5.28.2011

new loves

Ok, so first things first.


Last week, my amazing sister gave birth to the sweetest little boy ever. It was a wonderful day. Her early labor was light enough that we were able to go out to lunch (she drove!), and then we spent the afternoon watching old Cosby Show episodes via Netflix, baking cookies, and doing some last-minute baby name brainstorming. Late in the evening, with my sister surrounded by those who love her most, little Eli emerged, all chill and relaxed from the get-go. We spent the next few hours intoxicated by the ethers of baby love that enveloped us all, marveling over his perfect head and long fingers and especially wrinkly feet.


What must it be like to enter this world immediately surrounded by such tremendous love? New babies make all of life seem so precious and miraculous. It's nice to be reminded of that feeling in the midst of the normalcy of day-to-day living. At the same time, I completely love the idea of Eli melding seamlessly into our extended family, with his unquestioned presence becoming our new normal. Perfect.



All of this lovely commotion, coupled with the fact that I have been busy developing new desserts for the restaurant, means that I haven't been doing much home baking lately. In fact, there has been nothing since those incredible chocolate cookies last week.

But I haven't been all that bothered by my baking neglect. I've been too preoccupied by fruit and herbs.

It's not summer here in Maine. Heck, it's barely spring - we've just emerged from two weeks of rain and gloom, and the sun feels like a glorious, if slightly unfamiliar, long-ago friend. The bounty of local fruit is quite a ways off. I've been late starting our garden, so there are no herbs growing off the front porch. But still, I can't stop thinking about - and eating - these things.

Recently, I combined mango, avocado, mint, honey, and lemon juice for a refreshing, not-to-sweet accompaniment to our breakfast. One of the new desserts for 40 Paper is a peach-basil crostata, the making of which has caused me to fall completely in love with basil simple syrup. And during a play date two days ago, to distract the three little people crashing through my house, I made a fruit salad starring a perfectly ripe Athena melon.


I'd never knowingly had an Athena melon before. It was an impulse buy at the grocery store, along with some shipped-in-from-the-other-side-of-the-continent strawberries. But it looked and smelled close enough to a regular cantaloupe that I knew I'd love it.

Cantaloupe have always reminded me of lazy summer mornings with my mother. In my mind, my adolescent summers were full of hot, sunny mornings where I'd come downstairs to find a cantaloupe sliced and waiting. I feel like my mother and I often ate our slippery, perfumed pieces together, outside, the juices dripping off our chins and fingers into small puddles on the wooden deck, where the always-nearby wasps and honey bees would soon find them.


In reality, like the eggs and potatoes and so many other foods I always thought my mother loved and ate with us, only to later discover she hates, cantaloupe might be on her Do Not Eat list. My summers of mother-daughter cantaloupe gorging may actually have been quite solitary. But still, it makes for a nice memory.

And so, with such bright, steamy mornings still far off in our future, I decided to channel the feeling from my childhood and pretend for a while that summer is already here. Lots of that beautiful melon, with its pastel rind and creamy interior, supported by the other fruits taking up my counter space: apricots, peaches, and bananas. I tossed it all with a drizzle of clover honey and then, feeling inspired (and remembering my apricot-thyme pairing from last year), chopped some thyme leaves to sprinkle over it.

My bowl sat on the counter waiting, while I rounded up more snacks for the hungry boys and mediated the kind of disputes that can only occur between 2-year-olds. By the time I got back to it, the flavors had melded and it had unified into a dish. A bright, fresh, soft, herbally sweet summer dish. My childhood memories, all grown up. And it occurred to me then that I have never added thyme to a food and later regretted it.

So there you have it. A new life. A new fruit-and-herbs obsession. And the perfect snack for a spring afternoon, when what you're really craving is summer.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!



Fruit Salad with Thyme

This is really more of an idea than a recipe. You don't need me to tell you how to make fruit salad. But just as a reference, here's a rundown of what I did.

1/2 of a ripe Athena melon, or cantaloupe
1 ripe banana
1 ripe peach
1 ripe apricot
clover honey, to taste
a handful of thyme sprigs, to taste

Slice all the fruit into bite-sized pieces and put them into a serving bowl. Drizzle with honey, toss to coat.

