Month: July 2016

Terrific blueberry muffins without foil wrappers

Terrific blueberry muffins without foil wrappers

These rich and delicious muffins get their flavor from all the butter in the recipe, and they are irresistible. The recipe is a variation on one taken from the Williams Sonoma Muffin Book.

In this version, we line our muffin pan with 5” squares of parchment paper. This gives you muffin papers that do not stick to either the pan or the baked muffin. The muffins also make much more uniformly, and do not have soggy bottoms. And they are easy to reheat in the microwave, since there is no aluminum foil muffin cup.

Topping

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 Tb granulated sugar
  • 2 Tb light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tb cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces.

pastry blenderStir together the flour, sugars and cinnamon. Cut in the butter, using a pastry blender, or use a food processor briefly.

 

 

Muffins

  • 7 Tb unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 2 Tb flour

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

In an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.

Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, alternating with the milk.

Stir in the vanilla.

blueberry flouredToss the blueberries with 2 Tb of flour, so they won’t sink to the bottom.

Fold in the blueberries, taking care not to break them too much. If you use frozen blueberries, let them thaw and drain before adding them.

 

Line a muffin pan with 5” squares of parchment paper. The trick is to use a small can or jar to force the paper liner to the bottom of each muffin cup. Hold the paper in place on its left side while you spoon the batter into each muffin cup with your right hand, using a cookie scoop or small measuring cup. Once you have some batter in each muffin cup, it will hold the parchment down, and you can add more batter to even them out.

Sprinkle the topping on each muffin using a spoon or your fingers.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Check instructions if baking in the machine (more details at www.village-bakery.com).

Let cool for 5 minutes before lifting the muffins out and serving them. You can just pick up each muffin by the corner of its parchment square. It won’t stick to the pan, and the paper peels off neatly without sticking to the muffin!

Eat them hot!

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Organic foods: The triumph of PR over science

corntassels2016According to a press release by the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales grew to $43 billion in 2015. This puts the organic food industry sales just below Coca Cola(#62) in the Fortune 500 and just a bit above American Airlines (#67). By contrast, seed industry “giant” Monsanto had only $15 billion in sales and ranked #189, similar to #181 Whole Foods.

This release was echoed in a different form by the pro-organic publication Food Tank on Tuesday, which also discusses the problem for farmers in transitioning to organic farming, because of the expensive three year period farming organically before they can by certified as organic. The articles note that the OTA has asked the USDA to create some sort of organic transitional designation. Incidentally, the same article was published nearly word for word in the Christian Science Monitor Wednesday.

Today the New York Times’ Stephanie Strom following suit, covering the same “story,” but with considerably more detail. She notes that on average the price of organic goods is 47% higher (according to Consumer Reports) but accepts the claim of Annie’s president John Foraker that “almost every consumer wants organic.” She correctly notes that organic farming is more labor intensive but fails to mention that organic crop yields are considerably smaller, with the USDA estimating that corn, wheat and soy yields are 68% to 73% of those for conventional crops.  A recent paper by Seufert found the organic yields to be only 65% of conventional crops.

But all of these articles, particularly Strom’s make no mention of the Organic Big Lie:  that organic foods are safer or more nutritious. They are not. Papers by Brevata and Smith-Spangler and earlier by Dangour, et. al. found no nutritional differences. And the pesticide residues for both conventional and organic crops are negligible compared to the safe minimum daily dosage.

Soil health

One of the major claims for organic farming practices has been that the soil is better treated, and not depleted of nutrients. Of course, all the good ideas from the development of organic agriculture have long been adopted by all farmers, so this is not particularly persuasive any more. However, farmers have in recent years adopted no-till farming, where they do not plow up the soil every year, turning the soil over and exposing the lower soil layers that are better left unturned. Instead, they simply apply a low toxicity herbicide like Roundup in the early spring to remove all the weeds and then use a seed drill to plant below the surface. This is far kinder to the soil, and uses less fuel than plowing up the entire field every year, and reduces soil runoff. Unfortunately, this is not available to organic farmers who are not allowed to use such herbicides, even when they are overall kinder to the soil and the environment.

