Thursday, January 26, 2012

Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101: Pineapple Muffins (Gluten-Free, Vegan)

For today's post, I'm going to do something a little bit different. In honor of a new website called The Balanced Platter, I want to help you all find a little of that balance in your own kitchens. Which, to me, means feeling comfortable adapting recipes to work with your own needs. Having a great recipe is important, but understanding how to play around with ingredients is key to enjoying your favorite foods. I always look at recipes and think about how I would like them to be different for my diet, and I'm sure you do the same.  

When Brittany and I began working on our gluten-free baking guides, it was with the knowledge that there were a lot of you out there feeling pretty confused in your kitchens. We could just hear the questions going through your heads (mostly because they were also going through our heads). "How can I make this recipe without eggs?" "What can I use instead of garbanzo bean flour?" "Can I use a gluten-free all-purpose mix in place of the flours in your recipe?" Our goal was to create a resource to answer all of those questions, and we did that. Of course, this is where I shamelessly plug our books and tell you to go pre-order both parts 1 and 2. You'll get the answers to all your questions, plus recipes for cinnamon rolls, pizza pockets, angel food cake, naan, and even a vegan, yeast-free sandwich bread recipe! Each book contains over 50 recipes, conveniently organized by main flour used. Wondering how to use up that amaranth flour you bought? Just skip to the chapter on amaranth and you'll find a bunch of recipes that you will love! Want to know how to use coconut flour without eggs? We have a number of egg-free recipes in our coconut flour chapter that will delight you and have your kids asking for more.

Now, while I know you'll benefit from having our books as a handy reference for your baking, I also want to teach you what I learn as I continue along in my own baking experiments. Perhaps a year ago, one of my readers asked me how I go about making substitutions in baking. I've been thinking about that question ever since. I knew there was no simple way for me to respond. Writing a baking guide was my first answer. This is my second one. I've decided to start a series here on how I bake. Rather than just sharing my final recipe with you, I'm going to take you through all the steps I go through to get there. I'll let you know what recipe I start with, how I make substitutions, and what my thought process is. If all you want is the recipe, it will be there for you. But if you're interested in how I got from point A to point B, I'll share all the fun details and you can learn right along with me!

First, here are some pointers on adapting recipes:
  1. Start with a recipe you trust. Either use a recipe you've tried before or a recipe from someone you know is a good baker.
  2. Only make one change at a time. If you change too many ingredients at once, you'll have no way of knowing how each individual change affected the recipe.
  3. When possible, make half or even quarter batches (which is easy with muffins). That way, if you don't like your end result, you won't have wasted as many ingredients. 
  4. Use a scale. If you don't have one, buy one. A cup is a cup is a cup, right? Wrong! I have measured a cup of almond flour and gotten measurements from 95 grams to 140 grams. Just imagine how different your recipe will turn out if you measure 95 grams of flour one time and 140 grams the next time. In general, my measurements come out pretty similar, but sometimes the numbers are extremely different and it is important to keep track. When I'm testing recipes, I try to write down the weight of every ingredient so that I can be as exact as possible when retesting. It's also a lot easier to cut recipes in half when you have the weights.
  5. Write everything down, not just ingredients. Keep notes on how your recipe looks, feels, tastes, and any thoughts you have. Don't assume you'll remember what you thought, because you probably won't. Just put everything in your notebook so you can reference it the next time you work on that recipe.
Okay, ready to start? Today we're making Pineapple Muffins. Why? Because I had a can of pineapple tidbits in my pantry that I wanted to use up. This is how many of my recipes come about, and it's as good a reason as any to learn to adapt recipes. How many times have you had to run to the store because you were missing an ingredient? Most of the time now, I just use what I have and try to make it work!

Step 1: Start with a trusted recipe. I decided to use this recipe for quick bread from my co-author, Brittany. I've used it before, and know that she tested it probably over twenty times until she had it perfect. I also know that it's a "basic" recipe, meaning that you can make a lot of changes and it will still work. 

