Friday, December 28, 2012

Vitamin A

It has been a while since I've had a chance to post anything.  Things have been pretty busy for me between volunteering, and tutoring.  With the arrival of the holidays, things have been increasingly insane, but I have finally had a chance to post something.

This is something I have been working on for a while, once I am done, I may actually approach a friend of mine to see if we can come up with a 'perfect diet' based on required intake of nutrients.  I want to give an overview of vitamins, highlighting the importance, sources and dangers of over consumption for each kind.  Understandably, this is going to be an extremely long post, so I have since broken it up into different parts.  the first one will be Vitamin A, but I will post Vitamin B as soon as possible.  Please feel free to email me if you want any clarification on what is being said.  A lot of what I have in here is based off of my University Biochemistry and Human Anatomy books.

Vitamin A – What is It??
Vitamin A exists in two forms depending on the type of food we are eating.  When eating animals, vitamin A is in the form of retinyl palmitate, which is converted into Retinol in our lower intestine.  When consuming plant matter, Vitamin A is present in the form of carotenes, which are converted into retinol in our lower intestine.  Vitamin A is essential to the proper function of our eyes.  In our eyes, there are two main types of cells, called rods and cones (based on their shape), The rods and cones are the very first step in translating the light we see into an image in our brains.  Within the rods and cones, there are molecules that are called photopigments that absorb light.  The photo-sensative part of the pigment is called retinal and is created from Vitamin A. Vitamin A also assists with gene transcription.  It has been said that Vitamin A helps boost your immune system, however, this may not be entirely accurate.  Vitamin A deficiency leads to a weakened immune system, so taking Vitamin A may only restored your immune system to normal levels.

Where Do You Get it From?
The Top 10 food for obtaining Vitamin A are (in descending order of concentration):

1.       Liver – 75,333IU in 100g
2.       Spices
a.       Paprika – 52,735IU/100g  
b.      Cayenne – 41,610IU/100g
3.       Sweet Potatoes – 19,218IU/100g
4.       Carrots – 16,706IU/100g
5.       Dark Leafy Greens – 15376IU/100g
6.       Butternut Squash – 11,155IU/100g
7.       Dried Herbs
a.       Parsley – 10,184IU/100g
b.      Basil – 9,385IU/100g
c.       Marjoram – 8,037IU/100g
d.      Dill – 7,688IU/100g
e.      Oregano – 6889IU/100g
8.       Lettuce (Red or Green Leaf Lettuce) – 7492IU/100g
9.       Dried Apricots – 3,604IU/100g
10.   Cantaloupe – 3,382IU/100g

How much do we need?

*1µg is equal to 3.3 IU

What Happens if You Don’t get Enough?
As you can tell from what Vitamin A does, a Vitamin A deficiency leads to a loss of eye sight. The early signs of a Vitamin A deficiency are reduced vision in low light (aka: night blindness).  A continued deficiency  gradually leads to the destruction of the cornea and then total blindness.  Other effects of a deficiency are an impaired immune system.  An adequate supply is essential for pregnant women since the effects cannot be reversed by obtaining enough Vitamin A after birth.

What Happens If You Have Too Much?
First, it is important to note that Vitamin A is Fat Soluble, because of this fact, it takes a lot longer to remove excess Vitamin A from your system than Vitamin B and Vitamin C, which are water soluble.  Toxicity can occur when absorbing more than 15,000IU a day, this happens particularly with excessive alcohol consumption.  A mild amount of Vitamin A overdose can lead to nausea, irritability, anorexia,  vomiting,  blurry vision,  headaches, hair loss, muscle and abdominal pain and weakness, drowsiness, and altered mental status.  If the toxicity level becomes chronic, all of the mild symptoms can be present in addition to: hair loss, dry skin, drying of the mucous membranes, fever, insomnia, fatigue, weight loss, bone fractures, anemia, and diarrhea.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fruity Honey Bran Muffins - PPM 150 Compliant!

I have found lately that I have not been eating enough fiber, and as my friend Andrew would say, fiber is your friend.  I recall stumbling across this recipe when I was living up North, it is quite moist and has a nice fruit flavor from the addition of the banana, apple and raisins.

The thing I love about making muffins and quick breads is the fact that they are extremely fast to make.  I looked up the recipe at about 12:00 and I took them out of the oven at 12:55.  Another thing that I love about these is that the cleanup is easy.  I think I used 2 bowls and a few tools, so it's nice and easy to clean up!

Soooo, lets get started!

- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cups bran cereal ( I have used all Bran Flakes and All Bran Original)
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 apple, shredded or chopped
- 1 ripe banana, mashed
- 1/2 cup honey


Okay, before we get started I want to point something out. This is one of those things that I never thought about too much in the past, but I came to this realization not long ago.  You see how we have Baking Soda in the recipe?  Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) is something we use as a rising agent in baking, but is also a base (alkaline). In order for the baking soda to become activated and do it's thing, it has to come in contact with an acid.  In this case, it is the apple.  The juices from the apple are acidic and react with the baking soda to produce Carbon Dioxide (don't worry, bakeries aren't destroying the ozone through muffins) which causes your product to rise.  If you DON'T have an acid in your recipe, you are going to use baking powder instead.  Baking Powder is a combination of baking soda and an acid salt, sometimes cream of tartar. So if you ever decide to eliminate something from your recipe, you may have to think about how it affects the overall balance.

Anywho, now that that's outta the way...Set your oven to 400F!

1. Pour the Milk into a large measuring bowl, and stir in the egg.  Add the 1.5 cups of Bran Cereal and let it soak in the milk until it is nice and moist.

2. In a Big bowl, add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon.  Mix them together with a whisk to make sure that the ingredients are well mixed.  The last think you want is a chunk of baking soda :p

3. Here is a trick I learned while working in Chinese food.  In a half cup measuring cup, add your 2 tbsp of oil. Swirl the oil around the edge to coat the whole cup.  Add the oil to the Big bowl, but leave a little in the cup.  Now measure out your half cup of honey and add it to the big bowl.  This makes it much easier to get the honey out of the measuring cup! 

4. Add the banana, apple and raisins to the Big bowl along with the milk/egg/cereal mixture.  Mix everything together and make sure ALL of the flour is mixed in.

5. You are going to need 1 muffin tin.  If you are using paper cups, you can add the batter in no problem.  If you are not using cups, use spray oil such as PAM to coat each cup, and then sprinkle with flour.  Scoop out the batter and spread it evenly among 12 muffins cups.