In the same way, use of manure to add nutrients back into the soil has been encouraged in organic farming, and is now practiced by many types of farmers. However, it has a serious drawback, in that the composting of manure emits more greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide) than conventional farming using conventional fertilizers. Manure composted in an anaerobic digester eliminates these problems, but is seldom used in smaller farms. Steve Savage explains in this article how large the carbon footprint of compost actually is, and why using nitrogen fertilizers are far kinder to the atmosphere.

Cows also do not make fertilizer themselves, as Savage explains, in this article. They eat grass, which may well have been fertilized, and their manure contains the nitrates that enrich the soil. This is essentially laundering nitrogen fertilizers through cows to make organic-permitted fertilizers, and at significant expense.

So, to conclude, the idea that organic crops are safer or more nutritious is the organic industry’s Big Lie. And they have sold it to the public so successfully, that everyone imagines organic foods are a desirable goal. They are not: they are a scam.

Food coloring alarmism

Food coloring alarmism

The ever alarmist Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI) published a pointless article on the actual food colors used in various colorful foods. Referring to a piece of interesting but ultimately useless research in Clinical Pediatrics by Laura Stevens and other researchers at Purdue’s Nutrition Science department, the CSPI article breathlessly notes that

Clinical trials have shown that modest percentages of children are affected by doses up to 35 mg of mixtures of synthetic coloring, with larger percentages generally being affected by doses of 100 mg or more. The amount of dye that is needed to trigger reactions in the most sensitive children is not known.

They also claim that “Until now, how much of these neurotoxic chemicals are used in specific foods was a well-kept secret…”

However, there is little evidence that the CSPI’s extravagantly scare claims are true. The most commonly cited papers on hyperactivity and food colorings were two papers by Jim Stevenson at the University of Southhampton. But when the FDA convened a 2011 conference to consider warning labels on food coloring ingredients, they commissioned Oak Ridge National Laboratory to review that work and concluded:

However, due to the absence of confirmation of treatment effects between parental ratings and other behavior measures together with the concerns about the data analyses described above and various procedural weaknesses … it is the opinion of this reviewer that there is questionable confidence in the reliability and biological relevance of the primary findings from this study.

Ultimately, the FDA committee voted that current data supported that FDAs conclusion that a relationship between certified color additives and adverse effects on behavior in children had not been established.

Since then, Nigg has published a 2012 meta-analysis of papers on food colors effects on children, concluding that there may be a small effect, but this was affected by publication bias:

A restriction diet benefits some children with ADHD. Effects of food colors were notable were but susceptible to publication bias or were derived from small, nongeneralizable samples. Renewed investigation of diet and ADHD is warranted.

A similar review of prior studies was also published about the same time by Arnold, et. el.

With these studies in hand, it is difficult to understand why Laura Stevens’ Purdue group undertook these complex colorimetric studies. Her papers feature extensive tables showing the exact amount of colors their group measured in sodas, cereals, candies and dairy foods. While these tables are interesting and represent a lot of work, Stevens cites these same papers, clearly aware of their less than persuasive conclusions.

The best they can conclude is should you wish to try to try an Artificial Food Coloring (AFC)-free diet (which she knows has little effect) these tables will help you do so.

This brings us to Ravella’s article in Slate today, which reviews the same work and some alarmist proclamations by the CSPI. It adds nothing new to the existing science.

So to conclude, there is little evidence supporting the assertion the AFCs are harmful to children or anyone else and you need not concern yourself with the CSPI’s alarmist pronouncements.

This is an update of our May 2014 article, published on Examiner.com

Organic Consumer’s Association eats its young in startling diatribe

Organic Consumer’s Association eats its young in startling diatribe

Last week the U.S. Senate passed a compromise GMO labeling bill which sets a national standard for GMO labeling and would override the patchwork of laws such as Vermont’s and those proposed in other states.

