6.28.2011

cookbook review: The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen

Cookbooks these days have become works of art. We display them on our coffee tables, give them our coveted, valuable kitchen counter space, we read them in bed as if they were gripping novels. Their pages are glossy, the recipes are illustrated by full-page color photographs, and we all try not to allow them to appear used. No dog-eared pages, no splatters of oil or smears of chocolate, no notes in the margins.

No one wants to deface a work of art.


I've got to say, I find this whole glamorization bit somewhat irritating, and definitely stifling. When the book comes with an unspoken Wrinkle Not, Smudge Not code of use, it's hard to believe that the recipes inside are for approachable, real, attainable foods. And suddenly, in browsing through these immaculate tomes, the joy of cooking becomes someone else's joy, someone with elite training and a gourmet pantry and infinite patience and a lackey to clean up afterwards.

We can ogle the images, we can imagine how amazing all the dishes must taste, we can wish we lived closer to the chef's restaurant so that we could try them out for ourselves, but it takes an intrepid soul to push past the fantasy presented in those pages and get into their own poorly laid-out, messy, lived-in kitchen to try to cook the food for themselves.

Rather than empowering, such books can actually be quite intimidating.

But great food — and the making of it — should be accessible to anyone who wants it. Instead of scaring you away from your own kitchen, hinting that maybe you are inadequate, a good cookbook should have you preheating the oven and pulling mixing bowls off the shelf before you've even looked to see what the last chapter is about. The book should loose its pristine quality as quickly as possible, as you mark recipes you're inspired by and drip egg white across the pages and get flour stuck in the binding. The book should make you excited to cook.

All this is not to say I don't appreciate beautiful cookbooks. I do. I love beautiful things, and art, and glamor. And I have my share of trophy books, ones with the dust jackets still in place and spines still uncracked. But those ones don't inspire me to actually make food. They inspire me to dream about other people's luxurious, exotic lives. All very well and good on a lazy Sunday morning, but not very useful when actual food is expected of me.

This is as odd way to begin a cookbook review. As if I am either going to tell you the book is too beautiful to be functional, or that it is functional, and thus not exactly eye candy.

It's neither, actually.


I was recently sent a review copy of Lévana Kirschenbaum's new cookbook, The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen. Now, I'm not kosher, nor do I have any close friends or family who keep kosher, but the 'whole foods' aspect was a definite draw for me. That and also the fact that the publisher touted the extensive number of gluten-free dishes in the book. And if I'm being completely honest, I should mention that the idea of committing myself to cooking out of a book I might never have looked twice at appealed to me, in a dorky, homework-loving sort of way.

Here's why I might not have given this book a second look if I came across it at a bookstore: it's not a coffee table cookbook. It's not written by a well-known celebrity chef. There are far more recipes than photos. It's softcover. It's not an ugly book, but neither is it a gorgeous cookbook by today's standards. And as horrible and hypocritical it is of me to say so, it's hard these days to get interested in a book like that, when you're being wooed by the fancy-schmancy famous books on the top shelf.

This is too bad, and I have learned my lesson. Because every recipe I tried in this book was wonderful. I will be making them again, along with all the other dishes I haven't had time to try, but which sound delicious. Ms. Kirschenbaum has crafted a cookbook that celebrates healthy eating with recipes that will appeal to a wide range of cooks. Not only is the entire book kosher, but much of it is also gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegan, and helpful tips for variations and substitutions abound. The entire first chapter is devoted to laying out all the benefits of eating whole, unprocessed foods that one makes from scratch. And yet, none of the book feels preachy. Out of all the tools used to encourage a healthy lifestyle, guilt never makes an appearance. Ms. Kirschenbaum's tone throughout is enthusiastic, positive, and infectious. Reading her prose and recipes makes it clear that one of the easiest ways to embrace life and honor our bodies is through food. Real food. Whole grains. Legumes. Fresh produce. Heart-healthy fats. Natural sweeteners.

