Vegan Spelt Sourdough  English MuffinsGluten Free Vegan Sourdough English  Muffins

I haven’t been much of a television watcher in my adult life. Back in the days when you could get public television reception without paying for cable and there weren’t a million stations anyway, that was good enough for my son and me–at least most of the time. The one notable exception to that back in the 90s caused me to capitulate and pay for TV. My boyfriend’s favorite show was Northern Exposure, and he wanted us to be able to watch it together at my house. Skeptical though I was to begin with, I still regard some of those episodes as the best TV I’ve ever watched.

One of my favorites is a late fall episode in which the citizens of Cicely bulk up on extra pounds in anticipation of the coming Winter by ordering extra pancakes, fries and chocoate cake at The Brick. I can’t remember if any of the customers at The Brick were ordering English Muffins slathered in butter, but nevertheless they seem like perfect cold weather comfort food to me. Even better when they can be low fat, vegan, and, if necessary, gluten free. Oh, and not taste like cardboard. The best way to make sure of this is to make them myself.

I’ve had great fun learning how to do just that. I also have a request from a reader to share my Spelt English Muffin template. But I didn’t want to do that until I finished an experiment to see if the same basic English Muffin recipe could be made gluten free. Now that I’ve boldly gone where my recipe source only suggested it might be possible to go, I can show how to make them either with spelt or with gluten free flours.

Since this is slow food, we have to start by making a sourdough starter. There are tons of tutorials on the internet. I’ll refer to a few that have been helpful for me, and show you some photos, so you know what it can look like, and what the difference in looks is between a  white spelt starter, a whole spelt starter, and a gluten free starter. Getting your starter going will take a few days. But once it’s bubbly, you’re ready to go. You can store it in the fridge and feed it once a week. When you’re ready to make another batch of muffins, just take it out and bring it to room temperature and feed it. When it’s all bubbly and active again, you’re ready to use it.

You can make starter simply by mixing up equal amounts of flour and water and letting it sit at room temperature, lightly covered. A good place to keep it is on top of the refrigerator. You can cover it with a cloth, or a lid. You can stir it once of twice the first day, or leave it alone. After 24-48 hours, you can feed it more flour and water. Usually it’s a little more flour and an little less water, say, 1/2 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water.

Sometimes fruit is added to the starter as a way of encouraging the yeast to grow. The first recipe for starter I used at The Sit Down Cook, said to put a thumb-sized piece of rhubarb in the starter. I tried that with great results. There’s also something called a pineapple juice starter.  You can see a great video about how to make that here, on Breadtopia. There is also an excellent spelt sourdough bread recipe on that site. And finally, you can add lightly mashed grapes to the mix. The simplest formula is equal parts grapes, flour and starter. Here is a simple “recipe for doing just that.

If this sounds complicated and difficult, it’s not. The truth is, it’s pretty darn hard to mess up a starter. I rarely measure and have done all kinds of experimenting and it always goes live. The main thing is to keep it in a glass or even plastic container, stir it once or twice a day, and feed it once or twice a day. Twice is good while you’re trying to activate it after the initial 24 or 48 hours. If this sounds vague, it’s because it’s pretty hard to mess it up if you forget to stir or feed one of the times, or even for one day. It will just take a little longer.  Here are two photos of active spelt starter:

active whole spelt sourdough starter

Active whole spelt sourdough starter

 

Active white spelt sourdough starter

Active white spelt sourdough starter

Gluten-free sourdough starter is made in exactly the same way, but it looks a little different. Instead of getting stringy and stretchy, it bubbles and make a slight dome in the bowl:

Active Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

Active Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

I took my cue about how to make a gluten free sourdough starter from this great how-to post on wholenewmom. I also added some grapes to my starter. I used a combination of sorghum flour and sweet white rice flour. The rice flour seemed most receptive to becoming starter, so I recommend using white or brown rice flour. Once you have your starter going, hop on over to this incredible guest post by Erin on GNOWFGLINS for how to make the English Muffins. I use Erin’s directions, except I used almond milk or watered down almond yogurt, and a little less salt. I added a tablespoon of ground golden flax and a tablespoon of millet to the dough. When it came time to add the sweetener, salt and baking soda and knead the dough, I did not oil the counter or my hands. Instead I emptied the risen dough out onto a sheet of baking parchment sprinkled with rice flour. Spelt dough has shorter gluten strands than wheat or rye, so I used a method called stretch and fold in place of traditional kneading. You can see how to do that here in this Breadtopia video. It’s slower than traditional kneading, but it works like a charm. And really these muffins don’t need vigorous kneading at all. Both spelt and gluten free dough are more wet than wheat dough is, so it’s perfectly fine for it to be a wet mess. They will still come out.

