Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blueberry Muffins (Gluten Free)

Blueberry muffins really have not been my favorite muffin variety. Nothing against them, but I usually would rather eat a more exciting muffin.... Actually, raisin bran muffins are typically my favorite.  Or pumpkin. And most often, I’d rather eat a scone than a muffin.  But I recently developed a craving for muffins. Specifically, blueberry muffins.

Blueberries themselves are one of my very favorite fruits.  I’ll sit and eat an entire container of them until they’re gone--perfect summertime meal or snack.  Most often, fresh blueberries get eaten before they can be used in baked goods.  But when I saw blueberries on a fantastic sale at the grocery store, I bought two packages: one for eating and one for muffins.

On my birthday last year, I made confetti cake waffles for breakfast.  While they were amazingly delicious, they also were so rich that the practically put me into a sugar coma for the rest of the day.  This year, instead, I decided to satisfy the craving and make blueberry muffins.

I found found an intriguing recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks (which shall remain nameless).  I was very interested in the recipe because it included a good amount of pecan flour (and I just happened to have pecan flour in the freezer).

I gathered the necessary ingredients (mis-en-place) and mixed the batter.  It seemed quite a bit thicker than I thought a muffin recipe should be.  I double checked the ingredients & no, I hadn’t forgotten anything or mis-measured.  So, I added a splash more milk. I portioned the the still-thick-batter into the lined muffin pan.  I baked the muffins.

When I pulled them from the oven, I could immediately tell there was a flaw in the recipe.  The muffins failed to spread or puff at all.  They looked pretty terrible & they didn’t taste great either.  Fail.  Even sadder, birthday fail :( And, I was STILL craving blueberry muffins!

Since then, I’ve searched through many additional recipes, searching for the perfect “redemption muffin” recipe.  And I think I’ve found it.  A slightly sweet, slightly caky muffin, bursting with blueberries.  The flavor and fragrance from the addition of almond extract is a lovely touch too.

The original recipe includes an almond streusel topping, but I didn’t have enough butter on hand to make it.  Honestly, I didn’t miss the streusel one bit! Shock--usually I’m a huge streusel fan! The muffin was delicious without it. Blueberry muffin redemption has been found!  I may have eaten three of them for breakfast that day....

Blueberry Muffins (adapted to be gluten free) 
adapted from Williams Sonoma Taste
Yields 9 muffins

157 g Gluten Free Flour (I used my favorite blend; or if you’re not GF, use regular AP flour) 
78 g Granulated Sugar
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Fine Grain Sea Salt
pinch Nutmeg, freshly grated 

4 fl oz Buttermilk
1 ea Eggs
38 g Unsalted Butter, melted & slightly cooled
1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
scant 1/4 tsp Almond Extract

110 g Blueberries, fresh (plus a little extra, if desired) 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a muffin pan with 9 papers. Optional: lightly spray the bottoms of the liners with non-stick spray. 
  2. If not already done, heat the butter in the microwave until just barely melted.  Set aside to cool slightly while gathering the remaining ingredients. 
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  Measure the buttermilk into a liquid measuring cup.  To that cup, add the egg, butter, & extract.  Gently whisk to combine.  
  4. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients.  Stir half-way and add the blueberries.  Very gently stir until combined, trying not to smash the blueberries in the progress.  
  5. Use a portion scoop to divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups.  If you notice the bottom of the batter is low on blueberries, throw in a few extras
  6. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin (and not into a blueberry) comes out almost clean with just a few crumbs sticking to it.  
  7. Cool slightly and serve.  Store any cooled leftovers in an airtight container for a day, or in the refrigerator for several days (due to the fruit content).  

Note: You can substitute frozen blueberries for the fresh ones.  Just add them to the batter frozen (even frozen they may dye the batter a bit blue) and increase the baking time by a few minutes.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Cake and Ice Cream" Cake

My birthday was this past week! 

Every birthday I can remember celebrating with my family has included both cake and ice cream.  Each person’s plate not only included a slice of birthday cake, but also a generous scoop of ice cream.