This is not to say that all the recipes are "hippy" health food. Yes, tofu makes many appearances. And there are lots of nuts and seeds, leafy vegetables, and exotic spices. But thankfully, modern cuisine has moved past the tofu stir-fries and lentil burgers that once typified "health food." Now, you can choose from Tilapia Fillets with Miso Sauce and Shiitake Mushrooms, Moroccan Turkey Patties in Lemon Sauce, or Arborio Risotto with Spinach and Asparagus. Need more meat? How about the classic Boeuf Bourguignon or some Chinese Meat Loaf? Looking for dessert? You've got a myriad of choices, ranging from Ricotta Almond Pie to Lemon Coconut Mousse to Chocolate Jasmine Marble Cake. Seriously, people. These decadent, tantalizing foods are good for you! I sort of feel like I've discovered a culinary secret; a trove of alluring recipes hidden inside such an unassuming book.

We ate the White Bean Salad with Artichokes and Swiss Chard at my niece's 4th birthday party, and I was amazed at how well all the elements melded together. The rich, earthiness of the chard and beans, the brightness of the lemon, and the rosemary under it all, providing an elusive flavor that no one could pin down, but everyone loved. It's my new favorite go-to dish for potlucks.


I made the Pasta with Broccoli and Salmon for a weeknight dinner for the me and the boys. Pasta is part of the regular rotation around here. Adding broccoli and salmon to it is not unheard of. But making a roux-based milk sauce which the salmon is cooked in and ground broccoli is stirred into? That's a whole other way of cooking dinner for me, and suddenly old, boring ingredients seemed new again. (Although maybe not visually appealing. That was an odd dish for me to try to photograph. Forgive me, and know that it really did taste wonderful!)


That "old-standbys-turned-new" phenomenon happened again when I made the Chocolate Almond Date Smoothie. I make smoothies a lot, and I eat chocolate and almonds a lot. But I never combine them to make a healthy meal-in-a-glass. Soaking the raw almonds in boiling water allowed even my wimpy blender to easily grind them up. They didn't completely purée however, which gave my smoothie a coarse texture I rather liked. Somehow I feel that if it's going to be an acceptable meal substitute, you shouldn't be able to chug it in one giant gulp. A friend sampled the smoothie and loved it, remarking that it reminded her of something she'd had before, that she couldn't put her finger on. I felt the same way. Maybe there's a chocolate-almond-date bar out there that I ate years ago with this same flavor?

When I was told that this cookbook had a lot of gluten-free options in it, I just sort of assumed that meant a lot of naturally gluten-free dishes. (It is all about whole foods, after all. Most of which are naturally gluten-free.) So I was pretty amazed — and skeptical — to find a recipe for Gluten-Free Bread! Of course I had to make it. And I was all prepared to be super-critical and not like it nearly as much as the breads that more established gluten-free bakers have been creating lately. Well, that bread humbled me. It was really good. I attribute this partly to the freedom given to the reader to create a bread they will like; the recipe simply calls for "3 cups gluten-free flour," with some suggestions of gluten-free flours in parenthesis. Knowing my current grain preferences, I used a combination of light buckwheat, gluten-free oat, teff, and brown rice flours. But it's not just the flour combination that made this bread good. It's a truly solid recipe. I made half the batch into rolls and, taking Ms. Kirschenbaum's suggestion, made the rest into a pizza crust, which I turned into a breakfast pizza for a Summer Solstice walk and picnic I took the kids on. We loved it. And I am learning to trust that good gluten-free baking can be found in unexpected places.


Finally, I made pie. Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, to be exact. And while that sounds good, my motivation for making it was based on something else entirely: the recipe called for silken tofu.

Years ago, my mom regularly made a tofu chocolate pudding, which sometimes got poured into a pie crust to make tofu chocolate cream pie. Only it wasn't a chocolate pudding/pie, but carob. This was back in her hippie-macrobiotic days, and I loved it. It tasted like, predictably, carob and tofu, mildly sweetened with honey. I know I'm at risk of loosing my culinary credibility here by admitting to my youthful preferences, but I can't apologize or make excuses for my childhood taste buds. So anyway, I was curious to see if I still loved the tofu-carob/cocoa combination as much as I remembered.

Thing is, Ms. Kirschenbaum's pie calls for chocolate chips and cocoa powder, plus peanut butter and cream cheese and white sugar and coffee and brandy. Um, yeah. A far cry from the puritanical ingredients in Mom's pie. Obviously, it was awesome. And bore no resemblance to the tofu pies of my childhood, which in retrospect I think is a good thing. To my surprise, I didn't even notice or care that the graham cracker crust (I used these) was held together with vegetable oil, instead of the melted butter that would have been my default choice. It was just an insanely rich, fudgy pie that, despite my making a half batch and dividing it into two mini pies in an attempt at portion control, I managed to devour in a ridiculously short period of time. Woe is the family that lives with me and doesn't learn to claim their share of desserts before I get to them!

