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Radha is one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver. The chefs at Radha push the boundaries of vegan baking, offer raw food options, and get the most out of seasonally available local foods.

On Sunday mornings, Radha offers cooking classes on a wide variety of topics – upcoming classes include “Seasonal Soups”, “Lentils and Beans”, and “Hors d’Oeuvres & Canapés”. A few weeks ago Emily and I attended a course on “Alternative Baking” instructed by Andrea Potter, which focused on baking without using the normal ingredients – sugar, white flour, eggs, and milk.

It is probably worth noting that the cooking classes offered at Radha are more instructional then hands-on. Most of time was spent discussion ingredients and watching Adrea bake. The only interactive parts were eating (they feed you lunch plus we got to try all of the deserts that were made during the course), and decorating cupcakes.

At the beginning of our class, Andrea asked us each to talk about why were there and what we were hoping to learn. Most of the attendees were interested in gluten-free baking because they either had wheat sensitivities, were celiac, or often baked for someone who couldn’t eat gluten. It really seems that gluten-free baking has taken off in the last few years (people are even raising their kids wheat-free), but people are still trying to figure out how to do it successfully.

Most of the discussions in the class were focused on figuring out how to substitute alternatives into traditional recipes and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. For gluten-free flour the trick is finding a combination of flours that provide the same stretchiness and water absorption as wheat flour. Rice flour was one of the first flours used as a substitute, but it is crumbly and almost nutrition-less.

Most people are now using mixes of several flours (Bob’s Red Mill has worked well for me) and there are lots of recipes to make your own mixes. We have a cupboard full of gluten-free flours, so I like to make my own mixes but always seem to be short one ingredient. I have found that I can usually substitute flours into a blend as long as I don’t mess with the starches. As a helpful guide, I found a forum post that listed the 4 purposes of flours in most blends.

  1. Bodifiers: teff, sorghum, rice, bean flours, brown rice, quinoa,millet, amaranth, and cornmeal are a few options. These provide bulk and protein as well as the vitamins, if any.
  2. Modifiers– Tapioca starch, cornstarch, potato starch, arrowroot powder. These provide lightness and smoothness to the mix.
  3. Moisterizers– potato starch (this is a duel status item and should be counted in the ratio as a modifier, but if you use too much it will over moisterize the mix), potato flour. These counterbalance the drying tendencies of modifiers.
  4. Extenders– guar gum, xanthan gum, pectin, (to a degree) fruit acids,and, to a degree, flaxseed. These substitute for gluten and add extra body and stretch to the flour mix, as well as extend the shelf life of your baked goods.

There is also a good summary of gluten-free flours here.

In addition to gluten-free baking, the source also talked about substituting for:

  • Milk – easy with soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, etc.
  • Eggs – depends on the purpose (moisture or stickiness) – some substitutes are bananas and flax ‘eggs’, but nothing works perfectly
  • Sugar – lots of choices – honey, maple syrup, and one I’d never heard of, coconut sugar

Overall, it was a really interesting course and really got me thinking about how I substitute ingredients into recipes, knowing what the purpose of the original ingredient is and how the substitute might change the taste or texture of the baked good.