Let's Make Brigadeiros

Hey! Let's munch on balls! 

Balls of delicious, caramelly sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter, that is! This is the glory that is the brigadeiro, a totally sweet and delicious Brazilian confection.

I first tried brigadeiros when Carla, a woman originally from Brazil who worked at my former yoga studio in Santa Fe, brought a few for me to try. Knowing my deep love of sweets, she figured I would enjoy discovering a treat from her home country. She was right. These balls are about as addictive as crack. 

Brigadeiros are extremely simple in construction: sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and a little butter. (I added a little bit of vanilla and a little bit of salt to mine, too). But in their simplicity there is a kind of sweet perfection: the sweetened condensed milk slightly caramelizes during the cooking process, making for a mellow, rich flavor that you don't ever want to leave your mouth. Since the confections are somewhat soft on their own, they are typically rolled in sprinkles, which not only makes them easier to hold on to, but makes them hella cute to behold, too.

The sweet mystery of brigadeiros

Brigadeiros gained popularity in 1940s, but where exactly they came from is the source of some debate. There are two basic theories:

The Ingredient Availability Theory: in the years following World War 2, fresh milk and sugar were in short supply, so recipes including sweetened condensed milk, which was shelf stable when canned, began to gain in popularity. Some brilliant person figured out that adding chocolate would make the sweet, syrupy milk mixture even better, and the rest is history. 

The Political Theory: Others say that what made the confection an enduring classic is its connection to a politician, and that the name was inspired by brigadier Eduardo Gomes, a handsome and liberal politician (apparently his running slogan was along the lines of "Vote for the most handsome and single brigadier"). Apparently, some loving fans began selling the confection as a means of fundraising for this hottie. 

My thoughts

I wasn't around in the 1940s, but I think that it's likely that a combination of the two theories above resulted in the confection's development and proliferation. It's my guess that the treat was borne of ingenuity with limited ingredients, but that it gained popularity and became widespread as a means for promoting the candidate. 

Make them!

Here's the recipe.

Brigadeiros

Printable version here - Adapted from From Brazil to You

  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • A bunch of sprinkles 

In a large saucepan, combine the sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and salt. Whisk until cohesive. It would be helpful if you sifted the cocoa beforehand, but I really can't be militant here because I did not do so. :-/

Add the butter, and put the saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken, about 5-8 minutes. What you're looking for here is for the mixture to thicken so that when you scrape a spatula along the bottom of the pan, the mixture is resistant to drip back into place. Keep on stirring well, because you don't want the mixture to scorch the bottom of your pan (you'll ruin your candy and have a huge mess to clean up, so you don't want that).

Remove from heat, and stir in the vanilla until combined. 

Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then using buttered or oiled hands, roll the mixture into balls. Roll in sprinkles (I kept mine on a shallow plate). Place on a tray or dish, and store in the fridge for an hour or so to "set". If they flatten out a little bit, roll them back into a circular form after they have chilled for a bit so that they will have the shape you desire. Keep them at either cool room temperature, or in the fridge if it is hot/humid where you are. 

Oh, and P.S., if you get tired of rolling the balls, you can just store the candy mixture in a jar as a sticky-sweet spread for toast or to enjoy by the spoonful. 

Enjoy! 

February 2: National Heavenly Hash Day

Happy National Heavenly Hash Day. Wait, what the heck is Heavenly Hash? Let's explore.

If you hear the term "heavenly hash" in conversation, it could mean one of four things:

1. They are engaging in behavior that is mostly illegal in the USA.

'nuff said.

 

Heavenly Hash eggs were developed in 1923.

Heavenly Hash eggs were developed in 1923.

2. A type of candy. 

In its culinary life, Heavenly Hash was first developed as a candy, which features nuts, chocolate, and marshmallows. One of the key products that put the flavor combination in the public eye was the  Easter treat known as the "Heavenly Hash Egg" by the Elmer Candy Corporation, which debuted in 1923 and remains available today. In their version, the candy features almonds, marshmallows, and a chocolate coating.