Pull the thyme leaves off the stems and coarsely chop. Add to the fruit salad and toss to combine. Allow salad to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes for the flavor of the thyme to permeate the dish. Enjoy.

5.19.2011

waiting . . . ever so impatiently

My sister is about to have a baby.


Any day now - any hour now - I should be getting The Call.

Not the call that the baby is here, come and visit. That's the call that most people wait for, and get.

But I'm waiting for the call telling me the baby is coming now and I'd better get myself to her house pronto. I'm waiting to be called into action.

My sister is having a home birth, and I am lucky to be part of her birthing team. This is fairly normal stuff in my family. As a child, I attended the home births of both my sisters, decades ago. Kalen and Wylie were both born at home, in this house that has become so precious to me largely because of that fact. And I was there when my sister had her first child, my lovely, incredible niece. This should feel old hat to me.

It doesn't. I am prickly with anticipation, jumping each time the phone rings, feeling let down each time it is not The Call. I go to bed slightly more anxious every night, my cell phone on the nightstand next to me, obsessively checking one last time that it's on and charged and will not fail to rouse me with the middle-of-the-night jangle I am convinced is coming tonight. Every conversation I have with Josh, regardless of the topic, contains some variant of, "Well, if she has the baby today . . ." I can't stop thinking about this new person, this perfect unique child whose entrance into this world I will experience. My family, growing.

And I am not even the one having the baby.

 

All this waiting and eager anticipation has its benefits. I'm keeping the house quite clean, assuming that I'll be leaving at any moment and not wanting to saddle Josh with lots of chores. And I've been stocking up on baked goods to bring to the birth - one of the midwives is gluten-free, so I'm taking responsibility for ensuring she's got snacks to keep her energy up. Multi-grain rolls and cereal muffins are ready to go, and I think I'll be bringing some of the extra dough for these double chocolate chip cookies. Because couldn't everyone use some rich, intense chocolate goodness during those first dreamy post-birth hours?

I made a big batch of this cookie dough today, partly to have something to direct my nervous energy towards, and also because I thought having cookie dough to bake off might be a fun activity for Josh and the boys to do while I'm gone. (Assuming that this baby comes in the next day or so, anyway, while there's still some dough left!) Like I said, I'm stocking up on baked goods.

I've been all about intense, dark chocolate lately, and these cookies are no exception. With so much Dutched cocoa powder in them they're almost black, they have the depth of chocolate flavor I've been craving without a tooth-aching sweetness. Over-sized semi-sweet chocolate chips are a nice contrast to the dark chocolate crumb, and a scattering of kosher salt lends a suggestion of sophistication and refinement. They are equal parts crispy and chewy, and utterly addictive.

They are, hands down, my new - and quite possibly forever - favorite cookie.

Thanks, Baby - you're already bringing good things to my life. I can't wait to thank you in person, while I nuzzle your sweet cheeks and cup your tiny, precious feet in my hand. The sooner the better.

{Update: I got The Call! Well, actually, it was The Text. Technology these days. Anyway, I'm off!}


Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
yields 2 to 5 dozen, depending on size

390 grams Tara's gluten-free all-purpose flour mix
90 grams Dutch-process cocoa powder (I highly recommend substituting 20 grams with black cocoa powder, if you have access to it)
2 tsp xanthan gum (optional, but definitely advisable if you use a gf flour mix that is less than 65% whole grain)
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
284 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
284 grams light brown sugar
227 grams granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
340 grams semi-sweet chocolate chips
kosher salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two baking pans with silpats or parchment.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, xanthan gum (optional), baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk thoroughly. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and two sugars. Mix on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing on medium and scraping down the bowl between additions. Mix in the vanilla.

Add the flour mixture in 3-4 additions, mixing on low speed until just combined, and scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the chocolate chips, and mix on low just until they are evenly distributed. (At this point, the dough may be refrigerated for up to two days, baking off when needed. Alternately, you can freeze the dough, scooped into balls, for up to three months. Thaw overnight before baking.)

Scoop the cookie dough onto your prepared baking pans. Depending on the size cookie you decide to make, you should be able to fit anywhere from five to 12 cookies on each pan. Lightly press down on the balls with the palm of your hand to flatten them, and sprinkle the surface with kosher salt.