So, after all this (I can't believe you read this far!), I suppose the question is, do I recommend the book? And the answer is definitely yes. Oh sure, I had some issues with it, such as some of the vague units of measurement (a large bunch? a good pinch?), and the fact that, despite offering lots of ways to make an item dairy- or gluten-free if necessary, when a recipe specifically calls for a dairy-free version of a normally dairy-full ingredient, there is no acknowledgement that you can use the original dairy version in its place. (For the record, I used regular cream cheese in the chocolate pie, and regular milk powder in the gluten-free bread, both with no ill effects. So apparently the substitutions work both ways.) But taken as a whole, the book is full of inventive, tempting recipes that you can feel good about eating. And better still, it's approachable, down to earth, and inviting.

This cookbook might actually be one that begins to look lived in, as only the best, most cherished possessions do.


White Bean Salad with Artichokes and Swiss Chard
Reprinted with permission of the publisher

1/3 cup olive oil
6 large garlic cloves
1 large bunch flat parsley
Good pinch red pepper flakes
1 large sprig rosemary, leaves only
1 large bunch Swiss chard, leaves and stems, thinly sliced
2 cups frozen artichoke hearts or bottoms, halved, quartered if larger (I used canned hearts)
3 cups canned white beans, drained and rinsed
Juice and zest of two lemons
Ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet. In a food processor, finely grind the garlic and parsley and add to the skillet. Sauté until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes, rosemary, and Swiss chard and sauté 2 to 3 minutes. Add the artichokes, reduce the flame to medium and cook covered for 3 more minutes. Let the mixture cool, transfer to a platter, and combine with all remaining ingredients. Serve at room temperature.

Variations:
  • Throw in some flaked cooked salmon or smoked salmon.
  • Throw in some diced cooked or smoked chicken or both.
  • Throw in some sun-dried tomatoes, good olives, diced tomatoes, sliced basil.

6.23.2011

in the company of boys


When I really stop to think about it, I don't yearn for my children's baby days.

Maybe it's because they weren't that long ago. Or maybe I'm just not that kind of mother.

But if you ask me, their babyselves, as sweet and squishy and wonderful as they were, don't really hold a candle to their kidselves, when you come right down to it. Because now they're kids with real personalities, who make up their own jokes and assign you ever-changing roles in their fantasy play and love helping with the vacuuming and gardening and get obsessed over squiggly straws and are often too busy to talk because they're doing Very Important Work and who honk my nose and get excited about bugs and worms and ballet and sing wherever they go. Kids who say I love you with more sincerity than most adults can muster. Being around these two people, watching them amaze and confound me every day, is the reason I had babies, after all.



But it takes a certain amount of awareness, a presentness, to remember this fact on a regular basis. When the boys are fighting constantly and it feels like everything I say is the wrong thing and the noise level is driving me batty, it can be tempting to (among other things) wax nostalgic about the times when all they did was lay around and babble and require regular feedings. Doing this, I have found, does nothing to solve the problems at hand, and leaves me feeling more frustrated and more at a loss, incredibly, than I was before.

This is where Josh comes in.


He rarely tells stories about the boys when they were babies. This is not, I think, because he doesn't clearly and fondly remember those times, but because he is so fully immersed in the now of these boys' lives. He is so good at watching them, at really seeing them and who they are and who they are trying to become, that most of his fatherly energy is spent reveling in their current selves.

He pays attention to little changes in vocabulary or inflection, changes that hint at leaps and bounds of growth about to appear. He knows how to draw out and enhance hilarious aspects of their personalities that I have no access to. He knows them intimately, surprising even me with his insights into what they truly need. For a mama who has a tendency to get too caught up in what I think should be happening, what I had planned on happening, watching Josh's unabashed joy at simply being in the company of his boys can be just the parenting lesson I need.

It's a little late, but it's just as true as ever: Happy Father's Day, Josh. You do an amazing job.


