Category Archives: Gluten-free

The Backstage Baker celebrates the 4th of July

I Love AmericaJames, our intrepid Backstage Baker himself, left the Big City to come upstate to celebrate the 4th of July with me.  We ate home-smoked brisket and ribs and collaborated on a 4th of July cake that was loosely based on a Taste of Home recipe I’d found, called a “Poke Cake.”  The idea of it is that you poke holes in your vanilla cakes, then pour a blueberry or strawberry Jello mixture over the top.  The Jello is suppposed to drip down into the holes and the sliced cake will be a lovely Red, White and Blue to celebrate our Nation’s birth.

Well, I baked a gluten-free vanilla cake and, I don’t know, maybe that affected the color and or drippiness.  Or maybe I just didn’t make my cake holes big enough or large enough.  Because unlike the cheery picture on the Taste of Home site that featured perfect red and blue drip lines traversing a blindingly white cake, mine ended up kind of yellow beige, with pastel smudges of pink and purple.

4th of July Cake2

But James saved the day, whipping the cream to perfection, sugaring it with confectioner’s sugar just so, icing the cake with the cream and decorating it with a star made of blueberries and strawberries.  What’s not to like??

BB ices a cake

4th of July “Poke Cake”
(Loosely based on a Taste of Home recipe you can find here🙂

Ingredients:

For cake:
1 package vanilla cake mix

For strawberry drips:
1 cup strawberries, chopped  (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons strawberry Jello

For blueberry drips
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons Berry Blue Jello

Frosting:
2 cups whipping cream
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Method:

1.  Bake cake according to directions on package.  Remove from pans to cool completely, then put cakes back into pans for Jello drip steps.

2.  In a small saucepan, combine strawberries, water and sugar.  Simmer until strawberries are soft, then strain into a small bowl. Add Jello to mixture and stir until dissolved.   Repeat this process with the blueberries.

3.  Using a wooden skewer, poke holes in top of cakes (to 1″ of edge).  Go all the way through, and try to enlarge the holes a bit with the skewers.  Pour the strawberry mixture over one cake, the blueberry over the other.  Refrigerate, covered, overnight.

4.  Just before serving, whip the cream until it stands in peaks.  Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and beat just a little more.  You want your cream to be as stiff as possible, but stop before you turn it into butter!

5.  Carefully remove one cake from its pan and place on serving platter.  (You can put strips of wax paper underneath to help keep the platter clean.)  Cover top with whipped cream, then place second cake on top.  Cover top and sides with cream.  Decorate with fruit.

BB slices a cake

Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies

GF Choco chip cookiesJames has just returned from spending a week with the woman who taught him all he knows about baking — his Mom.  (You remember her, the lady who smuggled margarine across the Wisconsin border because she felt it was better than butter for baking?)  I’m hoping to be able to share some recipes of the yummy goodies they baked together.

In the meantime, though, here’s another palate cleansing gluten-free recipe amidst all the decadent cheesecake recipes.

Now, usually I take a recipe and adapt it — it’s as if I’m constitutionally incapable of following a recipe to a T.  With gluten-free baking, however, I’m much more careful and follow the recipe closely (at least the first time I make it!)  But there’s always something to improve or tweak.

Not so with this recipe.  I found this one on my new favorite baking website, the Gluten-free Goddess.  It’s a wonderful resource for recipes and advice.  And the Goddess (I guess that’s what she’s called) is funny and wry and, best of all, creates fantastic recipes.  Do give her a visit.

One of the things I’m already tired of in gluten-free baking is the incessant use of rice flour.  First, I find that it imparts kind of a gritty consistency to baked goods.   Then, there’s the arsenic factor.  (You do know about the arsenic in rice?  No?  Well, read this Consumer Reports article on it.  Yeah, it’s a real thing.)  So, I’ve started looking for alternatives.  It’s tricky, though, because you have to know the weights of your flours in order to successfully substitute one for the other.  Just like you wouldn’t substitute whole wheat flour for white flour cup for cup, neither can you swap out rice flour for amaranth or tapioca or millet flours.

This recipe delightfully uses NO rice flour at all. Now, these cookies have a completely different consistency from the Toll House cookies I used to bake in my dirty gluten-filled days, but they have a lightness to them, an almost meringue-like texture.  And they are just as “moreish” as the traditional kind of cookies, as my mother would say.

Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies 

Ingredients

1 cup sorghum flour
3/4 cup potato starch (not potato flour)
1/2 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 large organic free-range eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (the best quality you can afford)
1 cup chocolate chips

Optional:

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Method

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with a Silpat or parchment paper.