6. Bake the muffins at 400F for 15-20 minutes.

7.  Cool and enjoy!

Nutritional Information:

As usual, leave your questions, concerns of suggestions in the comment section below ↓

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Peach Almond Pie - Updated

As we approach the Fall season we start to lend ourselves to some of our more rustic favorites.  Fall for me, means that it's time for pie!  A lot of people have asked me how I make a nice flaky pie crust.  Today we're going to learn how to do it :)

I have also made a couple of youtube videos to help illustrate this lesson.  I found our new(er) webcam so the quality is much better than the last video.

Part 1 - Making the Crust

- 2 1/2 Cups  All Purpose Flour
- 1 Cup  butter -- cut up into chunks
- 1 Tablespoon  Sugar
- 3 Tablespoons  Sour Cream
- 1/4 Teaspoon  Salt
- 1/4 cup + 1-3 Tablespoons Ice Water

When making this recipe your are going to break up your butter into small pieces.  These pieces are the key to making a flaky crust.  The reasoning behind this is that when you roll the dough out, the small pieces will flatten and be spread out throughout the dough.  When you bake the crust, the small disks of butter start to puff up and make the crust flaky.


1. In a large bowl, mix the Flour Sugar and Salt together to make sure everything is evenly mixed together.  You don't want to have any 'blobs' of salt in there.

2. Add your butter to the flour mixture.  By hand, start to break up the chunks of butter into small pea sized pieces.

3. Add the Sour Cream and 1/4 cup of Ice Water to the mixture. Mix everything together until all the ingredients start to come together. Add more water if necessary, you don't want things to be too dry or too wet.

4. When everything comes together, put it back in your bowl and cover it with plastic wrap.  All it to rest at least 30 minutes, but ideally 1-2 hours to let the gluten relax.

To see my tutorial, click HERE!

Part 2 - Making the Filling and Filling the Pie!


- 11-12 Ripe Peaches (Skinless), and cut into slices.
- 1/2 Cup Vanilla Yogurt
- 1-2 tsp Almond Extract (optional)
- 1-2 tsp Cinnamon
- 1/4 Cup Flour
- 100ml 35% Cream
- 1/2 Cup Sliced Almonds


Just in case if you don't know how to get the skin off of your peaches, lets start there.  You will need 3 things.  A pot of water at a rolling boil, a bowl of ice water, and a slotted spoon.

1. Cut a cross onto the bottom of each peach

2. Put the peached 3-4 at a time into to boiling water for 45 seconds.  You are trying to loosen the skin, not cook the peaches

3. Use your slotted spoon to put the peaches into your bowl of ice water.

4. One they have cooled down, transfer them to a bowl and let them rest for at least 10 minutes.

5. The skin should peel right off.  If it doesn't just use a paring knife to loosen or peel the skin off.

Now lets make that Filling!

1. Put your slices peaches into a large bowl and add the yogurt, cinnamon, flour and cream.

2. Add the almond extract if you are making an almond peach pie.  Mix all the ingredients together.

3. Once everything is mixed thoroughly, fold in the sliced almonds, being careful not to break them up too much.

Now that you have made the filling, you're pie dough is probably ready to roll out.

1. Make sure you thoroughly flour your work surface and rolling pin.  You DON'T want your dough to stick to the counter since it is a huge pain to get it off in one piece.

2. Roll out your dough to about 1/8" thickness.  Fit the dough into your pie plate and make sure the dough is touching the bottom edge.

3. Trim around the edge of the dough, but leave about a 1/2" over the rim of the plate so that it will still fit after the gluten relaxes.  I usually use a pair is scissors to do this.

4. Add the filling to your empty crust.

5. If you are going to put a crust on the top, roll out another piece that will fit on top.  You can brush water or egg wash on the edge of the bottom crust before you put the top piece on if you really want to seal the edges.

6. Cut a vent in the top and put it in the oven at 400F for 45-60 minutes.

**If you want to do a Crumble Topping instead of a top crust, this is what I would recommend:


- 1/2 Cup Butter
- 1 Cup Oats
- 1/2 Cup Flour
- 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Ground Almonds

1. Add all the ingredients to a medium to large bowl.

2. Mix everything by hand until it is all thoroughly mixed together.  You want to have chunks that are made of all the various ingredients.

3. Just add this to the top of your pie instead of a top crust and bake at 400F for 45-60 minutes.

To see the second part of my tutorial click HERE!

*Bake the pies until they are golden Brown and let them cool for 2-3 hours.

Nutritional Information:

Pie Crust: Based on 2 Pies with 8 pieces each.

Filling: Based on 2 Pies with 8 pieces each.

Crumble Topping: Based on 1 Pie with 8 pieces.

As always, leave and questions, concerns or ideas in the comment section below ↓

Friday, September 7, 2012

Zucchini Bread!

I always try and use whatever produce is locally available in the area.  The reason for this is that it is generally very fresh, and also that it is very cheap!  The best possible combination out there :) Anywho, as we approach late summer, it is time for all the squash to come into season.  I should mention that I actually do not like zucchini very much, in fact I avoid eating it in stir fry, ratatouille, or anything else.  Zucchini bread is a very different matter though.  I discovered when I was quite young, that my mothers zucchini bread was going to be the only way I was going to eat this vegetable.  That recipe was delicious, however, it was also a bit oily.  We have since modified it to make it healthier, but it loses a bit of its rustic charm.  This recipe is one I made while in culinary school.  I have omitted some of the ingredients, but you can certainly add them if you would like.


230ml Vegetable Oil
3 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla

1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
425g White Sugar (about 1 3/4 to 2 cups)
485g All Purpose Flour (about 2 3/4 cups to 3 cups)

335g Grated Zucchini (about 1 1/2 to 2 normal sized zucchini)

150g raisins (about 1 1/2 cups) - Optional
200g Walnuts (about 1 1/2 cups) - Optional


1: Grate the zucchini and put it in a bowl

2. Combine the oil, eggs and vanilla in a bowl

3. Combine the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and flour in a large bowl.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.

5. Stir in the zucchini and the raisins and walnuts if you want to add them.

6. Use spray oil to coat two bread pans.

7. Pour the batter into the two bread pans and bake at 350F for 60-75minutes.

The bread should be nicely browned on the surface when it is done.  If you think it is done, insert a knife into the center of the loaf.  If it comes out clean you are good to go.  If there is still some batter attached to it, put it back in for another 5 minutes.  Repeat as necessary.

Let it cool down and enjoy!

