Harvesting and Using Carob

carob powder

Although it isn’t quite carob season yet, I’m already gearing up for it, especially now that I have a nice new food processor which is going to make turning the pods into powder a breeze! Those dark brown pods are just loaded with nutrients, they are naturally sweet, which means that when using them in baking you can use less added sugar, and best of all, they can be picked for free!

Read more about harvesting and using carob in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Carob trees grow all over Israel (and in similar climates), and the dark brown pods can be picked in the summer. They keep extremely well, so you can pick a big bunch and then process it at your convenience. Make sure the pods you pick are ripe. They are supposed to look and feel dry and to come off easily from the tree. Choose the biggest, shiniest, healthiest-looking pods.”

Image above: carob powder in the process of making.

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The rewards of making bread

bread

Above: a fresh, hot out of the oven, deliciously smelling loaf of bread with onions, caraway seeds and poppy. It was made, in concession to my family’s preferences, with instant yeast and half whole wheat, half white flour. 

Bread is one of the most rewarding and cost-effective things you can make in your own kitchen – anything you bake yourself will save you money, too, vs. any store-bought bread of comparative quality. Far from being time-consuming, it simply requires some planning ahead. Here is the total time it takes to produce a beautiful loaf like the one I made yesterday afternoon:

  1. Mix dough – 15 minutes, more or less, including kneading.
  2. Wait for dough to rise: this varies according to weather, flour used, and yeast (instant or sourdough starter). Can be anything between 1 and 24 hours, but during this time you don’t need to babysit your bread – you just put the dough in a warm place to rise and go on doing other things.
  3. Punch dough down after it has risen – 1-2 minutes.
  4. Wait for dough to rise again: the second rise is usually shorter.
  5. Roll out/shape into loaf (or loaves): 5-10 minutes.
  6. Bake: 20-40 minutes, depending on size of loaves and heat of oven.
  7. Clean up: 10 minutes max.

Total work time: 30-40 minutes. This really isn’t so much at all, when taking into account the deliciousness of the bread and the fact that I know exactly what I put in it (olive oil, organic maple syrup and home-grown eggs, vs. cheap commercial oil, white sugar and I don’t know what else).

So roll up those sleeves, take out your rolling-pin and get to mixing, kneading and baking. You can read more of my posts about bread-baking here, here and here.

My first sourdough loaf

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I have wanted to try making sourdough bread for a long time, and last week I’ve finally taken the plunge. I used simple instructions for sourdough starter that called for nothing but flour and water, and was a little skeptical at first, leaping with joy when I saw the first foamy bubbles – hurray! It’s working! I’ve captured myself some real wild yeast.

By day five, my starter acquired a prominent yeasty smell and I decided it’s time to dive into baking. I used whole rye flour, opting for sticky dough that is stirred rather than kneaded. After proofing the bread for about 8 hours in a warm kitchen, I eased it into English cake tins and let it stand a couple hours more before popping it into the oven.

Unfortunately, I left rather too much room for rising, forgetting that rye bread, especially sourdough bread, does not rise that much. As a result I got flat and, let’s face it, sorry-looking loaves, but the taste was very satisfying – full, complex, a little sour, with a very pleasant chewy texture. It was delicious warm, covered with melting butter, and was definitely worth the effort and waiting.

I saved a bit of the dough for next time’s starter and froze it, because bread-making happens somewhat sporadically around here. I hope next time I get a loaf that is good-looking as well as great-tasting.

A friend of mine, who makes delicious sourdough bread in the way of a little kitchen business, tells me that her secret to great-tasting bread is in the flour: she buys whole rye and spelt in bulk, soaks and sprouts the grains, then oven-dries the grains and only then grounds them into flour which she uses for bread-making. For practical reasons (my oven is tiny) I can’t do the same, but I still think I did pretty well for a first-timer. I’m excited about this venture into the world of traditional slow-rising breads.

Sourdough Simplicity: book review

low-res-sourdough

For a while now I’ve been meaning to review a very useful little book by my friend Rose Godfrey, Sourdough Simplicity. It’s really a very handy, practical instruction manual for those just striking out in the world of sourdough starter. Personally I’ve been wanting to try sourdough for a while, and was only stopped by my husband’s “eek!” factor. Now I’m more inspired than ever to give it a shot.

I’ll be honest: despite Rose’s just warnings about whole-grain sourdough bread coming out dense, if I do make the effort at sourdough, it will only be with whole grain flour (either wheat, rye or spelt). I just don’t see much point in making a starter, keeping it going, investing in a long rise process, making the gamble of an unpredictable product, and all this to get what essentially is still white bread from refined, nutrient-stripped flour (though undoubtedly superior in taste to the usual quick-rise bread).

Yes, traditionally fermented bread is in many cases better tolerated by those with grain allergies, as opposed to quick-rise bread made with baker’s yeast. But still, from a nutritional standpoint, it isn’t much. It might not give you an allergic reaction, but it won’t give you much of anything else, either.

Either way, Sourdough Simplicity is a great way to get going in that confusing new world of sourdough starter. It also provides many great recipes, creative ways of utilizing leftovers, and troubleshooting tips.

