Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ratio Rally! Vegan Sesame Shiso Biscuits

Mini Sesame Shiso Biscuits, Gluten-Free & Vegan

Just a few days into this new year, I am actually feeling compelled to make a resolution for 2012.  To preface that statement, while I use to make resolutions every year, I left the practice by the wayside a few years back.  Whether it was the unrealistic expectations, the lack of baby-steps in between, or probably a mix of both, I felt like the practice was holding me back more than it was propelling me forward.  But this year, I have a resolution that I actually feel good about making.

Be a better baker.

And more than just better, I'd also like to be braver, giving myself permission to take more risks and to make more mistakes.  And while it may sound silly, I would love it if over the course of this year I felt like I had earned calling myself a "baker."

Which conveniently brings us to this month's Gluten-Free Ratio Rally challenge: biscuits.

This is only my second time participating in the Rally, but in these past two months I've encountered a steep learning curve that's given me some tremendous tools to help me fulfill my resolution this year.  Instead of being overwhelmed looking at recipes and all the fractions and numbers, I can now look at a recipe and see ratios, proportions, and finally, sense.

Admittedly, this month's challenge was a bit daunting.  If you flip to the chapter on biscuits in Ratio, Ruhlman directly attributes the desirable characteristics of a biscuit, namely chewiness and doughiness, to gluten.  Gulp.  But I thought, why not just give it a try?  The worse thing that could happen would be learning that biscuits and gluten-free don't go together.

But y'know what?  They do. :)

Trial #1 through the eyes of Instagram

First, I followed Ruhlman's recipe for Chicago biscuits, complete with turns. While the result was better than expected, it was not particularly doughy nor chewy.  So I went back to the drawing board, thinking about flours and ingredients to give it more lift.  And over the course of the next few trials and tweaks, I joyously found a combination that produced biscuits that were light and airy on the inside and slightly crisp on the outside.

Shiso leaves and toasted black sesame powder.

The flavors I used were inspired by frequent visits as of late to the local Chinatown supermarket.  The curious herb, shiso (aka perilla) with its tart, fresh, and slightly grassy flavor combined with the earth, smoke, and nuttiness of toasted black sesame powder.  Don't be mislead: while they sound intense, these ingredients serve to contribute subtle backnotes that lilt on the palette rather than hit you over the head.  Nope, the star here is a wonderfully gluten-free and vegan biscuit.

Vegan & Gluten-Free Sesame Shiso Biscuits
(GF, DF, V, rSF, SF)

2 oz  or 1/4 c coconut milk beverage
1 teaspoon ume plum vinegar
1/2 teaspoon psyllium husks
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted black sesame powder
1 teaspoon agave
1 oz or ~1/4 c millet flour
2 oz or ~1/3 c potato starch
1/2 oz or 2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
1/2 oz or 2 tablespoons white rice flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 oz chilled vegan butter
2-3 teaspoons minced shiso leaf
1 tablespoon coconut milk beverage for brushing
toasted black sesame seeds to garnish

1.  Combine coconut milk with vinegar, psyllium, sesame powder, and agave.  Give it a good stir and transfer it to the refrigerator for ~10 minutes while it curdles into a "buttermilk."  This also allows time for the psyllium to become saturated so it can eventually act as a binder.  If you don't have psyllium, feel free to experiment with using flax or chia, and also any vinegar of preference will work.
2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
3.  While the 'buttermilk' is coming together, begin to assemble the dry ingredients.  With the exception of the salt, pass them through a sifter or give them a good whisk to create a uniform consistency.  Add salt.
4.  Make sure your butter is well-chilled.  It's also helpful if it's cut into smaller pieces.  Toss the butter pieces in the flour until well coated.  If it's warm in your kitchen, you may want to chill the flour/butter mixture for a few minutes before proceeding to the next step.
5.  Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour.  You can also use your hand, employing a pinching motion with your fingers to break the butter pieces into roughly pea-size, flour-covered granules.  Should you feel the butter becoming greasy, chill the flour/butter mixture again for a few minutes.  Keeping the butter from melting here is crucial to the texture of the finished biscuit, so when in doubt, chill.
6.  Add minced shiso leaf to just combine.
7.  Begin to slowly add the chilled 'buttermilk' to the flour/butter mixture.  You want to add just enough liquid for the dough to just start coming together.  Remember that you can always add more but you can't take it away.  Your goal will be a dough that's rather shaggy and a little bit crumbley with visible pieces of butter throughout.
8.  Flatten the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface.  Fold it in half and flatten it by hitting it with the palm of your hand.  Think of this as a cross between encouraging leavening and anger management - both very useful.  Repeat this process one more time and then flatten to 1/2" thickness.
9.  Cut out rounds using an up and down motion (avoid twisting to keep from sealing the sides of the biscuit).  I did both 1 1/2" and 3" rounds.
10.  Arrange biscuits on a lined pan, either touching each other for soft-side biscuits or spaced 1" apart (both work well).
11.  Brush with coconut milk beverage and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.  Bake for 10 minutes (regardless of size).
12.  They should at least double in height and become slightly golden.
13.  Makes 2 dozen 1 1/2" mini-biscuits or 6 larger 3" biscuits.

I'm not the only one who brainstorms on Christmas stationery, right?  Right?

