Saturday, February 14, 2009

Stuff I Made in December That I Haven't Gotten Around to Blogging About Yet

I kept trying to post about each of these things separately, but I just could not.

(Disclaimer: It is almost 3am, and I am too tired to proofread. Please forgive all the errors and poorly written, run-on sentences, like this one.)

(Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day, or as my roommate likes to say, Happy VD.)

So, here's the recap:
  1. Annmarie's Gluten-Free, Agave Sweetened Coconut Flour Cake
    Well, that pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

    I loosely based this cake after the top layer of Julie and Noah's wedding cake, you remember, the one made from rice flour and sweetened with agave syrup? I figured I could just substitute cocoa powder for a portion of the flour, and off I go. I also decided to try out coconut flour, because I was so curious about it. I even boiled the water and mixed in the cocoa powder to form a paste and let the chocolate flavor bloom, just like RLB likes to do.

    And then, something crazy happened, readers. That coconut flour slurped up all that water and demanded more! Although the regular recipe called for only 1/4 cup of water, I ended up pouring in about 2 1/2 cups of boiling water! Crazy! What was supposed to be one little 6 in cake layer turned into two. Annmarie was going to get a little layered cake.

    Until I dropped a (baked and cooling) layer on the kitchen floor, that is. Ah well.

    The cake layer that Annmarie did get to eat, however, was really tasty. It was fluffy, and light, and moist. The texture was a little fibery, I guess, but it was fine. There wasn't any coconut taste, which were we concerned about. Most GF cakes don't absorb liquid very well which makes it hard to convert glutinous recipes without worrying about mushy, soggy cake. I think substituting coconut flour for a part of the flour mix is a good way to combat that. What the proportions would be, I don't know...

  2. GF Agave Sweetened Chocolate Cake!

  3. Sugared, Spiced Nuts
    I tend to make these every year for stocking stuffers or Christmas gifts. It is a really simple recipe and yields a yummy, completely addictive nutty snack. This year I gave them out as stocking stuffers and my parents couldn't stop eating them!

    I made these during Snowmageddon 2008 when I had nothing better to do, and something about all the flavors makes them perfect for the fall and winter. It is still winter, people, so you still have time to make these!
    Sugared and Spiced Nuts
    Makes about 1 ½ pound
    • 1 egg white
    • 1 tbsp water
    • 1 pound hazelnuts or walnut halves, or a ½ lb or each
    • 2/3 cup superfine or Baker’s sugar
    • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 tsp salt
    • ¾ tsp ground ginger
    • ¾ tsp ground allspice
    • ½ tsp ground coriander

    Preheat oven to 250. Whisk the egg white and water together until the mixture is foamy. Stir in the nuts; mix well. Pour into a sieve and drain for 3 minutes.

    Combine the sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, allspice and coriander in a paper bag; gather the neck of the bag and shake to mix the contents. Add the drained nuts and shake the bag vigorously to coat them with the sugar and spices.

    Spread the nuts on 2 baking sheets, making sure they do not touch. Place one baking sheet on an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and the other baking sheet on an oven rack in the upper third; bake nuts for 15 minutes, then stir them and spread them out again.

    Lower the oven temperature to 225 degrees and continue to bake the nuts, stirring occasionally, until they are well-dried and crisp, about 1 ¼ hours longer. Midway through the baking, switch the shelf positions of the 2 pans.

    Turn off the oven and let the nuts cool with the oven door open.

    Store the completely cooled nuts in airtight containers. They will keep for a few days at room temperature; 3 weeks refrigerated; or 6 months frozen.

    From “Fancy Pantry”
    By Helen Witty
    Oregonian FOODday
    October 30 2001

  4. The Best Freakin Peppermint Bark Ever

    Back in November Annmarie invited me to spend a day at Wordstock. It was a day full of thought-provoking discussions, laughter, smart people, boring people, crazy people, all lovers of word crafting. It was the most fun $5 has bought me probably since the 70's.