Bake for 12-20 minutes (shorter time for smaller cookies, longer for larger ones), or until the edges of the cookies are firm, but the centers are still soft and indent when you gently touch them. (With cookies this dark, the color is not an indicator of doneness.) Cool on the pan just until the cookies have firmed up enough to safely transport them to a wire rack, about 3 minutes. Finish cooling on the rack.

Cookies are phenomenal warm, but will still taste incredible at room temperature. They keep, wrapped airtight at room temperature, for up to three days.

5.18.2011

say Breakfast!

What do morning meals at your house look like?


Do you have time to read your favorite magazine while leisurely sipping your coffee? Do you make a from-scratch breakfast with multiple ingredients that requires cooking/baking time? Better yet, does someone regularly do that for you?

Or maybe breakfast happens on the run. Grabbing toast from the toaster or a piece of fruit while juggling keys and papers and travel mugs. Extolling the kids to eat faster while slipping shirts over their heads and trying to pack balanced lunches, one eye on the clock at all times. Hopefully, if that's you, you're at least finding time to eat something.

But maybe it's something in between. Maybe it's the one part of the morning you do make time for. You rush through your shower in order to have time to sit down while you eat your eggs and bacon. Or your evening routine includes an extra 10 minutes in the kitchen, after the dinner dishes are washed, making pancake or waffle batter so that your family will have a hot, yet hassle-free, breakfast the next morning.


I'd have to say that, on any given day, mornings at my house could be any one of those scenarios (although the 'leisure' part rarely shows itself). My preference is for things to play out like the first example. But as anyone with small children and an irregular schedule knows, that's a hard one to pull off. But still, I do love breakfast, and it's the one meal of the day that Josh shares with us, so I like for it to not feel rushed, as if it's just another obstacle blocking us from the 'real' start of our day.

But I know that will soon change. Kalen will be going to school in the Fall. In my mind, this is simultaneously the most normal, timely, and obvious next step in his life and an almost baffling, "really? this thing that other, older kids do is really happening to our family? now?" series of thoughts. Weird. Weirder still is the fact that, when I think about how our lives will change, I think mostly about our mornings. My mornings, really. That I will have a new, daily responsibility to get a five-year-old up, dressed, fed, cleaned, packed, and delivered to school in a timely manner, every day. With a three-year-old tagging along. It stresses me out just thinking about it.

How do you all do it?

My guess is cereal.


We aren't really a cereal family, right now. With all the other options out there, all the flavors and textures and new favorites to discover, a cold bowl of processed flakes doesn't seem like a meal to me, much less one intended to kick-start your day. Store-bought cereal is rare enough in this house that it feels like a special treat to the boys when it does appear.

However, we recently spent the night at my sister's house. The next morning we were all working to get out the door, my sister and niece headed to work/daycare, the boys and I on our way home to see Josh before he left for the restaurant. The kids all had cereal for breakfast. And I got it.

Cereal is so useful.

Choose one packed with whole grains, drop some fresh fruit on it, douse the whole thing in organic milk, and you're set. Quick and easy both for the preparer and recipient, with a lot less dishes to wash than our normal breakfasts. Cereal means those get-up-and-go mornings can run just a bit more smoothly. In fact, the more I think about, under the right circumstances, there's the possibility that cereal just might lead to more harmonious mornings. I can get on that bandwagon.


All of this cereal talk is leading us to a topic I'm sure you weren't expecting: May is National Celiac Awareness Month. For some, this is a big deal. For others  . . . well, when you have celiac and are constantly involved in conversations about gluten-free issues, every month feels like an Awareness Month. Both of these approaches are good. We need individuals and organizations and companies working to raise awareness of celiac disease in this country, for diagnostic and research purposes, and devoting a month to that mission is a wonderful way to do it. But we also need to make sure those with celiac feel like they can live normally, and healthily, every day, all year. And it's the frequent conversations we have with friends and acquaintances about our lifestyle, the delicious gluten-free food we make for our loved ones, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways we communicate to food companies our eagerness for gluten-free standards, the growing list of gluten-free blogs posting amazing recipes and stories on a daily basis - it's in all these ways and more that we keep celiac awareness going (and growing!) past May. Because none of us has celiac for just one month.