The Roberts-Stabenow bill, by Kansas Senator Pat Roberts(R) and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) allows foods to be labeled directly on the package, or using a web site, phone number or QR code where consumers can get more information. The bill will go back to the House this week for approval. Since the House had approved a rather similar bill earlier, it is expected to pass.

This bill requires such labeling only for foods that actually contain genetic material, which would exclude sugar produced by GM sugar beets, or aspartame produced by genetically modified E. coli. But unlike the Vermont law which took effect July 1, cheese produced using chymosin made by GM processes is not exempted, since it still contains DNA. Corn products would be labeled, by corn syrup probably would not be. Further, the law provides no penalty for noncompliance.

The Vermont law has proved to be as restrictive and expensive to comply with as people predicted, because the keeping track of the supply chain for every component in a food product can be quite onerous. In fact, we recently learned that many Kosher foods will no longer be available in Vermont, because the small companies that produce them found the law too expensive to comply with. Further, the Price Chopper grocery chain has compiled a list of some 3000 products from small producers which they will no longer carry.

Now, it remains true the genetically modified foods are completely safe, as recently emphasized by the National Academies of Science and the Royal Society, and courts have in the past ruled that consumer curiosity is not sufficient reason to require labeling. In fact, while the huge organic industry insists some 90% of consumer want such labeling, research which asks more neutral questions such as “what information should food labels contain?” shows only a few percent of consumers actually care about GMOs.

In fact, the continuing press for GMO labeling comes from the Organic Consumers Association, a lobbying group which has made opposition to GMOs a touchstone, since their objective is to move consumers to more profitable organic foods. Other groups include Just Label It, run by Stonyfield Farms CEO Hirshberg.

However, compromise is the soul of good lawmaking, and a number of these organizations have agreed that this law is way better than nothing. Others, like the Organic Consumers Association have dubbed it the DARK Act (for Deny Americans’ Right to Know). Of course, there really is nothing to know, because “GMO” is not an ingredient but a breeding process.

Nonetheless, the Organic Consumer’s Association has issued a shocking broadside, dubbing these other organizations “ Organic Traitors,” in its article Organic Traitors team up with Monsanto and the GMA on the DARK Act. Nearly frothing at the mouth, OCA president Ronnie Cummins referred to “ Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Organic Trade Association (OTA), Whole Foods Market (WFM), UNFI, and a cabal of sell-out non-profit organizations” as traitors, selling out to Monsanto.

Continuing its mendacious claims the GMO foods are dangerous, Cummins claims that over 90% of consumers want such labeling. As we noted, this is not actually true. In fact this article shows the OCA at its worst, making unsupported claims and engaging in a “circular firing squad” with some of its allies. Perhaps they would do better to go back to promoting the presumed benefits of organic farming (which are actually few) rather than making increasingly rage-filled accusations.

Buttermilk biscuits in 15 minutes

Buttermilk biscuits in 15 minutes

There’s really not much to making buttermilk biscuits, and they make a great breakfast by themselves or with eggs. You probably have all the ingredient on hand. If you don’t have any buttermilk, you can make your own in 5 minutes using milk and lemon juice or vinegar, as they show here.

To make your biscuits, heat your oven to 450° F, and mix up the dough while the oven heats.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening or butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  1. Mix the flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl.

blender

2. Add the shortening and cut in with a pastry blender or two forks.

3. Add the buttermilk and mix briefly with a fork.

4. Combine the down better using your hands.

5. Roll out the down about ¾ inch thick.

cut  out dough6. Cut into biscuits using a cookie cutter or a drinking glass.

7. Place the biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for 10 minutes at 450° F.

Remove from the oven and serve hot, with plenty of butter.

open buttered

How to poach eggs without skootzie

How to poach eggs without skootzie

“Skootzie” is a name my aunt had, as a little girl, for trails of uncooked egg. Here’s how to make poached eggs in minutes in an ordinary saucepan and avoid having to wash all the pieces of a commercial egg poaching pan. And the eggs will look better, too! And there won’t be any skootzie!