Devil's Food Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
Yields one 9-inch round layer cake
Adapted from David Lebovitz

Josh hinted in a not-so-subtle way recently that he'd really like a big, rich chocolate cake. Father's Day seemed like the perfect occasion to comply, and the boys had a blast frosting and decorating it for him. But this cake is so easy to whip up that any occasion, or no occasion at all, will do nicely. 

1½ cups Tara's gf pastry flour mix
9 Tbsp extra dark Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
½ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp baking powder
4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
½ fluid cup strong brewed coffee
½ fluid cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, sift together the pastry flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until fully combined, scraping down the bowl and paddle as needed.

Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing on low speed until combined. Scrape down the bowl. Combine the coffee and milk, and mix it into the batter. Add the rest of the flour mixture and mix thoroughly.

Divide batter between prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven for 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean, and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Cool cakes in their pans for 10 minutes, then turn out cakes from pans and finish cooling completely on wire racks. At this point, cakes may be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature for up to three days before frosting.

Assemble cake and frost with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows). Cake keeps, at room temperature, for up to 4 days.


Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz confectioner's sugar, sifted
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 Tbsp whole milk
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of fine sea salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer), cream together the cream cheese and butter until light and smooth. Add remaining ingredients and beat until thoroughly combined. The quantity of milk and/or confectioner's sugar can be adjusted to achieve a thicker or thinner consistency.

If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated for up to three days. Bring to room temperature before using.

6.18.2011

a flurry of energy

I got really excited about this little project the other day. So excited, in fact, that I posted on Facebook how excited I was.

It seems silly. All I was doing was making granola bars.

I can't even remember what got me started down this particular path. Did I read something somewhere? See a particularly attractive granola bar on another site? Maybe I was just standing in front of the kitchen cupboard, staring at its contents, wondering what I could make with all of it that would be different from what I've made before. That's the most likely answer.

I always get the best inspiration at the most mundane moments.


Anyway, the result was that I got completely swept up in an all-encompassing, urgent need to make granola bars now. Illogical, I know. I mean, I'm not even really a granola bar-type of person! True, I used to love those Nature Valley bars. (Or maybe I just loved that there were two in the package. As a kid, I was always hungry, and two-for-ones were right up my alley.) But I haven't even thought about granola bars in years. Yet the sudden thought of a crisp, crunchy, sweet and nutty snack was addictive, and pulled me in. Somewhere in there I suppose I realized that I could create something that was pretty healthy, a whole-grain, high-fiber snack I could feel good about, but I have to admit that "health food" was not very high on my list of motivating factors. I was too blinded by the crunchy-sweet-nutty part.

I learned long ago that once I fixate on a food, I might as well go ahead and make it, because that tunnel-vision isn't going away until I do.

And giving in to my desires further fueled my excitement. I started scouring the kitchen, which moments before had seemed empty of interesting ingredients, and came up with almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, roasted cinnamon, Steen's syrup . . . my granola bars were getting better every minute!

And when I realized that granola bars are basically just the right proportion of dry and liquid ingredients (like a ratio!), baked until firm, my mind reeled at all the intoxicating combinations I could try.

You're excited too, aren't you? You're in your kitchen right now, pulling the dried apricots and almond extract and coconut oil off the shelves (or maybe it's pine nuts and currants and lemon oil), barely able to think in the flurry of energy that will soon deliver to you your perfect granola bars. I knew it. I knew these things were compulsion-inducing. I knew you'd love it. I'll get out of your way.


Nutty Granola Bars
Inspired by Alton Brown
yields one 9x9-inch pan

These granola bars are quite sweet, which means that they're probably not breakfast food (for the kids, at least). But the sweetness is balanced in part by the Steen's, which imparts a bitter, molasses-like note. And the nuts, teff, and oats provide another layer of flavor to counter the sweeteners. As Josh said,  "They remind me of candy, but they taste healthy." Feel free to customize them to your tastes and what's in your cupboards. Any dried fruit that you use should be stirred in at the end, when you're combining the dry and liquid mixtures. Chop anything large, like dried apricots, cherries, or apples, into small pieces.