Homemade Heavenly Hash recipes are readily found on the internet, and range from fudge-like squares to more egg-like formations to yes, even a cake topping.

 

3. An ice cream flavor

These days, Heavenly Hash is probably better known (but still not super well known) as an ice cream flavor. Why is it not super well known? Probably because it has been superseded by its very similar counterpart, Rocky Road Ice Cream. In this interesting post, a consumer sends an inquiry to several ice cream companies asking what the difference is. Edy's ice cream responds (in so many words) with "not much"; where Rocky Road is chocolate ice cream with mini marshmallows and almonds, Heavenly Hash was comprised of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, and featured mini marshmallows, almonds, and chocolate bits. The response is similar from Ben & Jerry's, who echo the sentiment about the vanilla and chocolate ice cream base, but who also say that they use pecans for Rocky Road ice cream. 

If you like Rocky Road ice cream, you'll probably like Heavenly Hash; if you see it on a menu, order it!

4. A type of jell-o salad.

My guess is that this must have been a back-of-the-box recipe at some point. There is another recipe for Heavenly Hash out there that has absolutely nothing to do with chocolate (though some do feature mini marshmallows or nuts). Recipes range hugely. In some, it's an unholy melange of Jell-O, cooked rice, whipped cream topping, and pineapple, with any number of variations (some have cream cheese; some have nuts; etc). In others, it's a mixture of fruit with a mayonnaise dressing. I would say this type of Heavenly Hash, along with its BFF Ambrosia salad, are better enjoyed as nostalgic novelties than for everyday eating.

Have you ever tried any of these types of Heavenly Hash?

January 25: National Irish Coffee Day

I'd like to wish you a pleasant and cozy National Irish Coffee Day. If you're snowbound and have the ingredients, it's a great day to indulge. 

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But first things first: what is Irish coffee, anyway? 

Not to be confused with Irish cream, which is a type of liqueur, an Irish coffee is a sort of alcoholic latte. Traditionally, it's coffee served with liquor (usually Irish whisky) and served with cream or whipped cream on top. It has a reputation as an after-dinner drink, but I think it is a perfect buzzy brunch beverage, too. 

Should you be so inclined, here's how to put together a tasty Irish coffee. I veer slightly from tradition by slightly whipping the cream, but I think you'll forgive me when you try it. 

Photo licensed via Creative Commons by  Flickr member Ruth Hartnup

Photo licensed via Creative Commons by Flickr member Ruth Hartnup

Irish Coffee

Serves 2

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 ounces whisky (preferably Irish)
  • 2 teaspoons natural sugar 
  • 10 ounces hot, very strongly brewed coffee
  1. Whip the cream until it thickens slightly. Like, not even soft peaks but getting close. 
  2. Pour 1 1/2 ounces of whisky into each mug. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar each. Stir to dissolve. Add 5 ounces of coffee each to both of the mugs, and once again stir.
  3. Spoon the cream on top of each Irish coffee, to taste. Don't stir the cream. It might be a little more cream than you need, but you can use the rest on the cake you are having with your Irish coffee (right?). 

Do you like Irish Coffee?

January 17: National Hot Buttered Rum Day

Good morning! And Happy National Hot Buttered Rum Day. Now, be honest...do you know what hot buttered rum actually is?

A creative hot buttered rum. Photo licensed via Creative commons by Flickr member  lemon168

A creative hot buttered rum. Photo licensed via Creative commons by Flickr member lemon168

Until writing this post, I actually didn't. If you had asked me and I didn't have my phone to look it up on the spot, I'd probably give a vague definition: a sort of hot toddy with rum. But I didn't actually know if contained real butter, or if it was named for a "buttery" texture thanks to another ingredient. 

So, for National Hot Buttered Rum Day, I found out. 

Apparently, hot buttered rum is a long-standing winter tradition in the United States. It all began when molasses began to be imported into the colonies from Jamaica. It didn't take long for the settlers to take up distilling, and when it got cold out, they augmented other cold-weather beverages such as teas with rum. Naturally. 