“I needed a method that was pure simplicity and a recipe that tasted great. In the end, I found that sourdough baking did not have to be complicated, and it could fit all my objectives. I started with a wonky oven that had 4 distinct heat zones and still managed to bake delicious breads. My loaves are not always Pinterest-perfect, but they are tasty, nutritious, and easy to make. There is always some minor variation from loaf to loaf, and we are OK with that.”

Making carob powder

The pods of the carob tree are rich in minerals and vitamins, and can be utilized to make tasty, naturally sweet powder that is often used as a cocoa/chocolate substitute. Now, I personally can always tell the difference between carob and chocolate, but I still like the taste very much and think it’s great in brownies and other baked goods. As a bonus, unlike cocoa, carob is naturally sweet, so when using it I can cut back on added sugar.

Carob trees grow all over Israel (and in other similar climates) and the dark brown pods can be picked in the summer, for free, if you know where to look. They make a tasty, chewy snack right off the tree – only beware of the little hard seeds. They also keep extremely well, so you can pick a big bunch and then process it in parts at your convenience.

Make sure the pods you pick are ripe. They are supposed to look and feel dry and to come off easily from the tree. To make sure, break one in half and taste it. Pick the biggest, shiniest, healthiest-looking pods.

Wash the pods and boil them for around 30 minutes to soften them. This way they will be easier to de-seed. Cut them lengthwise with a sharp knife, remove the seeds, break into pieces and place on a cookie sheet. Dry in the oven on low heat – really low, as you don’t want to burn them (it will give the powder a bitter tinge), or in the sun. The pod pieces should be really crisp.

roasted carob

Throw your dried carob pieces into the food processor. Once you have mostly powder, sift to remove any chunks that are left, then return them into the food processor and repeat. I know my end product isn’t really like commercial carob powder – I could have used a finer sieve, but I didn’t bother. I know it will be quite good enough in my brownies.

powdered carob

Once the powder is ready, it can be stored in a tightly closed glass jar for a long time.

The business of bread

Carmen writes, in the context of making sourdough bread:

I was wondering, if you would have the time to write a post about the differences between different types of flour. You have hinted before that some are more nutritious than others, and I tried to do a google search, but there were too many unknown terms, and I didn’t have the time to properly digest the information.

The grains most commonly used in the Western world are wheat as a strongly dominating first, rye, and barley. In recent years spelt, an ancient grain of the wheat family is making a comeback as well, and spelt flour and bread are available in many stores.

All of the aforementioned grains contain gluten, though in slightly different forms. A word about gluten: this famous protein is what gives bread its shape, elasticity and lift. The higher the gluten content, the better the bread will come out. You can make bread from gluten-free grains such as corn, teff, quinoa or buckwheat, but it won’t be bread in the form of the high, shapely, crusty loaf most of us crave.how_to_make_sourdough_08213_16x9

Image source: BBC

People with Celiac disease should avoid gluten entirely, in all shapes and quantities. People with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, however, often find that they tolerate certain grains better than others, in particular spelt better than the commercial varieties of wheat, especially if the bread is made through long-rise fermentation process (as in sourdough).

Mankind has cultivated wheat for thousands of years, but the wheat that had been consumed throughout most of human history is not the same wheat in use today. In the 1960’s, commercial farmers switched to growing a new, modern hybrid of dwarf wheat. It provides easier processing and higher yields, but is also less nutritious (containing, in particular, less of certain minerals than traditional wheat) and, some studies claim, more allergenic. Evidence is a bit murky here, and it’s unclear how much the rise in sensitivity to wheat is due to the new genetic makeup, and how much to modern processing methods.

While I was studying for my degree in nutrition, we were told that people should consume whole grains because the bran contain nutrients and fiber that are cast away in the process of making white flour. No one talked about the different varieties of wheat, however, nor of how grain fermentation partially breaks down the gluten and makes the nutrients in whole grains more easily absorbed. In particular, fermentation activates the enzyme phytase, which breaks down the phytic acid binding minerals such as calcium and magnesium in the hull of the grain.

It might not be scientifically proved, but many people who can’t tolerate commercial wheat bread respond a lot better to long-fermented breads made from traditional grains. Of course, this only goes for people who do not have Celiac disease – if you do, avoid any gluten-containing products altogether. 

The type of bread I generally recommend is made from whole rye, barley or spelt (or a combination of these), using a long-rise fermentation process. You can obtain such bread in many artisan bakeries or make it in your own kitchen. The results might not be as reliable as when using baker’s yeast, but the nutritional and culinary benefits are well worth it.

I think spelt flour is the best option for people with conservative taste, because of its resemblance to wheat. Personally I love rye bread, but some people (my family, for instance) find it too dark, dense and dominant-tasting.

If you are new to baking with whole grains, it should be noted that bread from whole grain flour will always rise slightly less well, and be a little more dense, than bread made from white flour. The reason for this is, again, the gluten content. Because whole grain flour includes the bran and germ – parts of the grain which do not contain gluten – the amount of gluten in whole grain flour, per cup, is lower than in white flour. This is sometimes off-putting for people who are used to commercial spongy white bread, but I think it’s a matter of habit and mindset: just because the food industry has gotten us used to soft, sweet bread, it doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be.

Once you get the taste for real bread, there’s no looking back. Personally, one of my favorite light meals – as breakfast, lunch or dinner – is a slice of artisan sourdough bread with some farm cheese and a ripe tomato. Yum!