(Note: in the gluten-free version, I also added a teaspoon of baking powder along with the salt, sweetener and baking soda. I’m not sure if this is necessary, but it’s often added to gluten-free recipes, so I decided to use a little for good measure.)

One simple tool that made my sticky dough mixing life a heck of a lot easier is this–a danish dough whisk. If you  really want to get into this dough thing, I highly recommend investing the eleven or so bucks for one.

danish dough whisk

What follows are a few photographs I took as I was making the gluten free batch of muffins. The first two batches I made were spelt and I had no idea I was going to write a post about it so I only took pictures of the finished product because I was so thrilled with how they raise in the pan and how good they tasted. Erin, the source of the recipe I use and linked to above, had not tried to make these gluten free, so I figured it was worth documenting where this English muffin recipe had never went before. Here are the blobs of dough after it has risen overnight and  the sweetener is added. The gluten free dough cannot reallly be kneaded, even in stretch and fold style, like the spelt can, however gently. Nevertheless, they both look pretty similar to this after being cut into blobs with a pizza cutter or a dough scraper:

DSC03305

Here are the muffins after having been shaped into rustic muffins with a little extra flour. They rest like this for about 45 minutes to an hour.

gluten free sourdough muffins before cooking

Here are the muffins starting to cook on medium heat in a non-stick skillet:

gluten free vegan sourdough English muffins cooking

And here they are flipped over, all golden and toasty:

gluten free sourdough english muffins

And yes, the gluten-free ones puff up just like the spelt ones did!

If you’re worried these babies will tempt you back to butter and jam, let me assure you they are spectacular untoasted and plain. They are great with eggless salad or scramble –you can put any kind of sandwich filling or veggies burger in them too. You can have bread that’s oil free, vegan, homemade, and, if necessary, gluten free. You can add raisins or other dried fruit and cinnamon if you like. I tried that with the gluten free ones and they were delicious. If you don’t need to stay away from wheat, you can also make your starter and your muffins with wheat or even rye flour. It’s all good. For a special treat, use a small dab of nut butter and top with apple or pear or banana slices. Or just use the fruit.

The cold weather’s coming. I looked for a scene online from Northern Exposure where the characters are happily bulking up at The Brick for the winter, but I couldn’t find one. I did, however, find what might be the end of that episode.  You can watch the citizens of Cicely welcoming the first snowfall of the year here, and know that when the snow flies where you live, or the temperature drops, you’ve got a homemade English muffin recipe techmique at the ready. And I’ll wager, though it IS bread, it’s tastier and more healthy than anything you can buy in a package (or order at The Brick).

Bon Hiver. Well, almost.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

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DSC03277

When I was too small to remember it happening, a Chinese American family moved in across the street from our tract home in Sacramento, California. Apparently, at the time, they were the only non-white people on the relatively new block. One set of their white next door neighbors were not very happy about this, and went so far as to walk the neighborhood asking neighbors to sign a petition demanding they move. The thing I love most about being told this story later on was the part about how my parents handled it. Not only did they refuse to sign it, but they immediately went over to meet them and extend their friendship.

By the time I was old enough to hear that story, our families had already shared years of kids playing together, Moms having coffee in the kitchen and Dads visiting on the curb during a break in yard work. My younger sister and their two youngest kids pried open their bedroom screens for early morning visits and cut their hair together while hiding in my parents master bedroom shower stall. Once they ate half a bottle of aspirin and Velma, their mother, and Jeanne, my  mother, fed them ipecac by the spoonful until they puked it up. Both Moms referred to “putting their faces on” before driving us to school and they cried together at my Mom’s kitchen booth the first time Kathy and I went off to Girl Scout Camp together.

Both our households were “second generation” ones–meaning our grandparents had come from what used to be called “the old country.” It made sense to me that Kathy’s grandmother spoke Chinese when she called on the phone, since my own Canadian French Grandmother resorted to French when she didn’t want us kids to know what she was saying. My Dad was fluent in Italian, which was spoken at home when he was growing up. He didn’t really learn Englsih until he went to kindergarten back in Utica, New York.

These old country connections made for a very interesting mix of traditional food with standard American fare. We all learned things from one another. As a good friend to their oldest daughter, I was often invited for dinner. I would watch with fascination as Kathy meticulously washed rice for dinner after school.  We’d have Chinese food with chopsticks, along with big plastic tumblers of good old American milk we had to finish before leaving the table. At my house, if we wanted, we could have the tiniest bit of wine in our lemonade with dinner.I tried candied ginger for the first time at their house. And sour plums. And kumquats. At our house it was pomegranates and figs.

