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Friday, October 31, 2008

Team Laugh

A recent conversation between my dear husband and I went something like this.

I don't understand it; we lose every game, even when we play the worst team in the league.

Honey, you can't play the worst team in the league.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's amore...

....or it's the sound of a pizza dough slapping onto your face when you fail to catch it! Did you hear the sound of slapping across the globe? This month the Daring Bakers are up to the challenge of tossing, spinning, and slapping down the best pizza you've ever eaten. This month our Daring Baker Challenge was to make pizza like a real pizzaiola.

Our lovely hostess, Rosa at Rosa's Yummy-Yums certainly set the bar high for us. Rosa chose the Basic Pizza Dough from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart.

We love pizza at our house. Every Friday we make pizza so this challenge was a welcome one. It also marked the first time I've made a challenge both gluten free and "glutenated" or straight from the original wheat flour recipe.

Original Pizzaiola PizzaThis pizza dough is made the day before and rests in the refrigerator to develop its' flavours. The dough is divided into six portions and spun crazily above your head to gently stretch it out. It is cooked in a very hot oven on a preheated pizza stone. The result is a lovely light crisp dough that is an absolute joy to eat.

Gluten Free

Gluten free dough doesn't have the elasticity of wheat dough. When you are making a gluten free bread, the dough is the consistency of cake batter. Any tossing of a gluten free pizza would be one big splat! Instead the dough is gently spread out between two layers of parchment paper.

For the gluten free pizza, I decided to recreate a family favourite Tuscan Schiacciata in a gluten free version.

The first layer of dough is gently spread out on parchment paper and covered with thinly sliced mozzarella cheese.

The cheese layer is covered with a layer of thinly sliced ham.

A second layer of dough is gently spread over parchment, then flipped over to cover the ham and cheese. (It pays to have a helper do the flipping with you) The parchment is gently peeled away. Some olive oil is spread on top and coarse salt is sprinkled over it.The schiacciata and the parchment paper are gently lifted and put onto the heated pizza stone. This will not work without the parchment paper underneath because the gluten free dough will not hold together.

The result is....

Gluten Free Tuscan Schiacciata

Lessons Learned:
1) Pizza Tossing is fun and should be considered a party activity.
2) Pizza Tossing really does stretch the pizza beautifully.
3) Pizza Tossing will never happen with gluten free dough.

Thank you Rosa for making us toss our pizzas and stretch our knowledge!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Say Cheese

I adore trying different types of cheese but I didn't always.

I grew up in a household of Kraft cheese. Singles peeled back from clinging plastic, whizzy stuff slapped onto bread, a block of orange coloured cheddar, and a dash of stringy mozzarella on pizza for good measure. Even when I was young, the orange jar and slices weren't considered real cheese. But I was used to the gooey salty texture.

My husband and I met in high school. He was the most exotic person I had ever met. How and why he came from Italy and landed in our town is another story. But his wild fashion sense, big grin, and goofy sense of humour endeared him to all the natives. I affectionately call him my "leetle immigrant".

We were sorting out our dating priorities one day when he asked me what type of cheese I liked. To which I replied, "I don't like cheese".

He patiently asked again and slightly rephrased the question, "What type of cheese don't you like."

"All types."

"All types?" He looked very puzzled. This was a new concept for him. "What do you mean, all types?"

"All of them, you know, mozzarella and cheddar."

He burst out laughing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Regular Pancakes

Pancakes smothered in warm maple syrup are the ultimate in breakfast comfort food.

We've been through a few attempts of gluten free pancake making. We didn't realise how much we would miss the taste of wheat until we tried a white rice flour pancake mix. The pancakes looked gorgeous and rose beautifully to give us the fluffy light pancakes we were used to eating with wheat flour pancakes. But the taste... there was no taste. It was a fluffy bland sponge for maple syrup.

Those spongy pancakes led me on a quest to reproduce their lofty lightness and add some flavour and nutrition. So we scrutinized the ingredients.

White rice flour and methyl cellulose...

The white rice flour was pretty apparent as the bulk of the sponge but what was methyl cellulose?

This was the magic fluff ingredient that gave the pancake mix it's loft. It turns out that methyl cellulose is a chemical compound derived from cellulose (plant walls if you remember your biology). It forms a gel when combined with water.... and the easiest way to get my hands on some was to buy some.... laxatives!?! No way.

Gluten free was getting weirder by the minute.

The gluten protein in wheat forms the structure for pancakes. It provides an elastic matrix or sponge for baked goods. Without gluten, there is nothing to hold onto the air and it just bubbles out of solution. In order to trap the bubbles, something else needs to be added to provide structure. This is where a gelatin's binding properties come into play. Without structure, you end up with a rice mud.

It turns out that gluten free cooking relies on a lot of different "gelling substances" to provide structure. Some of these gelling agents are a little more interesting than others. No, I wasn't about to slip laxatives into our food.

There is no getting around the fact that gluten free baking requires more flours and ingredients to replicate the products we love to eat. And we love to eat pancakes! After a few attempts, we finally came up with a mix that earned two thumbs up from the family.

For our pancake mix, flax seed meal gives a slightly nutty wheaty taste that just teases our taste buds while xanthan gum recreates the fluffy lightness of great wheat pancakes. The yellow corn flour lends a gorgeous golden hue and subtle taste that earned a thumbs up from the family. Brown rice flour imparts a nice taste and texture without being overwhelming. Both the brown rice flour and corn flour are flours, not starches. They don't squeak when you pinch 'em!

I think we have a winner for a gluten free breakfast. These are the monster pancakes my daughter whipped up for herself.Pancakes
1 cup of dry pancake mix*
2 eggs
1 cup warm milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Note: The warmer your wet ingredients, the thicker the batter and the fluffier your pancake. Just don't have them so hot that you cook your eggs.

Place the dry mix into a medium sized bowl. Add the wet ingredients, in order, directly to the dry ingredients. Mix well. It will be lumpy but will smooth out as you keep mixing. If the mix is too runny, add a tablespoon of dry mix. If the mix is too thick, add a bit more milk. The mix can be thinned with milk to make crepes. However, the batter should be thick if you really want big fluffy pancakes.

Cook over a hot griddle greased with unsalted butter. If the griddle is not hot enough, the pancakes will fail to rise in an impressive way.

This recipe makes 15 mom sized pancakes or 5 monster teenager pancakes. Even my hungry teenager eats only 2 monster pancakes.

*Pancake Dry Mix
1 & ½ cups yellow corn flour
1 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup potato starch
1/6 cup tapioca starch
6 tsp baking powder
6 tsp flax seed meal
3 tsp xanthan powder
3 tsp white sugar
3/8 tsp salt

Sift all ingredients together and put in an airtight container. Store the container in the freezer to extend the shelf life. This is not a very sweet dry mix; if you wish a sweeter mix, double the sugar.

When you choose a flour for the pancake mix, be sure to choose one that has a taste that is appealing to you.

This can be your regular pancake mix.... bad bad pun.