Baking is science you can eat.

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Thanksgiving went off without a hitch, in part thanks to my mom teaching me well but also because most everything was already gluten-free by design, and therefore didn’t require a lot of messing about. The turkey had legs the size of a small chicken and we didn’t sit down to eat to eight-thirty, but this was a great meal. I realized while baking a few pies the day before that the ratios that work so well in normal baking are similar in gluten-free baking. The main difference is this: wheat flour has many qualities that make it right for the job, and when you remove it, one must replace it with not one or two other flours, but sometimes as many as five or six. This actually bothers me quite a bit, as when looking up a recipe for something, the last thing anyone wants is to be faced with a list of obscure flours that are expensive and exhausting to find. When I work on recipes here, I try to work out a way to use only a few flours and pinpoint the qualities that each one lends to the recipe, so that later I can decide whether I need it or not if I find it in another recipe.


The things I consider paramount, akin to an even-baking oven and a really great spatula (geek! I know!):

~~Almond Flour/Meal (amandes en poudre): This is basically finely ground blanched almonds. It has a great feeling to it, fluffy and moist from the oils in the nuts. Which means exactly that, that it will impart a light, moistening quality to whatever you use it in. While it isn’t inexpensive, it truly is one of the cornerstones of gluten-free baking, and is really quite good for you as well. I used a mostly almond meal pie crust for my pies the other day and was excited how easy and delicious they were.

~~Ground Flax Seeds (graines de lin moulues): We love flax seeds in California. They became very popular a few years back for providing omega-3 fatty acids in a seed that can be sprinkled on salads, baked goods, breads etc. I didn’t pay it much attention until I began to try gluten-free bread recipes and stumbled upon one from Gluten-Free Girl (glutenfreegirl.com). Shauna had tried to find a way to hold her bread together (gluten is what would do this in a wheat bread, like many little fibers making a web of support all in your slice of bread!) without the use of guar gum or xathan gum. These are technically natural derivatives that aid in holding together particles when there is an absence of gluten. (To read more about these gums, this is good info:http://www.theglutenfreelife.com/xanthanguar-gum/) I didn’t want to use these gums in my bread for two reasons, expense and the fact that people have complained of how they feel after eating them. If the whole idea behind gluten-free bread is to allow someone who feels ill after eating regular bread to feel better after eating mine, then what gives?! I had read that ground flax mixed with boiling water makes a very thick slurry that can hold particles in baking together, much like those above gums. Voila! I tried it, loved it, and never looked back. They serve a physical purpose in my bread but also are delicious and good for you and add an earthy nuttiness to the flavor.

~~Petite Epeautre: This is a grain grown here in France that I have yet to find in the states. It is a form of wheat but is different in its makeup: In contrast with more modern forms of wheat, there is evidence that the gliadin protein of einkorn (its English name) may not be as toxic to sufferers of celiac disease. It has yet to be recommended in any gluten-free diet. Einkorn wheat does contain a most minute amount of gluten but is different from most wheats in that it contains only 14 chromosomes as opposed to 42 in modern wheats. This alters the gluten structure which may be why it does not affect those with gluten intolerance as much as other wheats. So, that being said, the celiacs I know can eat this, but we are here in France and perhaps more tolerant to it than in other countries. Basically, this is just a disclaimer to say that you won’t find any kind of stamp on this product that says it is certified gluten-free. But it is commonly excepted here in gluten-free baking and I am going to run with that, because it bakes beautifully and it a whole grain.

There are a few more things I like in my breads, but I won’t go on with this like its been the best read of the day. Although as I further educate myself about it, I hope others are too. This seems to be a malady that goes undiagnosed and is so easily remedied. There is no stark, torturous life ahead. On Saturday we had a massive table of twenty plus eating a spectacular meal, and that meal was gluten-free without much change to any recipe that my family ever used. And to think before this, my dad probably thought gluten was a construction adhesive. Bon Appétit!

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Thanksgiving Abroad (also known as How to get the French to eat dinner at four in the afternoon)

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So, I am going to be trying to cook a Thanksgiving feast here in France this year. I have always spent the holiday with my family and friends in California, but obviously flying back for a slice of turkey and my mom’s most amazing yams is a little excessive, so voila!  The holiday is technically on this Thursday, but that isn’t very convenient for everyone here as it is still business as usual so we have decided to move it to this Saturday. As resident American in the house, I have been given the Thanksgiving baton to wave at everyone and try to get them to do things that are meaningful to me and meaningless to them. Shall we?

1. Eating a meal that is technically a dinner anytime before 8 30pm. When we decided to have people over at six, everyone looked at me like I had a yam growing out of my ear.

