rice flour

Shortbread

Shortbread

Everybody loves shortbread, especially at Christmas, and each cook swears by her own recipe. (I’m sorry if that is sexist!) I find shortbread made only with plain flour rather cloying and much prefer it made with the addition of some ground rice or semolina to give it some crunch. Don’t confuse ground rice with rice flour, although you can use rice flour too. Rice flour is quite fine whilst ground rice is more gritty.

250g butter
2 cups plain flour
½ cup semolina or ground rice
1/3 cup caster sugar

Sift the plain flour and add the other dry ingredients. Rub butter into the mixture and knead lightly until they can be transferred onto a floured board and kneaded until smooth.

Alternatively, put the dry ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, chop the cold butter roughly and add to the bowl. Process until the mixture forms a ball around the blade.

Press the mixture evenly into a greased lamington tin (28cm x 18cm), mark with a knife into squares or rectangles for cutting later. Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork.

Preheat the oven to moderately slow (160C) and bake for 35 –40 minutes. Remove from oven and using a very sharp thin knife, cut right through along the pre-marked lines. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

The shortbread can also be made in an 18cm diameter flan tin with a removable base. Mark into wedges of the desired size and prick with a fork. Alternatively use a cookie cutter to cut into shapes as above!

Whiting Cooked in Rice Flour with Lemon and Garlic

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This is our preferred way of cooking whiting on the boat for breakfast. It is simple and quick, but the flavour of the whiting comes through beautifully. The whiting must, of course, be very fresh. Be generous with the lemon juice. It caramelises a little in the pan and the whiting are tossed in it after they have cooked.

20 whiting fillets
Ground rice
Butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of 1 large or 2 small lemons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of finely chopped parsley or thyme leaves
Lemon wedges, extra, to serve

Dredge the whiting in the ground rice. Heat the butter in a large heavy-based frying pan and add the garlic. Add the whiting fillets, in batches, and cook for about 1 – 2 minutes before turning and cooking the other side. The fillets should be almost breaking up. Keep warm whilst remaining fillets are cooked.

Remove the fish from the pan and add the lemon juice. Allow the lemon juice to caramelise a little, then return all the whiting fillets to the pan. Turn them so that all the fillets are coated with lemon.

Cheese Biscuits #1

Cheese biscuits neverendingcookbook

I think a little cheese biscuit with a drink when ones’ guests arrive is a perfect way to begin any party. The Moreton Club has done these tiny biscuits for years and whilst I believe that the recipe is available I do not know anybody who actually has it.

I am enormously proud of this recipe because it is the result of a lot of hard work and much experimentation. I think my recipe is a little better than the Moreton Club’s. Lately it is my most requested recipe, which does say something!

This recipe has the added advantage of having equal quantities of butter, flour and cheese which makes it very easy to remember, and very easy to make in smaller or larger quantities.  When I began experimenting with these biscuits, the flour was all plain flour. Then it became plain flour with a little rice flour added, then plain flour with a little ground rice. Now I make them with equal quantities of plain flour and ground rice. This gives the biscuits a very satisfying crunch.

250g butter
250g imported Parmesan cheese, finely grated
125g plain flour
125g ground rice (or substitute rice flour)
Cayenne pepper

Sift together the plain flour, cayenne pepper and ground rice or rice flour. Cut butter into small cubes and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add sifted flour/s and cayenne and the finely grated Parmesan. Process until the mixture forms a ball around the shaft of the food processor. Remove biscuit dough from food processor and wrap in plastic film. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 120C.

Grease a baking sheet or baking tray with butter and, using hands, roll biscuit dough into balls approximately 1 cm in diameter. Place on the baking tray and press balls with a fork to flatten and decorate.

Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, or until the biscuits are lightly coloured. As soon as you can smell the cheese in the biscuits they are almost done.

Cool on a wire rack until completely cold, then store in an airtight container into which some kitchen paper has been placed. If biscuits are not needed for a week or two, seal the airtight container with tape.

To serve, reheat at very low temperature on baking sheet until biscuits are warm but not hot.

Flour facts

That flours ain’t flours has been forcibly brought home to me recently and in my endeavours to find out more, I have discovered that the mere housewife who does not want to buy her flour in 20kg bags is very poorly catered for, particularly in Queensland.

Flour is the ground meal from wheat and other grains including rye, barley, oats, corn and rice.  All have been used to make bread for thousands of years and until the latter part of the 19th century, all grains were milled between heavy millstones, which ground the whole grain. These days, flour, especially wheat flour, is milled using high-speed metal rollers. These rollers extract the outer husk (bran) of the wheat and the germ (the plant’s embryo), leaving just the central part of the seed, the endosperm. The bran and the germ can be returned to the flour to give wholemeal flour.

White flour is made from the endosperm only and it is this endosperm that contains all the gluten-forming proteins. Flours with different gluten levels are made from different varieties of wheat. Strong plain flour is milled from so-called ‘hard’ wheat varieties with a high gluten level. ‘Soft’ wheat varieties have a low gluten level and the flour milled from them is far more ‘tender’ than that milled from ‘hard’ wheat.

Strong flour is sometimes referred to as baker’s flour or bread flour, although this is not strictly true, as there are stronger flours than that needed to make bread. However, the extra protein is particularly important in bread making. The kneading of the dough develops the gluten network necessary to trap the gas given off by the yeast. The trapped carbon dioxide stretches the gluten fibres further and the dough rises. This gluten web sets during cooking and a firm well-aerated bread is produced. If there is insufficient gluten in the flour, the gluten network cannot be established and the rising does not take place. The extra protein in strong flour also helps the flour absorb more fat and liquid without the mixture ‘splitting’. Strong flour can contain as much as 15% gluten, whereas baker’s flour usually contains around 11 – 12%.

