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,


1 comment:

  1. Holy Cow! These brownies are AMAZING! I have tried so many recipes for gluten-free baked goods that claim to be yummy and I've been disappointed every time - until now! Thank you SO much!