But where does the cereal come in, you ask? Well, Mambo Sprouts recently sent me two complimentary boxes of Nature's Path gluten-free cereal to review as part of the awareness-raising efforts going on this month. And at first, I didn't really know what to do with it. Oh, the kids were excited to eat it, of course (it's sweet!), but I was at a loss as to how I could legitimately, authentically incorporate it into this space, this blog. I'm not really a product-reviewer kind of blogger, although I do get my share of requests. It's just that I generally work with ingredients rather than processed foods, so it's hard to know how to review a product I wouldn't normally buy.

But here's the thing: the cereal is good. Not just good-tasting (I was particularly drawn to the maple version), but it's packed with ingredients I feel good about feeding to my family. Quinoa puffs. Flax seeds. Buckwheat flour. Amaranth. Brown rice flour. Maple syrup. All organic. Definitely not the usual suspects in a box of processed cereal! I felt that the cereal deserved my attention.

So I did what I always do when playing with new foods: I turned it into an ingredient. Inspired by those wonderful whole grains listed on the box, I ground up some cereal and added it to a muffin recipe containing some of those same grains. The entire family was surprised at how "cereal-y" those muffins tasted, especially considering there was such a small proportion of actual cereal in them! Pillowy soft bundles of maple sweetness, with a nutty richness from the mix of flours and just the suggestion of a slight buttermilk tang, these muffins say Breakfast! more loudly than any dry cereal I've ever encountered.

But as I was thinking about Celiac Awareness Month, and the increasing number of people getting diagnosed all the time, I realized how important dry cereal probably is to many of them. When you're suddenly told to cut a major food out of your life, in all its hidden forms, turning first to comfortable, familiar foods that won't hurt you is a natural response. Dry cereal fits the bill for a large segment of the population. So how wonderful that, because of companies like Nature's Path, there are widely available gluten-free cereals that are packed with a rich variety of whole grains and natural sweeteners. Cereals that will help nourish a healing body. And if your mornings are of the rushing-to-get-out-the-door variety, I expect you value a healthy, delicious gluten-free cereal that much more.

Also, in the interest of full and complete disclosure, I must admit that some of my enthusiasm for the cereal is certainly influenced by this line: "folks . . . are skulking around in the snowy woods punching holes in millions of unsuspecting Sugar Maples." Any company that puts that on their cereal boxes is automatically in my favor.

For now, I think at our house we'll keep eating our special occasion cereal in muffin form. But come September, don't be surprised to find me raining it into bowls for the family, wondering in the early morning hours where the time and my little boy went.


Cereal Muffins
yields 2 dozen

400 gr Tara's all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
185 gr light brown sugar
50 gr light buckwheat flour
50 gr Nature's Path Crunchy Maple Sunrise cereal (or other favorite cold cereal), ground to a coarse powder
35 gr millet flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum (optional)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
16 fl oz/2 fl cups lowfat buttermilk
6 fl oz (3/4 fl cup) plus 2 Tbsp canola oil
2 large eggs
30 gr real maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two muffin pans with paper liners, or grease lightly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the dry ingredients. Whisk to thoroughly blend.

In a separate bowl (or large liquid measuring cup), combine the wet ingredients. Whisk to lightly blend.

Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until thoroughly combined. (At this point, the batter may be refrigerated for up to three days. It can be baked directly from the refrigerator, without needing to come up to room temperature first.)

Portion the batter among the prepared muffin pans. Bake in the center of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until muffins are lightly golden brown and a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Muffins keep, wrapped airtight and at room temperature, for up to three days, or frozen for up to three months.

5.04.2011

gluten-free ratio rally: ginger scones


Scones. I love them. Something about them feels luxurious, as if having them around also means you've got plenty of time for a lazy breakfast, or an afternoon visit with a friend, or even a festive brunch event, held outside and attended by ladies wearing hats.

