Beet + Seed Loaf Cake

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I had an instance last weekend that after some consideration, seemed like a metaphor for life right now. I had been planning a creative cake project for William’s birthday and in retrospect I planned the more creative aspects of it, but not so much the logistics of size and weight, how many layers can actually stack before it’s too much. That sort of thing.

After a few hours of baking, as assembly got underway, the cake began breaking apart before me, each layer collapsing in to the next as their weight was too much. In panic, I *tossed* the whole thing in the freezer, hoping it would chill quickly enough to stop the destruction.

 

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And then like the cake, I completely melted down. William who really didn’t care whether he had cake or not, tried to reassure me, but the damn cake falling apart was in that moment an abject failure on my part after toiling away for hours and planning and looking forward to it for weeks.

So I took a break, made some tea and ate a snack because sometimes a blood sugar boost and tea actually is the best remedy before going on.

A little more resolve in my system, and I found a way to salvage two of the four layers, effectively putting the cake back in adequate proportion territory, and still plenty enough for a birthday.

 

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For the artistic frosting finale, I realized the downsizing really put a hamper on how the color scheme / paint-like effect of the frosting was going to end up and at the end, William laughed at the looks of my finished result, although ‘it doesn’t look bad, really‘ were the words that came from him, and ‘just different than what you were going for.’

 

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Different than what I was going for are probably words that describe most things for me. There’s that river again, which I cannot push. Trust and go with the flow. Again.

And maybe believe in yourself and know that you / I / we can make good come from every challenge.

 

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Back to the birthday cake and it turned out tasting, if not looking, perfect. Almond poppy seed layers from this base recipe, cream cheese frosting, and a few splashes of color from mostly natural food dyes, which was part of the project.

What all that has to do with today’s recipe, I’m not entirely sure. Other than we like poppy seeds in this house. And raisins. And cake, in various forms. Occasionally.

Fittingly though, I first made this beet + seed loaf cake, a major spin-off from Nigel Slater’s popular original, for a Mad Hatter Tea Party at work last spring. The party was for our volunteers and since most of them are retired master gardeners who also love earthy flavors and garden-inspired things, the cake was quickly gobbled up with approval. The tweaks I gave the original involve substantially less sugar and some more wholesome flours and it’s safe to say this is more of a breakfast or snack loaf, rather than a sugar rush in a slice.

 

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Beet + Seed Loaf Cake, makes 1 9×5 or 8×4-inch loaf
The flours can be changed here, depending on what’s on hand. Instead of chickpea, sorghum or millet are great substitutes. I used ground flax seeds here instead of eggs, but an earlier version of this made with 2 eggs instead also resulted well. 

2 Tbs. ground flax seeds
6 Tbs. water

100 grams / 1 cup chickpea flour
70 grams  / a scant 1/2 cup brown rice flour
25 grams / ¼ cup arrowroot flour
½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

¼ cup coconut oil
½ cup applesauce
70 grams / 3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
150-170g / 5-6 oz. raw beet, shredded coarsely
juice of half a lemon
½ cup raisins
½ cup mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)
4 tsp. poppy seeds, divided

  • Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Line a loaf pan with baking parchment. A 9×5 will yield a larger, more compact loaf, and a slightly smaller pan will yield slices that are taller.
  • In a small bowl, combine the flax and water and then set aside for a few minutes.
  • Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix the vanilla, coconut oil, applesauce, and brown rice syrup. Stir in the flax meal.
  • Grate the beetroot coarsely and fold into the mixture, then add the lemon juice, raisins, mixed seeds, and 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds. Then stir in the flour mixture.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake pan, smooth the top, and then sprinkle over the remaining 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds. Bake for 50-55 minutes and test with a toothpick to see if done. The cake should be moist inside but not sticky.
  • Leave the loaf to cool for a good 20 minutes before turning out of its pan on to a  cooling rack.

Sourdough Pizza! {gluten + dairy-free}

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Every summer I have a meal that’s on repeat, usually as a way to use what’s coming in fast from the garden or otherwise to appease my cravings. Last summer that was kitchari and a green soup/sourdough pairing, the summer before that was zucchini noodles and pesto, and this summer it is this sourdough pizza with roasted vegetables. I’ve been making this pizza on the weekly for months and am not about to grow tired of it.