Nutritional Information.

When I made this recipe I used 200g of Walnuts and no raisins.  This nutritional information is based on you dividing the bread into 15 pieces (which is what we did)

It's rather high in fat, although the fat coming from walnuts is a good one.  If you are concerned and wish to leave the nuts out, you will decrease the calories by 43.7 and the fat by 4.4g so that each serving has 172.5 cal and 7.5g of fat.  for some reason this program is showing trans fat (which it is reading from the oil, even though most vegetable oils are trans fat free now).

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lemon Raspberry Muffins - PPM 150 Compliant!

Today we're going to go with a low fat low(er) sugar muffin.  After going to Tim Hortons (not by choice, it was was the only place to eat), I was inspired to make some different kinds of muffins, but actually healthy instead of what they make.

Not only is this recipe easy, the muffins are very moist and quite tasty.  In addition, this recipe is also PPM 150 compliant! woot!


  • 1/2 cup Vanilla Yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
  • 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
  • 2 Egg Whites
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1-2 tbsp milk
  • 1 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 cup White Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Grated Lemon Zest
  • 1 cup Raspberries


1. Set your oven to 400 F

2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest together in a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the yogurt, vegetable oil, lemon juice, egg whites and honey together.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix only until it comes together.  If it seems a bit dry, add 1-2 tbsp milk to moisten it up.

5. Add the raspberries and fold them into the mixture.  Try not to break them up too much.

6. Put muffins wrappers of silicon wrappers in a muffin tin and add the batter. It should make 12 muffins.

7. Bake your muffins at 400F for 15-18 minutes.

8. Cool and Enjoy!

Nutritional Information

Again, this is what I like to call a template recipe.  The Raspberries and the Lemon ingredients are just for flavoring.  You can add whatever you would like to them, apples and cinnamon, blueberries and walnuts...etc.  It will change the nutritional information a bit, but as long as you're putting healthy ingredients in, you have nothing to fear!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sourdough - Part 2

My last attempt (yesterday) actually went quite well.  I made a few changes/modifications to the recipe that I think contributed to my success. So, lets get started!

First, lets revisit the firm starter.

Firm Starter

2/3 cup Barm
1 Cup unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1/8 to 1/4 cup warm water.

As usual, take the barm out of the fridge an hour before you're going to use it and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel.  You just want it to warm up a bit.

So let me start this off by saying that my primary source of flour has been bulk barn.  They have assorted non-wheat flours, bread flour and high-gluten flour.  In my first attempt I used rye flour and bread flour in the starter.  In my second attempt I used bread flour and All-Purpose flour (since I ran out of bread flour).  In both of these instances the starter didn't rise and really didn't do much except sort of melt as the gluten relaxed.  THIS time, I was determined and used 1/2 cup of bread flour and 1/2 cup of high gluten flour.  My reasoning for this is that high gluten flour has 40% protein content while the bread flour only has 12%.  I was hoping the combination would give it more structure.

Well, it certainly did, however, I made a mistake by not adding enough water and the starter did not rise as much as it should have.  If you're wondering about the colour, high gluten flour makes it a little bit yellow.

My advice at this point is to use the same flour ratio as I did, but make sure you add the full 1/4 cup of water.  Mix it all together until you can knead it into a small ball of dough. Spray a medium bowl with oil and put the dough in the bowl.  Cover your dough ball with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for 4 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Step 2:

This time, instead of putting the starter in the fridge over night, I immediately went into the next step and made the final dough.

Final Dough

4 to 4 1/2 cups of Bread Flour
2 tsp Salt
Firm Starter
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups warm water
1 to 2 tsp bakers yeast.

The addition I made to this recipe was to add a little bit of bakers yeast.  I was a little worried about it not rising again and I decided to spike it with a little bit of the commercial stuff.

Start off with your 1 1/2 cups of warm water and add the yeast to activate it.  Again, check out my youtube video here to see what fully activated yeast looks like.  Once it is ready to go, add the firm starter, salt and bread flour (starting with only 4 cups).  Mix it until it all comes together, you may need to add more flour or water to get the right consistency.  Sprinkle flour on the counter and knead the dough into a smooth ball.  Put your dough ball into a large metal bowl coated in oil.  Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow it to rise for about 3 hours, or until it is doubled in size.  Once doubled, punch the dough down to degas it and reform into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in the fridge overnight.

The next morning...
Dust your counter with flour and empty the dough onto the counter.  It will still rise while it's in the fridge and may look a lot like this:

Cut it in half and form into balls, or whatever shape you would like.  Place each piece of dough on a cookie sheet and spray with cooking oil.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to double in size.

Once it has doubled, set your oven to 450 F. Remove the plastic wrap and let the dough form a bit of a 'crust,' that is, allow the surface to dry out a bit.  Once it is a bit dryer, you can put on some cuts on the surface to make it look cool.  I did the following:

Put the loaves in the oven and cook them until they are done, about 20-30min.  If you want to have a nice chewy crust, spray the dough several times while baking and also spray the sides of the oven with water in order to generate some steam.  Here's what I got!  Although the sour flavor wasn't as dominant as it was in my last attempt, it was still quite good.  I will endeavor to find a way of making a pure sour dough, but in the mean time, this will do quite nicely!  Happy Baking!

If there is something you would like to learn how to bake or cook, feel free to message me or leave a comment.  I am open to new ideas!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sourdough - Part 1

Recently I had decided that I really wanted to try and make some authentic sourdough bread.  What follows is how my experiment is proceeding, and what will come next.  The recipe itself is quite simple, but takes place over quite a bit of time.  Here is the base recipe that is in the book:

Basic Sourdough Bread

Firm Starter

2/3 cup Barm
1 cup Unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1/8 to 1/4 cup warm water

Step 1: Take the barm out of the refrigerator 1 hour before you are going to make this so you can take the chill out.

Step 2: Mix everything together, adding just enough water so that you can knead the bread into a small ball.

Step 3: Allow it to ferment at room temperature for about 4 hours or until it has doubled in size.  It may take more than 4 hours, which is apparently okay, so just let it go until it does double in size and check on it every hour.

Here's the problem.  Mine NEVER doubled in size.  I left that baby out OVER NIGHT and it still didn't double.  I though perhaps my Barm was too old.  I tried again with a 2 day old barm and it was a little better, but still not doubled.  Nonetheless, I kept going.  The next step was to put it in the fridge overnight in order to retard the fermenting process (although I felt confident the process was retarded enough without refrigeration).