1.  In large mixing bowl, whisk together the sorghum flour, potato starch, almond flour, xanthan gum, sea salt, baking soda, and brown sugar.

2.  Beat in the oil, eggs and vanilla extract.  Beat dough until it is sticky and smooth (or until the motor of your 50 year old mixer can’t mix anymore!)

3.  Add in chocolate chips and walnuts (if using).   Stir by hand to combine.

4.  Using a small cookie scoop, place a dozen on each baking sheet.  Press down flat with wet fingers.  (If you don’t have a little scoop, roll the dough into balls, but be warned, this is VERY sticky!)

5.  Bake for 14 minutes. The cookies will look golden- but still feel slightly soft to the touch. They crisp a bit as they cool.

6.  Allow to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before removing.  Then cool cookies on a wire rack.

NOTE:  These cookies puff up in a way that is quite different from the gluten-full Toll House recipe I’m used to using off the back of the chocolate chip package.  It’s okay, though.  They still taste divine!

Gluten-free Good Friday Cookies

James gave me this recipe a while ago, and then they were titled “Black Friday Cookies” to be whipped up and enjoyed the day after Thanksgiving.  No idea why!  But since I’m interspersing our cheesecake recipes with gluten-free ones (for health!), and since Good Friday is coming up, I thought I’d just change the name slightly to be timely.  (Yeah, I know, that’s a bit of a stretch.)GF Chocolate Cookies

Now, the more I experiment with gluten-free baking, the more I understand the importance of reading labels and ingredient quality.  Take this recipe for example — there’s no flour at all in it, but lots of confectioners’ sugar. That should be gluten-free, but I’ve learned that since corn is increasingly being used for bio-fuels, and since we had such a bad corn growing summer last year, corn prices have gone up.  Therefore, some companies are substituting wheat starch for corn starch in their confectioners’ sugar.  Obviously, this would not be gluten-free then. The only solution, then, is to read your labels religiously.  Who knew that ingredients changed?  (I’m sure that this is second nature to those of you who suffer from food allergies, or have been gluten-free for a while, but it is an epiphany for me.)

That said, do not be afraid — this recipe only has six ingredients.  You can afford to take the time (and spend the money!) to make sure each one is of superior quality.  Spend a little extra on good vanilla, high quality cocoa powder and chocolate chips.  You’ll taste the difference!

Gluten-free Good Friday Cookies

Ingredients:

3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (make sure they’re gluten-free!)

Method:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper (or silpat mats). If you use parchment paper, give it a light swoosh of nonstick spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together powdered sugar with cocoa powder and salt. Whisk in egg whites (start with just two) and vanilla extract, then beat just until the batter is moistened. You’re looking for a brownie-like, thick and fudgy consistency. If it seems too thick, add another egg white — then a 4th one if it still seems too thick. Gently stir in chocolate chips.

3. Spoon batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds per cookie sheet. I like to use a small spring-release cookie scoop. Bake about 14 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked. Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto wire racks. Let cookies cool completely before you attempt to remove them from the mat or the parchment. They’re delicate, so gently peeling the paper away from the cookie works best.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Gluten-free Coconut Blondies

BlondiesOkay, so James has never made these for a show, a Wine and Unwind, or even just as a simple dessert after a casual meal.  However, I have no doubt he WILL make them when faced with a gluten-intolerant cast in the future!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been experimenting in the world of gluten-free baking and this recipe is mostly my own design.  I’d had a remarkable gluten-free blondie at my local coffee shop and wanted to try and recreate it.  Oh, sure, I Googled “gluten-free blondies” and found many, many recipes.  And I bought a packet of Bob’s Red Mill fava & garbanzo flour  (I know, ick, right?) that had a recipe on the back for blondies, but there was just too much extra stuff in it (no coconut, though.)

So I made up this recipe, with a little from here and a little from there.  The kiddies can’t get enough of these bars!

Just a couple of notes:  I’ve found that it’s a great idea to weigh your gluten-free flours for absolute accuracy, so I have given you the exact weights to shoot for.  There is little room for error in gluten-free baking.  This sounds all sorts of off-putting but really it’s not (if you just happen to have a postage scale that likes the metric system.)

I also recommend bringing your eggs (and shortening) to room temperature before starting.  I know this is something you’re supposed to do with any type of baking, gluten-free or not, but I am a lazy, lazy baker and take tons of shortcuts.  I’ve never bothered with this niggly little step in regular baking.  No can do in the world without gluten.  Trust me on this.  You’ll be glad you did.