We usually poach 2 eggs in a 2 quart saucepan, and use a 3 quart pan for 4 eggs or so. We have another method for larger quantities we’ll write about separately.

All you need here is a pan of water, a wire whisk, a little cup and a slotted spoon to lift the eggs out with. Oh, and some toast.

Begin toasting 2 slices of toast before cooking the eggs.

Bring salted water to a boil in the saucepan, and reduce the heat to a simmer, so the water isn’t bumping.

Break one egg into the cup and have the other ready to follow.

Using the whisk, stir a vortex of water into the simmering water. (Since the whisk never touches anything but the water, you don’t even have to wash it!)

Dump the egg into the side of the vortex. The egg will spin in the water, and all of the tails of the white (the skootzie) will wrap around the egg.

two egg swirlQuickly break the second egg into the cup and dump it into the vortex as well.

Let the eggs cook for 3-4 minutes until the white is firm but the yolk still soft. Butter the toast while you have time.

liftingLift the eggs out and place on a slice of buttered toast.

commercial poacherNow, isn’t that easier than using this contraption? You have about 6 pieces to wash, and the little cups don’t always release the eggs, meaning that you have to loosen then with a knife, but without breaking the eggs, Too much trouble!

No, Bernie, you’re wrong. GMOs should not be labeled

This column was originally published in June, 2015, but still seems relevant.

Dear Senator Sanders:

sport hill squashI am writing to you as one of your supporters. I have made (for me) a substantial contribution to your campaign for President.

But I must disagree with your column in the Huffington Post as well a recent statements urging Congress to pass a bill requiring labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients. Your logic seems to be that consumers have a “right to know” what they are eating. In fact, this is disingenuous, because “GMO” is a process for breeding plants, not an ingredient. The plants (corn, soy, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash) are nutritionally identical or they would never have been approved. Testing of a new GM crop variety takes over 10 years, and is the most rigorous testing of any food on the market.

Just as the overall scientific consensus is that climate change is real and caused primarily by humans, the overall scientific consensus is that GM crops pose no more harm than conventional crops. This has been found again and again in paper after paper.

The FDAs position is and has been that new crops do not need to be labeled unless they are demonstrably different from the parent plant. This is not the case: GM crops have the same nutritional profile as their non-GM parent.

You suggest that Vermont’s GMO labeling bill was passed despite Monsanto’s threat to sue Vermont. In fact, Monsanto labels all its seeds. Vermont is being sued by the Grocery Manufacturer’s  Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Food Association: organizations that will incur real costs if the Vermont labeling bill is upheld. You can read Robert Sacherich’s analysis of the bill here. Because of the costs of maintaining duplicate supply chains for GM and non GM crops, a Cornell study has estimated that such labeling will cost the average family at least $500 a year in increased food costs.

And to what avail? To label foods that have never been shown to cause any harm in the past 20 years, just to satisfy the curiosity of a few activists? You must surely know that Vermont lost a similar case in International Dairy Foods Association v  Amestoy, where the judge ruled that consumer curiosity is not a valid reason for imposing costs on dairy manufacturers.

You state that most people (90%) want GM foods to be labeled, but this is a misleading number obtained from polls asking leading questions. If you ask people what additional information they think need to be on food labels, both a US study and a European study found that only 2% suggested GMO labeling. This is hardly a groundswell.

You suggest that concerns about toxins and allergens have been “largely brushed aside.” In fact the FDA requires very extensive testing of new GM crops, which can take more than 10 years and cost more than $100 million.

You cite the paper by Aris and Leblanc in Reproductive Toxicology that claimed to find glyphosate and Bt toxin in a sample of mother’s breast milk. However, this paper has been roundly debunked, noting that the sensitivity of the ELISA technique is less than the levels of contaminants allegedly found.

In fact, the only purpose served by GM labeling is to demonize GM crops and push people towards more expensive, but nutritionally identical organic crops. Since much of the anti-GMO protests have been funded by the organic foods industry (which is larger than Monsanto), it is not surprising that this demonization has begun to work. A recent study has shown that organic sales have grown because of this demonization.