2 oz whole raw almonds
1½ oz whole raw hazelnuts
1 oz whole raw pecans
8 oz certified gluten-free rolled oats
½ oz flaxseed meal (if you don't need to eat gluten-free, wheat germ would also be good here)
.65 oz almond flour/meal
.35 oz teff flour
3 oz (by weight) honey
3 oz (by weight) Steen's cane syrup, or an equal amount of molasses, honey or your favorite liquid sweetener
1.75 oz light brown sugar
1 oz unsalted butter (I think coconut oil would make a fabulous substitute)
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp roasted Saigon cinnamon, or regular cinnamon
½ tsp kosher salt
Optional: up to 6 oz dried fruit

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9x9-inch baking pan.

Coarsely chop all the nuts (in a nut mill, food processor, or by hand).

Mix together the chopped nuts, oats, ground flax, almond flour, and teff in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oats are crispy but not yet beginning to brown. Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 300ºF. Return oat mixture to mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, combine the honey, syrup, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat just until all the sugar has dissolved.

Pour honey mixture over oat mixture and stir thoroughly. (If you're adding dried fruit, stir it in now.) Press evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until firm and the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool completely in pan, then cut into bars and wrap airtight. Granola bars keep, at room temperature, for up to 1 week.

6.16.2011

images of our weekend


Last weekend Josh and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary by escaping to an island.

My mother took the kids, we dropped the dog off at a kennel, and we took the ferry across the harbor to North Haven Island, to stay at Nebo Lodge.

We had a truly wonderful, relaxing time, and returned home reinvigorated and ready to face summer — and all its craziness — head on.

I thought you might like a glimpse of our time there.


















I'll be back soon with a new recipe for you!

6.08.2011

what's going on in all that green


The Farmer's Market has been up and running here for a couple of weeks now. Mostly, everything on offer is green.

At first, I admit, it feels disappointing. After a long winter of unending bundles of dark leafy greens to get us through the cold, stormy days, hearing that the Farmer's Market is - at last! - open at the town landing sounds like a liberation. Finally, we can refresh our palates and plates with all the glorious local produce that's available for only a few short months here in Maine!

We rush the kids out the door and walk the short distance down the street to find . . . stall after stall stacked with boxes and bundles of green, with only the demure blush of radishes to disrupt the monochromatic view.

Oh right. We're still weeks away from any real color here, the heirloom tomatoes and wild raspberries, fiery chilies and purple potatoes, sweet corn and yellow watermelons. The growing season, especially after our recent rainy Spring, is still in its infancy here.

We don't realize it at first, but this is actually a blessing. Because we don't turn around and go home, we start looking more closely at what's going on in all that green. We find kale microgreens, which are adorable. Without the crush of other customers, reaching in front of and standing impatiently behind us, we have time to talk to our favorite farmer, and learn more about her new meat and raw milk offerings. And we discover Ruby Streak.

That sounds like a fancy cocktail. Or an eyeshadow color. Or (dare I say it), a porn star.

It is better than all of that.

It is a spicy baby leaf mustard green, and I am obsessed with it. Frilly and spiky and looking somewhat intimidating, it has an addictive green heat that travels all the way up your nose, like wasabi. I eat it plain, out of hand. I sauté it with kale from my garden and onions and chili garlic sauce, and top it with a fried egg. I chop it up and add it to a quick pasta dish of tomatoes, garlic, and thyme. And the other day, when the fridge inventory was down to three eggs and half a portion of pie dough, I made it the main character in a delicious tart.


Technically, I know I should call it a quiche. It was egg-based, as quiches always are. But for me, "quiche" conjures up the watery-broccoli, soggy crust varieties from my childhood, baked in store-bought pie shells. (Sorry, Mom!) That's not what I made.

My tart had a custard base enriched with a bit of cream cheese and goat cheese, with some crisped bacon thrown in for good measure. Most importantly, it was baked in a tart pan, which I think adds a touch of class to just about everything it holds.


Josh ate it warm for breakfast. I ate my serving later, at room temperature, for lunch. It would be ideal at a brunch. And if you live somewhere where it's not yet too hot to bake during the middle of the day, I think it'd make a lovely light dinner on the back deck, paired with a salad (spiked with more Ruby Streak!) and a rosé or crisp white wine.

It's just that versatile. And delicious.