    One of the topics was "Serving up Your Words," and it was about food writing in the form of blogging, columnist, and book. They gathered a few notable people including Vitaly Paley from Paley's Place who had just published a book (recipes and stories, more than just a cookbook--on my list), and Molly Wizenberg who blogs at Orangette.

    We didn't stay for the whole panel discussion. I guess foodies are much more interesting when there's food present.

    But later on I checked out Orangette, which is an inspiring blog for those of you who haven't stopped by, and the first post was about her favorite peppermint bark. I love peppermint bark, and when she revealed that her bark was a three layered confection with the middle layer being mint chocolate ganache, I was in.

    I didn't get to make it until I was in my mother's kitchen, which has no logical plan to it. It took at least an hour to find all the gadgets, tools, bowls, and pans needed. So complicated.

    But oh, this bark. It is truly the best peppermint bark EVER. All other candy sold as bark is really just twigs and lichen. Although bark seems to only be necessary during the holiday season, wouldn't this be a tasty treat for Valentine's Day? Or Easter? Or anytime?

    Get on it, people. You know you want to.
    Three-Layer Peppermint Bark
    From Orangette, adapted from Bon Appétit, December 1998

    To crush the peppermints coarsely, Bon Appétit advises tapping the wrapped candies firmly with the bottom edge of an unopened 15- to 16-ounce can. She used a heavy glass jar, and that worked fine too.

    • 17 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped (make sure cocoa butter is one of the major ingredients--I used the Whole Foods white chocolate chunks)
    • 30 red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies, coarsely crushed
    • 7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, such as E Guittard 61% semi sweet chocolate
    • 6 Tbsp. heavy cream
    • ¾ tsp. peppermint extract

    Turn a large baking sheet upside down, and cover it securely with aluminum foil. Measure out and mark a 9- by 12-inch rectangle on the foil. (Instead of doing this I used an unrimmed cookie sheet.)

    Put the white chocolate in a metal (or other heatproof) bowl, and set it over a saucepan of barely simmering water. (Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water.) Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth; if you take its temperature with a candy thermometer, it should register 110°F. Remove the chocolate from the heat. Pour 2/3 cup of it onto the rectangle on the foil. Using an icing spatula, spread the chocolate to fill the rectangle. Sprinkle with ¼ cup of the crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.

    Meanwhile, combine the bittersweet chocolate, cream, and peppermint extract in a heavy medium saucepan. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is just melted and smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Then remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator, and pour the bittersweet chocolate mixture over the white chocolate rectangle. Using an icing spatula – make sure you cleaned it after using it for the white chocolate, above! – spread the bittersweet chocolate in an even layer. Chill until very cold and firm, about 25 minutes.

    Rewarm the remaining white chocolate over barely simmering water to 110°F. Working quickly, pour the white chocolate over the firm bittersweet layer, using your (again, clean) icing spatula to spread it to cover. Sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.

    Carefully lift the foil from the baking sheet onto a large cutting board. Trim away any ragged edges of the rectangle. (These are yours to immediately devour, which you will.) Cut the bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Using metal spatula, slip the bark off of the foil and onto the cutting board. Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections, and then cut each section diagonally into 2 triangles.

    Pack into an airtight container, with sheets of wax paper between layers of bark to prevent them from sticking to one another. Store in the refrigerator. Serve cold or, to emphasize the slight softness of the bittersweet layer, let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving. (Much better at room temperature.)

    Note: This bark will keep for up to 2 weeks, if not more. If you plan to pack it in a tin or baggie with other holiday sweets, be sure to wrap it separately in plastic wrap. Or maybe wax paper and then plastic wrap, so that it doesn’t sweat. If you left it naked, so to speak, to mix and mingle with other cookies or candies, everything might wind up tasting and smelling like peppermint.
  5. peppermint bark!