Much better results with the pastry blender.

Butter cut into the flour, flecked with shiso.

'Shaggy' dough ready for a beating. :)

Fluffy, crumbly, & light.

One thing that I really love is that you can serve them savory or sweet.  My favorite batch incorporated a sprinkle of vanilla sugar on top before baking.  I ate those with a pomegranate-blackberry jam - sublime.  And if the ingredients are throwing you for a loop, feel free to substitute and play.  Recipes are just suggestions, after all.
Pomegranate Blackberry jam inspired by a recipe from Green Kitchen Stories.

Speaking of suggestions, Ruhlman's ratio for biscuits is 3 parts flour: 1 part fat: 2 parts liquid.  While I started there, I found that it needed more starch to help with the lift and just a touch more fat to keep up.  So my ratio here was 4 parts flour: 1.25 parts fat: 2 parts liquid.

Big Thanks to Gretchen at kumquat for hosting* this month's challenge.  Please visit the links below to see all the amazing gluten-free biscuit creations from this wildly talented list of bloggers. 

Amanda / Gluten Free Maui / Classic Biscuits & Gravy
Amie / The Healthy Apple / Wasabi Parsley Biscuits
Caleigh / Gluten Free[k] / American Style Biscuits
Caneel / Mama Me Gluten Free / Whole Grain Pecan Drop Biscuits
Charissa / Zest Bakery / Eggnog Biscuits with Grated Nutmeg
Erin / The Sensitive Epicure / Scallion Biscuits with Sausage Gravy
gretchen* / kumquat /sweet buttermilk biscuits
Heather / Discovering the Extraordinary / Almond Coconut Tea Biscuits
Jean / Gluten-Free Doctor Recipes / Jammers
Karen / Cooking Gluten-Free! / Biscuit Template with DF Substitutions
Lisa / Gluten Free Canteen / Fluffy Biscuits
Mary Fran / FrannyCakes / Espresso Orange Biscuits
Mrs. R / Honey from Flinty Rocks / Gobbler Cobbler
Rachel / The Crispy Cook / Hummus in a Biscuit
Silvana / Silvana's Kitchen / Sausage-n-Cheddar Bialy Biscuits
TR / No One Likes Crumbley Cookies / Lemon Basil Biscuits



  1. That is one elegant looking biscuit! What a lovely mix of flavors. I think shiso may have to end up in my herb garden this year just so I can try this bookmarked recipe. MMMMmmm.

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  2. A perfect resolution and awesome looking biscuits - can't wait to see what you bake this year!

  3. what a fascinating ingredient list! sounds delicious. i considered making a southern favorite called benne seed biscuits, but i love your sesame version too! so glad you've joined! :)

  4. These look great! Love the exotic take on the classic biscuit.

  5. These look really delicious! I'm impressed with the rise you got with yours!

  6. My stationary I worked my biscuits out on is covered with doves, snowflakes and words of peace and love. So, you're not alone. I thought about including a picture of it but I had so many pictures already.

    While I've never seen shiso leaves I have heard of them here in Hawaii. I've never heard of black sesame powder, but I have a sesame shake in my cupboard.

    Your plating is beautiful, and the biscuits look wonderful. I'd eat one with joy.

  7. Jonathon your biscuits look great!

    I don't brainstorm on Christmas stationary... being part of the Ratio Rally I have taken to keeping a small spiral notebook on the counter in the kitchen. Complete with a pen in the spiral!! Makes blogging the recipe SO much easier... and reduces the need to go hunting for the revised recipe on a different piece of paper!! lol

  8. They do look fluffy, crumbly and light. My daughter's new dairy restrictions mean I will be checking your blog for ideas, thank you.

  9. It is times like these that I wish I could reply to each comment. But alas....

    I am grateful to the Ratio Rally, not only for the opportunity to learn about baking, but also for the sense of community and camaraderie. Thank you, everyone, for your kind words. Can't wait to get to reading everyone else's posts tonight!

  10. nice! those are very elegant. I thought the first ones look great, too.

  11. Thanks, Lisa! Y'know in retrospect, those first ones weren't so bad at all. I don't really have a history with biscuits beyond the ones from KFC, so perhaps I wasn't the best judge. :)

  12. Your biscuits look amazing! I love all the flavours you have used.

    (Also love the stationery!)

  13. I like your resolution. I might have to steal it! Learning new things and taking some baking risks sounds like fun. And, your biscuits look great!

  14. I remember you sending a photo of these to my phone and I my first reaction was 'oh they look like a scone with black sesame on them' So, I wasn't that off because scones are a type of biscuit =) Sounds and looks good. Do you remember those seaweed biscuits that I used to get from the asian market? I remember trying to make a batch of those once before; maybe I will try doing those ones again. They were mostly savory, but with a touch of sweetness.

    I don't think I've written down recipes on Christmas stationary before, but the notebook where I take my notes has Babuschkas all over it; so I guess it looks festive. Hehe.

    Thanks for sharing Kuya!

  15. Thanks, Lisa! By all means, steal away. :) And you make a really good point: resolutions can and should be fun.

  16. Jess-
    I do remember those biscuits. I was actually _this_ close to putting nori or laver in this recipe. I'll be adding that to my steadily growing baking to-do list. Practice makes....better?


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