I found this part interesting. Because the puritans looked down on garish celebration of religious holidays (and upon liquor as part of the celebration), toddies and spiced rum drinks were more associated with holidays like Thanksgiving or New Year's Eve, days on which the rum wouldn't offend baby Jesus. 

While hot buttered rum was absolutely enjoyed in the early days of the states, its first known mention by that name is from a 1917 publication called The Ideal Bartender.

OK, so if you want to make a hot buttered rum, what do you need? Well, your ingredient list will likely include rum, butter, nutmeg, and sugar. It might include citrus, or it might include milk/cream, but from what I have noticed, usually not both.

To make a hot buttered rum today, I liked this recipe which I found on the New England Distilling page. I am copying it here because they may change the site seasonally. The recipe features half a stick of butter, sugar, spices, rum, hot water, and some orange juice, and sounds tremendous. It doesn't list how many servings there are, so it's possible that if it's one serving, it contains half a stick of butter. OK, I don't think it's for one serving, but it was a funny thing to think about for a moment. 

Here's the recipe: 

Hot Buttered Rum

according to New England Distilling 

4 oz. butter, room temperature
.5 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
.75 tsp cinnamon
.75 tsp ground ginger
.5 tsp ground nutmeg
1.5 oz Eight Bells
.75 cups boiling water
Fresh orange juice

Beat butter, sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg with a mixer for about a minute.

Combine 2 tablespoons butter mixture with rum and boiling water in a glass mug and add a splash of OJ.  The mixture can be stored in the fridge for a few weeks.

Now that you know how to make one, how about some fun links about creative variations of hot buttered rum tastiness?

Five Interesting Hot Buttered Rum Links 

Hot buttered rum recipe. (Luna Cafe)

Hot buttered rum pecan sundae. WHOA. (The Hungry Mouse)

Hot buttered rum cheesecake with brown sugar rum sauce. (Betty Crocker)

Hot buttered rum cookies. (Barefeet in the Kitchen)

Hot buttered rum pound cake. Yum. (Hummingbird High)

Bonus: butter rum pop-tarts recipe. Awesome! (Lighter and Local)

Have you ever tried a hot buttered rum?

January 10: National Bittersweet Chocolate Day

Happy National Bittersweet Chocolate Day. Which leads to an important question: what the heck is bittersweet chocolate, anyway? And how is it different from the semisweet chocolate you use in chocolate chip cookies? 

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As it turns out, not all that different. Both are considered types of dark chocolate, with some key differences.

Semisweet and bittersweet chocolate

Bittersweet chocolate has a high cacao percentage, and contains at least 35 percent pure chocolate, to which sugar (a low percentage) and possibly flavorings have been added. Bittersweet chocolate is dark chocolate. 

Semisweet chocolate is similar, also containing at least 35 percent pure chocolate, but it typically has a higher amount of sugar, is more likely to contain flavorings or emulsifiers, and has lower cacao percentage. Because of its sweeter flavor, semi-sweet is more commonly used in baking, and it’s the go-to chocolate type for chocolate chip cookies. Semi-sweet chocolate is dark chocolate too, but not quite as dark as bittersweet. 

Can I use them interchangeably?

Yes! You can absolutely use bittersweet chocolate in chocolate chip cookies. In fact, I think that a lot of baked goods taste more refined and kind of French-y when you use bittersweet chocolate.

However, my advice is that you consider your audience when using darker chocolate in baking. Especially if you are making a baked good that kids will be eating, because in my experience, fancy chocolate is wasted on young children (including my nephew), who would probably rather be eating milk chocolate or the sweeter semisweet chocolate. 

Dark chocolate for baking and eating 

Dark chocolate, as well as semi and bittersweet chocolate, can all be eaten out of hand, or used in recipes. Its deep flavor makes it a good choice for chocolate fillings, chocolate chunks in cookies, or even a rich ganache which can be used as a filling or topping (or both!). 

Four recipes with bittersweet chocolate for you to enjoy today:

Chocolate-filled chocolate cookies. (Colavita)

Bittersweet chocolate truffles. (Chowhound)

Four ingredient chocolate ganache pie. (CakeSpy)

Whole Foods copycat chocolate cake. (CakeSpy)

What is your favorite type of chocolate for baking?