Last, I think this recipe lends itself to being veganized very easily.  I’ve indicated the substitutions at the end of the ingredients list.  I’ve never actually tried the vegan version though, so if anyone does, please let me know how it turns out.

And really last, don’t be intimidated by this series of notes and reminders and dictums (dicta?).  You can probably ignore them all and the blondies will still come out fine.  But then again, if you’re going to go to the trouble of whisking together 4 different kinds of flour, you don’t want to end up with a doorstop instead of a treat!

Gluten-free Coconut Blondies

Ingredients:

3/4 cup (100 grams) coconut flour
3/4 cup (100 grams) brown rice flour
1/4 cup (25 grams) tapioca flour (aka tapioca starch)
1/4 cup (25 grams) garbanzo & fava bean flour mix
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
*1/3 cup butter
*2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
*1 cup chocolate chips
*Simple subs to make this vegan:
Use soy margarine instead of butter; use 2 tablespoons flax meal whisked with 6 tablespoons warm water for eggs;  use vegan chocolate chips.

Method:
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Grease an 9 x9 inch baking pan with shortening. Set aside.

3.  Mix coconut powder, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, chickpea flour, baking soda, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt together until blended.

4.  Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy.  mix in eggs

5.  Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients just until blended. Add nuts and toasted coconut and mix just until blended. Spoon into prepared baking pan, top with reserved toasted coconut and pop in the oven for 30 minutes or until top looks dry and edges have separated from the pan.

6.  Cool in pan for about 20 minutes, then turn out onto a rack — allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Makes approximately 16 blondies.

Gluten-free Orange Cake

As promised, I’m going to intersperse the Cheesecake Bake-off recipes with some gluten-free ones. James is often called upon to make gluten- and allergen-free goodies, and has taken up the challenge masterfully.  (He has a gluten-free, vegan chocolate cake that is to die for.)  But today’s recipe is a simple introduction to the world of gluten-free baking.

I’ve just started experimenting with gluten-free baking myself and have been surprised to discover how complicated it is.  You just can’t swap out wheat flour cup for cup with, say, rice flour.   Most gluten-free bakers have a unique flour blend they’ve developed that includes several different flours carefully balanced, measured and whisked.  (BTW, there are an amazing number of flours to use other than wheat.  Who knew?)  When you first start out, though, there’s a much higher risk of ending up with a hockey puck of a cake or a loaf.  I’ve found that this is mostly due to the fact that there’s a whole new world of textures to get used to during the mixing process — bread dough is more like a batter, and cake batter is more like a dough.  Cookie dough seems the same, but it often spreads more than you expect.  Gluten provides needed structure to baked goods, and baking without it, while eminently possible, is challenging.

That said, the recipe below couldn’t be easier and more foolproof.  James has made it for the last several shows he’s been on, mostly recently for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”  It’s light and Springlike, too, perfect for Easter!

Gluten-free Orange Cake

Ingredients:

*1 organic orange
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

For Glaze:

1 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla or fior di sicilia)

Method:

1.  Roughly chop the orange (rind and all) in food processor until fine.  *This is why you want an organic orange, because conventional oranges are often sprayed with artificial colors and food grade waxes.  Blech!

2.  Add the eggs, oil, and sugar.   Process until smooth.

3.  Transfer to a bowl and add the flour and baking powder. Do not over mix.

4.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 60 mins at 350*

(Note:  I’ve substituted 1 lemon for the orange and added 2 tablespoons of poppy seed for a divine gluten-free take on lemon poppyseed cake!)

(Second note:  You can also bake these in mini-muffin pans for a Springtime tea party offering.)

Meringue, meringue!!

The Skriker, March 1996

The first show James and I worked on together was a crazy complicated piece by Caryl Churchill called “The Skriker.”  To this day I’m not really sure if it was a play or a musical or even what it was all about.   But it was memorably dramatic and edgy and out there. It started with the unforgettable entrance of Jayne Atkinson (the Skriker) breaking through the stage floor, encased in a rubber cocoon and sitting on an armchair covered in real live grass.  She sat on top of the 12’ scissor lift and recited a 4 ½ page monologue that started with:  “Heard her boast beef a roast beef eater, daughter could spin span spick and spun the lowest form of wheat straw into gold, raw into roar, golden lion and lyonesse under the sea, her in dungeonesse under the castle, spindling swindling dwindling Gwendolyn wheedling.”   WTF??

