Sunday, March 22, 2015

Grain Free Cupcake v1

When I went off Paleo last year, I learned a lot about Gluten Free baking and even made a pretty decent sandwich bread thanks to America's Test Kitchen. Gluten Free cooking is rife with processed foods and additives, but there's some sound research on the science of baking and how to mix and match gluten free substitutes to make it work. America's Test Kitchen Gluten Free Cookbook is among the best out there, not so much for the actual recipes, but for understanding how the ingredients work together.

If you're going to engage in Grain Free baking, I find that gluten free recipes are much easier to start from than recipes depending on wheat flour. Besides ATK's book, I have this book by Bruce Fife called "Cooking with Coconut Flour" which I use as the basis for most of my experimentation with baking. I don't think I've yet followed a recipe exactly, but that's kind of my style of cooking.

The basic components you're looking for are:

  • insoluble fiber for bulk
  • starch for lightness
  • protein for rise and browning
  • soluble fiber for binding

The problem with just these components is that they don't quite mimic gluten. You can bake pretty good things with just these, but they won't really rise well or have a nice crumb. Despite the soluble fiber, they will still be a bit dry and crumbly. Many Gluten Free recipes use gums as an extra binder to more closely mimic the structure gluten builds which improves rise. These gums tend to cause me a lot of gastric distress even in small amounts (and I'm not alone in this). But wait! There's hope!

Recently I've been reading on many gluten free cooking blogs that potato flour can substitute quite well for the gums typically used in gluten free baking to replicate gluten's elasticity. I've actually used boiled potato with wheat flour in the past to improve the texture of the final bread. It makes the texture a bit more soft and tender, which is something non-grain flours definitely need. The advantage of using potato flakes (ie, instant potatoes) or potato flour (different from potato starch) is that you don't get water weight variations like you do with fresh potatoes. That being said, fresh potatoes are cheap and don't require a trip to a special grocery store. And, chances are there aren't any additives other than dirt.

I'd been wanting to try making cupcakes for some time but hadn't had the right inspiration. I appreciate coconut flour, however I'm not the hugest fan. It tastes weird, it's dry and crumbly and you have to use crap tons of eggs to even make anything decent with it. Not to mention all that insoluble fiber just goes right through me. After reading about potato flour, I got inspired. So tonight I tried my first attempt at grain-free cupcakes, and I'm quite happy with the results!

If you are looking for a more frequent treat, you can skip the icing and use minimum amount of honey (2T). For a special celebratory treat, I don't see anything wrong with a little refined sugar frosting soaked in butter.

Paleo Cupcake v1 - The secret ingredient is POTATO!

Grain-Free Cupcake v1

The Wet:
2 eggs
2 - 4T honey
3 T melted butter
1/4 t sea salt
1/2 t vanilla
2.5 oz or 72g of cooked white potato (floury or starchy, doesn't matter)

The Dry:
2 T coconut flour
1 T tapioca flour
1/4 t baking powder (homemade with 1t baking powder + 2t cream of tartar)

Beat the eggs and honey together, then add the butter, salt, and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Press the cooked potato through a strainer or ricer and mix in until smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients and sift them into the wet ones. Mix until you have a wet, smooth batter.

I used a 12 count USA Pans muffin pan. Line the middle 2 rows (inner 6 spots) with greased paper cups and pour the batter so it fills the up about halfway. You should have enough for 6 cupcakes.

Bake in the upper part of the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Let cool completely before icing or eating so the starch has time to set. These should rise to the top of the muffin compartment.

Buttercream Frosting

Any good cupcake of course needs frosting and if you're looking for a simple buttercream, my recipe is adapted from King Arthur Flour's. Granted the use of refined sugar may be offensive to some die-hards out there, but I've always considered cupcakes more of a rare celebration item and not so much of an every day of the week phenomena.

.75 ounces butter
.25 ounces lard
1/4 t vanilla
tiny pinch of salt
4 ounces confectioners sugar (I use 365 Organic with tapioca flour as the starch)
2T milk or cream

Let the fats get to room temperature, then beat them until creamy. Add 2 oz of the confectioners sugar and beat until blended, then mix in the salt and the vanilla. Add 1 T of the milk, then alternate adding in a bit of the confectioners sugar and milk until it's smooth and creamy. I put mine in a plastic sandwich bag and snipped off the corner for an instant mini pastry bag. In my photos, I've added a bit of lime zest.

If you want to add food coloring, I use gel food coloring. For a more natural alternative, you could maybe mix some beet juice and gelatin, but I haven't tried it myself ;) 

Outer crumb of Grain-Free Cupcake v1

Inner crumb of Grain-Free Cupcake v1

This cupcake is a little dense but really not too bad. The most important thing it stays together really well and actually peels off the paper almost like a regular cupcake. The coconut flour makes it a little grainy, possibly soaking the flour for a bit before putting it into the oven could help with that. I also realized I screwed up my homemade baking powder ratio when I was writing this blog and ended up doing 3 baking soda to 1 cream of tartar. I'm going to bet that these would have risen better if that had actually been right ;)

Final Thoughts

Potatoes have been a controversial subject in the Paleo community. My stance on it is my diet is not a religion and I base my diet decisions on science. Do YOUR OWN elimination/reintroduction experiment to determine what to include or exclude from your diet. There's a lot of pseudoscience when it comes to nutrition and the Paleo community is no exception (serious Snake Oil Peddling, amirite?). Recent studies have shown a diet high in starchy tubers does not necessarily lead to diabetes and obesity. The energy in starchy tubers is intended to store food and water for a plant for a long period of time, whereas a grain's starch is intended to be rapidly converted to sugar to feed a germinating seed. Ever done any home brewing? Ever tried it with potatoes? Because potato starch is intended to be released slowly over a long period of time, fermenting grain works a little better. So, logically, it seems reasonable to conclude our bodies would process the starches differently as well.

But really the ultimate test is your own reaction to the foods that you eat. In my case, I ate 1 small white potato. One hour later, I checked my blood sugar - 105 (resting is 90). Within my normal post meal range. No digestive issues or reactions. So much for that whole "glycemic index" nonsense.