What's The Difference Between Pudding, Custard, and Mousse?

Pudding. Custard. Mousse. They all kind of look the same. They're all soft, creamy foods. So what's the dif? 

Pudding, Custard, Mousse

The short version?

Eggs.

In America, at least, pudding is typically the term assigned to a milk or cream-based dessert which is thickened by starch. Usually, but not always, cornstarch

Custard, on the other hand, is a milk or cream based dessert thickened by egg

Mousse relies on egg, too. Primarily egg whites, which are whipped to a froth and then folded with other ingredients for an airy, unique texture. 

That's the short version. But there's more to the story than that.

The long version?

The simplistic view that eggs are the only difference is fraught with inconsistency. 

As Chow.com aptly puts it,

But it’s not quite as simple as saying, “If it has eggs it’s custard; if it has starch it’s pudding.”Professional Baking points out that there is an overlap: Cream puddings, it says, use a custard base but are thickened with starch. Pastry cream (the stuff you find in an éclair) is a cream pudding—a custard-pudding hybrid.

So, let me address some exceptions. 

There are plenty of pudding recipes which employ eggs.

This vanilla pudding, for instance, contains egg, but it doesn't completely rely on it for thickening the mixture. It also includes cornstarch, which propels it from custard to pudding territory. Or is it a custard with starch? Tough call.

Some custard recipes include starch.

Yep. Some custard recipes include starch. Not all, but some. This great post makes some notes on the differences between how you prepare custard and pudding, and examples of custards with starch.

Mousse doesn't always include egg whites

And there are mousse recipes that don't include egg whites, but do include egg yolks. There are some recipes that don't include eggs at all, but rely on whipped cream to impart the airy-rich texture.

To summarize: there are blurred lines.

While there is a general division between pudding, custard, and mousse, recipes cross the borders all the time. Ultimately, you're not going to be denied dessert if you mis-categorize one (not by me, anyway). But I'm a big believer in the idea that you should learn the rules before you break them...so hopefully, with this post, I've given you a brief look at the rules.

Now go ahead and break them.

Which one is your fave: pudding, custard, or mousse? 

What is Baking Chocolate?

It looks like chocolate. It smells like chocolate. But if you've ever tried to take a big bite of so-called "baking chocolate", you know that it is not suitable for out of hand eating, and is not to be treated as a snack. So what is the point of baking chocolate, anyway? 

Let's discuss. 

What is baking chocolate?

Baker's Chocolate

Photo via Flickr member eggplant

This type of chocolate comes in bars, but not the kind that you’d like to eat as a snack. The reason is that baking chocolate, which also goes by “unsweetened chocolate” or “bitter chocolate”, does not contain sugar. It’s solidified 100 percent chocolate liquor (the center of cocoa beans ground to a liquid), but without the frills--sweeteners, emulsifiers, flavorings--that make chocolate a sweet eating delight.

Once that chocolate liquor has been fancied up a little bit with cocoa butter, sugar, emulsifiers, and maybe some flavoring, it becomes dark chocolate. It retains a high percentage of cacao. What most people think of “dark chocolate” is 65% to as high as 99%. The higher the number, the less sweet the chocolate.

Dark chocolate varieties also include semisweet and bittersweet chocolate. They contain less chocolate liquor--a minimum of 35 percent--bittersweet often carrying more cacao than semisweet. And they contain sugar. It’s a variation sugar-to-cocao ratio that differentiates the two. Because of its sweeter flavor, semi-sweet is more commonly used in baking, and it’s the go-to chocolate type for chocolate chip cookies. 

Working with baking chocolate 

These crinkle cookies are made with unsweetened chocolate in the batter.

If baking chocolate has no sugar, what's the point?

Baking chocolate is not the best choice for out of hand eating, but it's a great component to mix with other ingredients to make a recipe. 