Take the dough out of the fridge an hour before using.  Cut it into 10 small pieces, cover with spray oil and allow them to warm up.  Once an hour has passed, combine the following:

Final Dough

4 1/2 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt
firm starter

Mix everything together until it comes together as a firm french bread dough.  No prob! I can do that.

The next step is to allow it to ferment at room temperature for 3-4 hours or until it has doubled.  I went out for 6 hours, came back, and wasn't really sure if it rose or if it just relaxed and spread out like a pancake. 

Still dedicated to this experiment, I cut the dough in half, careful not to degas it and let it rise for 2-3 hours.  Did it rise? Well, I'd say it was more of a relaxed spread out...  Ahh well, I've come this far, lets bake this bad boy.  Let me show you what I got in return...

Not exactly horrible, but the bread is really only 1.5" thick.  You can also see that the interior is far too dense and the air pockets are much smaller than they should be. Now I'm not exactly sure what is up with this recipe.  Maybe it's my barm, but the dang thing just does not move!! A little bit irked, I decided to look at online recipes to see what other people are doing.  Evidently the process others use is fairly similar if simplified.  The recipe is also very similar aside from one crucial difference.  People add/spike the recipe with a little bit of commercial bakers yeast.  The purist may say that this is cheating, sort of like adding gelatin to your mousse to stabilize it.  I call it smart.  I have followed the directions to a t while making the barm and the sourdough.  It just does not work.  I will update this soon with my next attempt.  We'll see if the yeast makes a difference.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Soft Rolls

So the recipe I have here is for Soft Rolls.  It's is a slightly enriched dough and makes very nice dinner rolls.  This is one of my template recipes, meaning that you can add all kinds of things to it or turn it into a variety of different shapes.


- 425g All Purpose Flour ( 2.5 cups)
- 5g Salt (1/2 tsp)
- 6g Dry Bakers Yeast
- 200ml Warm Water (about 25-30C)
- 25g Sugar (1 tbsp)
- 1 egg
- 50ml Vegetable Oil

*Should you feel like it, you can substitute some of the water for milk.  This will make your bread have a bit of a nicer flavor.


1. Put the water, a little bit of sugar, and yeast into your mixing bowl and let it ferment.  When it starts it should look like this:

As you can see, the yeast is starting to activate and reproduce.  Let it keep going until it looks like this:
Now it's ready! You can let it keep going more if you want, but at this point you're ready to get started.  Don't worry if it's going slow.  It may be that it's a little chilly out and it is just taking longer than normal.

2. Combine the flour, salt, and the rest of your sugar.  Add ALL (including the egg and oil)  remaining ingredients to the mixing bowl with the yeast water.

3. Mix it using a dough hook until it comes together.  Depending on how much moisture is in the air, you may need to add more flour or water to create the right consistency.  If you're worried about this part, I have created a youtube tutorial here that will show you exactly what I'm talking about.

4. Finish the dough by kneading by hand for a little bit, then forming the dough into a ball.  Your dough should look like this when you're done:

Nice smooth surface, and when you push lightly on it, it should bounce back at you.

5. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size.

6. Once the dough has doubled, you are ready to shape it.  As I said before, you can cut them into individual pieces and make buns.  You can put the dough into a loaf pan and make a loaf of bread, or you can make cheesie bread sticks.

If you choose to make buns or a loaf, bake it at 350F until it is done.  To find if it's done, the bread should be a nice brown colour and it should sound hollow when you tap it.

Making Cheesie Bread Sticks

1. Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces.  If you have a digital kitchen scale this will be easy since you just have to weigh out the whole piece and then divide it by 2.

2. Once you have the two pieces, for them into balls and then let them rest on the counter until doubled in size.

3. One your dough is done resting, roll out each piece into a triangle that is about 0.5mm thick.

4. Spray water on the bottom piece, and then sprinkle with salt.

5. Spread out your cheese (I use cheddar, but you can use whatever you want) in the center, but leave a 1 inch border.  You are doing this because you need to put the second piece on top and the border gives you an area where they can stick.

6. Once you have put the second piece on top, it should look like a big sealed up sandwich.  Use a pizza cutter to the dough into 1 inch strips.

7. Take each strip and roll them so that they are twisted, then lay them on a lined cookie sheet.  Spray the tops with water and sprinkle on sesame seeds, or salt, or anything that you like!

8. Bake them at 350 F for about 20 minutes or until they are lightly brown on top.

** To see a full tutorial on the cheesie bread sticks check out the youtube video at:

Monday, August 20, 2012


Fats are possibly one of the most controversial ingredients available to a cook or baker.  Each fat has it’s up side and its down side.  For our purposes here, I’m going to break this down into three basic types; animal fats, plant fats, and oils.

Before I get into the specific types, I’m going to give a brief overview of what it means for a fat to be saturated, unsaturated, or polyunsaturated.   A saturated fat means that the whole chain of the fat molecule is totally straight.  This creates a problem when our bodies are trying to break them down. 
Think of the fats as magnets.  If all the fats are totally straight magnets, it is going to be very easy for them to line up and stick together.  This will make it much more difficult to break them apart since they are stuck together over a very long length.  This is sort of the opposite problem of what we saw in sugars.  Sugars that are easily to break down are bad, since they get stored as fats.  In this case, fats that are easy to break down are good since we can use them as an energy source easier.
An unsaturated fat is a fat molecule that has one point on its chain that does not have a full set of bonds.  Let me try and simplify that a bit. Fats have a structure that is made up of Carbon atoms.  Each carbon atom is connected to 4 other atoms that are Carbon, Oxygen, or Hydrogen.  What happens in an unsaturated fat is that one of the Carbon atoms is only connected to 3 other atoms instead of 4.  Now I don’t want to get into the specifics as far as chemistry is concerned, but the fact that there are only 3 connections makes the lower part of the molecule stick out at an angle.  Since part of the molecule is now sticking out, it becomes more difficult for the fat molecules to stick together.  It’s like trying to get a bunch of bar magnets to stick together when half of it is bent at a 45° angle; you can probably do it, but they won’t stick together as strongly as they would if they were just straight.  This means that our bodies are able to separate and break down the fats easier.
Polyunsaturated fats are the best! It means that the fat molecule is unsaturated in more than one place.  This is the same concept as above, but now you have a bunch of fats together that are bent into all kinds of weird angles.  If you had magnets like that, it would definitely be difficult getting them to stick together.  As a result, our bodies have a much easier time breaking these bad boys down and using them as an energy source.