2. Serving all the food on the table all at once. The idea of a non-coursed meal is a little odd here. We eat in courses even at a small modest lunch between two people. To me this sometimes means you eat luke-warm food, which to the American palate is bad news.

3. There is a giant pumpkin-like vegetable on our counter. I told everyone it was for pie. Madness ensued.

4. One cannot just bring any dish to the table. There is a specific list of acceptable items and even though it is a big feast, foie gras is not an option. I think.

5. Lastly, today I will attempt to find a turkey. Language difficulties aside, this should be riotous.

So, as you see it should be interesting. We will have a cool cultural mix here, which is always the case and I am hoping that everyone will have a great time and not be too confused when I put everything on my plate at the same time. An update after the meal is obviously necessary. Stay tuned and wish me bonne chance.

 

To all my lovelies back at home, I wish you all the best meals and memories on this year’s feast tomorrow. I truly wish I was at the table with my sweet mom, laughing at the hijinks that occur when you have too many glasses of wine before making the gravy.

 

Ah, bon? Ah, bon!

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I should let you know I am learning French. High school was a long time ago and its been awhile since I have needed to focus on my language skills outside of just being someone who likes to use long sentences. Since I arrived in France, I have absorbed a huge quantity of the language and in combination with my leftover bits from high school, I have salvaged my way along, trying not to offend anyone or confuse myself too much. But now it is time. Time to pull on the gloves and jump in the ring. Undoubtedly, I am about to get sacked, taken down, knocked out hard. The little I know made me do well enough on a placement test to not be a total mess…i mean, beginner! But then when the curriculum arrived in my inbox, I could barely figure out where to click to open the damn thing. Granted, French websites aren’t quite the same as American ones, but in general I consider myself pretty savvy. Boy, it was like 1992 in here for a while. Clicking on links that don’t open, trying to understand words that have twelve letters. Thankfully I have my tutor/baking tester here to help me. While we have established that knowing a language doesn’t mean you can teach it to someone, it does permit you to help an American girl read some directions and get moving. There are only so many conversations you can have using the convivial “ça va?”, “oui, ça va! et toi?” and the ever important “ah, bon”, which is like sunglasses in a crowded place. It allows one to listen and respond, pass by as not totally clueless or weird and keeps the conversation moving. It can work for “really?!” or “yeah, okay” or “well, i should really be going”. Which when you break it down, can be the three responses that function in all circumstances.

I plan to start university in earnest in January, so until then i will be talking to myself and using a dictionary more often than i ever have before. But, you have to begin somewhere and this is that place. I have crossed lesser hurdles already, including such fun items as Learning to Drive a Manual Transmission in a Foreign Country, Dollars Into Euros or Another Reason to Cry, and my personal favorite, Farenheit into Celsius or What Kind of Math Equation Is That?!
So, just bear with me while I learn a very difficult language and slowly lose grasp of my native one. Cheers. Or as we say here, Santé!

Next up: Thanksgiving in France….

Baking as life preserver…

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Welcome!

Black Sheep Baking is my new venture. It’s my job, my hobby, my salvation, my little life preserver in the sea of beginning in a new country. I have lived most of my life in Northern California, surrounded by a food culture that could be thought of as forward-thinking. My parents fed us differently than other families we knew, and we thanked them for it as adults. The time spent in the kitchen with my mom, sitting on the cold green tile, watching and asking, smelling and tasting, always meant two things. Firstly, we were going to eat something delicious. And secondly, we were going to eat it together, whether it was just us, or the whole loud bunch of them. The idea that cooking was part of the event, part of what the holiday or weekend meant, that is what stuck.

Baking came to me later in life, as a second, third, fourth career. I needed something calming, exact, and clear in my life. I found it in baking, with it’s ratios and tactile moments, smells and memory jogs. Obviously working in a bakery is not all sparkles and rainbows, but even the toughest mornings at three am made me grateful for what I had found, in myself and in the people who taught me.

I am now in France, the south to be exact. I am spending my time diving into a new sort of baking. Gluten-free baking is like asking a baker to tie both hands behind their back. When I started trying recipes for breads with no gluten, I knew there would be some foibles along the way. That people would still eat those mistakes was a nice surprise. But I guess when you haven’t been able to eat anything resembling bread, even a flat, heavy brick can be toasted and covered in salty butter and sweet fig confiture. The good news is that those loaves haven’t shown their faces in a long time here, and now when my loaves are placed on a table next to fresh baguettes from the local bakery, my gluten free bread gets snapped up first, by my grateful celiac friends, but then also my those unaware to such a malady. This makes me happy. And then I eat a big slice, covered in salty butter and sweet confiture.