In short, I continue to support your campaign, but suggest you need more scientific advisors to keep your campaign credible. Should your staff care to contact me, I can give them a number of names of scientists who can help.

Best regards in your campaign efforts!

Woo-meisters overrun Westport Farmer’s Market

Woo-meisters overrun Westport Farmer’s Market

It finally happened. The sincere vendors of local produce at Westport Farmer’s Market have been joined or outnumbered by the crazy peddlers of pseudoscience and other woo. Starting out with organic. Organic farming is a marketing technique. It does not produce healthier or more nutritious foods, just more expensive ones. If you don’t think so, compare the prices of strawberries.

You can buy a pint of organic strawberries for $6.50 or you can buy a quart  of conventional strawberries for $7.00. Is this a scam? Yes, it is. These are both local strawberries grown nearby. You are being diddled! As we have noted many times, there is no good reason to buy organic produce. Organic farming has lower yields (sometimes only 60% as much) and is not as environmentally sustainable.

If you don’t believe me, the Washington Post recently wrote up an article on strawberry farming, noting that the best strawberries by far are grown in California where the season is longer and the climate perfect. You can buy a pound of California strawberries at Stop and Shop for $2.99 and a pound of organic California strawberries for $3.99. You probably won’t find much difference in flavor. Because of packing differences (pints versus pounds) the price differential may not really be double, but the hit is substantial for no good reason. But remember, we aren’t just comparing California and Connecticut, we are comparing two Connecticut farms a few miles apart.

And it’s GMO Free, too!

Sport Hill Farm in Easton, CT is a substantial business with a good reputation for their organic produce. They even supply a number of local restaurants. But since they are “organic” why go on and say they are non-GMO?  (“Organic” is by definition “non-GMO”)

In fact, as far as I could see, the only produce they had that even had a GMO version was their summer squash. Nothing else in their extensive crop list has a GMO version. These are very capable farmers, and they surely know this. They are just doing fear mongering marketing. As the National Academies of Science has stated, along with every other major scientific organization in the world, GMO crops pose no more harm than conventional crops.

gmo free eggsBut it gets worse. How about the vendor(Beaver Brook Farm) with these eggs? The chickens are fed GMO free grain? Wow! Do you think that a chicken eating grain bred by one technique over another is going to be any different? It’s ridiculous! Remember chicken growers, GM is not an ingredient. It is a crop breeding technique! I quote my colleague Layla Katiraee who jokes about a boa constrictor eating a rat and because of this hypothetical (and ridiculous) gene transfer argument, he creates a rat-strictor. You don’t believe that do you?

And as far as free range chickens go, the Journal of Poultry Science published a substantial series of studies showing the caged chickens did the best and the cage free the worst.

And it’s gluten free!

There is any number of very good bakeries in or near Westport that exhibit regularly at the Farmer’s Market. However, it is really disappointing to discover that they are all flogging their Gluten Free products as if those are products in great demand. Gluten occurs in wheat and in a few other grains, but is for most of us a very valuable nutrient. Only about 1% of the population suffers from the autoimmune disorder that leads to celiac disease. These people cannot eat gluten: it not only can cause severe discomfort, it can eventually damage your digestive system. However, far too many people somehow believe that not eating gluten is somehow “healthier,” when just the opposite is true. Gluten free products are less nutritious, and for the most part, don’t taste that great.

Now some people claim to have Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), but whether this is even an actual disorder and whether it has much to do with gluten is very much in doubt. You can read a lot about the status of research into NCGS here. And low carbohydrate diets are not very healthy.

Oh, and then there’s Paleo, a fad diet hatched to sell books and allegedly (and inaccurately) presented as the “healthy diet our ancestors ate.” Well it isn’t. Plants and animals have evolved since those times, and so have we. We can’t eat the plants they ate, because they no longer exist. And we have evolved to tolerate lactose and (most of us) can have dairy products. The idea that our ancestors didn’t eat gluten is silly. It depends on where they lived. If there were edible grains nearby, you can be sure they ate them. Scientific American explains this here. As David Gorski explains, Paleo is part of the “naturalistic fallacy.” It provides no benefits.