It might not come as much of a surprise, then, to hear that I haven't been making them very often. As pleased as I am with the course of my life at the moment, I must admit that it is not exactly overflowing with the luxury of lots of spare time right now. So I was especially pleased when this month's wonderful host,  Lauren of Celiac Teen, chose scones for our third round of the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally. Because it reminded me that, all my illogical associations aside, scones really are incredibly quick and easy to make.

When it comes to scones, I'm all for simplicity. I like the flavors to be relatively straightforward, no glazes or accessories necessary (although I certainly wouldn't turn them down if offered!). I like a scone that can stand on its own. And I like a method that isn't tricky to master, doesn't require any fancy kitchen tools, and can be made equally well two months in advance or in spur-of-the-moment haste. And, because I'm me, I also require my scones to not only have incredible flavor and texture, but also to be completely indistinguishable from their gluten-full counterparts. (Easier to accomplish than you might think!)

Luckily for me, I'm a cream scone girl. A year ago, I told you why I think cream scones are, hands down, the best scones out there. But that was before I started down the ratio path - before I realized that they could get even easier.


When you're talking about baking with ratios, the major players are flour(s), liquid, fat, and eggs. For baked goods that contain all four, even a "clean" ratio can be a little hard to remember, hard to keep straight. But as you eliminate ingredients, so do you reduce the obstacles to remembering the formula. When you reach cream scones, with only flour and heavy cream (which represents the liquid and the fat - hooray for efficiency!) to worry about, "easy" begins to sound like an understatement. Two parts flour to two-and-a-quarter parts cream, by weight? Yes! I can remember that!

And since you're working with a ratio, one that is quite beautiful in it's simplicity, you can scale the recipe up or down with confidence, knowing that you'll get great results every time. For the record, I have made scones using this ratio (although I didn't always think of it in ratio terms) to yield as few as 8 scones, all the way up to a batch that yielded 216 scones, with identical outcomes every time. (The latter yield being in a commercial setting, obviously.) It really does work. This is the joy of ratios: freedom and movement and confidence.


These scones are also a great example of how easily you can customize a recipe that is based on a ratio. Maybe you want to use a different blend of flours. Go ahead, just measure by weight and stick to two 'parts' of whatever you choose. A 'part' can be any amount, really. Maybe you want to bake a really small batch - make your 'part' equal 100 grams, giving you a total of 200 grams of flour. Or you need a really large batch, because you're preparing for a morning-after-the-wedding breakfast (there I go with my illusions of luxury again), so you scale the recipe up to make one 'part' equal 840 grams, meaning a total of 1680 grams of flour. Either way, you're good. Adjust the heavy cream (or the non-dairy substitute of your choice) proportionately, and the scones will be perfect and delicious.

You can also switch out the crystallized ginger in my recipe for any other flavor - dried fruit, candied orange peel, toasted nuts, chocolate chips - whatever you want in a scone. Add as little or as much as you want. Or decide that savory scones are really more your style, leave out the sugar completely, and mix in pieces of prosciutto and grated parmesan. Since sugar has nothing to do with the success of the recipe, omitting it doesn't mean worrying that you've got a flop on your hands. It means you've just doubled the already practically infinite variations available for this recipe! See what I mean about freedom?

I do need to mention one thing, however: the xanthan gum is crucial to these scones. Unlike the rhubarb coffee cake in my previous post, you can't just leave out the xanthan gum, continue on your merry way, and hope that what you pull out of the oven will be edible. Not if by 'edible,' at least, you have in mind something you can pick up in one piece, and chew without tiring out your jaw and drying out your mouth. Trust me on this one - me and my disappointed brunch guests who watched as I deposited a dozen pitiful specimens into the trash Sunday morning.

Replacing the xanthan gum, though, with a flax or chia seed slurry, might work. I didn't have the time to try. I'd be interested in hearing about anyone's experience doing that. Also, adding an egg would provide some binding power as well, although in my opinion you would no longer be making cream scones. However, there is certainly more than one way to make a scone! Which leads me to . . .

Everyone Else. This is the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally, after all, and there are a lot of other delicious scone recipes being posted today. Really incredible-sounding scones, in fact. Lavender Earl Grey Lemon Scones? Red Velvet Scones? Jalapeño Cheese Scones? Yes, please, all of them! Lauren has the full round-up on her blog, but I'm giving you the list of participants here for your convenience. Be sure to make the rounds, and then make scones! I know it's the middle of the week, but I'm telling you: scones can be quick, easy, middle-of-the-week food. Now that's a luxury.