As a child--and well, as an adult, if I’m really being honest--I had a preferred method for eating that cake and ice cream. I would eat the frosting first, not because I liked the icing best, but because I felt that it’s flavor and texture got in the way of the cake and ice cream.  Next, I would smoosh all the cake with my fork and vigorously mix it with the slightly softened ice cream.   Then, it was perfectly mushy & ready to be eaten.  

I know, it’s a terribly unladylike way to eat cake... (especially when it’s someone else’s birthday).

My mom made all of our birthday cakes when I was a kid (or rather, until I caught the baking bug and asked to make my own cake).  We were allowed to pick out exactly what kind of cake, icing and ice cream we wanted each year.  Though she didn’t exactly approve of my preferred cake-and-ice-cream-eating method, she did take pity on me & create a whole new genre of cake for me: the “cake and ice cream cake.”

She baked a chocolate cake, crumbled it up, mixed the cake crumbs with vanilla ice cream, spread the whole mixture back into a 9x13 pan & froze it until solid.  Then, she still piped “Happy Birthday Laura!” and some decorations on it right before candles were added & the “Happy Birthday” song was sung.  The time out of the freezer & the heat from the candles would soften the cake enough to cut it into squares for serving.  And voila, a perfectly polite way to eat my favorite cake and ice cream mush concoction.

It’s been awhile I’ve last had one of my mom’s cake-and-ice cream cakes.  Most years, I still make my mushy concoction, usually with cake leftovers, but for my birthday this year, I decided to resurrect the cake and ice cream cake.

I made just a couple of changes.... I added a crust, using Glutino gluten free chocolate sandwich cookies because who doesn’t like a chocolate sandwich cookie crust!  The crust also acts as an insulator so that the ice cream doesn’t melt as quickly when put onto the plate, and it makes the cake less messy to serve.

I also folded in a bit of whipped cream to the cake and ice cream filling, just to help stabilize it a little for serving & to keep the cake from melting as quickly.  Finally, instead of decorating the top of the cake with colored icing, I piped a quick shell border with some additional whipped cream.

We invited some friends over for an impromptu cake and (spiked) coffee gathering the night of my birthday. It was fun to tell them the backstory to the cake.  And, none of them could taste that the cake was gluten free!  I’d say it was a great success :)

Cake and Ice Cream Cake
yields 12 servings 

One Bowl Chocolate Cake (Gluten Free Version) 
makes one 8x8 pan (or 12 cupcakes)
adapted from Martha Stewart 

1.15 oz Cocoa Powder, sifted
3.2 oz AP Flour (I used Jeanne’s Gluten Free AP Mix)
5.25 oz Granulated Sugar
3/4 t Baking Soda
3/4 t Baking Powder
1/2 t Sea Salt

3 fl oz Buttermilk
1 large Egg
1.5 Tbl (21 g) Vegetable Oil
1/2 t Vanilla Extract
3 fl oz Water (or substitute cold coffee) 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Generously spray an 8x8 baking pan with cooking spray. Set aside.   
  2. In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the sifted cocoa powder, flour, granulated sugar, soda, powder, and salt.  
  3. Add the buttermilk, egg, vegetable oil, and vanilla to a 2 cup-liquid measuring cup.  Gently break up the egg & combine the ingredients with a small whisk or a fork.  
  4. Pour the buttermilk, egg, oil, vanilla mixture to the dry ingredients.  Measure the water into the just used liquid measuring cup (to make sure everything is used) and also pour that into the dry ingredients.  
  5. Whisk everything, just until combined.  Pour into the prepared pan. 
  6. Bake until a tooth pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean (mine baked in a metal dish took approximately 25 minutes).  
  7. Allow to cool completely.  If not using immediately, wrap the cooled cake & store at room temperature. Cake may be made up to two days in advance.  