Juices and the Cleanse

the standOf course, there had to be a representative from The Stand (not Steven King’s novel, but a juice stand). They make a lot of blended juices, some good, and some at best an acquired taste and loaded with kale. And some interesting sandwiches as well. But smack dab on the back cover of their leaflet is an advertisement for The Cleanse, a crazy regime of bizarre juices that is supposed to detoxify your body (at $60 a day). It doesn’t. There is no such thing as a cleanse: it is pure hooey. Your liver detoxifies your body every day, and juices do nothing to help. Don’t waste your money!

Nutty Ice Cream

We can’t let Nutty Bunny ice cream go unmentioned. The owner, Westporter Pamela Aflalo claims to have cured her daughter’s allergies by created a non dairy diet, and then created this imitation ice cream. It’s billed as vegan, organic, non-dairy, non-GMO and 100% gluten free, touching nearly all the woo bases. It also has no artificial sweeteners. It’s made primarily from cashews, almonds and coconut milk. It costs $10 a pint, and has a kind of grainy texture. We didn’t like it at all and her claim of curing her daughter’s allergies is at best anecdotal.

Arogya iced teas

arogyaArogya has some nice teas, but it only takes a minute before you discover that many are “healing blends,” for colon cleanses and detox (neither of which exist), kidney cleanses, liver cleanses, female vitality and other unbelievable malarkey. They also practice quackery such as cupping, acupuncture and qigong, and other Traditional Chinese Medicine, none of which has ever been show to be effective, or it would just be called “medicine.” In fact most of it was codified by Chairman Mao.

 

kombuchaAnd just for completeness, we’ll show you the absolutely crazy claims made by the Om Champagne Kombucha vendor. They speak for themselves.

And we cure autism, too

Probably the scariest and most irresponsible products come from Healing Home Foods, owned by Shelley Schulz of Pound Ridge, NY. At first, their products look rather nice, with granola, cookies and (raw?) crackers on display, with some nut butters as well. They are, of course full of the usual horse feathers: organic, non-gmo, gluten free and vegan.

healing granola

But it is only when you read their label or web site that you discover their bizarre ideology. Schulz claimed to improve her autistic son’s condition by removing “dairy, gluten, grains, sugar, starches and preservatives,” and developed even more raw/vegan dietary nonsense when her husband developed cancer. None of this can actually work, of course, and you should be aware of anyone making such claims.

Antibiotics

acadia beefAnd look, Aradia Farm, there are no antibiotics in your meat. None. Not allowed. See Amanda Zaluckyj’s explanation. And all beef contains some hormones whether growth implants are used or not, but the estrogenic activity in been is far less than in other common foods.

 

 

Fair trade again

fair tradeAnd finally, vendors like to make claims about Fair Trade, especially in coffee products. It turns out not to be such a great idea as we reported. We don’t know what the quality of Fair Trade coffee beans is: farmers are likely to be selling their lowest grade beans to fair trade brokers, since the floor price is guaranteed. Growers are paid very little more for such beans, but the Fair Trade organization makes a nice profit on it. It is essentially a marketing organization, not one that benefits poor farmers.

Westport Farmer’s Market is a sincere operation, but not all the vendors are in any way sincere. Some vendor debunking or cleaning might be in order.

Sour cream coffeecake for breakfast

Sour cream coffeecake for breakfast

 

You can make this delicious coffee cake in about 8 minutes work time and 30 minutes baking. The result is great just a few minutes out of the oven. Warm coffeecake with a slightly melted brown sugar topping. Add the nuts or not as you like.

