggs

Milk, Whole         21.0g
Ascorbyl Palmitate  0.4g fat-soluble vitamin C, fine powder
Vitamin E oil       8 drops
Oil, Sunflower      42.0g
Egg Yolks           38.6g
from 2 large eggs

Flour, GF AP        87.0g Glutino® Gluten-Free Pantry brand
Sugar, granular     80.0g superfine baker's sugar
Flour, Rice RS      10.0g heat-treated cooked rice

Baking Powder        5.0g
Sea Salt, Fine       1.7g
Baking Soda          1.3g

Combine the heat-treated milk, raisins, honey, butter, spices, and additives, and pureé in a food processor to a fine slurry. Add the egg whites, extra milk, and vitamins, stirring to mix well, then set aside.

Make an yolk-oil emulsion by beating the yolks until uniform and frothy, then drizzling in the oil to create a thick mayonnaise. Add liquid mixture and blend till uniform.

With mixer running, sift in flour-sugar mixture, and mix on high speed a full seven minutes; if doubling the batch, up mixing time to 10 minutes. Let mix sit for a few minutes while preparing the canoe-pan cups: 10% sunflower lecithin in palm shortening, with cinnamon and nutmeg melted in. After-coat with nonstick spray.

Sift in the mixed leavening-salt drys, and beat another four to five minutes to achieve uniformity in rising during baking.

Dispense ¼cup (60ml.) batter into prepared canoe-pan cups, then bake 18min. at 320°F (160C) over a boiling-water pan.

Cake rise was good, with relatively minor shrinkback near end of bake and during cooling. Total yield for trial scaling was 8 cakes, with a very good baking loss of only 4.5%. Pan release was clean.

Analysis of ingredients and outcome for this trial:

Figure     per 52g (average) cake
Water       21.5g
Protein      2.6g
Fats         7.7g
Carbs       11.8g incl. ~500mg resistant starch
Fiber        0.8g
Sugars      16.4g
Sodium      245mg
Energy      189kCal
Sensory evaluation & comments from the Browne Crowe Bakes Sensory Evaluation Team:

  • Well-developed, cinnamon-tangy spice taste and aroma
  • “I would buy and put in my kid’s lunch every day.”
  • Moist and tender, not gummy or rubbery.

Overall the outcome of Trial 056 is satisfactory.

 “—” ‘—’’

07 July 2013

What's All This Coconut Flour Stuff, Anyway?

Baking Trial 053, 29 June 2013

The adult daughter of a friend mentioned Coconut Flour as useful in various gluten-free baking recipes. Naturally I had to give it a go!

Nosing around for a baseline reference coconut flour formula, I came across the Coconut-Flour Chocolate Cake as described by one Sarah Shilhavy, often referred to and linked to in the GF Baking Universe.

A glance at the Shilhavy formula suggested that a few alterations were in order, despite Ms. Shilhavy’s dire warning that she would not be responsible for baking failures should the slightest deviation from her ingredient list or process steps be made.

Planned alterations include:
  • Substitute liquid oil for the butter;
  • Reduce egg content—most coconut-flour recipes are quite eggy;
  • Reduce oil maybe 10% to equal a classic chiffon oil:yolk ratio;
  • Adjust total watery liquids—coconut flour is thirsty;
  • Add raisin pureé and honey, adjust sugar balance;
  • Increase vanilla;
  • Add Rice Bran Extract for better loft and shelf-life.

Egg Whites       144g (4 eggs)
Flour, Coconut    90g
Egg Yolks         81g
(4 eggs)
Milk, Whole Fluid 81g
Sugar, superfine  72g (½ in drys, ½ in meringue)
Oil, Sunflower    57g
Honey             37g
Cocoa Powder      35g
Raisins, Whole    29g (pureéd)
Vanilla            3.4g
(~1 tsp.) 
Baking Soda        2.8g
Sea Salt           2.4g
Baking Powder      1.3g
Rice Bran Extract  0.7g

Preparation is unremarkable, using chiffon-batter methods (see other entries this weblog): beat egg yolks, prepare an emulsion by whipping in a slow drizzle of oil, mix in wets, stir in sifted drys; and finally fold in French chiffon (egg whites to soft peak, then 1/2 sugar). Batter is thick and non-flowing, and must be manually smoothed into the pan cups.