17 ea/8.7 oz Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (I used one package, minus 4 of Glutino cookies) 
2 oz/half a stick Unsalted Butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
  2. In a food processor, blitz the cookies until they are finely ground. 
  3. Microwave the butter until it is just barely melted.
  4. Stir together the melted butter with the cookie crumbs until the crumbs are all coated with butter. 
  5. Press the mixture into a 9” springform pan. Bake at 350 for 5 minutes.  
  6. Allow to cool completely then place in the freezer for 10 minutes to give it an extra chill.  

1 recipe Chocolate Cake
16 oz half of a half gallon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (you could make your own, if you like) 
12 oz heavy Cream
3 Tbl Granulated Sugar
1 Tbl Vanilla Extract
1 Prepared Crust

  1. In a large bowl, crumble the baked, cooled chocolate cake until the cake is all crumbs.  
  2. Remove the ice cream from the freezer & allow to soften slightly.  (I scoop the ice cream directly into the bowl where the cake is & allow it to soften there.)
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla.  Whip on high speed until the cream forms medium-stiff peaks.  Remove 1/3 of the whipped cream & store in the refrigerator.
  4. Use a spatula to combine the cake & softened ice cream.  Fold in the whipped cream & stir until just combined.  The more stirring that happens, the more brown the mixture will become & the less contrast in color there will be between the dark colored cake and the light colored ice cream/whipped cream.  
  5. Pour the filling into the cold prepared crust.  Place the entire pan into the freezer and freeze for 2 hours.  After 2 hours, wrap the pan well with plastic wrap & return to the freezer for at least 12 hours.  
  6. When ready to serve, allow to sit at room temperature for a couple of minutes before removing the outer portion of the springform pan.  Pipe a border around the edge of the cake using the reserved whipped cream.  Use a hot knife to cut into slices & serve immediately.  Store any leftovers, well wrapped, in the freezer.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pistachio Raspberry Napoleon

In high school, I had the privilege of traveling to France (and Monaco) for 17 days with my French class.  I did not so much enjoy high school, but I really, really loved that trip! We started in Paris & then traveled via motor-coach in a giant circle around the rest of the country.

For most of the trip, we ate lunch on our own in whatever city we happened to be visiting that day.   Even in high school, I knew that someday I wanted to study pastry.  I am not at all ashamed to say that most every lunch included dessert.  Sometimes, dessert was the only food group!  Luckily, the friends I made during the trip agreed with dessert for lunch :)

One day, towards the tail end of the trip when we were in the norther part of France, along the cost, I bought a “Mille-Feuille” (also known as a “Napoleon”) for lunch.  It was a beautiful pastry, layered with cream & strawberries, and topped with a healthy dusting of confectioners‘ sugar.  Somewhere in my boxes of France mementos at my parents’ house is a photo I took of the pastry...

While the napoleon may have looked exquisite & delicious, it only took one bite for me to realize that the pastry was burned.  Badly burnt.  Sadly, I ended up throwing out the pastry layers and just eating the cream & strawberries.  Even though this first napoleon experience was not-so-great, I knew that someday I would eat a better one.

That trip to France did really help further my palate, & it exposed me to new things within the culinary world . Pistachio, in particular, remains one of my all time favorite flavors.  As does red currant.  And, of course, I fell in love with croissants, pain au chocolat, jam & nutella for breakfast.

Fast forward just a few years (ha!) to my time in culinary school.  Laminated Doughs & Breakfast Pastries quickly became my favorite class.  We made our own puff pastry, laminated it with European butter, and one week we turned some of the finished puff pastry into amazingly delicious, yet challenging Napoleons.  Finally, I tasted a real napoleon that wasn’t burned!

Classical napoleons, topped with poured fondant & chocolate stripes, aren’t an easy task.  They require lots of work & also require the person making/assembling them to be on top of their “mis-en-place,” meaning that everything must be completely ready & in place before the assembly process begins.  I struggled with the napoleon as a student & while my pastry was delicious, it wasn’t nearly as beautiful as it should have been (or as beautiful as Chef Jeff’s was).  When I became an instructor & taught the Laminated Doughs class, I still was a little nervous on napoleon day when I had to demo this challenging item to 16 eager students (and then grade them on their results)....

