Thursday, May 24, 2012

Unbelievably Dairy-Free Caramel Creme

Unbelievably Dairy-Free Caramel Creme

I photographed this delicious creation in a jam jar because that's the best way to eat it: with a spoon straight out of the jar. Caramel is my favorite confection. I'll eat those cellophane wrapped caramel squares that are so sweet they hurt your teeth. I'll even eat the "caramel" topping on the McDonald's ice cream sundaes (not that I ever take my kids to McDonald's, right?). The best caramel has a slightly smoky, nutty flavor that comes from the holy marriage of butter and sugar and a silky mouth-feel. It should feel both thick and airy on your tongue. Kind of like a perfect silk duvet should be lightweight but blanket you in warmth. I thought it would be impossible to re-create this complexity without butter. Indeed, I had a lot of epic fails at the stove. Attempts with almond milk never became creamy enough - not enough fat. Trying to mimic the caramel consistency by making a really rich pudding with corn or tapioca starch yielded just really rich puddings (next post).

The key ingredients here are coconut milk and a ton of elbow grease. As is usually the case in my kitchen, I stumbled upon a success in the attempt to salvage a mess. In this case, I began a fairly straightforward coconut milk based caramel. It was cooking into a beautiful tawny sauce, thick and pudding-like, but honestly with a very one-dimensional flavor. Luckily, I was distracted by my kids and the damn thing burned. The bottom was black and the coconut solids had separated. I swore and swore and beat the burnt mess out of frustration. And then, all of a sudden, it started to come back together, only this time I could even smell that subtle smokiness and the caramel had shed its creamy-matte appearance for a shiny gloss. I beat the caramel with my hand mixer for about five minutes. This is a long time to be beating anything. I took like breaks to taste the caramel, switch arms, drink wine, and then in the end, had this airy, silky caramel. It has a rich coconut base, but also the essential nutty-smoky flavor.

This is a thick caramel, which I might use as a filling in a sandwich cookie or a very special layer cake. If you like a thinner sauce-type caramel, just stop beating it after a minute or two.

Dairy-Free Caramel Creme:

1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can coconut milk (not the light kind, mind you)
1 tablespoon coconut oil

In a sturdy saucepan, add the corn syrup, sugar, and water without stirring. Cook over medium heat, without stirring if you can help it, until it's a deep amber color. Very carefully, pour in the coconut milk, scraping out all the solids, and add the salt and coconut oil. This might bubble up and splatter you and your stove top with hot liquid candy, but it's all worth it in the end, so remain calm. Lower the heat and while stirring cook until it returns to that deep amber color. This is the tricky part - you need to let it burn just slightly. Turn the heat up just shy of medium and once you detect a whiff of burnt sugar, remove from the heat and star stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the caramel has cooled slightly (about two minutes of vigorous stirring), take your hand mixer and begin your beating. Three to five minutes later, you should be done and spooning this creamy, silky caramel creme straight into your mouth.

I presume this keeps in the fridge for a while, but we usually finish it in a day or two so I couldn't tell you for sure.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gluten-Free, Vegan Apple Cider Donut Holes

I woke up last Thursday morning with that God-awful donut craving we all get from time to time.  If you don't occasionally get that, please read someone else's blog. When we were in San Francisco, I would have zipped over to Bob's Donut on Polk Street or just sold out for a Krispy Kreme at the Cal-Mart. This being Jackson there are no donut shops and the supermarket donuts - well, I just can't take them seriously. A quick round of recipe searches yielded many easy ones for apple cider donuts, but then of course I had no eggs or buttermilk.  I used applesauce and two tablespoons of oil to compensate for the egg, and then apple cider with a splash of apple cider vinegar in the place of the milk. Necessity breeds invention.Or in this case, total irresponsibility and forgetfulness yielded deliciously crispy vegan donuts in about 15 minutes!

These are closer to a hush-puppy in size with a crispy crust. I must emphasize that if you heat the oil or shortening to the right temperature and keep it there, your donuts will not absorb as much oil as you fear. I just got my Wilton donut pans so will be trying some baked versions in the next few days. However, even if these are gluten-free and vegan, I make no excuses for the fact that they are donuts and that heavenly crispy-fried crust of cinnamon and sugar is what makes them irresistible.

Gluten-Free, Vegan Apple Cider Donut Holes

1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon xantham gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Cinnamon sugar:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Vegetable oil or shortening

Whisk together the dry ingredients until the xantham and baking powder are in particular well mixed. All the remaining ingredients and stir. It will come together quickly and the batter should be fluffy enough so that you can easily drop spoonfuls into hot oil using two spoons.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a separate mixing bowl and set aside. Lay some paper towels on a baking sheet near your stove.

