Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chips II: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I continue my chip and dip obsession, though this week took a turn in the chocolate chip direction. Last week's kale chips were gobbled up by kids and house guests alike, even the crushed bits on the bottom which turn into an addictive kale-flavored salt.

Tackling childhood favorites like chocolate cupcakes or brownies from an allergen-sensitive angle brings a lot of baggage. Everyone has had incredible cupcakes or chocolate chip cookies. These are iconic treats of our childhood. Creating a version for gluten- or dairy-free diets that will also taste good to non-allergic friends is fraught with expectations.

The first version. It was just meh..
It was much harder to bake a good chocolate chip cookie than I had anticipated. I had assumed switching out the flours and butter would suffice, but I vastly underestimate how much flavor is built on butter. The butter, with brown sugar and vanilla, creates that caramel foundation for flavor and aroma. It also adds to the crispy edges and browned bottoms. My first version tasted okay texture-wise but lacked real depth of flavor. It was pretty much sugar-flavored rice flour dotted with chocolate chips. Did I eat two or three in the name of research? Yes. But, it wasn't a recipe worth passing on.

This wrinkly egg-free garbanzo-flour version turned magically into sand!
I have a visceral reaction to anything artificially buttered-flavored, especially margarine. That smell and color reminds me of cold, cheap movie-theatre popcorn. There really is no way to recreate a true butter flavor, so I tried to build layers of flavor, rich in caramel notes, with espresso powder, coconut flour and milk, and some dark cocoa.  I used just brown sugar, again to encourage a richer flavor. It worked beautifully, though it's not the buttery-caramel sugar bomb of our youth. It's a darker chocolate flavor. You won't taste the coffee, but you'll pick up its hints of caramel and bitterness.

The coconut flour is extremely absorbent so you need to add in an equal measure of liquids. I used a coconut milk beverage - the kind you buy in cartons, not the coconut milk sold in cans. I used vegetable shortening for this recipe, which suits me fine. I did try an egg-free version with just a can of coconut milk instead of both eggs and butter. They were okay right out of the oven, but as they cooled, they turned into a sandy mess. Garbanzo bean flour left a protein-aftertaste which I don't care for in sweets, so I stayed with brown rice flour and some coconut flour.

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Using a handheld mixer, blend the following ingredients:

1 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup coconut milk beverage
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 cup good dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey's new-ish Special Dark Cocoa)

It will look like dark chocolate cake batter. Mix in the following dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup coconut flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xantham gum

The cookie dough will appear lighter and fluffier than conventional cookie dough. Mix in 1 to 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, depending on the generosity of your mood.

Drop the cookies by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a baking sheet. I cover mine with parchment though this is not necessary with non-stick baking sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. These cookies will have a slightly crispy edge and moist crumb. The tops should be soft, bounce a bit to your touch. However, I ruined many batches holding out foolishly for very crispy edges and deeply browned bottoms. Cool on the baking sheet.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Gluten-, Dairy-, and Egg White- Free Chocolate Chip  Cookies

A friend of mine is allergic to just the whites of eggs, so I created a version with that allergy in mind. It's the same as the above, but just use four egg yolks in place of the two whole eggs. It will have a slightly more cake-like texture, but still very good.

I am working on a completely egg-free recipe, though they invariably turn into sheet cake. More on that pursuit later.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chip and Dips, Part One

We had a torrential storm clear out overnight and it's a beautiful bluebird day here in Jackson Hole. Sunny winter days present a high-quality dilemma for me. Should I be on the mountain, skiing, partaking in the natural beauty and healthy lifestyle that we moved here for? Or, should I stay at home, test some new recipes, write a new post, and maybe catch up on Downton Abbey (am so, so far behind!)? It's unbelievably perfect here today, so I'm doing a quick post on my ongoing chip and dip fascination before meeting friends for a few runs.

In re-inventing childhood favorites, I'm always indulging my inner child and my real four children in the name of research. One of their favorites is potato chips. My kids love potato chips. You love potato chips. We all love potato chips. My favorite are the crazy addictive Jalapeno flavored ones from Kettle Chips. Those are my all-purpose remedy for PMS, hangovers, and writers block.

Lately, however, I'm thinking I should be packing fewer potato chips in their lunches and making the effort to bake up kale chips more often. My friend Dana Tang brought a huge bowl of these baked kale chips to a beach bbq one summer evening and the kids all swarmed around her like the goddess she is. I've been making them ever since and it is the only vegetable my son, Alexei, will actually ask for. They have that crispy-salty crunch of chips with a nice green vegetable taste on top. The only downside is that they go so quickly.

The recipe is so simple:

Baked Kale Chips

Bunches and bunches of kale (not the lacinato or dinosaur kind)
Olive oil
Sea Salt

Pre-heat the oven to 375F.

Rinse and dry as much kale as you can possibly bear to rinse and dry. I would begin with at least two bunches. Cut away the leafy green parts away from the tough center rib. Discard the ribs. In a large bowl, toss the greens with olive oil and salt. Figure on just two tablespoons at the most per bunch of kale. Unlike spinach, kale is pretty sturdy and will not wilt under the oil. You can also do this "shake-and-bake" style in a large brown paper bag.

This is just one bunch of kale ready for the oven.
Spread the kale in a single layer on baking sheets and bake for at least 15 minutes. The baking time will depend on the freshness, or moisture content, of the kale. Begin checking after 15 minutes. They should be crispy, almost shatteringly so. Don't let them get very brown or they will be bitter.