While I love the classical napoleon, both for it’s flavor and for the skill it requires one to possess to execute flawlessly, I experimented with alternate presentations for the same components.  The squares were pre-cut to their serving size.  The vanilla diplomat cream filling was decoratively piped.  Fruit could be added.  The fondant & chocolate topping was exchanged for a pattern of powdered sugar.

I have a terrible habit of hoarding ingredients I deem “special.”  As I was brainstorming future posts & looking through my cabinets & freezer, I remembered the remaining piece of gluten free blitz puff pastry that needed to be used before it developed freezer burn.  And in the dark, back corner of the pantry, I discovered an even bigger gem: pistachio paste!  Ironically, I brought the pistachio paste back from my second trip to France .  I’ve been saving it for a special occasion, but really, that just means it’s just hiding in my pantry.  My aformentioned love of pistachio drove me to buy the paste three years ago, but allowing it to just sit in the back of the pantry really does no one any favors.  So, I cracked the can open, inhaling the wonderful fragrance of pistachios &  was inspired to make a pistachio napoleon with raspberries.  Not only are pistachios and raspberries visually pretty together, their flavors also are a great compliment.

I knew there wasn’t enough leftover blitz puff pastry to make very many napoleons, so in lieu of just eating the pistachio diplomat cream with a spoon (which it IS delicious enough to do), I bought a box of commercial puff pastry.  I used the regular puff pastry to make a couple napoleons to give as thank-you gifts.

In one bite of the napoleon, I’m transported both back to my trips to France, and also to my days as a culinary student & instructor.  Good memories :)


  • In the above images, the larger napoleon was made with commercial, store-bought puff pastry. The smaller, individual size napoleon was made with gluten free blitz puff pastry.  
  • The batch of pastry cream & diplomat cream will make enough to fill two sheets of regular puff pastry and all the gluten free pastry rectangles as well. 

Baking Commercial Puff Pastry Sheets (large Napoleons) 
  1. Allow the puff pastry to thaw at room temperature for approximately an hour.  Preheat the oven to 400 F. 
  2. Open the package & separate the two pieces of puff pastry.  Save the second piece for later (or hold it in the refrigerator until the first pieces is done & then repeat the steps.) Gently open the folds of the pastry.  
  3. Using a pastry wheel & a ruler (I like to use my quilter’s ruler), cut off the edges of the puff pastry pieces, just to expose the lamination.  Cut each piece into three equal pieces approximately 3 inches wide.  
  4. Place the 3” wide pieces onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Use a fork to dock the dough (make little holes in it) all over the surface of the dough.  Top with a second piece of parchment & a second sheet pan.  The puff pastry should now be sandwiched between the parchment & the pans.  Add a heavy, oven-safe weight to the top pan--I like to use my cast iron skillet.  
  5. Bake the skillet-topped pans for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven & remove the cast iron skillet (DON’T FORGET THAT THE PANS ARE HOT!!) Flip the pans with the pastry over & remove the top pan (which was previously the bottom) and the top layer of parchment.  Return the pan to the oven (the bottom pan will be upside down, but that’s OK). and continue baking until the pastry is golden.  Rotate as needed to promote even browning.  The finished pastry should be quite brown, but not burned. Mine took approximately 7 additional minutes to bake.  Allow the baked pastry to cool at room temperature.  
  6. After the rectangles have trim with a small, sharp paring knife until all the pieces are the same size & the edges have been re-exposed. Save any scrap pieces to eat with leftover diplomat cream :)  Some of the rectangles may break, but just use those for the bottom or inside layers when assembling. Decide which piece is the prettiest & reserve that one for the top.  Set aside until ready to assemble.