For Twitter fans, you can follow (and join!) the Ratio Rally discussion using the hashtag #gfreerally.

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally May Participants:

Amie of The Healthy Apple
Britt of GF in the City
Brooke of B & the Boy
Caleigh of Gluten-Free[k]
Caneel of Mama Me Gluten-Free
Caroline of The G-Spot
Charissa of Zest Bakery
Claire of Gluten Freedom
Erin of The Sensitive Epicure
Gretchen of Kumquat
Irvin of Eat the Love
Jeanette of Jeanette's Healthy Living
Jenn of Jenn Cuisine
Karen of Cooking Gluten-Free
Kate of Katealice Cookbook
Lauren of Celiac Teen
Lisa of Gluten-Free Canteen
Lisa of With Style and Grace
Marla of Family Fresh Cooking
Meaghan of Wicked Good Vegan
Melanie of Mindful Food
Meredith of Gluten Free Betty
Morri of Meals with Morri
Mrs. R of Honey from Flinty Rocks (and another recipe!)
Peter and Kelli of No Gluten No Problem
Sea of Book of Yum
Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef 
Silvana of Silvana's Kitchen
TR of No One Likes Crumbley Cookies
Wendy of La Phemme Phoodie
Winnie of Healthy Green Kitchen    



Crystallized Ginger Cream Scones
yields 12 scones

This recipe is based on a 2:2.25 ratio of flour to liquid.

350 gr Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
160 gr Tara's gluten-free all-purpose flour
130 gr granulated sugar
130 gr crystallized ginger, chopped into small pieces
50 gr teff flour
6 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp fine sea salt
630 gr heavy cream, plus more for brushing

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Combine all but the heavy cream in a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Add the heavy cream and mix until fully combined (the dough will be quite sticky - resist the urge to add more flour).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and, with lightly floured hands, pat it into a circle, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut into 12 wedges. (At this point, the scones may be refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to two months. Frozen scones can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator before baking, or, if you don't mind a slightly longer baking time, they can go straight from the freezer to oven.)

Transfer scones to baking sheet, allowing room between them for rising, and brush the tops with heavy cream. Bake for 35-40 minutes (longer for frozen scones), or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Scones keep, wrapped airtight at room temperature, for up to 3 days.

5.01.2011

thematically speaking

It appears that, without even meaning to, I've created a theme. A rhubarb-sour-cream theme. You'll remember that the last time I was here, I gave you a sour cream custard with spiced rhubarb. Well, I've brought rhubarb and sour cream with me again, but in a very different form. Please meet the Rhubarb Upside Down Sour Cream Coffee Cake.


This dessert is what happens when you've got leftover rhubarb and sour cream staring at you from the fridge, and you're craving cake. Needing to come up with an after-dinner treat for Easter provides the additional motivation to make something special, but chocolate-free.The result is a rich, fluffy coffee cake with a sticky, caramelized fruit top. And as it turns out, this cake makes no particular claims to Easter, being equally suited to mid-morning munching and evening gatherings. (I should know. I've had it for both.)

But before we get too into the cake-talk, let's go back to Easter for a minute, because that day had a couple of its own themes that I'd like to point out. Remember the sheep we visited last Easter?


We went back to the farm this year, towing children who were much more excited about petting and feeding the animals than they were last time. Funny the difference a year makes. In fact, this theme of visiting lambs on Easter has now been so enthusiastically embraced that we've already made a date to do it again next year! And Wylie asks to go back to the lambs almost every day. The kid would love to live on a farm.






After getting our annual shepherd fix we returned home to a delicious meal of . . . roast leg of lamb. In fact, it was the leg of one of the very lambs we had met last Spring. While some might be uncomfortable with that, I loved it. The full-circle-ness of having our bodies nourished by animals we had a year earlier helped feed felt like one of the best ways to eat meat. Short of moving onto the farm, there's not much better way to help kids understand where their food comes from, and when it's local, free-range, succulent lamb, it results in a meal with a lot to feel good about. And I was so pleased (and relieved!) that Kalen and Wylie took it completely in stride, accepting that the meat we eat comes from animals we are sometimes lucky enough to visit with. It was a very wholesome experience.