Animal Fats
Animal fats are classified this way since they are made from animal products.  The two most popular animal fats that you will encounter are lard and butter, both of which are delicious! Now, a lot of talk has gone into which types of fat are healthy and which ones are unhealthy.  People have argued back and forth that animal fats are better, or plant fats are better.  Personally, I am a fan of animal fats (at least as far as solid saturated fats are concerned) and this is for one reason.  Aside from a few exceptions, animal fats are naturally present in their solid form, that is, they were solid to begin with and we did not have to do anything chemically to get them that way. 

Butter is probably my preferred fat as a baker.  The reason for this is because it has been created from milk.  Since it has a basis in milk, it is not a pure fat so to speak, but it does contain all the goodness from the milk within the milk solids.  Sure you can clarify your butter to get ghee, and cook with that.  It is still delicious and has a wonderful clarity to it.  I can see why some cooks prefer to do this, but as a baker I would never do so.  Butter is, as I was saying earlier, naturally solid.  Because of this fact, there is a mix of both saturated, unsaturated fats. Now, there is a lot more saturated fats than unsaturated fats (since it is a solid fat), but that’s okay, it tastes phenomenal.  French bakers have used butter for centuries.  It does not have the same ability to make pastries puff up as high-ratio shortening does, but sometimes it’s more about the taste than the presentation.  Besides, as I’ve said before, if we’re going to do something, let’s do it right!

The other animal fat that you can use is lard, which is rendered from Hog fat.  This is a pure fat and seems to have a nearly infinite shelf life. While not as delicious as butter, it has the ability to be heated to a significantly higher temperature without smoking since it doesn’t have those pesky milk solids that tend to burn.  For a long time, lard was actually used in deep fryers at McDonalds for those delicious golden fries.  It actually amuses me a little bit when they do their experiments on how long the fries will last.  Of course they will last for months without going moldy, they are so deeply embedded with delicious fats that they have an anti-mold shield in place.  Anywho, you will also find lard in use at old school bakeries and donut shops.  The reason why you cannot duplicate their exquisite taste is most likely a result of the fact that you probably wouldn’t use lard in your products.  Is lard worse for you than butter? You bet! It’s made up of completely saturated fats, but at least it is from a natural source.  One of the things I will get into later is the difference between long chain and short chain fats.

Plant Fats
Okay, so in plant fats, well, solid plant fats, we have shortening and margarine.  Shortening and margarine are pretty much cut from the same block, except, like the difference between butter and lard, there is water in margarine.  I think that the original argument was that margarine is better for you than butter since it is made from the goodness of plant oils, canola, olive, etc.  The problem, however, is that in order to go from oil to a solid fat, it was necessary for the creators to artificially saturate the fats (called hydrogenation).   So as we were talking about in the beginning, polyunsaturated fats are essentially oils.  Their structure is so bent out of shape that they are unable to stick together, thus they simply float around in oil form.  What hydrogenation does is to force Hydrogen atoms onto the Carbon atom that only has 3 bonds to make it bond to a 4th atom.  Thus, the chains straighten and create a solid fat.  Woohoo! The only problem is that hydrogenation will take a polyunsaturated fat and turn it into a saturated fat.  Now we have a fat that is extremely difficult to break apart, and is now bad for your health (just like lard).

The last thing I want to mention about margarine is that it essentially has the same amount of fat as butter.  Now you may have seen a lot of reduced fat or zero fat spreads out there.  While these are fine for putting on your toast in the morning, you definitely do not want to use them as a baking substitute.  The reason why the spreads are lower in fat is because they contain significantly more water.  Basically you’re just paying for them to add water to your product.  These spreads are able to maintain their shape only because gums have been added to them to maintain their cohesiveness.
The exception here is coconut oil.  Coconut oil is actually solid at room temperature (well, depending on your room temperature…).  There was a controversy recently regarding the use of coconut oil.  A lot of “experts” were saying that it is bad for you due to the large amounts of saturated fats.  True, I agree that there is indeed an alarming amount of saturated fats contained within it, however, these fats are actually short chains.  Plants and animals will tend to create long chain and short chain fats.  Basically, the chain length will be determined by however much glucose the organism chooses to add onto each chain.  The difference however is to look at what it would be like to pry apart bar magnets that are two inches long versus bar magnets that are 12 inches long.  It is much easier to break apart a small one versus a large one, and the same is true with these fats.  A good way of seeing this for me was the fact that during the winter, when the house is about 70-74°F, the jar of coconut oil is solid.  During the summer, however, when the house it at about 76-78°F, the jar was completely liquid.  It really does not take as much energy to break apart the fats in coconut oil versus the other solid fats.

Oils, as I was saying earlier, are just unsaturated, or polyunsaturated fats.  As with everything, unless you specifically purify it, there will be a crossover of color and flavor.  Just look at the light green, strongly flavored Olive Oil, and the yellow barely flavored Canola Oil.  There is a huge amount of oils available to you, from nuts oils, to vegetable oils.  Whichever one you choose will depend on your preferences and needs.  Just be aware that if you choose to use a strong oil, like sesame oil or truffle oil, a very little bit will go a long way.

When cooking, oil is your friend.  It is easy to coat a pan, or pot and can be heated to very high temperatures.  Some of the specialty oils are so expensive that they are generally not used in large amounts.  Instead they are often used as finishing oils or inside salad dressings.  Other oils tend to smoke at a low temperature and are usually not used for cooking.  Peanut oil, canola oil, vegetable oil and corn oil are all very stable oils that are, or were, commonly used in the industry.
When baking, oil is sort of your sketchy friend.  Sometimes it comes through for you, and sometimes it does not.  For example, Oil can be an easy substitution into a fluffy cake recipe (just look at pancakes), oil is even used in small quantities in making bread.  Do not, however, use oil in cookies or any baked product that needs its fat source for leavening, like a puff pastry.

How do Fats Work in Baking?
I think the biggest thing that people normally wonder about is that nice flaky crust on a pie or pastry.  While a lot of this is a result of proper methodology, the type of fat we use also has a lot to do with it.  You may have seen that a normal pie crust recipe directs you to break up the fat into small pea sized pieces.  When you roll out the dough, these small pieces actually flatten out and create little flattened blobs of fat in the dough. When you bake your crust, the fat will create a shield on the top and bottom of a layer.  The evaporation of the water in the crust and create steam this will cause the dough to puff up.  Since parts of the dough are shielded because of the flatten disks of fat, they will create little air pockets.  The areas that are not shielded will absorb the water and then dry out.  All of these little air pockets throughout the crust is what we refer to as flakiness.

