Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Xanthan Gum in Pancakes

The intended purpose of this blog, when not distracted by the crazy things I let the Maestro do, is to share the process I am going through to bake Gluten and Casein-free. I mentioned that the Maestro has auditory-defensiveness, but I didn't say that he has a number of sensory issues, all related under the term Sensory-Integration Dysfunction (DSI), which is associated with, but distinct from ASD. With the Maestro, it appears to be related to diet, and going Gluten- and Casein-free has really helped.

Baking Gluten-free, as anyone who has tried it knows, not a simple thing. Complicated flour mixes abound, as well as the issue to what to use to give your food the gluten stretch. The answer to the last one is solved fairly well by a substance called xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a complex carbohydrate isolated from bacterial cultures that forms a bi-molecular anti-parallel double helix. This gives your food some springiness, the same as gluten. I have collected a number of recipes that I like, that call for a specific amount of xanthan gum.
But what if you can’t find a recipe? I am trying to develop a pancake recipe based on Jowar flour, starting from the wheat flour recipe. One question I have long had, and haven’t found an answer to anywhere is how to decide how much xanthan gum to use. Sure, I’ve found guidelines, like 1 tsp/cup flour for breads, etc. but are pancakes a cake? If you want to adapt your recipe, you need to understand the effect that too much or too little xanthan gum will have both on the batter, and on the finished product.

Too little xanthan gum makes things crumbly. But how do you recognize too much? Carbohydrates have a lot of hydroxyl groups, which form hydrogen bonds to water. This results in carbohydrates being both hydroscopic, meaning they absorb water, and hygroscopic, meaning they pull water out of the air. This is why you are supposed to store xanthan gum in a closed container in a dry place. In your batter, part of the liquid you add will be absorbed by the xanthan gum. Proteins, like gluten, absorb some water, but to a much lesser extent than carbohydrates do. This is the reason that gluten-free recipes typically require more liquid than wheat-based recipes. If your batter is too thick, you might have too much xanthan gum, or you might need to add more water.

Whether you decide to water or reduce the xanthan gum depends on how the final product turns out. This morning, I added too much xanthan gum, and had to add a TONNE of water to get the consistency right. Because they had complex carbohydrate holding on to all this extra water, they never dried out in the middle, regardless of how long I cooked them. Riley described them as “eggy”. To me, they just never seemed done. Neither the Maestro nor Hildr would eat more than two bites. To get the final product to have a drier texture that is more cake-like, I need to reduce the bound water, by reducing the xanthan gum.

I’ll let you know when I get a winner Jowar pancake recipe.

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