Baking took a little longer, as expected because extra water (in milk) was necessary to make a workable batter, so taking longer to bake the moisture off: 21½min. at 320°F in canoe pans over boiling-water pan. Canoe cups prepped with palm shortening with lecithinated nonstick overspray.

Also a single 4½" cake was prepared from excess batter, needing 24min. for a clean toothpick. Total equivalent yield was 10 canoe cakes for the listed scaling.

Baking rise and shrinkback is typical for GF formulations, though not as dramatic as with most of the rice-potato-tapioca formulas. Pan release is clean.

For the ¼cup batter portions dispensed into the canoe cups, the resulting cakes were a little smallish compared to the canonical Twinkie dimensions; however, as these coconut-based cakes are comparatively dense and chewy, the smaller portion is about right.

Analysis of ingredients and outcome for this trial:

Figure     per 54.1g coconut-flour cake
Protein    5.2g
Fats       9.9g
Starches   4.2g
Fiber      4.5g
Sugars    13.2g
Sodium     232mg
Energy    184

Note that protein and fiber levels are much higher compared to other GF cakes described earlier in this weblog—and of course much, much higher than the trace amounts present in classic Golden Sponge Cakes.

Sensory evaluation & comments from the Browne Crowe Bakes Sensory Evaluation Team:

  • Dense but not too-moist or gummy; brownie-like texture;
  • Not too sweet (sugar content ~25% less than classic chiffon);
  • Rather chewy with shredded-coconut grainy mouthfeel;
  • Good cocoa aroma and flavor. Extra vanilla complements cocoa;
  • Formula is designed for long shelf-life, but trial samples did not stay uneaten long enough for full evaluation.

Overall the outcome of Trial 053 is satisfactory.

As a formula tweak I might try adding some milled flax to gain a little extra loft and yield. Gumminess can be a problem with flax hydrocolloids, but a little extra rice bran extract might help with that...

 “—” ‘—’’

18 May 2013

Going Bananas: Sponge Cake Variant

 Baking Trials 025, 18 May 2013

After many fruitless forays into gluten-free Golden Sponge Cakes, I have decided to get on course with variations of wheaten formulas that are tried and true.

Thus I thought I would take on a Banana Bread variant to the Sponge Cake. Notice I do not say “Golden”, for after the addition of the banana and other ingredients the golden has given way to a lovely speckled brown.

Also here a gluten-free trial was bolted on, for I was curious about the latest GF mix to hit the market, the Cup4Cup brand: can it really deliver on its claimed/implied promise of successful 1:1 substitution for wheaten flour?

After some tweakage to the usual overly-moist, leaden-textured recipes that characterize classic banana breads, I tried the following:

Banana Pulp      250g (well-freckled, ripe)

A: Cake Flour    200g (wheaten variant)

B: All-Purp. GF  200g (gluten-free variant: "Cup4Cup" brand)

Raisin Slurry    150g (75g each water & raisins, pureéd)
Oil, Sunflower   109g
Egg_Whites        73g (from 2 eggs, separated)
Honey             60g
Sugar, superfine 120g (60g batter + 60g French meringue)
Egg_Yolks         37g (from 2 eggs, separated)
Baking Powder    9.2g (aluminum-free)
WPC-80           8.5g (whey protein concentrate, lecithinated)
Baking Soda      4.6g
Salt, Sea        3.6g
Vanilla Extract  4.2g (~1 tsp.)
Spice, Cinnamon  2.6g
Spice, Nutmeg    1.2g
Spice, Cloves    0.5g
Ascorbyl Palmitate 400mg (fat-soluble Vitamin C; antioxidant)
Lemon extract      3 drops
Vitamin-E Oil      3 drops (antioxidant)

Preparation was similar to prior chiffon-based batter methods (see other entries this weblog): beat egg yolks, prepare an emulsion by whipping in a slow drizzle of oil, mix in wets, stir in sifted drys (GF only: beat the batter well), and finally fold in French chiffon (egg whites to soft peak, then 1/2 sugar).

