Monday, May 31, 2010

Just A Spoonful of Sucanat

Okay, so when I was about twelve years old I would eat puffed rice cereal for breakfast all the time. (I still do!). But because the only ingredient is puffed rice, I felt that I had to sprinkle on a little bit of sugar, you know, to add pizzazz.

Well, one day after I took the sugar dish out of the cupboard, and pulled the lid off, I was met with a surprise. "Mom!?!" I called, staring in disbelief inside the dish, "Why is there bird seed in the sugar bowl?" Hearing laughter from the other room, I headed that way, dish in hand, to get an explanation. Turns out my mom had swapped out the sugar for something called Sucanat.

I had been used to using the off-white sugar known as "evaporated cane juice", but this was something I hadn't seen before. This stuff looked like it wasn't intended for humans and, ever the skeptic, I wasn't buying it.

"Just give it a try," my mom encouraged, "you might like it." So, not wanting to postpone my breakfast any longer, I cautiously sprinkled on some of the bird mean Sucanat onto my cereal. Not quite knowing what to expect. I took a bite. It was...crunchy....sweet....delicious! I now had a new favorite cereal topping.

Okay, so I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the transition from using sugar in my baking to using Sucanat happened overnight, but it did happen surprisingly fast. Soon I was hooked, and I have come to love the stuff.

Just a fun fact for you: The word "Sucanat" actually comes from the blending of three words - sugar, cane, and natural, get it? As in, SUgar CANe NATural, as in SUCANAT?!? I digress... There are two types of Sucanat that I use. One is the regular, darker Sucanat, (made with molasses), that can be used as a substitute for brown sugar. The other is the lighter colored Sucanat, which is made with honey, and is often called "honey granules" or "Sucanat with honey." I use the honey Sucanat as a substitute for regular sugar in almost everything I make. Just use an even 1:1 swap.

(BTW, it is the honey Sucanat I put on my cereal, as the other type has a stronger molasses flavor. I often just use the honey Sucanat as a brown sugar substitute instead of the molasses Sucanat, because the latter has such a distinct taste).

We get our Sucanat from the same place we get our wheat berries, kamut, oat groats, and honey - The Bread Beckers. However, you might check if your local health food store carries it, if you're curious and just want to try it out.
So anyway, when you see "sucanat" in the ingredient list of a recipe I post, you will now know what I'm talking about : ) (I'll specify whether I'm using the honey or molasses type). I encourage you to give sucanat a go if you've never tried it because, after all, "you might like it!"

Have a great day!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Note on Flour

I wanted to take a few moments to tell you about some of the particular flours that I use in my baking (when possible), so that there won't be any confusion later on : )

Most everyone is very familiar with all-purpose flour, and is quite accustomed to using it, myself included. However, in the pursuit of trying to eat more healthfully, there are certain drawbacks to using the typical "enriched" and often "bleached" flours. The white, fluffy flour that we buy off the grocery store shelf has been striped of most of its nutrition (like the germ and bran) during processing, and is then "enriched" with certain artificial vitamins and minerals to try to give the flour back some of its nutritional value.

Store bought "whole grain" flours are a somewhat better alternative, but even though better, they have still lost the majority of their nutrition. This is because (or so I hear) that within 24 hours of being ground, the flour has already lost close to 50% of its nutrients, and that after 72 hours, has lost around 90% of its nutrients. I'm no scientist or nutritionist, and so I don't know all the particulars, but it seems to me that the bag of flour that has been sitting in my pantry for three months would be pretty void of its nutrients.

So what's the alternative? We need to be able to use some sort of flour....Well, one option would be to grind your own flour out of "wheat berries". Basically, the entire kernel of wheat is ground into flour using a handy-dandy machine, and voila! You have yourself some fresh flour. This allows you to consume your baked goods with the knowledge that the flour you are using still has the bran, the germ, and all the other nutrients God packed into the whole grain.

There are different types of "wheat berries" (and other grains), and they are used to achieve different results. Common ones I use are Soft White Wheat, Hard (or Winter) White Wheat, Hard Red Wheat, Kamut, and Oat Groats. (They are also organic, which is a big plus).