Typically, baking chocolate will be mixed into batter when baking, and the sweetness comes from elsewhere in the recipe, bringing out the flavor of the chocolate. It’s not suggested that you use baking chocolate as a substitute for chocolate morsels in cookies or as a candy coating.

Not to confuse you, but...

bakers chocolate

Photo via Flickr member zanastardust

One of the most famous brands offering baking chocolate is Baker's Chocolate, America's oldest continually run chocolate company. Often, people will refer to baking chocolate as "baker's chocolate", possibly because of the association of this company with producing the unsweetened stuff.

However, the Baker's chocolate brand also offers a variety of sweetened chocolate products, including German's sweet chocolate (an innovation by a gentleman named Samuel German, and where German chocolate cake gets its name), white chocolate, and semisweet chocolate. So while Baker's offers baking chocolate, not all chocolate by Baker's is baking chocolate. Got it? Good. 

Can I substitute another type of chocolate?

Well, I'm not going to flat out reject you here, but I am going to give you some considerations to think about if you want to substitute, say, dark chocolate for baking chocolate.

If your chocolate has sugar added, it may slightly alter the chemistry of the recipe. For instance, if your recipe calls for 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate and you use 4 ounces of sweetened chocolate, you're adding extra sugar to the recipe, and you can't be quite sure how much. The recipe might come out just fine, or the added sugar might affect the texture or bake time. Or it might just make the recipe too sweet. Is it worth the risk? Up to you.

I hope I've given you a helpful little primer here--feel free to chime in with any questions about baking chocolate and I can add to this article to make it even more helpful. Oh, and if you liked this post, check out the more comprehensive posts on the types of chocolate for baking.

How do you use baking chocolate?

What is Cornstarch and What Does it Do?

I'll just get right into it: what is cornstarch and what does it do?

This question came up when I was chatting with a gluten-free friend who said she'd recently made a GF brownie mix that called for 1/2 cup of added cornstarch in the event of high altitude baking. Well, that's odd, I thought. I wonder why? That seemed like a lot of cornstarch to me. Maybe there are some things I don't know about cornstarch?

And so I figured, for my reference and yours, I'd come up with a roundup of what cornstarch is, what it does, and how to use it in your baking. Ready? Set? Let's go.

Cornstarch: what is it? 

The short version? Cornstarch is derived from the endosperm (tee hee) of corn kernels, which is ground into a find powder. It's used primarily as a thickener and binder both in savory and sweet cooking and baking.

Cornstarch: how is it made?

The long version? It's sort of confusing, but here's what I gleaned from the International Starch (really) page. First, corn is steeped in hot water for up to 48 hours. The germ is then separated from the endosperm, and still steeping, they are both, respectively, ground. Starch is separated from the steeping liquid, the remaining cereal germ, and corn gluten--mainly in centrifuges and hydrocyclones (a cyclone-shaped device). The starch is then modified by applying different reaction conditions - temperature, pH, additives. This process creates the corn starch with unique and reliable properties we use for our culinary projects. 

Key roles cornstarch plays in baking

Lemon meringue pie

Cornstarch as a thickening agent

Cornstarch can be added as a thickener to a variety of mixtures, from gravy to pie fillings to custards or cake fillings. It has more power, ounce for ounce, than flour, which is also used for this purpose; increasingly, the fact that it is also gluten-free is attractive to bakers, enabling them to make gluten-free pie fillings and custards. 

Here's what happens when cornstarch is added to the mix: heat causes the starch to bind with molecules of water, and the starch begins to swell as it absorb the liquid. When the mixture comes to 203 degrees F, the starch will have expanded to about 10 times its size while still in powder form. However, this expanding is finite. You can bring cornstarch-enriched sauces or mixtures close to a boil, but don't let them fully boil and don't stir too vigorously. The starch will start to deflate, erasing the entire purpose of adding it to your mixture. 

The cornstarch will not only become thicker in heat, but as it cools, it will set, so it's a great way to further solidify desserts tending toward gooey such as the filling of Lemon meringue pie, without the cloudy color that flour might impart.