It was noted that the Cup4Cup GF variant was nasty to mix: the batter tended to “wind up” around the mixer blades, a behavior attributable to an excess of xanthan gum, and possibly pregelatinization of GF mix starch fractions.

Standard baking: 18min. at 320°F in canoe pans over boiling-water pan. Canoe cups prepped with shortening with nonstick overspray. Pan release is clean.

Analysis of ingredients and outcome provides these figures for this trial:

Figure     per 38.8g wheaten cake
Protein    1.9g
Fats       5.5g
Starches  10.7g
Fiber      0.7g
Sugars    11.2g
Sodium     290mg
Energy    136

Yield for the wheaten formula is 22 cakes. Analysis for the Cup4Cup GF substitution is about 9% lower due to the batter having a lower density, yielding 24 cakes.
The wheaten variant has good texture, flavor, and aroma. The added spices, not typical in banana bread recipes, seem to compete with the banana aroma, but using dead-ripe bananas may help to offset.

Strangely the GF variant seemed to have less apparent banana aroma. Typically, but no different from all other GF mixes offered today and tried so far, cake rise was scary-dramatic, and postbake shrink remarkable and dreadful.
Cup4Cup-formulated sponge cakes were about 25% less in final volume, with a typically rubbery-gummy texture—not the worst results compared to that of other GF mixes, but still not good or satisfactory.

Cup-for-cup—whether as a baking approach or as a silly trademarked name—has proven once again to be a fantasy in naively converting traditional wheaten formulas to gluten-free.

Sugar composition, sugar-starch balance, and raisin inclusion have been adjusted within the limits of a workable formula to maximize shelf life vis-à-vis retardation of staling, retention of moisture, and resistance to microbial spoilage.

Sensory evaluation & comments from the Browne Crowe Bakes Sensory Evaluation Team:

  • Not heavy, dense, or overly sweet as is usual with banana breads
  • Good banana aroma; could be stronger?
  • Wheaten variant (nice sponge) better than GF (a bit gummy)
  • Tender & moist crumb

Overall the outcome of Trial 025 (wheat) is satisfactory.

The next trials contemplated will leave off xanthan- or guar-gum based GF flour substitutes, and go with a from-scratch rice-potato-tapioca base using milled flaxseed as a binding agent. Previous trials by the author (not yet reported here) of modified Yellow Cake GF formulations using flax have produced encouraging results.

 “—” ‘—’’

11 March 2013

Gluten-Free & Sorghum Notes: Two-week evaluation

In a pair of trials conducted two weeks ago, competing gluten-free flour replacers were evaluated. As noted here, and as many other GF experimenters and home bakers have discovered, GF baking-mix adaptations generally have problems approaching form, function, and palatability of wheat flour-based traditional recipes.

Trial 010B bake of 2013-02-25:
Namaste GF flour blend. Ingredients list from
  • Sweet brown rice flour
  • Tapioca flour
  • Arrowroot flour
  • Sorghum flour
  • Xanthan gum
11 March 2013 14-day sampling: Cake is still moist, but crumb has become crumbly in the mouth, and there is definitely a slight bitterness or biting undertone that makes it a displeasure to eat. The remaining 010B shelf-life cakes have been tossed into the compost bin!

Trial 010A bake of 2013-02-25:
Beth’s All-Purpose GF Baking Flour. Ingredients list from
  • White rice flour
  • Potato starch
  • Tapioca starch
  • Guar gum
  • Salt
11 March 2013 14-day sampling: Cake is still moist, harder than initially but still okay. Aroma and flavor good.