Eat warm or cool. Keep in an airtight container for a day or so. These never last longer than a day in my house so I really have no idea how long they keep crisp.

Meanwhile, to post later this week, I'm working on dairy-free renditions of my favorite fattening yummy dips: garlicky ranch dip, a classic French onion dip, and a knockout sesame-tamari dip. However, I'll probably have to test those with Kettle chips.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sweet Reinventions for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today I launch "The Modern Bake Sale" to share my reinventions of childhood favorites for a new generation of gluten-, dairy-, nut-free, vegan, and all around super healthy eaters. With four kids in school, I am that mom who's always bringing in a tray of cupcakes or snacks for classroom parties and birthdays. Eight years ago, when I wrote "The Baby Bistro Cookbook", childhood allergies were mostly nut or dairy and almost always quite severe. I'll never forget the toddler eating apple slices while his buddies scarfed chocolate cake at a birthday party. Back then, including whole wheat flours, ethnic flavors, and a heightened awareness of organic, seasonal cooking seemed groundbreaking. I still cherish my first cookbook, and thank you to all the moms and dads out there for your support!

However, it's 2012 and that little boy on the back cover of "The Baby Bistro" is now 11 years old and a sixth grader! He's joined by my triplets - all girls - who are 8 years old and in third grade. Our food culture has changed tremendously in the past five years to accommodate a broad spectrum of food allergies and intolerances, as well as some deliberate choices many of us have made for a healthier life. 

The Modern Bake Sale was born of my efforts to be as inclusive as possible whenever I cook. These "reinventions" of family favorites like chocolate chip cookies, brownies, classic salad dressings and hearty soups are made from simple recipes and fresh ingredients. Most importantly, these creative takes on the standards can actually taste great, for everyone at the table. When you can use one successful recipe for a rainbow coalition's worth of food issues, you can set yourself free to once again enjoy food and cooking.

 The Brownie

All good brownies begin with chocolate and some fat.
 My first offering is the classic American brownie, a natural starting point for trying alternatives recipes. The major challenge in allergen-sensitive baking seems to be producing a moist, airy crumb. Brownies, with their dense chewy texture and fudgy richness are extremely "forgiving".  There are  thousands of traditional brownie recipes, some of the best from institutions like Hershey's or Nestle. The basic recipe calls for chocolate melted with fat (butter or margarine) mixed into flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and vanilla. Add some nuts, throw in some chocolate chips. Underbaked, it's fudgy. Overbaked, it's cake-like. It is really hard to mess up brownies.

Gluten-free Brownies

The first variation I tried was gluten-free with a straightforward replacement of wheat flour with brown rice flour. I still used butter and eggs, and these were delicious. The brown rice flour can hold its own again butter, eggs, and melted chocolate, baking into a moist, dense crumb without being too fudge-like. These were better than conventional brownies I've made in the past so now this recipe becomes my go-to.

Recipe for Gluten-free Brownies

1/2 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3/4 C brown rice flour
2/3 C turbinado sugar (or brown sugar if you like)
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
splash of vanilla 
neutral oil to grease the baking pan

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly brush an 8x8" baking pan with a neutral oil. Line the pan with a piece of parchment paper cut just a few inches wider than the pan. Then brush the paper with oil. You should have a bit of overhang and this makes it easier to lift the whole brownie out of the pan later and slice.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips and butter in 20 second intervals and stir until smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and beat with whisk or a hand mixer. Add in the melted chocolate and beat until well-combined. The batter will not be smooth like a cake batter. Spread into the cake pan and smooth out the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake 25-30 minutes until the edges pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with just a few crumbs. Cool completely before lifting out of the pan and slicing. 
Makes about 20 brownies depending on how large your slices.

Gluten-, Dairy-, and Egg-free Brownies

A hot mess!
Okay, it's Valentine's Day. Sometimes our flaws are what makes us more lovable. However, these were such a hot mess, I could barely call them edible. I did indeed manage to mess up brownies.  I swapped out the butter with coconut oil and replaced the eggs with 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce and a severely mashed banana. I'm finding coconut oil a delicious replacement for butter in small amounts, but after a few tablespoons, it does overpower other flavors and creates a gooey texture. I tried chilling the brownies to firm up the texture, but the coconut oil hardened in marble-like strands throughout the brownies. It looked like Wagyu brownie-steak.

Gluten-, Dairy-, and Egg-free Brownies Part Deux

This time I used vegetable shortening for the fat, and kept the bananas and applesauce. I also reduced the sugar a bit as bananas are so sweet. These baked beautifully, if slightly more cake-like than I usually prefer in a brownie. The children thought they were delicious, especially warm from the oven. I would also add a teaspoon of espresso powder next time to cut the banana-sweetness a bit.  

Recipe for Gluten-, Dairy-, and Egg-free Brownies

Follow the Gluten-Free recipe above making these substitutions:
  • 1/2 C vegetable shortening for the butter
  • 1 thoroughly mashed banana and 1/2 Cup unsweetened applesauce for the eggs
  • If you cannot tolerate semi-sweet chocolate chips, try a 4 ounce unsweetened baking bar or vegan chips. 
Expect these to be ready one or two minutes sooner than the GF recipe.
To any of these recipes, add in mini-chocolate chips or a handful of chopped nuts to the batter if you like. Sprinkle toasted coconut on top or dust with powdered sugar. Even mini marshmallows sprinkled on top the last five minutes of baking would not be considered overkill in some parts. After all, you are making brownies on Valentine's Day.

Lots of love,