The second thing that you may be wondering about is the role of fat in cookies.  When you are making cookies, the fat will coat the pieces of flour and sugar and make a nice crumb since they are kept in little separate pockets.  Now this is the key that I like to tell people.  The more you mix your cookie dough, the more they are going to spread out.  I have seen people walk away from the mixer and they end up with little cookie crepes.  The reason for this is quite simple.  As you mix the fat into the cookie dough, it begins to coat the particles.  As you continue to mix it, more and more particles will get coated.  This is okay, however, once too many particles are coated, they lose their ability to stick together since gluten strands are unable to form.  Whenever I make cookies, after I add the dry ingredients, I mix it just until things are pretty much incorporated, then I finish it off by hand.

How does Fat Work in Cooking?
Let me just say that as far as cooking is concerned, fat is a beautiful thing.  Without fat, cooking would be rather bland and have a slightly unpleasant texture.  Primarily, we use fats, oils in particular, to coat pans or pots so that food won’t stick to them.  We also end up using fats to add flavor, such as a nice brown butter to toss pasta or spaezle in.

This next example goes back to baking a little bit, but it is for a savory dish.  You will notice that when you are done making chicken stock you have a nice layer of fat on the top.  DON’T THROW IT OUT!!! In addition to the fact that this is pure fat, it also tastes quite good.  If you are thinking of making a Quiche or some sort of stuffed pastry for dinner, use your left over chicken fat!  I did this several times while I was working at a café and people loved it.  If you are now cringing at this fact, let me just say that my years working in the restaurant industry has taught me that the reason things taste so good, is because they are totally loaded with fat. YUM! 

Another example would be if you have rendered off some fat, say from the leftover chunks of fat from butchering a leg of pork.  Just melt it down and add it to a dish for some intensely good flavor.  When I was in culinary school we were making a pork stew, I forget what it was called, but it is a French Canadian classic.  Anyhow, I just couldn’t get the full bodied flavor I wanted, so I poured in about ½ a cup of rendered pork fat.  Talk about amazing! Of course I did this a little bit wrong.  Technically I should have used the fat to make a roux, and then use that to thicken the stew.  Either way, you can maximize the money you spend on food by utilizing all the parts.  It also gives you a great flavor that may actually remind you of the cooking you remember when you were young.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


I'm going to do a little bit of an interlude today and talk about something that I have been working on lately.  While I was taking my Hospitality and Tourism ABQ with Murray Zehr, he was talking about how you can create a starter from nothing but flour and water.  This is based on the fact that there is a lot of free floating wild yeast in the air that will cause fermentation on its own.  Intrigued, I decided to give it a shot.

Looking through my book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I found exactly what I was looking for, and a good explanation for what's going on.  What I was about to embark on, was to create a Sour Dough seed culture.  The difference between our regular bread starters and the sour dough starter is all in the type of yeast that is being raised and the local bacteria.  The commercially grown yeast is a species called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  It is grown under strict hygienic conditions and is therefore safe to use in our baking goods. We are interested in capturing wild yeast by the name of Saccharomyces exiguus.  Local bacteria are present when we capture this yeast.  As the yeast ferments and breaks down the carbohydrates in the flour, the bacteria create lactic acid and acetic acid.  It is the presence of these acids that is responsible for the sour taste that we love!

So, why do we need to use S. exiguus instead of S. cerevisiae? Well, S. exiguus is able to thrive under the acidic conditions created by the bacteria, whereas S. cerevisiae will actually die, and create an unpleasant flavor.

Another thing I feel the need to explain is the original ingredients.  The first day of the starter uses rye flour and pineapple juice.  I am going to need to double check this point, however, I do recall reading that rye flour contains more nutrients and protein than ordinary wheat flour, and tends to make a better starter.  Pineapple juice is used to restrain the growth of a strain of bacteria that is also in the air that tends to hinder the wild yeast, but creates a lot of Carbon Dioxide making it seem as though the starter is working, even though it is not.  Anywho, on to the recipe!

Day 1: 

1 cup of Rye Flour, Bread Flour or Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 cup Pineapple Juice (at room temperature)

Mix the ingredients together, making sure all of the flour is hydrated.  It will make a fairly solid mass.  Push the dough into a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2:

1/2 cup Bread Flour
1/4 cup Pineapple Juice (at room temperature)

Your dough from yesterday will not really look any different than when you left it.  Simply add the ingredients to what you already have, and transfer it into a glass measuring bowl or beaker.  The dough should be a bit softer and wetter now than it was on day 1.  Again, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 24 hours.

Day 3:

1 cup Bread Flour
1/2 cup (plus or minus) water*

You may see some rise in your dough, or perhaps not.  At most it will have risen by about 25-50%.  I personally didn't see much of a difference.  Although I did enjoy the fact that I used a glass container since it allowed me to see that there was in fact little air pockets forming within the dough.  Take half of your mixture and throw it out.  Using the other half, mix in the day 3 ingredients and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow it to sit for 24 hours.
*okay, so I'm saying plus or minus at this point since my dough was a little bit too wet, since the humidity was extremely high at the time.  This prevented the dough from rising very much.

As you are adjusting the water or flour levels, you should end up with something a lot like this:

Day 4:

1 cup Bread Flour (plus or minus)
1/2 cup water

By this point you definitely should see at least a 50% rise in your dough. Again, throw out half of your dough (or give it to a friend), then mix in the day 4 ingredients to the remaining half.  I say plus or minus on the flour since again, my dough was too wet.  I think I ended up adding about 1/4 extra flour to get it to a good consistency. Leave the dough for 4-24 hours until it doubles in volume.  At this point, it is ready to become a Barm.

It should look something like this:

Now I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is, all of your hard work is about to pay off! The bad news is, you only need 1 cup of your seed culture...

3 1/2 cups Bread Flour
2 cups water (at room temperature)
1 cup seed culture.

This one is very straight forward, mix everything together making sure all of the flour is hydrated.  Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit out at room temperature for about 6 hours.  After 6 hours, the barm should be extremely bubbly.  Open the lid to release the gas (but don't breath it in since it stinks).  Replace the lid and put it into the fridge.

You now have a Barm! Your best bet is to make this the day before you intend to use it.  Barm will be potent enough for immediate use for approximately 3 days in the fridge.  After we hit the 4-7 day mark, all of those lovely acids and enzymes released by our microorganisms begins to break down the gluten strands. and we end up with soup.  Because of this, we need to 'refresh' the barm by adding flour and water.