  6. David Leite's Freaking Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies
    I know this is the second time I have described something in this post as freaking amazing, or the best EVER, but TRUST ME, I am not exaggerating.

    David Leite went on a quest last summer to bake the best chocolate chip cookie. He went back to the Tollhouse where the original cookie came from and looked at the recipe, he spoke with Jacques Torres, Dorie Greenspan, Shirley Corriher, and other noted bakers. He condensed all his newfound knowledge about my favorite cookie ever, into one crazy amazing, 100% addictive cookie.

    David discovered certain things that can guarantee you a cookie you won't be able to stop eating: firstly, you must let you dough rest for 12-36 hours to ensure a wonderful toffee flavor to develop. Also, the size of the cookie matters: David found that the big ol' cookie allowed for a moist and chewy center, a crisp outer edge, and the between part, where the toffee and caramel flavors do a dance with the chocolate and the gooey.

    I then found Smitten Kitchen's David Leite's cookies, and Organette's David Leite's cookies, and I was chomping at the bit to make them, which I did for our holiday cookie party.

    (Are you seeing a theme, here folks? Lots of time reading food blogs in December. All that freakin snow.)

    Those cookies I made for our holiday party overshadowed everything else on the table. And I could not stop eating them. And when there were no more cookies for me to eat, I plotted how and when I would bake more of them. Which I did, for my family after Christmas, and they inhaled them pretty darn quickly.

    They are like the crack cocaine of chocolate chip cookies, friends. And I HIGHLY suggest you get addicted.

    *Note: I didn't use bread flour, just all-purpose flour, and for the chocolate I used E Guittard's 61% semi sweet chocolate wafers. So good. Soooo good.
chocolate chunky cookies

Monday, February 02, 2009

Annmarie's Gluten Free Birthday Cannoli

Annmarie just had her birthday and her big request this year was for cannoli. Ever since she was diagnosed with celiac she's had to opt out of her family's traditional Christmas cannoli and she's been missing them ever since. I guess she felt that we have come a long enough way in GF baking to finally try to make GF cannoli.

We looked and looked online but couldn't find a recipe for GF cannoli. We found several people asking if anyone had a GF cannoli recipe, one person saying she found one in Italian, and a few others suggesting to use GF pizzelle instead of a cannoli shell to make "cannoli" (to which Annmarie scoffed). You know, when you are trying to re-create a family tradition you have to do it right, so she sent for her father's glutinous recipe and we prepared to experiment with flours until we found something that worked.

Her father, it turns out, is the cannoli maker in the family. When I was quizzing her on how these shells are made (I'd only had two cannoli in my lifetime, so I was kind of operating in the dark) Annmarie told me, "well, my dad would disappear into the basement and when he came upstairs he had cannoli!"

Sigh. I guess we were both operating in the dark, but at least she knew what they were supposed to look, taste and feel like.

January 30, 2009
Name of Cannoli: Annmarie's Great-grandmother Martino's Cannoli, GF Style
Occasion: Annmarie's Birthday!
Constituents: GF Cannoli shells filled with cannoli filling (sweetened ricotta with optional add ins)

GF Cannoli!

For those of you not in the know, cannoli is an Italian dessert (by way of Sicily) made by deep frying a square of pastry that's been wrapped around a metal tube to make a crispy shell. The middle is stuffed with sweetened ricotta cheese mixed with a variety of foods like chopped chocolate, chopped pineapple, citron, candied cherries, and nuts. The ends of the cannoli are usually covered in either chocolate, chopped pistacios, or other chopped and possibly dyed nuts. If you like your desserts on the creamy side, you will like these.

(By the way, cannoli is the plural of canolo; thanks Wikipedia!)