Heat enough oil or shortening so you have at least an inch of fat in a heavy saucepan. Clip on a thermometer and heat the oil to around 340F. Lower the heat. It is critical to keep the heat between 340-350F. Too hot and the outside of our holes will brown too quickly leaving a raw center. Too low and they absorb too much fat, making them heavy.

Drop by teaspoonfuls into the hot oil. I fry five or six at a time in my 3 quart saucepan. Don't crowd the holes. They might stick together and the temperature of the oil may fluctuate too widely.

Fry for literally one to two minutes in total, turning the holes in the oil so you can an evenly browned crust. Test one so you know the centers are cooked. Slightly overdone is much preferable to the least bit underdone.

Drain the holes and let cool slightly on the paper towels. Gently toss them in the bowl of cinnamon sugar to coat. The hotter they are, the more sugar coating they will take on.

This recipes makes about 15-20 two inch donut holes. They are best eaten right away. They last about five minutes. If you insist on keeping them, it's worth a re-heat in a hot 350F oven for 5 minutes.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Butternut Squash Soup

I'm in a soup mood lately, lately as in the past year and a half that we've been living in Jackson Hole. It's the first week of March. While many of you are seeing the tips of spring tulips poking up in your garden beds, we still have four feet of snow on the ground. Don't feel too badly for us. Alex has had 8 straight powder days at the mountain with another storm arriving this morning.

I craved a butternut squash soup, slightly sweet and silky smooth. When I've made this in the past, I've always felt compelled to add a sweetener, such as apples or even maple syrup, or to add curry flavors because otherwise, it just seemed like pureed squash. I lacked confidence in the squash to deliver a full-bodied flavor. I totally underestimated my squash.

In trying to create a dairy-free version, I was losing the rich nutty notes and smooth mouth-feel from the butter and cream. It forced me to really create deep flavors. Also, the grocery store was out of pre-peeled and cut squash which nearly derailed this recipe from the start. Does anyone know how to peel squash without most of the flesh staying on the bullet-proof skin? I would have begun this recipe by sauteing the squash chunks with onions and garlic, but since I had to use the whole thing, I roasted it and here begins the story of my squash soup success!

I split the squash in half, as well as one large yellow onion. There were a handful of unpeeled garlic cloves and one large red bell pepper. I brushed everything with some olive oil and roasted this beautiful Vermeer-esque still life for 45 minutes. The aroma during the last 20 minutes let me know it was going to be delicious, whatever it would end up being.

Once the vegetables have cooled, everything will peel quite easily, the skin of the squash slipping off the soft flesh. Discard the peels and pepper seeds and pith. Throw everything into a pot with at least 4 cups of broth. Add in one inch of peeled fresh ginger to brighten the flavors. Blitz it with a handheld immersion blender.

The silky texture comes from the addition of one can of coconut milk, which heightened the natural sweetness of the butternut more roundly than any sugars. I did strain this soup through a mesh sieve before adding the coconut milk, a step I usually skip (because I'm lazy!), but those miniscule, fibrous bits of ginger would not pulverize completely. I added a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper to add a little punch and balance out the richness.

Snipped chives makes for a pretty garnish, but this soup really needs no embellishment. It's full of confidence and has great self-esteem. Enjoy.

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Butternut Squash Soup

1 whole butternut squash
1 large yellow onion
1 large red bell pepper
4-6 unpeeled, fat garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups good chicken or vegetable broth
1 one-inch nob peeled fresh gingerroot
1 can coconut milk
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (begin with 1/4 teaspoon if you fear heat)

Preheat the oven to 385F.

Cut the squash and onion in half. Place on a baking sheet with the pepper and garlic cloves. Brush everything with the olive oil. Use your hands if you're in that kind of mood. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes. If your garlic cloves are small, you might need to pull them out of the oven earlier.

Once the vegetables have cooled, use your hands to slip all the peels off. Discard the pepper stem, seeds, and pith. Discard all the peels. Throw it all into a large pot and add the broth and ginger. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or until the ginger is fragrant. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Strain the soup through a fine mesh sieve if you like. It does result in a much silkier texture. Return the strained soup to the pot and add in the coconut milk, solids and all. Bring back to a simmer and cayenne and black peppers. You can add salt if you like, but I find store-bought stocks are usually well-salted to begin with.

Makes enough for 6-8 hearty lunch portions.

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,