The End… It’s been fun…

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It's the end…. Or is it??

Well, it's about that time isn't it?  End of the season, wrapping up the harvest… It'll be hard saying goodbye to the summer, but so be it.  (This fall is looking to be SOooo much better anyhow!) It has been a phenomenal experience at the Red Wing Farmer's Market this summer…and we're looking forward to many, many more!

Getting to know each and every one of our customers, their stories and experiences, has opened our eyes to how much the issue of Gluten Sensitivity effects everyone.  Our favorite experience from the summer has been when a young lady, possibly in her early teens, grilled us on our products and whether we were truly gluten FREE.  And she knew her stuff – what flours are used and why, whether the breads were casein free, how long did our breads stay soft, why do we use fine grained starches rather than heavier fillers, how do they taste (thankfully we had taste testers that day!**)… After a long discussion, and a tasting, we handed her a couple of the loaves…  the look on her face gave us goose bumps – THAT is the reason we make products like we have.

Quit, while the quittin's good…?

No! We are still going, and look forward to getting even better still! We have received some of the most helpful critiques and advice from our customers – and we're especially glad to hear the constructive critiques – though we're never adverse to glowing reviews either.  We have improved our products over the summer due to your feedback, we now have:

  • More casein free products
  • Breads that handle freezing better
  • A wider variety of cookies
  • Grissinni (breadsticks) that DON'T need to be soaked…
  • A better Cardamom bread (we still owe a volunteer taste tester out there 3 loaves!!!)
  • An Online Store launching the end of October!
  • We're even working with other vendor's to help them create Gluten-free products! Check out the Sisters Nørske Lefse at The Market!!

With so much done, and so much to do – it's kind of nice to know we've reached the end of the season!  Whew!

Where do we go from here?

Since the need for quality Gluten-free products isn't going away anytime soon, and since we really enjoy baking gluten free food, we'll just have to keep going!

Actually, we are FIRED UP about the coming holidays.  It is a chance to show all of our friends, relatives, customers – even the ‘new guy' who walks past the booth – how WONDERFUL gluten free foods can be!  We are talkin': Petit Fours,  Decadent Cupcakes, Stuffing, Puff Pastries, Braided Danishes, Krumkake, Rosettes… It's an ambitious list, but it's also just the beginning. Let us know if there's something you'd like to see by submitting a request!

We also have some other plans, ‘gi-normous' our kids call them, that involve getting a local gluten free bakery up and running. We would love to receive feedback from you regarding sales of our gluten-free products at stores that you frequent.  Let us know where it would be easier for you to get our gluten-free products;  Econo Foods? Buchanans? Cub Foods? We would also love to hear from you if you think we're just plain crazy…

Finally, as a thank you to all of our customers and visitors, we'd like to offer this coupon to help you (and us) make the transition to the new Winter Farmers Market location!

End-of-Summer-2010-Coupon-640x365

Does gluten free HAVE to be so expensive?

“They're gouging us just because we have to eat a ‘special' diet! There is NO WAY this stuff can cost so much!  I am going somewhere else to get my gluten free foods!”

How many times have we thought this about -anything-?  Many times it is probably an accurate statement.  Products manufactured in China (or any foreign country) USED to be cheaper (WAY cheaper) than manufacturing them here, and an astute company could re-double it's profits by moving overseas and continuing to sell here.  This is rapidly changing for a plethora of reasons…and is not (directly) the subject of this post.

One of the most often (over)heard comments at the Farmer's Market is something like “Those look really delicious, I have never seen this product available as gluten free…but those prices! Ouch!”.  While it is difficult for many to see the prices beyond justifying them as ‘gouging', it is even more difficult for us to have to put prices like that on the products.