There are considerations for using cornstarch as a thickener. According to this website,

  • If you add cornstarch directly to a liquid, it can get clumpy, especially if added to a hot mixture. First, make a slurry of equal parts cornstarch and a cold liquid. Add this liquid paste to the mixture you want to thicken for better results. 
  • Cornstarch doesn't react well with acidic ingredients. Tapioca starch or arrowroot will work better for thickening acidic mixtures.
  • Cornstarch imparts a glossy, translucent sheen to the mixtures it thickens, so it tends to be used more in sweets rather than savory sauces. 

Cornstarch in cookies and cakes

Peanut Butter Alfajores

Cornstarch not only thicken sauces and mixtures, but it can be used in baked goods such as cookies or cakes, too. It is said that cornstarch used in combination with flour can "soften" the harsh proteins of flour, making a more tender baked good. Anecdotally, I can tell you this is true. A recipe such as shortbread which employs part flour and part cornstarch yields a cookie with the perfect crumb: crumbly, but not fall-apart. Tender and delicate, but in a way that the cookie still holds its shape.

As I learned on a King Arthur Flour forum, it is also one of the secrets of cake flour.

Cake flour has been treated with chlorine gas which acts not only as a whitening agent, but also has a maturing effect on the flour. It damages the proteins that form gluten so that these will not form the long stiff chains and networks that make good bread, but also breaks down starches so that these will absorb more water. These hydrated starches then "gel" during baking to provide an alternate structure (alternate to gluten formation) which is desirable for cakes; tight, even crumb, moist, very tender.

You can make your own cake flour substitute, by the way. All you have to do is add two tablespoons of cornstarch per cup of all-purpose flour for a recipe. While it won't yield exactly the same results, it will certainly yield a more delicate baked good than all purpose flour alone. 

Cornstarch as an anti-caking agent

The difference between confectioners' sugar and granulated sugar? Primarily texture--confectioners' sugar has been finely ground (and you can make your own, at home, btw!)--but it's also the fact that confectioners' sugar is mixed with a small amount of cornstarch. The starch acts as an anti-caking agent by keeping moisture and condensation from forming the sugar granules into lumps.

Cornstarch isn't just used to discourage moisture from ruining your sugar. If you buy shredded cheese in the supermarket, chances are it has cornstarch in the mix--this keeps the moisture and condensation from making your cheese slimy. However, with cheese, there is a caution involved. The starch can turn brown quicker than the cheese in heat, so it can give a false indication of doneness. 

Frequently asked questions

Still curious about cornstarch? Here are some answers to commonly asked questions.

Why is cornstarch used so often in gluten-free baking?

Probably first and foremost because it's naturally gluten-free. Both cornstarch and flour are considered "cereal starches"--but the main difference is the aforementioned gluten. Flour has it; cornstarch does not.  But, you know, it also adds structure to baked goods, and this can be helpful when they lack the "glue" of gluten. 

Is it possible I know this stuff by a different name?

I've seen it as "corn starch" and "cornstarch"--I prefer the one-word variation. You'll see it referred to as such in US and Canada; in other countries, it may be called "cornflour"--not to be confused with cornmeal. 

My cornstarch got all clumpy in my pie filling. What's up? 

Nobody likes clumps and lumps in what should be a smooth pie filling. To avoid lumps, make a slurry (equal parts cold liquid and cornstarch) before incorporating the starch into the pie filling mixture. 

I'm sure I did everything right, but the starch didn't thicken my mixture.

Check the expiration date. Cornstarch does not last forever, and an advanced age can very much affect its thickening abilities.

Other possible causes: the mixture got too hot and the starch broke down; you overstirred and the starch broke down.

Help! My pie filling began "weeping". Is the cornstarch to blame?

Cornstarch can thin as it stands. The technical term is "syneresis", and it is characterized by a liquid "weeping" from the filling. It tends to happen more with mixtures including eggs or a lot of sugar. One of the culprits can be overstirring--this can break up the starch and make it thin out. Be sure to follow the instructions on your recipe to ensure that you are following the specified guidelines for how to treat the cornstarch mixture.

Don't have cornstarch?