 

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If you’ve ever tried gluten-free pizza out on the town, you’ll likely know the experience is regularly disappointing and the ingredient list is fairly terrible. I’ve almost entirely given it up, especially too since there are very few establishments where cross-contamination is not a huge issue. (I once worked in a bakery. When working with flours, gluten is everywhere.) What I like about this recipe is that it’s super easy, takes only minimal planning ahead, is truly bready and delicious, allows me to feed my sourdough starter regularly without making way more bread than I can eat or throwing it out, and the sourdough fermentation allows for better mineral and vitamin absorption from the flours, leading to overall happier digestion and long-term health.

Prior to a few years ago, pizza was my long-time favorite food, and still is William’s, and this crust satisfies his discerning pizza palate enough that it actually qualifies as pizza, whereas most gluten and dairy free versions do not. Our favorite way to top this lately, in addition to the roasted vegetables and our house red sauce, is to slide a fried egg on top, but I deviated here and listed my topping ideas and recipes below.

 

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Sourdough Pizza Crust {gf + vegan}, makes 1 medium pizza, enough for about 3 people
This is adapted from King Arthur Flour’s sourdough recipe, which uses wheat flour. If you’re not gluten-free, the recipe should still work in the same quantities by swapping out the flour types. 

120g sourdough starter (50:50 buckwheat flour:water)
100 g hot tap water
150 g all-purpose gluten free flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ tsp. yeast

  • If any liquid has collected on top of your refrigerated starter, stir it back in. Spoon 120 grams starter into a mixing bowl. Note: Then feed the remainder of your starter.
  • Add the hot water, flour, salt, and yeast. Mix to combine. It will at first be fairly wet. Cover the bowl and allow to rise until it’s just about doubled in size. This will take about 2 to 4 hours. The time it takes to rise depends on when you last fed the starter; a starter that’s been fed rather recently will react to the addition of flour and water more quickly than one that’s been neglected for a while. For a faster rise, place the dough somewhere warm (or increase the yeast). To slow it down, put it somewhere cool.
  • When the dough is risen, but still fairly wet, pour it out onto a pizza stone or pan and shape it into a flattened disk. Sprinkle the dough with a small amount of flour and then with a rolling pin that also has been lightly floured, gently roll the dough towards the edge of the pan; when it starts to shrink back, let it rest again, for about 15 minutes. Finish pressing the dough to the edges of the pan. Cover the pan, and let the dough rise until it’s as thick as you like, or, if you’re impatient, beginning topping as it is.
  • Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Turn the edges of the dough over to give it a traditional crust, or if you forget as I did above, it will still turn out just great.
  • Top with your preferred sauce and toppings, and bake for 15-16 minutes, or until the toppings are as done as you like, and the bottom is cooked through.

My current favorite toppings:
Our house pizza/tomato sauce
Sophie’s Cashew Mozzarella
Tempeh Sausage
Seasonal Roasted Vegetables
A fried egg for each serving

Whole Grain Gluten-Free Sourdough Bread

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This summer, myself and a group of fellow nutrition students and alums are reading Deep Nutrition for a book club we’ve started. The theme of the book is about the benefits of traditional diets, somewhat in the Weston Price tradition, for optimal health. I cannot yet comment on what I think of the book as I haven’t read enough to have a strong opinion, but the idea of eating more in the traditional style with its emphasis on whole foods as close to the source and as untouched as possible from chemicals and the like has been a major theme in my nutritional courses over the past two years. It is also a viewpoint I adopted years ago when figuring out how to truly recover from the diet culture I was immersed in and which was contributing to my eating disorder behaviors around foods. In my classes, we’ve also delved a lot into the need for promoting gut health, since a healthy, happily functioning gut can be thought of as the foundation to health in the body and mind far beyond our digestive region. This also happens to be a topic that is near and dear to me because it’s one of my main health struggles.

As I’ve mentioned before, The three major nutritional practices that promote gut health are eating more fiber, eating more fermented foods, and reducing sugar and refined carbohydrate intake.

 

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Last summer, after a particularly rocky winter and an autoimmune lab marker coming back positive, I began a very focused fine-tuning of my diet and lifestyle, in relation to improving gut health and my reaction to stress, since both strongly contribute to autoimmune conditions. As part of that process, I began a return to making sourdough.

