Monday, May 13, 2013
When my friends left town a few months ago for a year of world travel, I was sad to see them go. But happy to inherit a good chunk of their pantry. Since Ken went gluten-free, he'd stocked up on all sorts of flours and starches. I turned the almond meal into Passover macarons, thickened pastry cream with cornstarch, and have been eying the tapioca flour in anticipation of setting summer fruit pies. But after spending the better part of a morning transferring each starch from a plastic bag to its own repurposed-and-relabeled glass jar, I had an unpleasant realization: while I have done my share of gluten-free baking (both on these pages and non-blog-worthy failures), it's mostly been to eat with my friend Ken. Swept up in our shared love of good food and foolhardy kitchen experimentation, I somehow missed that fact that Ken is one of my only gluten-free friend in baked-good-sharing distance. So now I've got fetching little containers of amaranth flour and guar gum, but no real need to use them.
But luckily I've found a way out of my O. Henry-ish moment. Because it turns out that gluten-free baking isn't just about allergies and intolerance and substitution. Sometimes, it's just about baking. Good baking.
I recently heard a gluten-free baker maintain that in a decade all of our cakes will be gluten-free, because it just produces a better product. It struck me as a kind of wishful sour grapes, but there are some grains of truth to it. Because wheat flour, see, is a wonder in the kitchen. But alternative flours have their own alternative charms. And sometimes they hold their own, giving you a different flavor profile and result that can be totally delicious in its own right. As Portland's own (yay!) Kim Boyce detailed in Good to the Grain, there's a whole world of flours out there. And, as I discovered the other night, some of them make delicious brownies.
If there's ever a recipe to try gluten-free, it's brownies. They are, at heart, a study in chocolate and butter and eggs, with just a bit of flour tossed in to liaise those primary elements together. After wondering what the heck I was going to do with a little jar of nutty brown teff flour, I came upon this recipe from Gluten-Free Girl. She notes that teff has chocolatey, nutty undertones, making it perfect for brownies. Plus its a whole grain flour, allowing you to have pretensions of health. Amaranth flour, you're up next.
And if you're looking for another story of something unexpected inside a dairy-filled comfort food, I recently produced a radio story on an FDA standoff over Mimolette cheese. French culture! Tradition! Drama! Cheese mites! You can listen to the whole story over at NPR.
adapted from Kitchen Sense: More than 600 Recipes to Make You a Great Home Cook, with gluten-free tweaking via Gluten-Free Girl
4 ounces (aka 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pats
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100 grams teff flour (a generous 3/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 handfuls chopped hazelnuts or walnuts
2 handfuls chopped semisweet chocolate, or chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Line an 8-inch baking pan with greased foil or parchment paper, or grease and flour. Set aside.
In a double-boiler (or in bursts in the microwave), melt the butter and chocolate. Stir to combine, and let cool until it's no longer too hot. Add the sugar, stir, and then add the eggs, stirring in between (mix until the eggs are incorporated, but no need to whip the bejesus out of it — you're not looking to incorporate air). Add the vanilla, stir, then add the teff flour and salt, and stir until combined. Fold in the nuts and chopped chocolate.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it out evenly. Bake until the center is just starting to set and the edges pull away from the sides, ~20-25 minutes (I consider over-baked brownies to be one of the sadder kitchen outcomes, so I make sure to check it regularly as it approaches this stage). Remove from the oven, and let cool on a rack. Slice and enjoy.