Here's the good news, if you don't make a lot of bread, you can actually keep your Barm in the Fridge for up to 2 months, and in the freezer for up to 6 months.  I personally don't recommend the freezer approach since the refreshing process is more of a pain than the fridge method.

Refreshing within the 3 day window.

The idea here is to double it.  The easiest way is to just weigh it, if you have a scale.  So lets say you have 1 pound of Barm you want refreshed.  You want to end up with 2 pounds, so you need 1 pound of more or less equal parts flour and water.  So in this case, about 1 3/4 cups flour and 1 cup water.  If you don't have a scale, just eyeball it.  Always cover it when you're done and store it in the fridge.

Refreshing after the 3 day window

Throw out all but 1 cup of the Barm.  Add 4 cups of flour and about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water and mix everything together until all the flour is hydrated.  Cover it up and put it back in the fridge.

Since I know you're all going to be gung-ho to try this out, I will post a couple of recipes within the next few days that will utilize the Barm.  I think on Saturday I will try out the Potato, Cheddar and Chive Torpedoes.  I wanted to do this so bad while I was up North, but I just didn't have any Bread Flour!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


One of the biggest components of most our baked goods is flour.  Recently though, flour has gotten a bit of a bad reputation.  What is Flour and where does it come from? What are the different kinds of flour out there? What is the difference between a wheat allergy and Celiac’s disease? What is the big deal about Carbohydrates?

The most common type of flour that we use is wheat flour. In general, there are two basic types that you will use when baking, White Flour and Whole Wheat flour.  Each kernel of the wheat plant is made of three main parts: Bran, Endosperm, and Germ.  

The Bran is the tough outer coat of the wheat kernel.  Bran is high in what people like to call dietary fiber.  Fiber is made of cellulose, a part of the plant that our bodies are unable to break down and digest.  As a result, fiber is generally passed quickly through the digestive tract with only a small amount of nutrients absorbed.  Other examples of fiber are celery, beans and nuts.  The reason why they say that fiber helps to promote regularity is essentially due to the fact that since fiber is non-digestible, it will be moved to your colon quickly.  Therefore, the more fiber you eat, the more you’re going to have to poop.

The Germ is the part of the kernel that will be used to create a new plant.  The germ therefore has a very high amount of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.  In general, bakers tend to add wheat germ to their baked goods in order to augment the nutritional value.

The last part of the kernel is the endosperm.  This makes up over 80% of kernel and has big chunks of protein with a massive amount of starch embedded in it. Approximately 70-75% of the endosperm is made up of starch.  The proteins that you find in the endosperm are called glutenin and gliadin. When water is added to these two proteins they form gluten.  Gluten is a protein that creates a tough matrix of strands.  It is these strands that help to give structure to a lot of your baked goods.
Now, White flour is made from the ground up endosperm, the germ and the bran are removed.  There are three main categories of white flour available; pastry flour, all-purpose flour, and bread flour.  The primary difference between these types is the amount of protein.   Pastry flour has 7-9.5% protein, all-purpose has 9.5-11.5% protein, and bread flour usually has 11.5-13.5% protein content.  The reason why we generally use all-purpose flour is because it fits within the range of bread and pastry flours and can make a fairly good version of both.  There is also cake flour out there which has 6-8% protein and high gluten flour which has 13.5-14.5% protein.  As you can see, whenever you make bread you want more protein, and when you make cake you want less.  Since the proteins are used to make the tough gluten strands, it is understandable that you wouldn’t want to have a lot of gluten in your cake.  I’ve never known anyone to request a ‘chewy’ cake.

Whole wheat flour is a little different from white flour since it is composed of the entire wheat kernel.  These flours also have a shorter shelf life than white flour since the bran and germ contain oils which can go rancid. Whole wheat flours tend to have fairly high protein content at around 11-14%, but do not produce as much gluten as regular flours.  There are a few main reasons for this.  The Germ contains gluthathione (a protein) and the bran contains pentosan gum, both of which hinder the development of gluten strands.  Also, the bran particles are actually quite sharp and tend to literally cut through the developing gluten strands. 

Types of Flour
Today, there are many different types of flour available; Rye flour, rice flour, durum flour, soy flour, potato flour, etc.  These different types of flours can give you a variety of different flavors and textures.  One of the things you may want to keep in mind though is that many of these flours do not have the ability to create gluten.  It is actually because of this fact that they have become popular for the creation of gluten free products, but additional steps are necessary in order to create a stable product.  For example, a gum such as xanthan or guar must be added to many products to create a stable structure.  Think about the fact that the entire structure of your bread is based on gluten strands, then think about what will happen if they are no longer there.

Wheat Allergies and Celiac’s Disease.
Wheat allergies are pretty much the same as any other allergy.  The wheat particles are identified as a foreign object by your body and an allergic reaction ensues.  These individuals will generally experience the same symptoms as any other person who is allergic to something.
Celiac’s Disease is a little bit different. This is a genetic disorder that creates problems within an individual’s digestive tract. When someone with Celiac’s consumes any amount of gluten, it literally damages the walls of the small intestine, which is where nutrients are absorbed by the body.  As a result, this disease has actually spawned a series of gluten free products to be created.

The enemy! Or some people tend to think.  True, carbohydrates can and will make you fat, however, as I have said before, moderation is the key! In the case of flour, the carbohydrates are coming from the starch molecules that we saw are found in the proteins in the endosperm.  The starch molecules are what we would call a complex carbohydrate.  It is made up of many glucose molecules that are bonded together.  This is actually how plants store their excess glucose (sort of like plant fat cells).  I think at this point you’re starting to get the idea of where we’re going here.  Glucose is essentially the basis for the majority of our food sources. 

Now let’s talk about how sugars relate into this.  Sugars ARE carbohydrates, they are just simple ones. The difference between eating a starch and eating a sugar is based on how much energy our bodies use up to digest them.  We saw last time that sugars are easily metabolized since there is only one bond to break in disaccharides and no bonds to break in monosaccharides.  In the case of polysaccharides, there are several bonds that need to be broken down in order to fully metabolize the food source.  It is because of this fact that the sugars that are contained within them are more slowly released into our blood stream.  Having a rapid entry of glucose into our blood makes our bodies tend to store them as fat since there is far too much to be utilized immediately.  When we eat polysaccharides, the sugars are released more slowly, thus allowing our bodies to utilize them over time.  This will help prevent the glucose from being converted to glycogen and stored in our fat cells.
There is a key point here that is sort of implied.  In order for our bodies to utilize the energy that we are giving it, we need to be active!  It is great to eat complex carbohydrates since they release their sugars slowly, but if we are just sitting on the couch, our bodies will still have far too much glucose and will still be stored as fat.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with a nice pasta dinner with some nice artisan breads, unless you fill up then sit around doing nothing for the next few hours.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Sugar, the one thing that we all love to eat and the one thing that we could all go the rest of our lives without eating.  Where does sugar come from? How is it made? Why is it bad for us?  Let’s find out!