So what is all this Sorghum stuff, anyhow?

A common formula for sorghum-based GF cake flour replacer goes as follows, by percent weight, not volume. Note that this is for reference only!

I do not recommend baking with or eating this stuff:

  • 62.4% Sorghum flour
  • 29.4% Potato starch
  •  6.8% Tapioca flour
  •  1.4% Xanthan gum powder

Sorghum is a seed crop that was introduced to the New World in the 18th Century—generally presumed to have shadowed the traffic in African slaves. It is a drought-tolerant crop used for animal feed and by poverty-stricken folk who, due to hostile climate, poor soils, and long tradition, have nothing better to feed their beasts or themselves.

Sorghum has been increasingly-heavily promoted in the West as the latest wonder-grain for the gluten-intolerant, despite its relative indigestibility and significant issues with toxins (see this & this); ironically, cooking or fermenting sorghum only makes it less digestible and more toxic. In a 1984 study, male rats fed fermented sorghum meal developed anorexia, alopecia (hair loss), blood disorders, and testicular hypoplasia leading to sterility.

Maybe breeding and processing of sorghum have improved on this of late, but it is not hard to imagine that the aforementioned problems are merely being swept under the rug in the headlong ru$h to promote a politically-correct foodstuff that is bound to unwittingly create more health problems for world populations.

As for gluten-free NOT-winkies, there shall be no sorghum content, ever. IMO this crop cr@p lies firmly in the non-food category.

 “—” ‘—’’

06 March 2013

Baking Trial 014, 6 March 2013

Continuing with the gluten-free trials, a couple more tweaks to the Spice Cake variant were tried. Here is the ingredients list for the least-unsuccessful:

AP Flour        130.5g (Glutino® Beth’s GF Pantry)

Sugar           120g
Milk, whole     108.8g
Egg whites (3)  103.4g

Egg yolks (3)    52.9g
Oil, sunflower   63g
Raisins          60g
Honey            45g
Mucilage         32.8g
from 2.7g dry flaxseed; ~420mg dry matter
Flour, Rice RS   15g
Butter           12g
Baking powder     7.5g
Vanilla extract   4.7g
Spice, cinnamon   3.9g
Spice, nutmeg     2.3g
Spice, allspice   2.0g
Spice, cloves     1.7g
Spice, ginger     0.9g
Salt, sea         2.6g
Rice bran ext.    1.5g
Lecithin          2.4g (dry-powdered from Spanish sunflower)
Baking soda       2g

Ascorbyl Palmitate 400mg (fat-soluble Vitamin C; antioxidant)
Lemon extract    12 drops
Vitamin-E Oil     7 drops

Analysis of ingredients and outcome provides these figures for this trial:

Figure     per 41.3g (average) cake
Protein    2.0g
Fats       6.1g
Starches   9.2g
Fiber      0.8g
Sugars    12.9g
Sodium      132mg
Energy    149

Baking Loss was 7.1%; not bad. The 4 fluid-oz. portions rose remarkably high above the surface of the “canoe” pan, then subsided in the last two minutes of baking.

Excess batter went into the 4½" springforms at 12 fl. oz. portions each, and on a lark I tried upping the baking temperature to 350°F, which drove the baking time down to a brisk 15 min. from leisurely 23 min. at 325°F. Results were not the best: the finished 4½" cakes peaked and cracked, atypical in these trials. So unless the batter inclusions such as rice bran extract, flax mucilage, or milk were to blame, I suspect low & slow is the way to go.

There were several issues driving changes in the formula and process of Trial 008B. The most significant arose earlier today, this 10th day post-bake: the '008 cakes still had good appearance and flavor, but the crumb had become tough and lacking in cohesion—kinda day-old-muffin-y.
Another change was in moving from whey powder to whole milk. I desired the casein proteins in the whole milk for extra emulsification, and a little milk fat to add richness to the crumb; indeed, I traded around the fats by backing off the oil in the initial mayonnaise emulsion, and adding a pat of melted butter before mixing in the drys and meringue.