Baking Gluten Free Blitz Puff Pastry (individual Napoleons)
  1.  Allow the frozen blitz puff pastry to thaw at room temperature for approximately 10 minutes (for a flat sheet)
  2. Use a ruler & pastry wheel to cut the dough into 2x4 inch rectangles.  
  3. Place the rectangles onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Return to the freezer for 10 minutes. 
  4. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 
  5. Bake the rectangles for 25 minutes (or until lightly golden).  Remove the pan from the oven.  With an offset spatula, very carefully flip each piece over.  They do tend to ooze a bit of butter & that hot butter will burn!  
  6. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 5 to 10 more minutes, or until the pastry is golden.  
  7. Remove from the oven & cool to room temperature.  
Pastry Cream
Note: Cut the batch in half if you aren’t planning on assembling more than 1 napoleon (i.e. using more than 1 sheet of commercial puff pastry).  I bought my pistachio paste in France, but you can find several kinds here.  Alternately, unsalted pistachios can be steeped in milk & then pureed, but the flavor will not be as strong & the texture will be much more grainy.   

9.75 oz  Milk
1.5 oz  Pistachio Paste (similar here)
1 fl oz  cold Water
0.15 oz  Granulated Gelatin (approximately half a packet)
2 oz Egg Yolks (approximately 4 yolks, don’t worry if it goes a little over)
4 oz  Granulated Sugar
0.85 oz  Cornstarch
0.55 oz  Butter
  1. In a medium sized stainless steel sauce pan, combine the milk and pistachio paste.  Heat over medium heat until it simmers, whisking often.  Remove from the heat, cover & allow to steep 10 minutes or so while the other ingredients are prepared. 
  2. In a microwave safe small bowl, add the cold water.  Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water.  Stir lightly to ensure all the granules are moistened.  Set aside to bloom.  
  3. Separate the cold eggs.  Reserve the whites for a different use. 
  4. In a medium sized heat-proof bowl (glass, metal, etc.), Whisk together the granulated sugar & cornstarch.  
  5. Return the pistachio milk to the stove top & heat over medium high heat until it begins to steam.  Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks into the granulated sugar/cornstarch mixture.  Place a damp towel or a silicone pot holder underneath the bowl if it moves around too much.  Do not allow this mixture to sit or the sugar may cause the egg mixture to chemically cook & create lumps in the final cream. 
  6. Slowly temper the hot pistachio liquid into the egg mixture, while whisking constantly.  Once all the two are combined, return them to the sauce pan and heat over medium high heat, whisking constantly. 
  7. Continue cooking & mixing until the custard boils.  Allow to boil for a minimum of 15 seconds (count slowly), then remove from the heat.  Whisk in the butter
  8. Place the bloomed gelatin into the microwave & heat on high for 10 seconds (or until liquid).  Whisk the melted gelatin into the custard.  Pour the custard into a separate bowl & cover with plastic wrap touching the surface.  Refrigerate until ready to make the diplomat cream, just before assembly. 

Diplomat Cream 
Wait to make the diplomat cream until just before assembly! It won’t pipe as well if made earlier. Cut the batch in half if you aren’t planning on assembling more than 1 napoleon (i.e. using more than 1 sheet of commercial puff pastry)

16 oz Pastry Cream (with the gelatin added) 
16 oz Whipping Cream
1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste (or substitute extract) 
  1. Approximately 30 minutes before making the diplomat cream, remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator & allow to come to room temperature. 
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until medium peaks form. Beat in the vanilla bean paste. 
  3. Whisk the room temperature pastry cream to break it up a bit.  Add half of the whipped cream to the pastry cream & whisk to combine.  Pour the pastry cream/whipped cream back into the bowl of whipped cream & gently fold to combine.  
  4. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.  
  5. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (I used an Ateco #808). Reserve any leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  