Cannoli dough, at least Great-grandma Martino's, is basically a modifed pastry dough. You kind of cut a few tablespoons of shortening into some flour, cinnamon and salt, and add enough wine and water to have it all come together. You then knead the dough until it becomes a big sticky elastic mass and refrigerate for a bit to relax the gluten. Then you roll out the dough, cut out some squares, and roll them 'round a cannoli tube. This gets deep fried until it is golden and blistered, then you let the shells cool down enough to pull them off the tubes so you can use them for the next round of frying.

For gluten-free cannoli shells, we made a few moderations to this method: First off, without gluten we weren't going to get an elastic dough so we didn't worry about over kneading or over mixing or over rolling. Next, we found it was much easier to tear off bits of the dough, roll them into balls about 1.5 inches in diameter, and roll each of those out with a rolling pin between two sheets of plastic wrap.

The plastic wrap method is really important, as the dough is a bit sticky and prone to tearing. Annmarie found that the thinner she rolled out the dough, the more authentic they would look and taste. I think she settled on a thickness of about 1/8 inch.

GF Cannoli!

She then cut the dough into a rough square, and used the plastic wrap to roll the dough onto the tube. If she didn't use the plastic wrap to support the dough, it had a tendency to fall apart and be all sorts of difficult.

The two corners of the dough that overlap are sealed with a little bit of beaten egg yolk, and then dunked in the hot oil.

GF Cannoli!

My mom gave me a little deep fryer this year for Christmas (emphasis on little), so we fried two cannoli at a time. We also only bought four cannoli tubes (they were $2.50 each!) so this gave us a nice little rhythm of frying two while rolling out two.

The key to good cannoli filling is to find the best ricotta that is thick, not runny. Even so, the ricotta must be left to drain in a cheesecloth-lined strainer for an hour or so at room temperature. Once the cannoli shells are filled they will begin to loose their crunch, so it is important to stave off that process as much as you can by making sure the filling is a dry as possible. To the ricotta, we added cinnamon, chopped chocolate, powdered sugar (important as the cornstarch will sop up any liquid), and chopped, drained pineapple. Her dad did not specify any amounts of these things, so we sweetened and cinnamoned to taste, used one chocolate bar, and one small can of pineapple.

GF Cannoli!

Annmarie was excited as she observed the tell-tale blisters on our cannoli shells, and even more excited when she tasted one. It was crisp and (to me) tasted a lot like a sugar cone. We never had a problem with the dough falling apart as it was frying, and once we discovered the plastic wrap trick, the dough always rolled onto the tubes without fuss. When we filled a few cannoli she tasted one, and became even more excited. She declared them to be perfect! Awesome!

We flirted with the idea of quitting our day jobs and making GF cannoli for a living, but decided against it. But we are mighty proud of our achievement, and hope that all of the gluten-freers out there give these cannoli a try.

Annmarie's Great-grandmother Martino's Cannoli, GF Style

makes about 24-35 shells, depending on size

  • 2 cups fine-ground brown rice flour (we used Bob's Red Mill, which is still a bit gritty but you couldn't tell in the final product)
  • 2/3 cup potato starch flour
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/2 tsp xanthum gum
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp shortening
  • 1/2 cup port wine
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten

  • metal cannoli tubes
  • 1-2 liters oil suitable for deep frying (we used canola oil and needed 1 liter for my little fryer)
  • something to deep fry in--a deep pot or a deep fryer. You'll want it to be deep enough to have 5 inches of oil.

  • Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.

    Add shortening, and add the liquid in 1/4 cup increments, mixing with a fork until dough starts to come together--it will look a lot like wet sand. We alternated liquids--for example 1/4 cup wine, then 1/4 water, then wine, etc. You may not have to add all the liquid.

    Dump the wet sand-like dough onto a clean counter and knead for 15 minutes or until it comes together as a nice smooth ball of dough. It shouldn't be too sticky, but a little springy and a bit like fresh Play-Doh. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

    You will want your oil at 350°F by the time you have a few shells shaped, so plan accordingly.