Still another change was adding mucilage from flaxseed: a marvelously slippery-slimy goop that evolves when flaxseed is immersed in water. This flax hydrocolloid has long been used by the allergy and vegan crowd as an egg-white replacer in some applications (though it won't whip or set like egg white). Instead of the slimy CMC (cellulose gum from wood pulp) and modified starches of the Twinkie for adding body and stabilization to batter, why not use natural slime? Time will tell what the effect will be.

Finally I decided to throw in a touch of commercial rice bran extract (see how it is made here), which is claimed to aid emulsification, make for a softer crumb, improve mouthfeel and moistness, and extend shelf life. Again, time will tell...

One gripe I have about GF mixes is that cakes seem to turn a bit rubbery and display a good bit of shrinkage as baking finished and as the cake cools. Clearly the guar gum, xanthan gum, and other wheat gluten replacers are doing the trick in holding up the sponge as it sets, but cannot really maintain the structure as water is lost and water vapor and leavening gases cool.

To be sure GF “flour” makers endlessly tweak and refine their concoctions of various starches (both native and pregelatinized) and faux-gluten gums, colloids, and other slimy muck; just okay so far, but man-o-man do they have a ways to go!

It takes about an hour to coax the mucilage slime from a cup of flaxseed: okay for R&D work, but not something I'd willingly pay a union worker too do, if a dime’s worth of powdered extract in a premix would serve instead.

So I e-chatted recently with a very nice and persuasive rep from a major food-ingredients supplier that offers a certain well-characterized flaxseed extract might do the trick. It stands to replace the bacterial barf xanthan gum and the fracking-fluid ingredient guar gum (also BTW. subject to wild price fluctuations) in baking formulations. What the heck, certainly worth a try!

Sensory evaluation & comments from the Browne Crowe Bakes Sensory Evaluation Team:
  • Very rich taste, more of a creamed-butter cake impression
  • Sweetness and spiciness similar to 008B
  • All evaluation samples disappeared quickly
  • Tender, moist, slightly chewy crumb
Overall the outcome of Trial 014 is satisfactory.

Creamed filling, you ask impatiently? Working on it. There are few prototypes to start with, and almost all of the usual cooked-flour & milk, marshmallow creme, and powdered-sugar based filling formulas available do not even come close.

I do have one candidate in the works, but it was mixed up just yesterday, and needs to “mature” in the fridge for a couple days before being whipped. It might serve as the matrix substrate for a variety of fillings, such as one suitable for a certain Spice Cake.

 “—” ‘—’’

23 February 2013

Baking Trial 008B 22 February 2013

Going Gluten-Free

Since any Tom, Dick, or Mary can use the Same Old Formulas to make a wheaten cake, I decided to take a break from Luscious Creme Filling R&D and venture into the market segment of what till recently has been quaintly termed “dietetic” foods: you know, the tiny, oddball section in the grocer’s where bland specialty products sit, mostly ignored by all but those desperate for something semi-normal to eat that won’t make them stupid, swell up, or send them to the ER.

So: gluten free is actually on the verge of mainstream, normal, really, ever since gluten intolerance and wheat sensitivities have become better diagnosed, and more food options made available. And while we’re at it, why not address those who are lactose-intolerant by removing that troublesome, indigestible disaccharide from the formula?