Ruby Streak Tart
yields one 8-inch tart

1 half-batch of Best-Ever Gluten-Free Pie Crust (Make a full batch, and freeze what you don't use. I guarantee it will come in handy soon.)
3 large eggs
3 fluid oz whole milk
1 Tbsp heavy cream
30 grams cream cheese
30 grams goat cheese (our local favorite is from here)
1 tsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 slices of bacon, coarsely chopped and cooked over medium-low heat until crispy
1 large handful of Ruby Streak greens, or other baby mustard green, chopped, plus additional whole leaves for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

On a lightly floured board, roll out the pie dough to a diameter of about 10 inches. Transfer to an 8-inch round tart pan and trim excess. Line with parchment or foil, and fill with dried beans, rice, or other pie weights. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly golden brown and bottom is dry, but has not yet begun to brown. Remove parchment/foil and weights, and set tart shell aside. Don't turn off the oven.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and heavy cream until thoroughly blended. (I like to use a stick blender for this.)

In another bowl, stir together the cream cheese and goat cheese to make a paste. Add a small amount of the whisked eggs and stir to thin out the paste. Slowly add the remaining eggs, whisking constantly to fully combine. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Scatter the cooked bacon evenly over the bottom of the blind-baked tart shell, and cover it with the chopped Ruby Streak. Pour in the custard, going slowly so as not to push all the mustard greens away from the center of the tart. Lay reserved whole Ruby Streak leaves decoratively on the surface of the tart.

Bake on a baking sheet in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the custard is fully set but has not yet begun to brown. Cool on a wire rack. Tart may be served warm or at room temperature.

6.01.2011

gluten-free ratio rally: pâte à choux

I've been feeling distracted lately. Lots to get done, lots to plan for, lots of interruptions every day. Thoughts swirling, even when I'm sitting still. Never feeling like everything on my list will be crossed off.

I'm not actually complaining. Most of what is taking up my time and energy is good. New desserts that are getting rave reviews at 40 Paper. Lots of playdates for the boys. Visits with Eli. Making plans for an anniversary weekend away for Josh and myself. Glorious weather to enjoy, after weeks of cold and gloom. Even the homey, small-town excitement of watching our town's Memorial Day parade ready itself, since the staging area was down the road from our house. It's gearing up to be a good summer.







But still, sometimes I think it would be nice to be this photo:


Solitary, content, bathed in light, lacking nothing. Sweetly satisfied.

You see, if I'd actually been feeling anything like that recently, I probably wouldn't have almost forgotten to make those frangipane puffs pictured up there. As it was, the second half of May was a bit disorienting for me, and suddenly here it was the end of the month and I hadn't even thought about June's Gluten-Free Ratio Rally challenge, never mind started playing with ratios.


But this month is pâte à choux! And there was no way I was missing that. Pâte à choux is a pastry chef's best friend, even if that pastry chef happens to bake gluten-free. How many other basic recipes can be baked, boiled, or fried, prepared sweet or savory, and can be adapted to so many varied "mix-ins?" Pâte à choux is an indispensable trick to have up your sleeve.

Plus, pretty much everything you can make with pâte à choux is delicious, and a little bit magical.


There are many wonderful people posting amazing recipes based on pâte à choux today. I'm betting there are also a lot of explanations of how each participant got to their final recipe, the ratios and techniques that worked for their particular set of ingredients. I love these types of conversations. I love the science behind baking, the little changes and tweaks that result in big differences in outcome. I've got two pages of notes on my thoughts about and experiments with gluten-free pâte à choux, and my comparisons of lots of professional recipes. I want to be in on the action.

However, I've also got two feverish little boys who need my attention today. They don't care about why I think a high percentage of starches in the flour mix yields the best-tasting choux. (It's mostly because, to me, the ideal choux tastes of egg and butter, not flour.) They don't care how satisfying it was for me when, in the last-minute rush to make these puffs, I looked in the fridge for something to flavor them with and found the inspiration for not one but two variations on a theme: a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano and frangipane leftover from recipe development for 40 Paper. And it certainly doesn't matter to them why I think the food processor is absolutely the way to go when mixing the dough (although if they had seen the loose, lumpy mess that came out of my stand mixer they might be better able to appreciate the beauty of the food processor turning it into a thick, smooth, extremely sticky paste.)

They just want stories and promptly refilled water bottles. They need thermometers and cool washcloths. They want snuggles and puppets with silly voices and their next dose of bubble-gum flavored Tylenol, soon please.