One of our driving goals is to make gluten free food more affordable so that all people can enjoy it as a healthy alternative to the less healthy glutinous foods they are accustomed to.  We are always looking for suggestions of new items to try each week, and we're also looking for a few people willing to write reviews and taste test products as we develop them! (sorry – blatant plug for participation… but we do have the BEST customers with some pretty awesome ideas.  Or maybe it's just that our customers minds are clearer as they aren't gummed up with all that gluten??)

::The Basics::

One might then think that aside from flour costs all other expenses involved would be identical, bread isn't rocket science right? Unfortunately gluten free bread can actually seem like rocket science when you dig into making a quality replacement for regular bread. And while basic flour cost is the most obvious issue involved in the cost of GF goods, it is only one of many.

A 25 pound bag of regular (wheat) bread flour will retail for about $7.00 including shipping.  This wheat flour already contains the proteins to make bread ‘stick together' so we'll need to remember to ADD the cost of binders for GF comparisons.

A good GF bread is made from combining at least three different certified GF grains, typically (and unfortunately) one or more rice flours, plus one or more of the finer grained starches like tapioca.  …so:

Retail prices for 25 pound bags of rice flours average around $24.00 and shipping is roughly $0.50 per pound…making a 25 pound bag of rice flour approximately $36.00 – or roughly FIVE TIMES as expensive as regular gluten flours.  This alone would make a rough guess for GF breads to be about $12.00 to $15.00 per loaf (local Glutinous breads, fresh made are $4.25 per loaf…which would be more than $20.00!! per loaf of gluten free)

::Rocket Science::

Then you get to the additional costs beyond the flours; Eggs, Xanthan\Guar Gums, Fats.  This is where the real science in making a Gluten Free bread comes into play*. For the purposes of this post here's what we are interested in:

Eggs
— roughly three to six times as many eggs may be used in gluten free breads as compared to regular.  Gluten free breads benefit from the added moisture and protein, as well as volumizing that eggs provide. This will increase costs roughly $0.40 PER additional egg and in some cases that can add more than $1.20 to the cost!

Binders
— Xanthan gum will run you between $0.03 and $0.06 per gram with roughly 6 – 10 grams per loaf of bread being somewhat “normal” (three quarters teaspoon per cup of flour).  Adding another $0.20 to $0.60 per loaf.

::Summary::

So, the average cost of additional eggs and binders adds a minimum of $1.00 to $1.50 per loaf of Gluten Free bread.  Estimating the flour cost (I still need to do actual ‘cups per pound' for each type of flour and then calculate ratios of each flour in a ‘basic' bread mix, but…) to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.00.
That puts a Loaf of Gluten Free bread right around $3.50 in costs.  If you figure it takes 2 hours to make a single loaf of bread that retails for roughly $8.00 you'll find that the per hour rate is about $2.25.
At a typical Farmers Market sales of 8 – 10 loaves of bread in a six hour shift brings the per hour rate for making and selling GF breads to about…$3.00 to $3.75 per hour, or about half of the minimum wage with no benefits.

The Answer…to the Ultimate Question…

Have you have ever tried to convert a recipe to “gluten free”? Then you have experienced the glory of true frustration and failure (usually repeated failures) and probably discovered several new ways to communicate with the inanimate object of your angst. “What the fluffy bunny?” is a favorite of ours — particularly when dealing with breads or pastries.

This difficult problem also points to the question that everyone eventually gets around to asking at the Farmer's Market:

The ultimate Question: “What flours do you use?”.

Seriously?? THAT is the ‘ultimate question'?? Well…yeah… It never seems to be “How do you…” or “Can you…”, it always boils down to that question – and it really IS the ultimate question in gluten free baking\cooking. Granted – there are a LOT of other questions we had (and still have) getting into the ‘gluten free' lifestyle. Unfortunately this is not a simple question to answer. The ultimate answer is apparent when we look at what makes gluten free different from gluten based. What is it about wheat baking that make things taste, or look, or smell ‘just so'? What challenges do we need to overcome to produce a true replacement and not just a looks like.