AP Flour        87g (Glutino® Beth’s GF Pantry All-Purpose flour:
                     white rice flour
                     potato starch
                     tapioca starch
                     guar gum
Egg, separated 102g (as 3 Large eggs)
Flour, Rice RS  10g
Honey           30g
Oil, canola     45g
Raisins         40g
Sugar           80g (superfine)
Water           59g
WPC-80           9g (lecithinated/instantized)
Baking powder    5g
Lemon Juice      6g
Baking soda      1g
Lecithin      0.67g (sunflower, hydrolyzed)
Allspice      0.50g
Cinnamon      0.67g
Cloves        0.25g
Nutmeg        0.50g
Vanilla ext.     1 tsp.
Ascorbyl Palmitate 200mg. (fat-soluble Vitamin C; antioxidant)
Vitamin E oil    6 drops (antioxidant)

The tricky thing in deriving this dual-requirement formula was maintaining functional and baking properties while jettisoning the lactose and gluten—and of course making something fit to eat. But since I have a Master Spreadsheet that allows me to adjust and maintain correct macronutrient proportions, by simply increasing the whey protein and tweaking the starch & sugary fractions I was able to keep the mix In The Zone.

Zeroing out the lactose also meant dumping the fresh acid whey drained from yogurt, substituting Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC 80% protein) that has had the lactose substantially reduced. Fortuitously I was able to locate locally-sourced, organic grassfed WPC for our formula trials.

For this initial trial, a retail GF flour premix was used, rather than try to tackle a formula from scratch. The Glutino® brand is well-known in the GF “community” for both finished products and for their line of baking mixes.

Long-term, we would have to locate a functional equivalent in 55-lb. sacks for production. One issue in particular is the global shortage and price increases of guar gum, a kinda-weird commodity derived from ground-up guar beans. It finds thickener-stabilizer applications in food processing, in pharmaceuticals, and, of all things, in fracking. Other galactomannans that might serve just as well in NOT-winkie production might be got from fenugreek seed, long a traditional food plant with a host of dietary-medicinal benefits.

Anyway,  mixing and baking the formula was straightforward. I borrowed an old trick from French genoise baking in pre-heating the whey (milk) proteins up to the critical temperature of 165°Fbut no hotter—before incorporation into the mix. The resultant denaturation of proteins improves the emulsification of batters, and maintains cake-loft rise and stability in baking.

Prior experience suggested that GF formulas often make a heavier, denser product with more entrained moisture, so for this trial the base proportions were increased 50%, and baking times extended. The results were pretty good.

Spiced Fingers of Delight
Baking time for the canoe cakes was increased to 20min at 320°F. Instead of cupcakes for the excess batter, 4½" (11.4cm) springform pans were employed; baking for these mini-cakes required 23min. at 325°F. for a clean toothpick.

With a custom release coating of palm shortening, 7% sunflower lecithin, and 10% RS rice flour, release from the canoe pans was very clean and unremarkable, requiring little wiping or scrubbing for cleanup.

Test Batch 008B
The 4½" mini-cakes finished with a mostly non-domed top. During baking it was observed that the centermost zone of the batter stayed depressed and wet until the last 3 or 4 minutes of baking, filling out and puffing up level with the rest of the cake just at the end of baking.

The slight surface irregularities, which I think add “character” but would be cause for loathing and derision by other professional bakers, might be fixable with a bit more extensive mixing of meringue and flour phases before dispensing the batter. Maybe a smidgen of Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate would help...

Small-Cake Rise and Structure

For shelf-life testing, samples from the bake were placed in Pyrex® dishes and sealed with consumer-grade commercial shrink-wrap film, providing exposure to ambient diffuse light and shirtsleeve temperatures without unrealistic packaging means.

Shelf-Life Long-Term Testing

Each canoe cake weighs an average 38.5g—curiously, exactly the same as with the 005B formula; weird—and each 4½" mini-cake about 140g. Nutritional breakdown of each 008B canoe cake is:

Protein    2.7g
Fats         6g
Carbs       10g
Fiber      0.5g
Sugars      14g
Sodium     177mg
Energy     159kcal

Multiply these figures by 3 for each 4½" mini-cake. It should be noted that the Fiber fraction includes soluble and insoluble fiber from the raisins, as well as resistant starch from the rice flour.