Sourdough, as the name suggests, is a traditional fermentation process where wild yeasts ferment the flours, making them easier to digest because the yeasts create lactic acid, and which then break down anti-nutrients that plants make to protect themselves, such as phytates and lectins. These anti-nutrients block mineral absorption and the resulting sourdough can contain a lot more readily absorbable nutrients than the original unfermented flours or grains. Additionally, the process of fermentation more generally makes all the proteins in the bread easier to digest, and it is the protein that is usually causing an inflammatory reaction for those with GI issues like intestinal permeability, malabsorption, celiac disease, and other autoimmune conditions. Due to our hectic lifestyles and often very non-whole-foods diets, many, many of us have at least some of these symptoms and/or diagnoses that could be improved by adding more fermented foods, in addition to the other two gut health promoting practices of eating more fiber and reducing sugar and refined carbohydrates.

 

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For someone that is very sensitive to gluten like me, there’s also good news from eating gluten-free sourdough, as there are research indications that the fermentation process involved in making traditionally fermented gluten-free bread reduces the release of inflammatory compounds within the gut for someone who has recently adopted a gluten-free diet due to a celiac diagnosis, whereas consuming other types of gluten-free bread did not reduce these inflammatory responses1.

 

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Maybe it’s the tea-drinking, sweater-garbed, sourdough-baking wise grandmother in me, but I can’t help but think, of course, to that news. It simply seems that our systems recognize and respond better to the more traditionally made foods like sourdough. Whenever I have a GI flare-up these days, I definitely try to put extra focus on avoiding those refined gluten-free products and even whole grains that weren’t cooked really well, and emphasize sourdough for my grain consumption. I’m finding this helps me return to balance more quickly. For someone that doesn’t react so strongly to gluten, consuming sourdough instead of regularly-baked bread still contributes all the positive benefits I mentioned above about keeping the gut happy and increasing nutrient absorption.

So now, after more than a year of refining my gluten-free sourdough method, I have a recipe I feel good about sharing!

 

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Whole Grain Gluten Free Sourdough Bread, makes 1 sandwich/toast loaf
– Adapted from Baking MagiqueWholehearted Eats, and with tips from Bad Hunter Stories.
– I have a 100% buckwheat starter that I began using this formula. I did not add any outside culture, but simply created it from the wild yeasts in my home. This meant it took a little longer for the starter to get good and active initially.
– For the buckwheat and oats, I often start with whole grains which I grind in my coffee/spice grinder each time I bake and feed the starter.
– I only make this using a kitchen scale rather than measuring cups, and I’ve found I can interchange the flours, by weight, using this method.
– Using slightly different flours along with the the outside weather will result in needing to change the amount of water. Err on the side of having a fairly moist dough that still comes together. 

80 g brown rice flour
140 g cold buckwheat sourdough starter
110 g water
————–
350 g water at room temperature + more as necessary to reach the desired consistency
20 g psyllium husk
10 g ground flax seeds
————–
60 g of each
– sorghum flour
– oat flour
– buckwheat flour
– millet flour
– teff flour
24 g / 2 Tbs. sugar or honey
1 tsp. sea salt

  • In the evening: Mix brown rice flour, sourdough starter and water in a bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let sit overnight (about 8-12 hours) in a warm and non-drafty place.
  • In the morning: Mix water, psyllium husk and ground flaxseeds in a bowl and whisk until a thick gel forms. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl mix all of the dry ingredients.
  • Add the sourdough starter that you made the night before to the wet ingredients and mix.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is fully incorporated. Add a small amount of filtered water, if needed, to arrive at a moist ball of dough.
  • Line a loaf pan with parchment and dump the dough into the pan, smoothing it out into a loaf shape and leveling it into all the corners. Cover with the clean kitchen towel or plastic bag and put in a warm place away from drafts. Allow to rise for 4-6 hours. This will depend on your kitchen warmth. Mine tends to stay cool so I err on the side of 6 to even 6 1/2 hours usually.
  • Preheat the oven to 500°F/260°C. Once the oven’s hot, remove the towel or bag from the loaf, and score the top with one or two good slashes with a sharp knife.
  • Put the loaf in the oven and turn the temperature down to 450°F/230°C. Bake for 50 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches a little over 200°F/90°C.
  • Let the loaf cool on a wire rack for at least an hour, before slicing.

 

1. Calasso, M., Vincentini, O., Valitutti, F., Felli, C., Gobbetti, M., and Di Cagno, R. (2012). The sourdough fermentation may enhance the recovery from intestinal inflammation of coeliac patients at the early stage of the gluten-free diet. European Journal of Nutrition,51(4). 507-12. doi: 10.1007/s00394-012-0303-y.