Tri-layer Assembly
Baked Puff pastry pieces, trimmed (regular, not gluten free ones)
Diplomat Cream
1/2 to 1 pint Raspberries, unwashed 
Confectioners sugar 
Pistachios, finely chopped (optional garnish) 
  1. Build the napoleon on a parchment lined sheet pan.  Pick through the raspberries & decide which ones are prettiest for the outside edges and which ones are not as beautiful that may be hidden on the inside.  Set aside a couple of extra pretty garnish berries, if desired. Lay out the raspberries on some paper towel.  Do NOT wash them. Due to their fragile nature, the raspberries may not hold up as well if they are washed & they risk bleeding into the pastry cream.  
  2. On the base layer, pipe three large dots/rounds with the diplomat cream along the short side of the baked puff pastry.  Next to the dots, snuggly place 4 raspberries (or however many fit best), remembering to put the prettiest ones towards the outside where they will be seen.  Repeat the cream dots & raspberry rows throughout the remaining width of the pastry.  Top with a second piece of puff pastry & gently press to adhere, but not so hard that the cream and berries are squashed.  
  3. Repeat the cream and berry layer process on the second tier of pastry.  Top with the prettiest piece of pastry. Lightly press. 
  4. Place the pan into the refrigerator to chill the napoleon for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. 
  5. Just before serving, cut parchment paper into equal strips. Lay the strips diagonally across the top of the pastry.  Liberally sift powdered sugar over the top.  Gently remove the strips, being careful not to disrupt the sugar pattern.  On one corner, lay an extra line of chopped pistachios. Top with a couple additional fresh raspberries. 
  6. Serve immediately.  Use a hot, but dry, serrated knife to cut the napoleon into pieces.  Because pastry will begin to get soggy, this dessert is best consumed within 24 hours of assembly.  Store any leftovers in an airtight container (or well wrapped) in the refrigerator.  Leftovers will become soggy, but will still still taste delicious.  
Individual variation (Gluten Free) 
  1. Follow the same steps as before, only make the individual napoleons two layers instead of three.  
This post contains affiliate links, meaning Sweet Treats makes a small commission off items purchased 
after an Amazon link is clicked with no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Waffle Weekend: Cornmeal Waffles with Blueberry Nectarine Maple Compote

In a perfect world, every Saturday would allow for sleeping in and eating waffles for brunch.  But let’s be honest, those weekends don’t regularly happen.

Case in point, this past weekend. Just because we couldn’t have a leisurely brunch did not mean waffles should be entirely forgotten.  Instead, we had to change our thinking slightly.  

Waffles are equally delicious in the evening as they are for breakfast, especially this cornmeal version that is reminiscent of a cornbread/waffle hybrid.  Add a side of crunch, oven cooked bacon (not pictured, as it was still baking during these photos) and some warm Blueberry Nectarine Maple Compote & we had the perfect Saturday supper.  

p.s. Don’t you just love these heart-shaped waffles? One of the many highlights of this housesitting adventure has been utilizing their adorable waffle iron.

Blueberry Nectarine Maple Compote
adapted from Serious Eats

Note: I like to start the compote first so that it can be simmering while I prepare & cook the waffles.  

1c Fresh Blueberries
1/4 c Maple Syrup (the real stuff, NOT pancake syrup) 
1 1/2 tsp Lemon Juice
1/4 c Water
1/2 c Brown Sugar
1 nectarine, peeled & sliced into thin wedges
1/4 tsp Cinnamon

  1. In a small stainless steel sauce pan, combine the blueberries, maple syrup, lemon juice and water.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to simmer & cook for 5 minutes.  Stir occasionally.
  2. Add the brown sugar & nectarine to the pot. Simmer an additional 30 minutes, stirring as needed. 
  3. Remove from the heat & add the cinnamon.  Serve warm. Store any leftovers for up to 1 month in the refrigerator. 
Cornmeal Waffles
adapted from Williams-Sonoma 

Note: Because I was low on ingredients and was only cooking for 2, I made a half recipe. But if you are planning to serve more than 2 people, I'd highly recommend doubling the recipe.  