The Soft White is used for items like cakes, cookies, muffins and the like, when a fluffier texture is wanted. The Hard White/Hard Red is what I mostly use when I am making sandwich bread, dinner rolls or heartier types of items. (These are three main types of flour I use).

One way to help determine which type of flour to use is to see whether the recipe uses baking soda/powder, or yeast. "Quick rising" items generally use the Soft White, and the "slow rise" or "yeast breads" generally use the Hard White or Hard Red, (though, this is not always the case).

The Kamut flour has less gluten then the Hard White/Hard Red flours, so it is usually combined with other flours that contain more gluten. (In my "everyday" bread I use a combination of the Hard Red, Hard White, and Kamut).

I mostly use the Oat Groats for hot breakfast cereals, homemade granola, and basically as a substitute for "old-fashioned rolled oats." (We have an attachment on our bread machine that rolls the Oat Groats into, well, rolled oats). However, the Oat Groats can also be ground into flour and used in breads, adding nutrition and flavor.

So now that I've mentioned some of the reasons why I use freshly ground flours, and when I use them, I will now talk about how I use them.

You can take most any recipe, and substitute fresh flour for regular flour, with pretty satisfactory results. The thing about using the freshly milled flour is that it is quite airy. If you measured this flour, it might be a different amount then its all-purpose cousin. How to get around it? Weigh the flour instead. The rule of thumb I use is 1 cup flour = 5 oz freshly ground whole wheat flour.

I do this simply and easily on my nifty kitchen scale. Simply take your bowl (or other container) and place it on the scale. Then hit "tare" or the "on" button, to set the scale back to zero (don't want to accidentally include the weight of the bowl!) and then add the wheat berries until you have the desired weight. Then simply turn on your grinder, pour the grains in, and there you have it - fresh flour.

I realize that while using freshly milled flour is all well and good, some of us do not have the time to grind our own flour, nor the funds to invest in a grinder. I totally understand this and do not want to come across as critical of those who do use store bought flour. I still use store bought flour sometimes! If I'm making something to take somewhere and don't know if the strong taste of wheat will be welcomed, or I'm making a finicky recipe where the wheat might do weird things, or simply can't face dragging out the grinder and then washing all the components all for 1/2 cup of flour, then I will use my jar of white flour. I only try, when possible, to use the fresh stuff, and that's all I'm tryin' to say : )

Anyway, to recap my rather long post on flour:

1. Store bought flour has less nutrition then freshly ground, but still fine to use, and
2. If using fresh flour then the substitute I use is 1 cup = 5 oz.

On a side note, the wheat flour has a stronger, well, wheat flavor to it then all-purpose flour. It might take a little while to acquire a taste for it, but if you like the almost nutty, earthy taste of 'whole wheat', then I'm sure you won't have a hard transition : ) Also, we (meaning my family and I) get our wheat from a company called The Bread Beckers. They ship to the contiguous United States, but we use them through a co-op, which places orders every few months, and so we just pick up our order locally when it comes in. They sell more then just grains - everything from bread machines and grinders to grains and sweeteners. Anyway, just thought I'd share that!

Happy baking!

Friday, May 28, 2010

No Time Like the Present!

"This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." Psalm 118:24

Well, the time has finally come. I am the proud owner of a new blog. Actually, I don’t personally own it, so I guess you could say that I am the proud creator of a blog owned by someone else, but that's beside the point.

In all sincerity, I have wanted a blog for quite some time. I enjoyed reading other people’s blogs so much that I thought it would be fun to have one of my own. Did I know when I woke up this morning that by the end of the day I would have one? No. Does that really matter now? Nope. Am I completely and utterly excited about getting underway? YES! : )

On a side note, I did not want to create a blog just for the sake of having one, I wanted it to have a purpose. But what should the purpose be, what theme should it have? Hmmm....What is the most common theme of the blogs that I enjoy reading? Food. Particularly food made with sugar. Is that such a bad thing !?! Probably, but hey, realizing you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

So I wanted the main focus of my blog to be baking. However, I didn’t want my blog to be solely limited to baking. I also wanted to use it to share things about my life and the things I find interesting.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that this blog will end up being a hodge-podge of all things me. I have also come to the conclusion that I used the word 'blog' over ten times in this post alone. But hey, who’s counting.

Have a great day!