Here is a list of some substitutes you can use in baking.  

Can I use cornstarch instead of flour?

Go ahead and give it a try. Cornstarch has twice the "thickening" power of flour, so you won't need as much. This helpful table will assist in substitution amounts. 

Recipes with cornstarch

Marquesote

What's your favorite recipe containing cornstarch?

What is Gluten, Anyway?

I've got a question for you. What the heck is gluten?

We've all heard about gluten, or perhaps more accurately, we've heard the phrase gluten-free. We've heard people talk about how they can't (or won't) eat it. We've seen cookies and crackers and bread marketed as being devoid of gluten.

But what is gluten, exactly, and why do people avoid it?

Ooh, Gluten Free Baking mix!

Here's what I know about gluten. It is largely based on my occasional reading of In Touch Weekly:

  • it has something to do with white flour (which is apparently evil, although I'm not sure if this is purely because of gluten)
  • if foods do not have gluten, it is ok for them to cost several dollars more
  • avoiding gluten is very trendy right now. People who avoid gluten can basically be divided into three camps: people who have a severe reaction to it, people who have an intolerance to it, and people who have eating disorders.  

Of course, this is not actual knowledge based on fact. I mean, how many times has that periodical lied about Jen's baby bump and Brangelina's breakup? 

Nope: In Touch Weekly is not the source for gluten information. Let's get down some facts not supplied by pop culture periodicals...

Gluten

Dictionary definition: gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (varieties of which include durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, kamut, etc) , rye, barley and triticale.

Photo via Professional Pasta Magazine (really)

Where does the funny name come from? According to Dictionary.com, the origin is such:

 1630s, "any sticky substance," from Middle French gluten (16c.) or directly from Latin gluten "glue" (see glue (n.)). Used 16c.-19c. for the part of animal tissue now called fibrin; used since 1803 of the nitrogenous part of the flour of wheat or other grain; hence glutamic acid (1871), a common amino acid, and its salt, glutamate.

What it does in food: Gluten does what its name sounds like: acts as "glue" that holds food together. It helps doughs maintain elasticity and a good "chew". While most people instantly think "flour" when they think of gluten, this is not quite accurate. It's not just baked goods or bread that contain gluten--it can be used in a number of different products to add thickness, texture, or bulk. 

This is what makes baking particularly maddening when gluten is taken out of the equation. To get the same texture, taste, and bulk which wheat based flour lends to baked goods, you can't just rely on one type of gluten-free flour. Different mixes are required to meet each of the criteria. If you want more guidance on that, check out this post on Craftsy. You'll also probably enjoy checking out the blogs of my buddies both online and in real life, Gluten-Free Girl and The Art of Gluten-Free Baking to learn more about gluten-free baking. 

Primary sources of gluten in your everyday diet: 

Wheat, barley, and rye. This triple threat of gluten-containing goodness constitutes a major part of many foods, including but not limited to: bread, cereals, baked goods, pasta, soup, sauces, food coloring, and beer. Gluten can be found in unexpected sources, too, such as soups or sauces that you wouldn't even think of containing flour. However, many of them do contain traces of gluten-containing matter, which gives them structure and thickness. This is why people who need to adhere to a gluten-free diet are forever scanning food labels. 

Why would people avoid gluten?

If you have celiac disease, you kind of need to. According to WebMD,

Experts estimate that about 1% of Americans have celiac disease. The condition, caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten, can damage the lining of the small intestine. That, in turn, can prevent important nutrients from being absorbed. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, anemia, bone pain, and a severe skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.

Aside from that, though, some people simply feel better when they avoid gluten. It doesn't cause a death threat, but it can cause discomfort. Others perceive it to be a healthier way to be, or a way to lose weight. 

As WebMD further says, 

Gluten itself doesn’t offer special nutritional benefits. But the many whole grains that contain gluten do. They’re rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber. Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of all carbohydrates in the diet come from whole grain products.

Whew! If you feel like you'd like more GF info, check out these posts I did for Craftsy:

 

 

What are your thoughts on gluten?