Step 2: Start adapting. Here's where you're supposed to make one change at a time. I have to be honest and tell you that I never follow that rule, even though I'm telling you to. I'm way too impatient. However, I've also had a lot of flops and that's probably why...
  • Brittany calls for 2 cups of gluten-free all-purpose flour. My personal favorite blend these days is a 1:1:1 ratio (in cups, not grams) of coconut flour to rice flour to starch. I've used this successfully in many recipes in place of all-purpose blends. In this case, I decided to use brown rice flour since it's more nutritious than white rice flour. I chose tapioca as my starch simply because I was running out of potato starch, and arrowroot starch is expensive. I often use potato and tapioca starch interchangeably, although there are subtle differences between the two. So for my 2 cups of flour, I used 2/3 cup of coconut flour, 2/3 cup of brown rice flour, and 2/3 cup of tapioca starch. 
  • Brittany calls for 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum. In general, when I'm replacing xanthan gum, I start with 1-2 tablespoons of flax seed meal, chia seed meal, or whole psyllium husks (or a combination of two). Sometimes, I find it works best to make a gel by mixing the ingredient with hot water, but with muffins, you can often just add the psyllium, flax, or chia without any extra water. Muffins hold together pretty well on their own, so I decided to just use 1 tablespoon of whole psyllium husks, added to the dry ingredients. I could have gone with flax or chia seed meal, but whole psyllium husks are really good at keeping baked goods from deflating after baking. Since coconut flour is so dense, I thought these muffins might need that extra little help. 
  • Brittany calls for 3/4 cup milk + 1 teaspoon of vinegar. The purpose of this is to curdle the milk and make a "buttermilk." However, you can replace 1 cup of buttermilk with 7/8 cup of juice in many recipes. I decided to use 3/4 cup of pineapple juice. Technically, I should have used a little less than 3/4 cup, but since I didn't add any hot water with the whole psyllium husks, I figured a little extra juice would be fine. (You'll see that I was wrong about that...)
  • I added 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon of ground allspice to give the muffins a little oomph.
  • I used 1 1/2 cups of yogurt instead of 1 1/4 cups, using So Delicious plain coconut yogurt as the yogurt called for. In all honesty, I only did this because I read her recipe wrong, although it worked out fine. But here's another tip for you. Pay attention when you're reading the ingredients list.
  • I followed everything else in Brittany's recipe as it was written. For the granulated sugar, I used regular old refined cane sugar. It's cheaper, so I tend to use that when testing recipes, and then test out the final version with coconut palm sugar or another unrefined sugar. I did not add in pineapple tidbits in my first version.
  • Brittany's quick bread is supposed to be baked at 330 degrees F for 50-120 minutes (depending on ingredients). For muffins, I decided to go with 350 degrees F and simply baked them until a knife stuck in the middle came out clean, which  took a full 27 minutes.  
  • Results? My first batch was very sweet, leading me to think I could get away with using less sugar on the second round. The pineapple flavor was tasty, but a bit too "one-note" so I decided to increase the spices and add in a little ground ginger. My testers thought they would be tasty with some chopped fruit or nuts, so I threw in some pineapple tidbits. They also took a long time to cook and even then were a tad bit gummy inside, so I used less liquid on my second try. They didn't collapse after baking, but looked like they wanted to, so I added more pyllium husks- not a lot though since I didn't want to affect the flavor at all.  

Step 3: Make them again, using your notes from last time and making new changes.
  • I increased the whole psyllium husks from 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) to 4 teaspoons. This time, I added them to the wet ingredients rather than the dry so that they could begin to expand in the liquid a little sooner. 
  • I cut the sugar down from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup since the pineapple juice was so sweet. 
  • I cut the pineapple juice down from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup since the muffins took so long to bake all the way through. 
  • I increased the cinnamon from 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon, the allspice from 1/8 teaspoon to 1/4 a teaspoon, and added 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger. 
  • I added in 1 cup of pineapple tidbits to give the muffins a heartier bite.
  • Results? These muffins were just perfect! They still took a good 25 minutes to bake, but were moist without being gummy, and had just a hint of spice. From there, the only other thing I wanted to change was to test them again with coconut palm sugar. 

Step 4: Test them once last time, making any final changes.
  • I replaced the 1/2 cup refined cane sugar with 1/2 cup of coconut palm sugar. The result was a muffin that was darker in color, with a mildly sweet flavor. They were moist, delicious, and of course healthier than the original muffins made with refined sugar. I found that the texture was best after they had been allowed to cool completely.

My thoughts on future variations: 
  • I would love to try these again with chopped walnuts or pecans added in with the pineapple tidbits. 
  • It would be fun to try these with apple juice and chopped apples instead of the pineapple juice and pineapple tidbits. 
  • Since the original recipe I started with called for 2 cups of all-purpose mix, it would likely work just as well to make these with your own all-purpose mix rather than the flours and starches called for. But I haven't tried it myself...
  • If I took out the psyllium husks and added an egg, they would likely rise more. I might need to reduce the amount of liquid a tiny bit to add in the egg. I would probably reduce the oil rather than the pineapple juice since both oil and eggs are sources of fat. But not having done this, I don't know if it would work. More often than not, I bake without eggs these days since more people can eat my baked goods that way.
Have a recipe you'd like me to adapt? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail, letting me know what recipe you want to change and what your dietary restrictions are. If I can successfully adapt your recipe, I'll feature it in one of my Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101 posts. Or if I fail, I just might include that too! It's just as helpful to know what doesn't work as what does.

Pineapple Muffins (Print-Friendly Option) 
Enjoy these sweet treats for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Try adding in some chopped nuts for added protein and a nice hearty bite.  

2/3 cup coconut flour (80 grams)
2/3 cup brown rice flour (88 grams)
2/3 cup tapioca starch (84 grams)
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar (76 grams)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/3 cup mild-flavored oil- canola, grapeseed, extra light olive (70 grams)
1/2 cup pineapple juice (104 grams)
1 1/2 cups yogurt (I used 2 6-oz containers of So Delicious plain coconut yogurt)
4 teaspoons whole psyllium husks

1 cup pineapple tidbits (170 grams)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 12 cup muffin tin with liners or by greasing the cups. 
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the oil, juice, yogurt, and psyllium husks. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until no longer lumpy. Stir in the pineapple tidbits. 
  4. Fill the muffin tins about 3/4 full. Wet your fingertips with water or oil and smooth the tops of the muffins. 
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
Makes 12 muffins.