1/2 c Flour (I used Jeanne’s AP Gluten Free Mix)
1/2 c Cornmeal
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/8 tsp Salt
1 c Buttermilk (I didn’t have enough, so I used some regular milk & mixed a little lemon juice into it)
1 egg
2 Tbl Maple Syrup (the real stuff, NOT pancake syrup)
2 Tbl Vegetable Oil, plus more for the waffle iron  
  1. Preheat the waffle iron to a low setting.  
  2. In a liquid measuring cup, if making your own buttermilk, mix together the regular milk with a tsp of lemon juice & set aside. 
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal, baking powder, soda & salt).  
  4. Add the remaining ingredients to the liquid measuring cup & whisk together.  
  5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients & stir just until combined.  
  6. Portion the prepared batter onto the greased, hot waffle iron & cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Place the finished waffles in a single layer onto a baking rack-lined sheet pan & place into a 250 F oven to keep crisp until ready to serve.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cocoa Brownies (Gluten Free)

Ah, brownies... Fudgy or cakey? Edge piece or middle piece? Nuts or no nuts? And if you’re a fan of nuts, walnuts or pecans? Cocoa-based or melted chocolate-based? From a box or from scratch? Plain or frosted?

Everyone needs a great go-to brownie recipe.  Brownies are such a wonderful dessert option, especially when baking for a crowd. And brownies from scratch take only a few minutes longer than whipping up a boxed brownie mix (and they taste much better).  It’s very simple to customize a good brownie recipe with mix-ins & variables.

Most people have strong feelings when it comes to their brownie preferences. My personal preference is a fudgy, no nuts, made from scratch brownie (and I’ll never complain if said brownie is topped with ice cream).

Until recently, my go-to brownie recipe has been melted chocolate based.  Typically, I’d save the odds & ends bits of chocolate (white, milk or dark) that were leftover from other recipes or from chocolate tempering advdntures. Those leftovers would be melted together & added to the brownie batter.

But, my go-to recipe has changed.... My parents-in-law sent us many pounds of amazing European cocoa powder, and I’ve been on a quest to find ways to showcase the wonderful flavor of the cocoa powder. Let me tell you, this brownie recipe really delivers, not just in flavor, but in texture too! I may never go back to the melted chocolate brownies again.

Sprinkling coarse sea salt over the brownies adds a nice crunch & a slightly more sophisticated flavor.  A little secret about these brownies: I don't normally discriminate between edge brownies & middle brownies, but I think for these particular brownies, the edge pieces might be a tiny bit better :)

The original recipe made only an 8x8 pan, but in the 4 times I've made these brownies in a little more than a month, I've come to the realization that more brownies are always better! So, I've adapted this recipe for a 9x13 pan instead.

Best Cocoa Brownies, {Gluten Free}
Recipe inspired by Alice Medrich’s recipe via Food 52 

Note: Normally I hate sifting, but I do really recommend sifting cocoa powder.  Cocoa powder that isn’t sifted may leave bitter pockets throughout the brownie batter. Blech! 

Unsalted Butter 7.5 oz
Granulated Sugar 13.3 oz
Cocoa Powder 3.95 oz
Sea Salt         0.5 tsp (plus additional for sprinkling)
Vanilla Extract 3/4 tsp (optional; I usually leave it out *shock* because I find that the flavor of the chocolate does not need the vanilla)
Eggs, cold 3 large
AP flour         3.20 oz (I used Jeanne’s Gluten Free AP flour mix) 
Nuts 1 cup (optional, but I've used pecans in the past) 

  1. Add the butter (save the butter wrappers!), sugar, sifted cocoa powder, and sea salt to a medium sauce pan.  Heat over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the butter is just melted & the mixture is homogenized.  It will be slightly grainy, but should not get hot enough to burn. Remove from the heat & cool slightly. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Grease an 9x13 pan, using the leftover butter wrappers. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Butter the parchment paper too. 
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs together.  Add the slightly cooled cocoa/sugar/butter/salt mixture & whisk to combine.  Add vanilla, if using. 
  4. Stir in the flour, using a spatula or wooden spoon & mix until the flour is no longer visible.  Scrape the sides.  Stir in the nuts, if using.  
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan & spread evenly. Sprinkle the top with additional coarse sea salt (optional) 
  6. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few crumbs.  The time required for baking will depend on what kind of pan is used. A metal pan will bake in 25 to 30 minutes. A glass pan will bake in approximately 35 minutes. 
  7. Remove from the oven and cool completely.  Run an knife around the edges of the pan, and use the overhang of the parchment paper to lift the brownies out of the pan. Cut the brownies into squares. 
  8. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature or wrap well and freeze.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Nectarine Buttermilk Panna Cotta

There are different moments throughout life that really signal adulthood.  Times where you think to yourself “Wow! I really am a grownup now!.”