In America soft flour is widely sold as ‘cake flour’. In Australia we are not so lucky. Self-raising flour is (supposedly) soft flour with baking powder (a chemical leaven) added. The baking powder takes the place of the gluten, giving self-raising flour the tender properties of soft flour with the rising properties of strong flour. However there is so little difference between the gluten levels in plain and self-raising flour in Australia there is no point at all in buying self-raising flour.

Plain white flour is sometimes known as ‘all purpose flour’. It is a mixture of hard and soft flours, the proportions in which they are mixed determining the gluten level of the flour. This varies quite significantly from brand to brand. It is a ‘compromise’ flour, being neither really suitable for bread making with too low a gluten level, nor for good cake making with too high a gluten level.

Wholemeal flour, despite common belief, is neither ‘less refined’ nor ‘less processed’ than plain flour. It is processed to white flour and in most cases, the bran only (not the germ) is mixed back into the flour. Similarly, ‘stone ground’ flour (which, I am assured by one of Defiance’s ex-millers, is not, and never has been stone ground) is processed to plain flour and some bran is added. Such flours have more dietary fibre than white flour and are less white in appearance. They are better for you, but ‘less processed’ they are not. Because of the presence of the bran, the gluten content (in grams per 100grams of flour) of such bread is lowered. Breads made with such flours will naturally be heavier.

The most common misconception regarding flour is that most flour is bleached. Bleaching is a process in which a chlorine gas is passed through the flour at some stage of the milling process to whiten it. Most, if not all flour sold in Australia is unbleached. One home economist from Allied Defiance even went so far as to tell me it was illegal to bleach flour and has been for thirty years. Some mills do still bleach flour but it appears that they do this largely for export to Asia where snow-white flour is considered superior.

No flour mill in Australia produces bleached flour for the domestic supermarket market, so if you are buying flour from the local shop you can be confident it is unbleached.  White flour actually whitens naturally with age.

So can you get away with just one ‘all purpose’ flour in your pantry? Well, in theory, yes, provided you have the necessary additives. If you are making bread or pizzas you will need gluten flour to increase the gluten content of plain flour (of which more later). If you want to make cakes or scones, you can convert plain flour to self-raising flour by adding baking powder. In fact, if the baking powder is added just before baking it is more effective and the cream of tartar is less likely to leave a bitter taste in the flour as it can, especially if the flour is old.

Can you get away with just baker’s flour in your pantry? Again, in theory, yes. Maggie Beer seems to manage it brilliantly, though I am told that unless she has an extremely deft touch with her blender, her cakes may be just a tiny bit heavier than necessary, and even a little chewy.

Alternatively, you can convert plain flour to baker’s flour by adding 3 teaspoons of gluten flour to every 500g of plain flour. (Or 1 teaspoon of gluten flour to 1 cup of plain flour.) Note that gluten flour is NOT baker’s flour. It is gluten extracted from the flour during the milling process. It has a protein content of 69.5g per 100g of flour. (Compare this with 12g per 100g flour for Defiance brand baker’s flour.) Gluten flour is sometimes available in the health food section of supermarkets and usually from health food shops.

If you wish to convert baker’s flour to plain flour, you simply use less. For every cup of plain flour you wish to use, fill a cup with baker’s flour and then remove 1 tablespoon. Proceed as if you were using plain flour.

To convert plain flour to self-raising flour, add 4 level teaspoons (a teaspoon measure is more accurate than a teaspoon) to every 250g of plain flour and sift together twice to ensure they are blended.

As for me…   Well, I suppose I will continue to buy 5kg bags of baker’s flour just for making pizzas and souffles. Who knows, perhaps one day I will make bread? I will continue to have a jar of gluten flour in the cupboard just in case my baker’s flour has too many moths in it to be usable. I will continue to buy Defiance brand plain flour out of some misplaced loyalty to Defiance flour which now belongs to a multinational company and because it has a nice middle-of-the-road gluten content of 10.8%.

I will not be buying self-raising flour, but will now add baking powder to plain flour when I want to make a cake or bake scones. I may even buy some White Wings brand plain flour because it has a gluten content of only 9.6% and therefore should be better for cakes than Defiance plain flour.

Oh! I nearly forgot the wholemeal flour which I use for some biscuits, the oatmeal and the fine oatmeal, the ground rice and rice flour, the Italian ground rice and the cornflour for Chinese cooking and of course the Fielder’s wheaten cornflour for other things. Perhaps I should get some rye flour?

………

It is now late 2008, and I am very pleased to say that a new flour brand has recently appeared on the shelves of some of our bigger supermarkets. This is Anchor brand “Lighthouse” special purpose flour. There are two plain flours: Cake, Biscuit and Pastry flour with a gluten content of 8.5g per 100g, and Bread and Pizza flour with a gluten content of 11.0g per 100g. Whilst the latter is not quite as strong as Defiance’s baker’s flour at 12.0g per 100g, it does come in 1kg packs, not 5kg ones like Defiance’s. (Even stored in plastic tubs, my baker’s flour always ended up full of moths before I could get even half way through it.)  However, I have already made twice-cooked gruyere cheese soufflés with the Anchor Bread and Pizza flour, and they were wonderful and didn’t even threaten to split!

Even better still, Anchor brand “Lighthouse” self raising flour has a gluten content of 8.2g per 100g making it a true “cake’ flour. (Compare this with both Defiance and White Wings self raising flours at 9.5g per 100g.) Needless to say, I am changing my allegiance from Defiance to Anchor, (and go back to using self raising flour), even if it means that I have to go to Coles or Woolworths to get them!

But, do I use soft or strong plain flour for gravy, for fish and other batters, or do I continue to buy a middle of the road plain flour for just these everyday eventualities? Oh dear!