The Balanced Platter is an amazing new website devoted to healthy living and eating. It was created by Amy Green of Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free, and Maggie Savage of She Let Them Eat Cake. I have found it to be a wonderful resource and I think you will too!


Candy said...

What is the conversion if you are using psyllium husk powder or whole psyllium? I can't wait to try this recipe. Thank you for making our mistakes for us!

Iris said...

Candy, that's a good question and I knew someone was going to catch me on that eventually! I've never used psyllium powder, only psyllium whole husks. What I can tell you from having a recipe tester accidentally use the powder is that you need less. I'm guessing more like 1 teaspoon of psyllium powder for every tablespoon of whole husks called for. But this is just a guess...

Cindy said...

Great job of breaking down the process of converting a recipe!

laurelvb said...

Wonderful, informative post. Now I want muffins. I want pineapple muffins to be precise except I don't have any. Mangos though are a different story, probably with ginger? I was wondering at the precise conversion of psyllium powder to hulls and I think it's 1/3 too since it's what I always end up with. :-)

The Queen of Quinoa said...

Love the process breakdown! I'm curious...any idea about making these without yogurt? Do you think it would work with coconut milk, perhaps reducing the liquid amount? I would love to hear your thoughts!

The Queen of Quinoa said...

I love the process breakdown! I'm curious... is there a substitution for the yogurt? I would like to use coconut milk if possible. Perhaps reducing the amount of liquid would help? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Heather Jacobsen said...

these look great! we'd love for you to submit it to Stuffed Pepper. :)

Deni Breitenbach said...

So glad to have found this blog! I have added your blog to the info at:

Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said...

Wow, Iris! I love your breakdown and how you did this step by step. I sometimes am more haphazard when I am in a rush. But I love all of your calculated conversions! :) Great post, my friend!

Amy @ Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free said...

Recipe development is really for those of us who are persistent (stubborn??) enough to fine-tune and tweak until we're satisfied. It's frustrating, cerebral, and gratifying all at once.

Thanks so much for a great post and for your support of TBP!


Iris said...

Lady Quinoa,

The recipe I based this on (the link is in the post) calls for yogurt or pureed fruit or grated fruit. So I would try those before trying the coconut milk. OR use coconut milk in place of the pineapple juice in the recipe (liquid for a liquid), then puree pineapple itself to replace the yogurt. That might work! It's all about experimentation, right? Please come back and leave a comment if you try playing around with this recipe!


Maggie said...

I loved reading this post Iris. It was another glimpse inside your mind and I love those posts :) I've never actually sat down and thought about my process like this. I'll be referring to this again and again! Thanks so much for helping us celebrate The Balanced Platter's launch! xo

Charis said...

love, love these posts! Thank you for sharing your flops, ideas and success. I love learning how things works together and reading it from other people! Thanks again!

The Queen of Quinoa said...

Hi Iris,

So I'm making these muffins right now, changed out the pureed fruit for coconut milk and the yogurt for applesauce. For some reason, they're not baking. Everything else I followed exactly. Any tips??

xo Alyssa

Iris said...

Hi Alyssa,

You used coconut milk instead of the pineapple juice, is that right? And applesauce instead of the yogurt? I would guess too much applesauce and cut down on it...if there's too much liquid, it will just never bake through. Not having made the original recipe with applesauce before, I was just taking a guess that it would work in the same amount as yogurt. But yeah, if it's not baking through, cut down on the applesauce...

The Queen of Quinoa said...

Hi Iris,

That's what I suspected. I will cut the measurements next time. I added pears and chopped pecans to mine. Amazing flavor. I'm going to keep playing with making them with no yogurt. Thanks for the tips!!


Iris said...

Clearly you enjoy experimenting as much as I do. Pears and pecans sound amazing! Can't wait to find out what works for you!


Carolyn said...

This is one of the best allergen-free blog posts I've seen in a long time! I feel like I'm at a point in my allergen-free cooking where I know how to follow and do simple modifications with a recipe but I don't know how to adapt a non-allergen-friendly recipe. It is SO helpful to see your thought process and have a step-by-step guide to reworking recipes. You've inspired me! Thank you!

Jonathan said...

This is awesome, Iris. These are questions I ask myself on a daily basis. And when sharing recipes with anyone, whether it be on the blog or in real life, I always go through at least 3 trials to make sure it translates.

While what you've outlined here may sound tedious or even 'wasteful,' it's a wonderful reminder that cooking and baking, food-sensitive or not, is truly about learning, discovery, and fun. Enjoy the process to better appreciate the outcome. :)

Thank you so much for sharing. So looking forward to your book(s)!

burghgrl said...

ohhh my goodness. I feel so so OVERWHELMED. Thank you thank you thank you for doing all this's just SO MUCH to process. I guess..for ME, it's always gonna be...use the premixed flours. This is a tremendous amount of information to wrap my brain around...whew.


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