The challenge is that, when substituting for wheat flour, you have to deal with a lot more than just replacing gluten. This means we may need to ‘tweak' our flour replacement as we go to meet the demands of the recipe.

An Example:
Wheat flour brings a variety of different elements to a dish, try comparing “whole (red) wheat” and “(bleached) white flour”:

  • texture (coarse vs. velvety)
  • flavor (vibrant vs. mild)
  • appearance (rustic vs smooth)
  • handling (dense and firm vs. light and delicate)

These basic elements (and other less obvious ones) must all be represented in a final product for it to be a viable replacement in an gluten free diet. We know too many people who have simply given up on bread after years of trying the various commercial products because it only ‘looked like' bread…

  • Sure, that ‘rice loaf' LOOKS like bread – but try to wrap it around a bratwurst (or eat it without water…lots of water.
  • Absolutely, that ‘tortilla shell' LOOKS the same, but you'll need solvents to remove the sticky thing from your teeth when cooked, and um, don't let it cool down again before you wrap it – unless you enjoy glass-like shards?
  • Holy Cow that pastry tastes delicious, too bad it looks like a pile of ….(I'll post my ‘Failed Croissant Experiment” soon)

Typically one element – and often several – are given only token attention in commercial products, thus the stereotype for gluten free food: Tasteless, gritty cardboard\sawdust like substances. Thankfully that is changing rapidly!

SO – “What flours do we use?”

For a reliable “General Purpose” flour we try to balance the texture and structure of the “rice flours” with the lighter “starches” and add a bit of ‘wheat like flavor'. Often this results in various combinations of

  • White and Brown Rice
  • Sweet White Rice
  • Tapioca
  • Cornstarch
  • Potato Starch
  • and Sorghum,
  • plus some binding agents like Xanthan Gum and Guar Gum

However – as we've noted before…every recipe is a little bit different. Even though a general purpose flour mix will work in about 85% of the recipes on a nearly direct replacement, it will NOT work in certain situations.

No Kidding… tell me something NEW!

For us a lot of research goes into each variation of gluten free flour mix. For example:

A tortilla shell recipe CAN use our general purpose mix and it will taste ‘almost as good as' – but it's a bit “ricey” for our famliy so we tweak the recipe to use more starch (less sticky) and sorghum (flavor and color). By replacing almost half of the rice with these two items we have a tortilla shell that has both the texture, taste, and appearance of the ‘real deal' without falling apart – even our 5 year old eats them without noticing.

In making gluten free baklava or even crêpes we need to tweak even more. To get a truly flaky phyllo dough you can not use as much rice flour as in the general purpose mix. Rolled thin enough – to see the texture of the counter through the dough(!) – that much rice flour will dry out and become brittle too quickly. By switching to a greater proportion of starch and sorghum a more tender dough, that browns well and holds together can be obtained. …Granted there are still a few secrets about handling, layering, flouring, etc. involved to really get it to work right, but hey – check us out at the Farmer's Market or pics on Flickr!

Cool… but I was really looking for a list…

OK – but I really suck at lists…consider this a continual ‘work in progress' as I stuggle with getting what's in my head out into a usable format – cool? 🙂

Ingredient Dough Handling Appearance Taste Texture
White Rice Flour VolumizingFirming Fine GrainedLight Color Light tan when deep fried

Brown crusting when baked

Mild flavor Brittle\HardSticky

Sandy\Gritty

Sweet White Rice Flour(aka Glutinous Rice Flour) VolumizingAids in air entrapment

Dough softening

Delicately grainedLight Color

None to Light tan when deep fried

Brown crusting when baked

Mild Flavor Gooey if under cookedBrittle if over-cooked\used

Can easily add ‘mochi like’ stickiness

Brown Rice Flour VolumizingDough Firming Light Brown ColorLight tan when deep fried