Directed by the intrepid Mark Wing-Davey, and presented in the Public Theater’s Newman Theater, it was a wild and woolly evening of theater.  Nothing was out of bounds. Mark set the tone immediately and our rehearsals began with a leisurely game of koosh ball and ended up including field trips to the Bronx Zoo and Bellevue.  James’ rehearsal reports (which for some reason I still have) are full of delightful little oddities:

 “Does anyone have a newborn baby we could use in rehearsal for a few hours?  We’ll take good care of it, but the child shouldn’t be sensitive to being called a slitty-eyed changeling.”

and

“In the bar scene, the Skriker wants a scotch and soda (don’t we all.)  We’ll need an appropriate glass, ice and spoon.”

and

“The Fair Fairy will only vomit vegetable soup.  (Actor is vegetarian.)”

As I recall, there was a lot of food (and mud and water and slime!) used throughout the show.  One rehearsal report noted that: “For the Glamour Banquet Scene, Mark wants to use brains (from British cows, of course!), eyeballs (real or fake – you decide), edible ladyfingers and edible meringues.”

Oh that Glamour Banquet!  I remember it vividly.  The banquet table was laid directly on a large section of the stage deck that lowered so we could quickly we dress it in the trap with the above-mentioned brains, etc., and then raise it up to table height.    The number itself was deafening, full of subwoofer and strobe, and the lyrics went something like this:

Meringue meringue!  
Meringue meringue!  
Meringue utang!  
Welcome homesick
drink drank drunk
avocado and prawn cockfight cockup cocksuck
red wine or white wash
champagne the pain is a sham pain the pain is a sham
fillet steak fill it up stakes in your heart
meringue  utang
black coffee fe fi fo fum

Again, not to sound like a complete Philistine, but WTF does any of this mean??  I still haven’t a clue.

But, I think you can see where this is going – a recipe for meringues!  Meringues were, in fact, my first introduction to the Backstage Baker.  James made them all the time for the Skriker cast and crew, and took the mystery out of meringue for me.  He taught me that meringues are not scary at all, and actually quite simple to make.  Just make sure your beaters are scrupulously clean and don’t try to make these on a humid rainy day.

The recipe below got a lot of use over the recent Christmas holidays.   But you can easily enjoy these year round.   Sometimes I’ll switch out the candy canes and substitute mini-chocolate chips.  But these are also perfectly good without any additions at all.   Even better, they’re eminently suitable for the gluten-free!  (Soon we’ll post a recipe that uses all those egg yolks you’ll be left with.)

Peppermint Meringues

Ingredients:

2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 peppermint candy canes, crushed

Method:

1.    Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.  Line 2 cookie sheets with foil or parchment paper. In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until whites form stiff peaks. Drop by spoonfuls 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  (I like to use a pastry bag or just a zip-top bag with a corner cut out to squeeze the mixture through.)  Sprinkle crushed peppermint candy (if using) over the cookies.  If using mini-chocolate chips, gently fold them into the mixture before spooning onto cookie sheet.
2.    Bake for 1 1/2 hours in preheated oven. Meringues should be completely dry on the inside.   (You’ll just have to eat one to test this.)  Do not allow them to brown. When they seem done, turn off oven. Keeping oven door ajar, let meringues sit in the oven until completely cool. Loosen from foil with metal spatula. Store loosely covered in cool dry place for up to 2 months.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze

On Sunday morning, James posted the following to his Facebook page:  “With complaints that the sweets at WINE AND UNWIND were causing distress to waistlines, I respond with a new version of a flourless chocolate cake. I pray I will not be serving a giant hockey puck.”

Well, James outdid himself for this past Sunday’s “Wine and Unwind”.  No hockey puck here (although, it would be a cool thing to serve at a hockey-themed birthday party.  Just sayin’.)  Not only is this recipe super easy to make (the cake itself only has six ingredients) but it’s also gluten-free!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze

Ingredients:

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Glaze:

2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon butter

Method:

1.   Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease an 8 inch round cake pan, and dust with cocoa powder.
2.   In the top of a double boiler over lightly simmering water, melt chocolate and butter. Remove from heat, and stir in sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan.
3.   Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

For the Glaze:

1.   In a small saucepan, combine 2 tablespoons sugar, the corn syrup and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Add 4 ounces chopped chocolate, swirl pan to mix, do not mix, and allow to stand until melted, about 3 minutes.
2.  Whisk 1 tablespoon butter into icing until melted and the chocolate is shiny and smooth.. Put wax paper under the cooling rack then pour glaze evenly over cake. Use a spatula to ease icing out to edges of cake and down the sides. Sprinkle the ground almonds around the top edge of the cake. Allow icing to cool and set before slicing.