The coffeecake

  • 1 ½ cups sifted flour (Easier to weigh out 189 grams.)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Brown sugar topping
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
  2. Weigh out 189 g of flour: no need to sift it. ( A cup of sifted flour weighs 126g, so 1 ½ cups weighs 189 g)flour weighing
  3. Mix the baking powder, soda and salt into the flour and stir it a bit.
  4. Melt the butter in the microwave for 1 minute at 50% power.
  5. In a mixing bowl, add the egg, melted butter and sugar and mix with a whiskegg sugar
  6. Add the sour cream and vanilla and mix.
  7. Add the flour mixture and mix until uniform.
  8. Spray a 9” square pan with cooking spray and pour in the batter.batter in pan
  9. Decorate with topping and nuts.
  10. topped in panBake at 375° F for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. Allow the coffeecake to cool for 5 minutes, and then cut into 9 squares. Lift out and serve.
  12. baked

Brown sugar topping

  • 2 Tb softened butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tb flour
  • 1//2 tsp cinnamon

butter brown sugarMix the butter into the sugar and flour using a pastry blender or a couple of forks, until more or less uniform. It can still be lumpy.

blending toppingSprinkle over the top of the batter.

 

This recipe can easily be doubled for a larger crowd. It’s great for a quick company or holiday breackfast!

How much flour is in a cup?

weigh flourConsider the measuring cup. As you know, a cup is a convenient way to measure liquids like water or milk or wine. But it is not so convenient for solids like beans, cranberries or flour. And yet in the U.S. most recipes call for flour measured in cups.

The reason for this are historical and somewhat political according to Bee Wilson in her delightful book Consider the Fork. After the French set out in 1793 on an expedition to measure the length of the Earth’s median, they took one 10 millionth of that measure to be the length of one meter. (It turned out it was just slightly off, but very good for the time.) The standard meter was agreed upon in 1889.

Obviously the British and Americans wanted their own non-French measures, and the British adopted, for a time, the Imperial system of measures, including pints, pounds and gallons. Not to be outdone, the Americans chose an even older gallon/quart/pint/cup measure as their standard.

Today the metric system has been adopted by nearly every country in the world other than the U.S., Myanmar and Liberia.

But what about that cup? It is a volume measure, and flour varies a lot in volume depending on how it’s packed.

We took out our inexpensive Ozeri kitchen scale (it cost $15.95) and decided to weigh the flour in a cup of flour. But how to measure it?

When Fanny Merritt Farmer wrote her original Boston Cooking School cookbook, she emphasized that you scoop out the flour and then level off the cup with a knife to make a level cup measure.

That’s one way, but what about sifted flour? Lots of baking recipes call for sifted flour, and while it is intended to remove lumps, it also aerates the flour significantly, and a cup of sifted flour weighs quite a bit less than a cup of flour scooped from the canister.

And finally, some cookbooks suggest that after sifting the flour, you should spoon it into the cup to avoid recompressing it. Here is what we found:

  • 1 cup scooped flour – 5.05 oz (143 g)
  • 1 cup sifted flour – 4.45 oz (126 g)
  • 1 cup spooned, sifted flour 4.13 oz (117 g)

As you can see, a cup of sifted flour weighs almost 12% less than a cup of scooped flour, and the spooned, sifted flour about 18% less. This is a huge difference in a baking recipe!

We tried these same measurements on a more expensive Weight Watchers kitchen scale. It’s more durably made (and costs 3-4 times as much). It also allows you to convert food weights to Points Plus values, but it gets exactly the same results.

So what do you do?

First, you need to recognize that there is a huge difference in the amount of flour you use depending on whether it is sifted or not when you cooking.

But should you use a scale in the kitchen? It is surely easier to use if you are adapting recipes from other countries. And the recipes in Modernist Cuisine are all in grams. But for American recipes couched in cups, you really have no idea how many grams of flour they mean.

Modern scales easily let you set the “tare” weight of the cup, bowl or pitcher you are weighing in, so getting 126 g of flour is very easy/

And, frankly it is easier to weigh out 126g of flour than to sift it and then measure it, and that is mostly what we do now.

Mostly, it is important that you are consistent in your techniques and regard the measuring cup as an aliquot rather than an absolute measure. If you repeat the recipes the same way every time, it really doesn’t matter how many grams of flour you are using. Just remember that “sifted” flour means “less” flour.

Originally published in Examiner.com on February 28, 2013