Brown crusting when baked

Nutty Flavor Brittle\HardSticky

Sandy\Gritty

Potato Flour Dough ThickeningDough Softening Light tan when deep fried (think french fry)Light Brown crusting when baked Potato Flavor Mashed Potato textureFine, soft grain

Moist

Sweet Sorghum Flour Dough Firming Brown when deep fried and baked “Wheat” like flavor, slight nutty-ness SmoothSpringy
Garbonzo Bean Flour Structure enhancingDense Slight yellow\green colorDense Strong ‘bean’ flavor FirmSmooth

Slight ‘mashed potato’ like texture – medium grain

Moist

Tapioca Starch Thickens quickly at a lower temperature than other starches Delicately grainedWhite

Light Tan

Satiny smooth, glossy appearance alone, moist ‘glow’ in baked goods

Mildly starchy otherwise none Imparts a chewier texture similar to gluten in breads
Corn Starch Does not absorb liquid until cookedVolumizing

Thickens less in acidic environments

Does not freeze well

Delicately grainedWhite

Light Tan

Satiny smooth, glossy appearance alone, moist ‘glow’ in baked goods

Unpleasant ‘raw’ taste when uncooked (frostings)Essentially flavorless after cooking Very delicate and light textureExcellent in Angel Food Cakes

Starchy if undercooked

Arrowroot Thickens quickly at a lower temperature than other starches (similar to tapioca starch) Delicately grainedWhite

Light Tan

Satiny smooth, glossy appearance alone, moist ‘glow’ in baked goods

Least flavorful of starches Slimy in acidic or dairy based environments

Also, pay attention to your leavening agents!

Additional Resources:

Like any good recipe each one is unique we have found a general purpose flour mix that “works” for the quick, day to day cooking needs that keeps our palates happy and our eyes pleased – but for that experience of just like the ‘real thing' we still end up modifying as we go.

We would love to hear from you on what your experiences are,  and especially any questions you might need answers for to help you tweak your gluten free recipes to perfection!

A New Beginning…

LeanneAndDon

Welcome to our little corner of the world, we're working as hard as we can to have this – and an online store – ready for the NEW Farmer's Market in Red Wing starting on June 5th – please come see us there!

Our names are Donald & Leanne Overlander and we have been dealing with gluten related issues since January of 2008.  It is our hope that through sharing those Bottled up Emotions we worked through when we learned about our gluten intolerances we might help others realize that it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. We want to share the wonderful side of being gluten free with others and dispel the myth that gluten free is nothing but ‘tasteless cardboard’ with the ‘texture of sand’ — gluten free can be just as delectable as any other cuisine out there.  It can be glorious to be gluten free!

We have been married for 17 years – and are raising four fantastic children – we want you to know that living gluten free can be easy and enjoyable for the whole family! (Our kids have often told us they like some of the gluten free recipes better than the originals they used to eat!)  Having been interested in health related issues since college years – Leanne has a biology degree and Don also studied immunology at one time – we both took our love of cooking and applied it full force to this issue in our lives.

Several years ago, Leanne was self diagnosed with a gluten and MSG sensitivity.  This isn’t hard when others can actually feel your heart race – and then stop – and then race again when you eat MSG, nor when a lifetime of sinus infections, migraine headaches, and the like quit altogether when you stop eating gluten! Although she does not have any tests to confirm it, being gluten free for several years has improved her overall health in dramatic ways!   Unhappy with what we could find in the gluten free foods available in grocery stores, we began experimenting with making our favorite recipes gluten free.  We have had some really great recipes come from our experiments and some major flops as well.

From the routine breads to the difficult baklava(!) we have managed to overcome the majority of issues in cooking gluten free – and we would love to be challenged by you!  Send us your Bottled (up) Emotions on what you are going through dealing with Gluten Intolerance – throw down the gauntlet…send us a challenging recipe that you would love to see “work” without gluten.  We’re here to learn and to help!

If you would like to contact us directly please email us at admin @ be-gluten-free dot com

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