Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies

It's not fun being sick over the holidays, especially when your loved ones go out of the way to make gluten-free goodies that you can't eat without feeling nauseous. Sigh. There are, however, baking successes to share, even if I can't eat them. This is my contribution, by the way, to the Gluten-Free Holiday Baking Event sponsored by Gluten-Free Gobsmacked and others. Be sure to check out all of the recipes!

My dessert triumph this year has been gluten-free gingerbread cookies, an adaptation of the cookies I grew up baking with my mom. These cookies were always a major part of our holiday bonding, a recipe whose dough we came to know intimately over dozens of batches and that no one else we knew could make as well.

When I was about eight and, for an unremembered reason, we decided to make gingerbread cookies for the first time, out The Joy Of Cooking came.The 1975 Joy was always the go-to cookbook in our house (I bought the sadly disappointing 1997 edition and immediately reverted to 1975, which this summer still trustily led me through the creation of a perfect lemon meringue pie. I mean, why ditch "The Foods We Eat" sections for a separate part on tofu? Joy isn't exactly my go-to tofu cookbook...The 2006 edition is purported to be a much better revision.). That first time we only baked one gingerbread man at a time to find out whether they should be baked for 7 minutes or 9. We discovered that an 8-minute bake time on insulated baking sheets in our oven was perfect and that the dough doesn't roll out smoothly when the humidity is too high. And, over time, we acquired great seasonal cookie cutters--not the ones with only shapes but ones that imprint pictures of witches, ghosts, Santas, and fir trees on the cookies, too.

The original recipe is about as far from cookie dough in a tube as you can possibly get. The dough and the bake time are pretty finicky, which basically means that a little practice working with the recipe helps a lot. I've made some changes over the years, though, that have helped the dough be more predictable and workable.

Last year at Christmas I tried to make these cookies gluten-free for the first time. I didn't know much about gluten-free baking yet, so I just substituted Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour, which of course has a garbanzo bean base, for the wheat flour. The rolling out was difficult, though not impossible. Predictably, they came out crumbly and tasting somewhat like chickpeas. Yum.

I tried again this summer, substituting sorghum flour for the flour, adding xanthum gum, and mixing a little canned pumpkin into the dough to make it roll out more easily. The flavor was great, but the consistency was lacking--they still tasted slightly powdery instead of chewy. The dough rolled out more smoothly than they ever had before, so the pumpkin was a keeper.

A few weeks ago, I tried yet again. This time I used a mix of flours: sorghum, corn (I got the idea from Shauna's post about the baked goods she ate in Italy), brown rice, teff, and tapioca flours. I also chilled the dough, which I'd never done before. The result? Just like mom's...

Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies
These are spicy so experiment with the level of spice if you want a more mild cookie. Double the recipe for about 3 dozen cookies.

2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

Beat in:
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup corn flour
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup teff flour
2 tbsp tapioca flour
2 tsp ginger
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice, cloves, nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp xanthum gum
pinch of cayenne pepper

Mix the flour mixture into the with butter mixture in three parts alternating with 2 tbsp of water (begin and end with the flour). Chill for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick and cut out with cookies cutters. Bake for 8 minutes, or until you can lightly touch your finger to the cookie and any indent pops back, at 350. Makes about 20 cookies, and the recipe is easy to double.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gluten-Free, Low-Fat Kitchen Sink Cake

I wouldn’t even post this cake recipe except for the fact that it turned out unexpectedly well and that it entailed very thrifty use of leftovers in my kitchen. I had a bake sale confection to make today, but it’s been snowy and I didn’t feel like cleaning off the car and driving to the store. Add to that the fact that we’re leaving town next week and you get a gluten-free baker out to empty the frig, not fill it up.

The answer: a kitchen sink cake. I started with Karina’s recipe for a gluten-free, vegan coconut cake. Then I raided my refrigerator and cabinets and pulled out everything that needed to go (and that could conceivably be put into one cake): ½ cup of sweetened condensed milk, ½ cup of lite coconut milk, applesauce leftover from Hanukah, ½ a bag of old marshmallows, Bob’s Red Mill pancake mix that I never use, the end of a bag of confectioner’s sugar, a few half empty bags of chocolate chips, some sweetened coconut from the freezer. You get the picture.