With the particular WPC-80 used in the 008B formula, lactose content is only about 85mg per canoe cake. Since the USFDA has no fixed definition for lactose-free” or even lactose-reduced”, maybe comparing lactose content to regular and 70% lactose-reduced milk in groceries would be in order.

Whole milk contains about 4.8% lactose, so our 85mg per cake would be found in 1 2/3g milk or 1/3 tsp. fluid milk: not very much. And in the case of 70%-reduced milk, raise that to 1 tsp. more or less: still not a lot.

If 85mg./cake were deemed still too much, it would be little trouble to use Whey Protein Isolate (WPI), which contains about as much lactose as you’d inhale walking downwind of a cow. But WPI is much more costly than WPC...

The 008B cake is 100% wheat-free/gluten-free, and 99.7% lactose-free. There are only trace amounts of corn/maize (anticaking agent in the baking powder) and non-GMO soy (Solubilizer in organic WPC); with a little effort, even these could be purged.

Sensory evaluation & comments from the Browne Crowe Bakes Sensory Evaluation Team:

  • Firm texture, not crumbly, gummy, or sticky
  • Clean taste, not overly-sweet or cloying
  • Satisfying and wholesome
  • Attractive spice-cake appearance
  • Distinct, aromatic spicy aroma & taste
  • “Goes well with tea”
  • Moist, slightly chewy crumb

Overall the outcome of Trial 008B is satisfactory.

 “—” ‘—’’

12 February 2013

Baking Trial 005A & 005B 11 February 2013

I decided to try some formulations that omit the sunflower extract aka “goop”, for several reasons: 1) It is time- and labor-intensive to make; 2) Any unique functional advantages may be purely hypothetical; and 3) There are people out there who do have sensitivities, if not allergies, to seeds and nuts.
Base Formula:
Flour, cake     100 g
Flour, RS Rice   10 g
Baking Pdr.       5 g
Baking Soda       1 g
Sugar, gran.     85 g
Oil, canola      50 g
Lecithin, hydr.   2 g
Salt, kosher    1.7 g
Eggs, whites    75-80 g (from 2 large eggs)
Eggs, yolks     42-38 g (from 2 large eggs)
Whey, sour       51 g (from skim milk yogurt)
Vanilla ext.     5 ml
Lemon extract    8 drops
Ascorbyl Palmitate 200mg (fat-soluble vitamin C)

005A variant:
Honey            52 g
005B variant:
Honey            26 g
Baking Soda     0.7 g additional
Raisins          36 g
Cinnamon, gr.   1.7 g
Nutmeg, gr.     1.1 g
Allspice, gr.   1.0 g
Cloves, gr.     0.3 g
Whey, sour      7.4 g additional to hydrate spices

Setup and make-up similar to that described in previous posts this weblog (see).

The Canoe Cakes were baked at 320°F for 18min. Cupcakes were baked in a separate oven, 13min. at 325°F, both with water pans.

Batter expansion, as before, showed good habit, rising above pan surface while retaining flat-topped shape integrity; no mounding or “muffin-top” overflow.

Vital to this desirable baking behavior as well as good pan release is a well-greased pan using palm shortening plus a generous application of lecithinated nonstick spray.

Batter and post-bake stats are:

Measurement             005A   005B
Batter per canoe-cake   34.8   38.5 g
Baked, per canoe-cake   32.0   35.6 g
Baking loss              8.2%   7.5%

These loss figures are rather lower than and therefore an improvement over prior trial losses: more moisture is being retained, and so less energy is misspent evaporating water from the batter.

This would make the NOT-winkie a kinda-sorta “green” product, just so long as it is understood that this refers to low-energy processing, not the color of the cake!

Trials 005A and 005B resulted in moist, supple cakes with good color and even open-cell surface structure

Sensory evaluation & comments from the Browne Crowe Bakes Sensory Evaluation Team:

  • Attractive light-golden and darker spice-cake colors
  • Sweet and fluffy
  • Good cake structure & integrity; breaks easily in-hand
  • Good aroma and flavor
  • A fine box cake-like texture (but in the best meaning)
  • Good spice balance — reminded one tester of Mom’s Spice Cake
  • Moist and slightly chewy crumb

Overall the outcomes of Trials 005A & 005B are satisfactory.

