Gluten free experiments with Psyllium + Rice and Millet Poached Pear Cake

GF Pear loaf

My new love is psyllium husk. I have been experimenting a lot with it. The husk is actually native to India and yet, I had only heard of it a year ago. It has for time immemorial been used, as a home remedy, to treat a sticky gut issue, otherwise called constipation. Due to its high fiber content, it is recommended as a everyday supplement (sometimes in the form of metamucil) for those with dietary issues and diseases of the gut.

More recently, it has becoming more the talk of the town in gluten free cooking, as its ability to soak high volume of liquid and bind the solids around it is being leveraged for the lack of gluten in the cooking. It all makes sense and you would think it would be easy to incorporate it. By all accounts, it should have been the darling of this culinary niche.

GF Pear loaf

Yet, when you search for what people have already done with the husk, there is precious little variety. This made me very curious. Why has there been limited use in traditional baking or otherwise? Xantham gum, a processed product from corn, works as a thickener and is more commonly used. I would have thought there would be a greater demand for an entirely natural product such as psyllium, at least within the GF community.

So, as you would, I decided I must fill the void. I have always been sort of a chemistry geek and this idea reeked off novelty and a lot of fun; irresistible combination for me. The science behind how the husk works is simple. Husk (or ground) absorbs water, expands and binds to neighboring molecule. But, as I worked with the additive, I realized that it was not all that straightforward.

Reality Check #1: Psyllium is available as the whole husk or in powdered form. It has pale beige color, like wet sand. Either can be used but the choice is sometimes aesthetic. For bread, it does not matter but try making panna cotta and it can look quite off putting. In its whole form, it is a obviously visible and makes a textural difference if used with smooth liquids. A powdered form, possibly, works better for such preparation but I have not tried that yet.

GF Pear loaf

The real issue is that the husk and powder are NOT a one to one substitute. Although I am not entirely sure of the chemistry behind it, I would speculate that the larger surface area of the husk allows for multiple molecular binds while the powder form breaks down some of that efficiency.

Nevertheless, this plays a big role considering Reality Check #2.

Psyllium does not bind the same way to different agents. So, this means it is not a simple x gram of psyllium to y ml of liquid. The amount you need also depends on the what


ingredients are going into the mixture. For example, you may need a certain quantity of it with whole oats and a completely different amount with oat flour for the same amount of liquid. I know this because, I had a few learnings along the way.

GF Pear loaf

Now, imagine the degree of complexity of working with psyllium in real food. Every dish needs multiple iterations and a lot of trial and error. It is no wonder now that there are few actual recipes out there using it. It is far easier to use anthem gum, starches and other stuff that are more predictable and less eccentric.

However, after the effort I have already put into it, I feel that there is real potential in finding ways of using this natural ingredient in our diet. I prefer to use as little processed as I can, even with such additives. That in of itself is incentive enough to keep me going. As an added benefit, even though the amount of it I was taking it was marginal, on days I consumed an item with psyllium, I did notice a beneficial impact on my system.

GF Pear loaf

As I proceed with my research and quest, I will share the successful recipes and gleaning from the failed ones here. I am, honestly, kicked to be doing this!

The question, I can see, riding on your mind is how to substitute for the flours and other ingredients that you have on hand.

  • As long as the textures are all the same, that is flour to flour or whole grains to whole grains, you can substitute keeping the overall volume constant.
  • Yes, I said volume here, because the weight is irrelevant for the science of this to work. It is all about the surface area.
  • However, note that some flours are inherently drier than others and may need tweaking in the fluid content and baking time.
  • Also, marginal increases in fluid content are tolerated well by the psyllium.

Rice and Millet Poached Pear Cake

{Important Note: the recipe calls for 'ground' psyllium but this is not pre-ground psyllium. It is that amount of husk ground using a mortar and pestle by hand. I do that because everything else in this list is ground and the ground version helps blend through better}

GF Pear loaf

1 cup rice flour

2/3 cup ground millet

1/3 cup sugar

1-1/2 tsp psyllium husk, ground by hand

1 tsp baking soda

2 eggs

1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup simple syrup or poaching liquid (in this case, I used the poaching liquid from the pears)

4 T butter, room temperature

seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod scraped

1 tsp grated nutmeg

2 whole poached pears, sliced in half.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and incorporate. Blend in yogurt, simple syrup and vanilla.

Sift together the remaining dry ingredients.

Add the dry ingredients the wet in three parts and blend well with each addition. The whisking action enables the binding reaction and the more you whisk, the more the bind builds and the batter will start resembling the gluten bonds and pull.

If it get too thick, thin with a little milk or water.

Pour batter into a prepared pan and arrange the pears on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is springy to touch. Do not over bake as rice flour tends to dry rather quickly.

Consume within 48 hours.