Never let anyone tell you that gluten-free baked goods aren’t forgiving. I did keep a few gluten-free baking principles in mind, but basically I was throwing my leftovers in a bowl without really measuring. I would have never done this before going gluten-free. All the experimental cooking has been great for my culinary creativity. This cake turned out great, if not quite sweet enough. But the need for a little more sweetener allowed me to use even more leftovers! Try this out or make up your own kitchen sink cake…

Kitchen Sink Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease an 8 x 8 dish. In a small bowl, combine:
1 ¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill pancake mix (includes xanthum gum, starch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt)
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup cocoa powder

In a large bowl, combine:
½ cup sweetened condensed milk (honey or maple syrup would be fine)
¼ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup lite coconut milk
½ cup applesauce
1 egg

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir in:
½ cup chocolate chips
2/3 cup flaked coconut

Bake for 35-40 min or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool in the pan. When cool dust with confectioner’s sugar or frost. You can use your favorite frosting or mix up the one I concocted.

For the frosting, melt over low heat (stir often to prevent burning!):
½ bag of marshmallows
1 tbsp chocolate chips

Transfer to a bowl. With a mixer, blend in the following ingredients, adding enough cocoa and sugar to bring the mixture to the consistency and chocolatiness you desire:
¼-1/3 cup cocoa powder
¾-1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3-4 tbsp milk

Spread over the cooled cake and cut into squares. Eat within a day or two.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

New England Comfort Food….with Gluten-Free Brown Bread

Comfort food in my family is country food: biscuits, pepper-flecked milk gravy, thin-slices of salty country ham. If a snowstorm closed school, I could count on a biscuits-and-gravy breakfast before heading out to stomp out a sled track down the hill behind my house. Comfort food is warm; comfort food is soft; and as much as I love vegetables, comfort food rarely entails anything green.

Not being a native New Englander, I have to take the authors’ word for it when my cookbook mentions classic New England comfort food. But when it’s written about baked beans and bread, I’m inclined to believe them. Baked beans were church-supper staples growing up; they are definitely warm and soft, not to mention cheap and easy to prepare (with a few sliced-up hot dogs, anyone?). I didn’t grow up eating brown bread with my beans, but I read about it. For those of you who read Caddie Woodlawn as kids, remember that her Bostonian mom cooks pans of beans and steamed brown bread for Sunday dinners.

Though I’ve been making a dinner of simmered beans, sweet brown bread, and applesauce since before I stopped eating gluten, I’ve only attempted converting the bread to gluten-free twice. The first time, the result was acceptable but a little dry, so I decided to give it another whirl.

Two-thirds of the dinner was easy. I stewed a pot of navy beans (canned for a quickie dinner) in mustard, maple syrup, and gluten-free barbeque sauce (I use Annie’s). I was also inspired to make apple-quince sauce after reading Gluten-Free Bay’s quince-apple pie recipe and then actually finding quinces in my local co-op. If you haven’t tried them and you’re lucky enough to come across them in the grocery store, definitely give them a try. You do have to peel quinces and they are fairly sour, but they add new flavors to regular apple dishes and are great stewed or in jam.

The brown bread is basically a quick bread, rather than the classic brown bread that is steamed for several hours. The original recipe calls for equals parts cornmeal, rye flour, and white flour. I kept the cornmeal, replaced one part with sorghum flour (my baking flour of choice), and combined teff flour and some Pamela’s mix for the remaining part. Teff and molasses add a nice, dark color. For more moisture, I replaced some of the buttermilk in the original recipe with canned pumpkin.

The Science Teacher gave the bread three thumbs up for taste, moisture, and non-crumbliness! Give it a try on the next rainy or snowy night with your favorite baked beans recipe. It really tastes great! It’s a last-minute dinner bread—just start it baking before making the beans or the applesauce.

Gluten-Free Brown Bread (adapted from “Brown Bread” in the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites)

This recipe makes one 8.5 x 4.5 loaf pan.

½ cup cornmeal
½ cup sorghum flour
¼ cup teff flour
¼ cup GF flour mix
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ cup raisins
1 tsp. xanthum gum
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. allspice

¼ cup molasses
½ cup canned pumpkin
about ½ cup milk (any kind)

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease one 8.5 x 4.5-inch loaf pan.

Combine all of the dry ingredients, including the raisins, in a large bowl. Add the molasses, pumpkin, and milk and stir until a batter forms. You may need to add a little more milk to obtain a batter-like consistency.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 40-45 min., until the loaf is firm and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool the bread in the pan for 15 min. before removing from the pan and serving.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Gluten-Free Challah

As Gluten Free Bay recently mentioned, gluten-free challah represents somewhat of a Holy Grail for gluten-free Jews. There’s no obvious substitute for tearing apart and sharing bread with your friends and family, and that not-so-gentle reminder arrives each Friday at sundown when you hover for Shabbat prayers around a cutting board bearing a braided challah. The first time I had to sing the hamotzi over a rice cracker while everyone else ripped apart the bread, I cried.