Some moments are major milestones, like graduations, living on your own for the first time, landing that first “big” job, getting married, having your own children, buying your own home etc. Some moments are not as glamorous, like paying all your own bills, or driving yourself to the doctor (or ER) when sick, or shoveling snow etc.


Recently, we have been housesitting & petsitting for some friends while they’re on vacation.  We are thoroughly enjoying this little getaway to their house, but it has been an eye-opening experience for us too.  Routine tasks like daily watering the grass  & giving the puppy a bath because she had a little too much fun playing in the yard & waking up early to feed the poor dieting cat who must think we’re starving him have all been little reminders to us of true adulthood.  

We realize just how relatively carefree we are in our pet-less, child-less apartment living.
It’s fun, though, to try out this different life for a while.  And it has reaffirmed our decision to wait to get pets until we are no longer living in an apartment--I can’t imagine trying to train a dog from our 3rd floor apartment!

Another part of adulthood, I think, is eating different foods--perhaps foods you didn’t think you liked before or foods you thought were too grown up/sophisticated/fancy.

Panna Cotta is a dessert I discovered in my adult life. It is essentially a custard that is thickened with gelatin instead of eggs.  They require only a handful of ingredients; they need very little prep time; they don’t even use the oven (a great bonus during summertime).

Panna Cotta made with buttermilk is a new-to-me flavor combination and seems like a very “grownup” option.  To balance out the tart, slightly acidic flavor of the buttermilk, I added some sweet, juicy nectarines to bottom of the panna cotta vessels.

As the base was poured in, the nectarines evenly dispersed themselves throughout the slightly thick custard.  After a short rest in the refrigerator to set the gelatin, the custards were ready.  The flavor was very reminiscent of peaches and cream, but somehow a bit more exotic.

These panna cotta custards have been the perfect ending to summer evenings at this home-away-from-home, especially after the grass and plants have been watered, and the rambunctious puppy is in bed for the night.

Nectarine Buttermilk Panna Cotta (Naturally Gluten Free) 
Serves 6, depending on vessel size 
Adapted from “The Last Course” by Claudia Flemming via  Saveur

1.5 tsp Granulated Gelatin
10 fl oz (1 1/4 c) Heavy Cream
7 Tbl (3.1 oz) Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
14 fl oz (1 3/4 c) Buttermilk 
2 medium nectarines, ripe 

  1. In a small bowl, bloom the gelatin in 1 tsp of cold water. Stir together briefly (I use my clean fingers) and allow the gelatin to soften for about 5 minutes. 
  2. While the gelatin is blooming, gather the rest of the ingredients & leave them out at room temperature.  Place 6 small dishes (ramekins or small dessert vessels) onto a sheet pan for easy transport & set off to the side. 
  3. Add cream and the sugar into a small sauce pan.  Heat over medium heat, whisking occasionally, for approximately 5 minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved.  
  4. Pour a little of the hot cream into the bowl with the gelatin & whisk to melt the gelatin.  Pour back into the sauce pan & whisk to combine, using the residual heat from the pan to melt any remaining unmelted gelatin.  Pour into a separate bowl (preferably one with a spout for ease of pouring later)& set aside to cool slightly while preparing the nectarines. 
  5. Cut the nectarines into small pieces.  Place 1/3 of each nectarine into the bottom of each small dish.  
  6. Add buttermilk into the slightly cooled cream mixture & gently whisk to combine.  Divide the liquid between the 6 dishes.  
  7. Refrigerate until set, approximately 2 to 3 hours. If planning on storing the custards in the refrigerator for longer, cover each one individually with plastic wrap. They will keep for several days in the refrigerator (though, the batches I have made always get eaten within 3 days!).