    Shape approx 1.5 inch balls of dough; keep maybe six out at a time and leave the rest wrapped up in the refrigerator until needed. You don't want the dough to dry out. We even kept the few on the counter between plastic wrap too.

    Between two small sheets of plastic wrap, roll out a ball of dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Cut off the sides to form roughly a 2 inch square, give or take 1/2 inch. Turn the square so that it looks like a diamond, with the point closest to you the bottom corner.

    (The scraps can be re-used; we kept a pile of them to the side and re-rolled them into balls. This way you don't have any waste.)

    Your goal is to wrap the dough around the tube so that the top and bottom corners meet at the top of the tube. Here's how to do it: peel off the top layer of plastic wrap and lay the cannoli tube across the bottom corner. Using the bottom layer of plastic wrap, roll the dough up and around the tube until the corner is at the top of the tube and the tube is laying from side corner to side corner. Peel back the bottom layer of plastic wrap; the dough should still be up on the tube. using the plastic wrap under the top corner, lift it up onto the tube and press the two corners of dough together. Dab a little beaten egg yolk on the seam to hold it together.

    Fry dough on the tubes until crisp, golden brown, and blistered. Drain on paper towel until cool; remove tubes and re-use. Do NOT rinse tubes in water until you are completely finished frying shells.

    Fill with cannoli filling and serve immediately, or wrap double airtight and let sit at room temperature for no more than 24 hours before using.
    GF Cannoli!

    Annmarie's Great-grandmother Martino's Cannoli Filling

  • 3 lbs stiff ricotta cheese (imported Italian ricotta seems to be best)
    You have lots of options for what you add to the ricotta; here's what we did:
  • about 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • one chocolate bar, chopped into little squares
  • one can pineapple, drained and chopped
  • powdered sugar, approx 3/4 to 1 cup
  • about 1 tsp cinnamon

  • Drain the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined strainer. It will go faster if the cheese is at room temperature. We let it drain for about 30-45 minutes per lb.
    Once drained, place ricotta into medium bowl and stir in your add ons, to taste. We went for lightly sweet, but not forcefully so. Certainly less sweet than sweetened whipped cream.

    Let cool in refrigerator for one hour; we let it cool overnight.

    Fill a pastry bag with a number 6 round tip with the cheese mixture and fill shells. Alternatively, you can spoon it in but it takes a little longer. Dip the ends in chopped raw pistachio nuts, chopped chocolate, or what-have-you. You can sprinkle with powdered sugar right before serving if you like.

    Tips for an enjoyable and tasty experience:
    • It helps to have two people when making the shells. Annmarie rolled the dough and shaped the shells while I fried the dough and wrestled the finished shells off the tubes.
    • This was no easy task, mostly because I wouldn't wait until the shells and tube were completely cool. The tubes were slippery from all the oil and I was worried about breaking the shells as I gripped and pushed and pulled. I finally discovered that twisting the shell while pulling the tube made the most progress--think of spiraling the shell off the tube.
    • Be sure not to wrap the dough too tightly around the metal tube as it will make it even harder to get the shells off.
    • If you are using a deep fryer, use the fry basket. When the shells are done, you can stand the shells on their end in the basket to let the excess oil drain back into the fryer before you put them on paper towel.
    • What keeps food crisp while being deep fried is all the water in the food rushing out and pushing the oil back. That's what all the bubbles are. When the bubbles slow down, keep an eye on the shells as they are close to getting done. There is a fine line between a crisp and an oily shell, and it happens right when those bubbles slow down enough to let the oil soak in.
    • The port wine is integral to the unique taste of these cannoli shells, but we found the taste the best when it was cut with a little water.
    • The thinner you can roll the dough the faster it will fry, and the crisper it will be.
    • The filling is really where you can get creative, but if you plan to use a pastry bag to fill the shells, make sure everything you add is chopped small enough to fit through the tip!

    GF Cannoli!

    GF Cannoli: a flickr photoset