And I’m not even Jewish. The Science Teacher is, though, and we have blessed candles, wine, and challah more or less every Friday since we started dating. Sometimes I would make the challah, other times we would buy buttery, sesame challahs from our favorite local bakery, Manghi’s, but regardless we always had bread to share. Even more than the flavor or feel of bread, I missed participating in a ritual I’d adopted. I never fully understood the cultural importance of breaking bread until I couldn’t do it.

For about six months after my diagnosis, I googled “gluten free challah” repeatedly, hoping that someone in the blogosphere had solved my problem already. Pretty soon I came across Sara Nussbaum’s recipe on the forums and references to Bette Hagman’s recipe for “New Challah” in the Gluten Free Gourmet Bakes Bread, but I was reluctant to test them. Why? For starters, I was afraid of disappointment. Challah is a specific bread that I associated with a specific taste and texture. What if it tasted like starch, a flavor I loathe? What if it crumbled or wouldn’t rip apart satisfactorily? Also, neither recipe tackled the problem of the braided loaf, a characteristic I considered aesthetically, if not symbolically, critical.

But right before Passover last year—admittedly, an ironic time to be test-driving challah recipes—I decided I couldn’t face another rice cracker Shabbat. I took out Sara’s and Bette’s recipes and decided to get baking. Neither seemed exactly right, so I decided to combine them from the start. I knew I wanted to reduce the starch in the recipes I had, and I knew the challah had to be braided and rippable.

Both Bette’s and Sara’s recipes call for a large proportion of starch. One of my gluten-free baking goals is to pare down the starch in favor of whole grain flours, so I decided to use 1 part starch to 3 parts “regular” flour. Because both Bette’s and Sara’s recipes call for the same amount of liquid (I use two cups of flour which raises to fill the pan), I decided to follow Sara’s recipe for the wet ingredients. Bette’s calls for orange juice, honey, and brown sugar, which I thought might be too sweet for my taste. I used to use oil and honey in my gluten-containing challah, so I thought those ingredients might help make the flavor closer to that of the bread I used to make.

After scouring posts looking for someone who successfully braided a gluten-free challah, I only found one person who suggested piping the dough from a plastic bag with the corner cut off. As I couldn’t figure out exactly how that might work, I decided to do the next best thing: order a braided loaf pan. My version of these recipes doesn’t call for the additional egg yolk because the top of the bread bakes on the bottom of the pan, making it impossible to do the egg wash. I do spray the pan with cooking spray and sprinkle it liberally with sesame seeds.

The result? My gluten-eating father-in-law, who has definitely sampled a large range of challahs in his lifetime, declared it a success and even used some for toast on day 2. It even tastes good untoasted the next day—I actually prefer it untoasted. And the best part? You can rip it apart with your hands.

With all of the gluten-free challah experimentation happening in ovens and being blogged about, I’ll never spend another Shabbat breaking rice crackers! Here’s my recipe. I’m working on reducing the starch even more and on creating a cholesterol free version. Last night I only used two eggs with success. Let me know how it works for you…

Gluten-Free Challah

I regularly halve this recipe successfully—since I make it each Friday and only the Science Teacher and I are eating it, I don’t want tons of leftovers in the freezer—to fill half of the braided pan.

½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup sorghum flour
½ cup brown rice flour
½ cup white rice flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. yeast
1 tbsp. xanthum gum
2 tbsp. dried milk powder or almond meal

2 tbsp. potato flakes
1 cup warm water
¼ cup oil
¼ cup honey
3 eggs

cooking spray
sesame or poppy seeds

Turn the oven to 200. Spray the pan (I use a Kaiser Bakeware Laforme Braided Loaf Pan) with cooking spray and sprinkle with your seeds of choice.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Dissolve the potato flakes in the water. Add the water/potato mixture, oil, honey, and eggs to the dry ingredients. Mix on medium for 2 minutes, until the batter looks like pudding. Transfer to the baking pan. Put the pan in the oven and turn the oven off. Let the dough rise until it reaches the top of the pan, about 30-35 min.

Turn the oven to 350 and bake for 50 min. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Freeze leftovers, if you don’t finish the loaf within 2-3 days.