And I, of course, will comply. No questions asked, no hesitation when it becomes clear that we need to shift gears away from my plans for the day and instead focus fully on the little ones. Because that's what we mamas do. Instinctively, willingly, lovingly.

Admittedly, though, it will be wonderful when the boys have their normal appetites and energy levels back. Especially if it means they're up for some more pâte à choux products. Because this mama has a long list of delicious posts she wants to bake her way through!

Here are the other talented participants in this month's Ratio Rally. Many thanks to Erin of The Sensitive Epicure for hosting this month, and for offering a wealth of information and invaluable assistance to all the Rallyers! There are some wonderful creations presented here, and I hope you are inspired to make your own pâte à choux - you'll discover that, with the right ratio and technique, it can be quite easy! See what others are saying by following the conversation on Twitter, using the hash tag #gfreerally.

Amanda of Gluten-Free Maui made Earl Grey Cream Puffs
Amie of The Healthy Apple made Pâte à Choux with Creamy Macadamia Icing
Britt of GF in the City made Cream Puffs & Profiteroles
Caleigh of Gluten Free(k) made Savoury Paris-Brest
Caneel of Mama Me Gluten Free made Key Lime Cream Puffs
Charissa of Zest Bakery made Choux Shine: Koshi-an Filled Cream Puffs
Claire of Gluten Freedom made Chocolate Eclairs
Erin of The Sensitive Epicure made Gougères Filled with Herbed Goat Cheese  & Churros
Gretchen of Kumquat made Cheddar Gougères with Date & Pine Nuts
Irvin of Eat the Love made White Cheddar Fennel Gougères stuffed withPorcini & Shallot Goat Cheese
Jenn of Jenn Cuisine made Gruyere & Herbed Gougères
Lisa of Gluten Free Canteen made Cracked Pepper & Cheese Gougères
Lisa of With Style and Grace made Cherry Garcia Filled Cream Puffs
Mary Fran of Frannycakes made Marillenknodel with Ginger & Cardamom Sugar Chai Cream Puffs
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Basic Pâte à Choux
yields enough for 2-3 dozen puffs or gougères, depending on size

The ratio for this recipe is 1.6 parts liquid:1.1 parts butter:1 part flour:2.5 parts eggs

40 grams cornstarch
15 grams tapioca starch
8 grams sorghum flour
70 gr unsalted butter
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
73 grams water
15 grams heavy cream
15 grams whole milk
2 large eggs plus just under 2 egg whites (to yield 160 grams), thoroughly whisked

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat.

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the cornstarch, tapioca starch, and sorghum and whisk to thoroughly combine. Set aside.

2. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium-low heat, melt the butter, salt, water, heavy cream, and milk until the butter is completely melted and the mixture has just come to a gentle boil.

3. Once the butter/milk mixture has come to a boil, add the flour mixture to the saucepan and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, cooking for 1 to 2 minutes. You'll know the batter is ready when it comes together in large, smooth clumps and leaves a film of butterfat residue on the bottom of the pan.

4. Immediately transfer the batter to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse for 20 seconds to cool slightly.

5. With the food processor running, pour in the whisked eggs in a slow, steady stream and process until the batter is a thick, smooth paste, about 1 minute.

6. Scoop (or fill a piping bag and pipe) small mounds of choux onto the prepared baking sheet, allowing room for each puff to expand a little. Use wet fingertips to smooth down any peaks of dough that might burn.

7. Bake for 10 minutes at 425ºF, then (without opening the oven!) reduce heat to 375ºF and bake for an additional 15 to 16 minutes, or until puffs are golden brown and firm. Cool on a rack.

Variations

For Parmesan & Black Pepper Gougères, add 40 grams grated Parmegianno-Reggiano cheese and freshly ground black pepper (to taste) to the choux after adding the eggs in Step 5. Process until thoroughly combined.

For Frangipane Puffs, add 18 grams granulated sugar to the saucepan in Step 2, and add 100 grams of frangipane to the choux after adding the eggs in Step 5. Process until thoroughly combined. You may need to bake the puffs for a minute or two less than the above recipe calls for, unless you don't mind a little extra color on your puffs - it's just the sugar in the choux caramelizing (which isn't really a bad thing, now is it?).
 
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