After dinner, when we could all move again, we had the rhubarb coffee cake, and it reminded me that we had rhubarb last Easter, too - yet another theme that I'd love to see repeated next year. Shouldn't be too hard, seeing as rhubarb is one of the first Spring plants to show up in the markets here in the Northeast!

So about this coffee cake. The one we ate on Easter was beautiful. Huge, glistening with caramelized rhubarb, with an irresistibly crunchy, sweet bottom crust. I didn't take a single picture of it. For one, stopping everyone from eating so that I can play at food photography isn't really my thing. But also, I planned to make it again anyway, because I wanted to see how it reacted without using xanthan gum. I figured I'd get a better photo at home, where I could control the setting more. If only I'd known.

I made a mini, scaled-down version this week (which is what you do when you realize you've only got one egg left!), and I have to say, it was delicious. Maybe even more so than the Easter version, because I baked it a bit longer and the rhubarb got even more caramelized. It held together just fine without the xanthan gum, so if you are one of the growing number of people wary of the use of gums in gluten-free baking, I'm happy to tell you that sour cream coffee cake doesn't need gum!

But . . . speaking of holding together. As beautiful as the cake was on Easter when we unmolded it, this mini cake was a bit disastrous. The streusel apparently lost its grip on the soft cake beneath it, and when I upended the pan it fell off in big chunks around the edges, leaving a wobbly, unbalanced cake to tilt crazily on the plate, like an edible Weeble. The photo below shows it in all its crusty, intact glory.


You may notice that there's a slight peak at the center of the cake. Well, after all the rest of the streusel fell away, that peak became the pivot point on which the now-sorry-looking cake rocked. The blurry cake in the background of the photo below? It's only maintaining its upright position because I propped it up with puzzle pieces. (They were flat, stackable, and scattered all over the place.) But the cake's flavor was so good that it was hard to get really worked up about its messy appearance. Plus, all those streusel pieces that jumped ship were perfect for snacking on, and oh so addictive.

Just as long as it isn't the first wave of a new "dessert flops" theme, I'm happy.


Rhubarb Upside Down Sour Cream Coffee Cake
yields one 10-inch cake

Streusel topping:
105 gr Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
96 gr light brown sugar
60 gr granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp cinnamon
scant 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
84 gr unsalted butter, melted

Cake batter:
377 gr sour cream
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
195 gr Tara's gluten-free all-purpose flour
210 gr Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
170 gr unsalted butter, room temp
300 gr granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Rhubarb "topping":
60 gr unsalted butter
120 gr light brown sugar
270 gr rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Make the streusel:
Whisk together the pastry flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir to thoroughly combine. Set aside. Streusel may be refrigerated at this point for up to a week, or frozen for up to three months.

Make the batter:
In a small bowl, mix the sour cream and baking soda and set aside to activate.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, xanthan gum if using, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla, scraping down the bowl between additions. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Add the flour mixture and sour cream mixture alternately to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the bowl between additions, and mix on low speed until just combined. At this point the batter may be refrigerated overnight if making in advance. It will stiffen quite a bit - this is fine, it will just be harder to spread in the pan. I find using wet fingers to push the cold batter in place works best.

Make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heavily butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round cake pan.

In a small skillet set over low heat, melt the 60 gr butter for the rhubarb topping. Once the bubbling has subsided, sprinkle in the 120 gr light brown sugar. Cook over low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Pour into prepared cake pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Arrange rhubarb slices in pan, skin side down, to cover the bottom.

Spread half of cake batter evenly over rhubarb. Sprinkle half of streusel evenly over batter. Repeat with remaining batter and streusel.

Place cake pan on a baking sheet (to catch any overflow) and bake in the center of the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the center is firm and a tester comes out clean.

Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a platter to finish cooling. (If any rhubarb or caramel sticks to the pan, scoop it out and quickly pat it in place on top of the cake. You don't want to miss out on any of it!) Serve cake warm or at room temperature. Cake keeps, wrapped airtight at room temperature, for up to 4 days.
 
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