The adults would share things too. Italian cookies and lasagna or braggiole made their way across the street. And Velma brought her traditional congee, which she called something that was pronounced somewhere between “yoke” and “joke” for my father when he was recovering from the flu. The story that everyone laughed about as much as they later laughed about the mix of shorn  blond and black hair in the shower stall went something like this. My Dad was famous for putting parmesan or romano cheese on everything he ate. To him, it made everything taste better. Presented with this authentic Chinese specialty, which he smelled and said looked great, he promptly sprinkled it with parmesan even before tasting it, amidst  loud exclamatory protest from me and my Mom, and then pronounced it delicious. He never lived it down.

I hadn’t thought about this funny and wonderful mixture of food traditions for decades. But when  I learned about this Burmese style tofu on McDougall Friends and experimented with these recipes, it all came flooding back.  Turns out there are lots of recipes and even two non-soy foods you can make Burmese style tofu from: chickpea flour or yellow lentils. It’s not quite like Chinese or Japanese soy tofu, and not quite like polenta. But it’s kind of like both. Asian and Italian. Which made me think of my childhood, and then Marco Polo, and how the legend goes he brought noodles back to Italy from China. And how carrying our traditional food across the street to one another while I was growing up is just part of a long chain of creative food fusion I am still having fun with.

The least time consuming way to make Burmese style tofu is with chickpea flour. There are lots of recipes out there. Most of them make way more than I would want or need, and some of them seemed rather fussy. But this one from Delicious Everyday  has the goldilocks charm of being “just right.” It makes a realtively small amount (which is more than enough for a few meals) and the directions are straightforward, uncomplicated and clear to follow. If you’d like to try your hand at it, be sure to go on over and follow the directions there. That’s what I do. The second way to make Burmese Style tofu, called Shan Tofu, takes a little bit longer because it’s made with yellow lentils that have to be soaked first, but it doesn’t require much extra attention. I read a recipe for how to make it here, on Wellbody Blog. Delicious Everyday’s recipe technique made so much sense to me, though, that I decided I would merge and tweak directions from the two sites to make my own version of yellow lentil tofu. I’ll share that with you here. This is a suitable version for those avoiding flour.

So what do you do with this stuff? A quick recipe search will reveal that it makes a great eggless salad. I am here to testify that is absolutely true. Either kind will work. The chickpea flour version is a little lighter. Here is a quick eggless salad I threw together with it. I didn’t have vegan mayo so I used homemade hummus and mustard and chopped radishes and green onions and parsley with spices like tumeric and my “As You Wish” spice blend and, of course, garlic.

chickpea tofu eggless salad

eggless salad made with chickpea tofu

Another thing you can do with Burmese style tofu is cut it into cubes and add it to stir fry like you would  soy tofu.  Here is a stir fry with black rice and broccoli I added some to, after tossing it in a mixture of lemon juice and a dab of chickpea miso (as shown in the photo at the top of this post).

Stir fry with Burmese Style Tofu made with Yellow Lentils, broccoli, black rice, green onion and a little cooked pumpkin

Stir fry with Burmese Style Tofu made with Yellow Lentils, broccoli, black rice, green onion and a little cooked pumpkin

The question remains whether this tofu can be marinated and baked in slabs like soy tofu? I’m not sure yet. I did try pan searing it in Anytime Sauce, but the sauce burned to the pan before I felt like the tofu was really browned. See bad photo below.

Pan Seared Burmese Style Chickpea Tofu

I’m wondering if I slathered it in Chipotle Barbecue Sauce  if I could broil it like one might broil polenta. There’s still lots of options to explore.

In the meantime, turns out it makes a great eggless scramble. I did nearly the same thing to the Yellow Lentil Tofu as I did with the Chickpea Tofu when I made eggless salad. The leftovers of that salad got added to the pan after the veggies were cooked. It was pretty darn good.  I used bits and pieces of veggies that needed to be used up, like part of a red pepper, part of a zucchini, and little broccoli and even some brown rice. Here’s a picture of my “scramble” before I dug into it.

Burmese Style Yellow Lentil Tofu and veggie scramble

Meals with this new-to-me kind of tofu are still a work of fusion-in-progress in my kitchen. If you decide to try this, let me know what you come up with in yours. Here’s to mix-and-matching traditions!

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

 

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