What is Granulated Sugar?
First let’s talk about the types of sugars from a chemical point of view.  A sugar molecule is an Organic molecule.  By organic I mean that it is made of only Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms.  There are three basic types of sugars that are called Monosaccharaides.   These three are Glucose, Fructose and Galactose.  Glucose shows up pretty much everywhere, Fructose is a sugar that you will find a lot of in fruits, and Galactose is the ‘sugar of the brain.’  These are the simple forms of the sugars though and are not normally found in foods.  The types of sugars that we DO usually see are called Disaccharides.
Disaccharides are made up of two sugar molecules that are bonded together.  There are three main types of combinations that you will normally see.  Sucrose is made of Glucose and Fructose.  Maltose is made up of two glucose molecules and lactose is made up of a Glucose and a Galactose Molecule.  Sucrose is, by far, the most common sugar that is in use for cooking purposes.  Whenever we use granulated sugar, it is actually Sucrose that we’re using.

Where does Granulated Sugar come from?
Granulated sugar comes from two main sources.  In North America it comes from the refined juices of sugar cane.  In Europe, it comes from the refined juices of the sugar beet plant. 
The refining process is fairly complicated, but it sums up to a few basic steps.
1.       The sugar cane/beet is crushed and the juice is taken.
2.       Lime and CO2 is added to the mix to trap the impurities.
3.       The impurities settle on the bottom and are removed.
4.       The left over syrup is boiled to remove the water and concentrate it into a yellow syrup
5.       The syrup is put in a centrifuge to settle out and remove the molasses.
6.       After this step we have what is called Raw Sugar.
After we have raw sugar, it is washed and centrifuged three more times and then decolorized.  At this point, we now have granulated sugar.
Sometimes you will see the natural food industry advertise evaporated cane juice or natural cane juice.  What this means is that instead of the three washes we see above, there is only one.  Also, this sugar is not decolorized and has a slightly gold color.  The important point here is that this type of ‘organic sugar’ is not any healthier than the regular granulated sugar.  I believe the only point in its favor is that it has been processed less, chemically.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is simply granulated sugar that has 10% or less molasses added to it.  You often see brown sugar and golden sugar in the store.  The difference between these two is the amount of molasses in it. Light brown sugar usually has about 3.5% and the dark has around 6.5%.  Granulated sugar can be substituted for brown sugar in any recipe.  Brown sugar is only used for it's rich rustic flavor.

* Have you ever had your brown sugar harden into rocks on you?? The solution is actually very simple.  Put the brown sugar into an airtight container with a damp (not soaked) paper towel for about 1-2 days and seal the container.  The brown sugar will magically be soft again!

Icing Sugar

Icing sugar, or confectioners sugar as it also known as is made by grinding granulated sugar extremely finely and then adding cornstarch to it.  As we were saying before, sugar loves to absorb moisture, which will cause it to lump.  Icing sugar has cornstarch added (about 3%) to help absorb excess moisture preventing it from lumping.
Now, let’s get into why exactly Sugar is bad for us.  Why do the things that taste good always end up being so bad for us? It’s just an unfair twist of nature.  Anyway, it is important for us to understand how sugar is processed in our bodies.  Sugar, glucose in particular, is actually the fuel that drives all of our bodies processes. Without glucose we would actually be in deep trouble.  So you may ask yourself, if sugars are needed for our metabolic processes, why exactly do they make us fat?? Well, here’s the unfortunate news.  Our bodies only require a small amount of sugars to keep things running.  Refined sugars also make it far too easy for our bodies to break down and absorb simple sugars.  The easier it is to break down food, the less work our bodies do, and the less food we need to consume. 
This fact actually helps to explain why my cat is so fat.  Whenever I put a dish of food in front of her, she gets to consume a large amount of calories and doesn’t really do much to get it (other than to wake up and walk across the room).  On the other hand, if I toss her outside and make her get her own dinner, she will use up a lot more energy.  Not quite the same, I know, but you get the idea.
Okay, so, now we have a massive amount of simple sugars being absorbed and entering our blood stream.  Well, guess what. Our bodies CANNOT use an infinite amount of energy.  So now guess what happens! Our bodies, always ready to help out, decides to store the sugars since clearly we may need them later. Where? In our fat! Woohoo! Now we’ve just gained weight.

What are the Alternatives?
Well, there are a series of alternatives out there these days.  The reason why they work is because they are molecules that have been designed to activate the ‘sweet’ portion of our taste buds.  They taste right, but do they cook properly? Sort of.  Splenda is one alternative that is made from Sucralose and taste alright.  The thing that Splenda has going for it is the fact that you can actually bake with it.  Now, I wouldn’t recommend doing a straight up substitution or anything, but you can probably find a way of adapting your recipes to use Splenda.  Another good alternative is Stevia.  Stevia is extremely low in calories for the amount of sweetness it adds.  It taste pretty good and it goes a long way.  Can you bake with it? I have no idea, I have not tried yet, but for now I will simply use it in recipes where it adds sweetness rather than performing a crucial chemical reaction.

What should you do now?
Well, what you do is up to you.  You can try these alternatives and hope for the best.  You can say who gives a damn and go for the gold! Or you can do what I do.  Moderation.  Do I want to drink Diet sodas forever? No.  Will drinking regular sodas make me fat? Probably if I drink them every single day.  I would rather drink 1 regular soda once a week then a diet every day.  It’s the same as cookies or muffins or pretty much any dessert. I will not compromise quality on any of these recipes.  They can (and will) make you fat if you eat them constantly, but, if you moderate, you will be good to go.  After all, if we’re going to do something bad, we may as well do it right!

Feel free to leave me or email me any questions or comments you may have.  I have found that it is sometimes difficult finding accurate and/or useful information about food and healthy eating in the same place.  Sometimes I do, but then the recipes end up sucking.  The goal here is to let us all eat well, but be healthy.