Baking with Coconut Flour, part 3

Bread & Baked Goods,Dessert,Eggs

I started baking with coconut flour in the Spring. I like the flour’s nutritional value: it’s high in protein and fiber, low in net carbs, grain-free, and a source of immune enhancing fatty acids.  If you’ve baked with it, you know that you can’t use it cup for cup to replace other flours because it soaks up much more liquid. You have to use less of it. You have to increase the amount of liquid you use as well as the leavening and in some cases you may have to test a recipe several times to produce satisfying results. What you might not realize is that additional modifications may be in order.

Cups, grams, and confounding factors
If you’ve ever looked at cookbooks and recipes from the U.K. or Australia, you may have noticed that they call for ingredients in grams rather than cups. If you’re like me (40-something), you may have learned the metric system, as required, in seventh or eight grade, and then conveniently forgotten most of it because you weren’t expected to use it on a regular or daily basis. If you didn’t see the utility of it and of thinking in weight rather than measures and in grams rather than just ounces, in a moment you might.

How do you measure…up or down?
If you’ve done much baking (I hope) you know how much the way you measure matters.
Here’s how Erik Jacobsen describes the challenge of measuring accurately for baking:

“The problem is that measuring an ingredient by volume can result in a variety of different weights, i.e., different amounts of the ingredient, depending on how the measurement was made. In many recipes that use flour (cookies, for example), being off a little here or there doesn’t really matter, but in yeast bread baking, it does. Too much flour in relation to water will often result in a “brick” rather than a nice soft loaf. Too much water compared to the amount of flour often results in another brick: the gluten structure isn’t strong enough to support the loaf after it rises, and it collapses when the baking begins.”

The weight of it
Another confounding factor has to do with the texture and density of the flour, what it comes from (bread wheat vs. pastry wheat, refined vs. whole wheat, cake flour vs. all-purpose flour, barley vs. wheat, etc.) and how finely it was milled. Weigh a cup of each of these flours and you will find they vary in weight. Even two different brands of the same pastry, all-purpose, or bread flour can vary in weight when compared cup for cup.

Now think about gluten-free flours: sorghum, brown rice, white rice, millet, amaranth, teff, quinoa, and gluten-free oat flour. These too can vary in weight. The same goes for grain-free flours, such as blanched almond flour, whole almond meal, and coconut flour. Variations may exist between flours and within different brands of the same kind of flour.

Weighing in
I was recently reminded of this. Last month, one of my cooking assistants made an airy and delicious batch of Rosemary-Garlic Popovers using a recipe from Kelly Brozyna’s Spunky Coconut Blog and her gluten-free, casein-free, often egg-free cookbook, Grain-Free Baked Goods & Desserts. I wanted to replicate her results. I don’t know which brand of coconut flour she used. I followed the same recipe two weeks in a row using different brands of coconut flour each time. The results: different. Both of my batches came out denser and less appetizing than Anne’s.

Two weeks ago, I made Elana Amsterdam’s Red Velvet Cupcakes. Last week I made the same recipe again using a different brand of coconut flour. The first batch came out spongy. The second batch turned out much denser and better. I followed another recipes for RVCs (Red Velvet Cupcakes) and they too came out spongy. It was then that I realized that the flours probably varied considerably in weight.

The four flours
I have four brands in my fridge: Coconut Secret, Wilderness Family Naturals, Coconut On Line, and Tropical Traditions. One at a time, I took them out, fluffed them with a fork, spooned and leveled them into a half cup measure and then into a bowl and rubbed them between my fingers. One was noticeably coarse. Another felt fine and velvety soft; another felt slightly grainy. I made sure to use the same 1/2 cup measure for each and the same bowl for weighing on the scale.

I weighed each in ounces and then in grams. The gram measurement provided a better show of the dissimilarities between them. If you see 2 ounces, 1 4/8 ounces, 1 6/8 ounces, you may have a hard time visualizing the end results. Viewed in grams, the discrepancies becomes more palpable.

Here’s what I found in terms of difference between the coconut flours for half a cup measure:
59 grams, 45 grams, 48 grams, 56 grams

A different of 11 to 14 grams can make a significant difference in the texture of a recipe that calls for a relatively small amount of flour (1/2 cupful). No imagine a larger recipe calling for an entire cup and the difference doubles.

Coconut flour conundrum
I don’t have a solution for you…yet. At this point I’m not sure which coconut flour to use and recommend. I like the idea of being able to buy it from a variety of vendors. I like giving people options. It makes shopping more convenient and healthy cooking less exclusive. However, if I follow recipes I find on line, which I frequently do, I don’t necessarily know which brand the author used. Even if I did, I wouldn’t go out and buy another brand (right now), since I have four bags in my refrigerator that I want to use them up before buying more.

Keep on reading
I plan to bake more coconut flour recipes, so for now, just know that your results may vary from what a particular blogger writes about, describes, and photographs. You may want to make a recipe more than once. You may have to tinker with the recipe to produce a texture that suits you. You could make two half batches of a recipe using two different brands of coconut flours; observe and note the differences in the texture and the consistency after baking. Another idea would be to weigh the flour you use (make sure you following the measuring tips in this and the last coconut flour post), then measure it and then if it comes out great use that weight as the ideal when using the same amount of coconut flour.

If you haven’t already subscribed to my blog, you can do that now using the link on the upper left hand side of this page. Then, you’ll receive updates when I make new posts and crack this portion of the coconut flour conundrum and post new recipes.

I’d love to hear about the results you’ve produced using coconut flour. Which brand do you prefer and why? What’s your favorite coconut flour recipe?

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