We now move on to serious Luscious Creamed Filling R&D.

 “—” ‘—’’

11 February 2013

Filling the Void:

Musings on the Art and Science
of Creamy Filling

The now-defunct Hostess Suzy-Q snack cake was a Devil’s Food sandwich-slab with a filling that was probably substantially similar to that of the Twinkie. There are rumors of a pale, banana-flavored variant also being sold regionally, but I never encountered one in my many years.

There is one ingredient list for an ersatz Suzy-Q Creme Filling to be found on various baking sites, given below:

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, cold
  • 4 tablespoons shortening, cold
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
Whether this formula actually makes a good filling will be set aside for now. What is interesting is looking at the macronutrient breakdown of this mixture:

  • Water       35%
  • kCal         4 kCal/gram
  • Protein      2%
  • Fats        29%
  • Misc. Carb   4%
  • Sugars      31%

The breakdown of the butter-shortening fat mix is as follows:
  • Saturated        38%
  • Monounsaturated  31%
  • Polyunsaturated  16%
  • Trans             8%
  • Trans-monoenoic   7%

The reason for all this up-close-and-personal on this filling is that I recently came across a 2008 patent that describes a stable whipped frosting/filling/topping concoction that has a composition suspiciously similar to that of the Suzy-Q filling. Its macronutrient balance goes:

  • Water       39%
  • kCal       3.9 kCal/gram
  • Protein    0.3%
  • Fats        30%
  • Misc. Carb 0.4%
  • Sugars      31%
It is hard to see how the owner of this patent could collect royalties since the cooking world has evidently long known of these proportions.

Note that due to various plant oils and shortenings being used instead of the Suzy-Q's butter-shortening 50:50 mix, the fat analysis of the patent formula is quite different:

  • Saturated        86-88%
  • Monounsaturated  12-10%
  • Polyunsaturated   2%
  • Trans             0%
  • Trans-monoenoic   0%

The upshot is that in either case the formula specifies about equal thirds of water, sugar, and fats. Of course what makes these come together to whip up into a Luscious Creamed Filling (and stay that way) are the various extrasa pinch of this, a dash of that—that amount to typically 2-3% of the total.

Mixing It Up: Emulsifiers

One class of emulsifiers breaks up (destabilizes) the surface tension between the different fractions. About the only natural destabilizing emulsifier for the NOT-winkie would be lecithin.

Another class of emulsifiers stops recombination of (stabilizes) those same dispersed fractions. For us, the saturated glycerides naturally present in butter, coconut oil, and palm oil would be the most suitable and accessible.

Further natural, non-exotic magic ingredients can and should be included to make the filling a reality:

  • Gelatinized Starch (as in the cooked flour of the Suzy-Q filling prototype), which acts as both destabilizer and stabilizer.
  • Denatured Proteins, as in the cooked milk and flour, also help destabilize and stabilize.
  • Salt reduces the influence of other soluble minerals, improving the properties and stability of the mix.
  • Flavors, notably vanilla for a Golden Sponge Cake.
And for shelf-life, natural preservatives such as vitamin E (tocopherols) and vitamin C could and should make their way into the mix.

The Top Secret R&D Lab of Browne Crowe Bakes will shortly begin formula and process trials for Luscious Creme Filling.

On the baking Trial 004A and 004B (not previously reported), one week after baking the unfilled cakes are still quite good in flavor and texture. They have been stored unrefrigerated on a plate covered with a glass bowl—a rather severe test of moisture-retention!—and are just beginning to dry out and harden. No sign of spoilage, mold, or rancidity.

The next baking trial will adjust the balance of fats and proteins a bit. Stay tuned...

 “—” ‘—’’