Monday, February 25, 2013

Gluten-Free Ladyfingers

    I like to think that when faced with a challenge, I never give up. I keep going until I reach my goal. While I enjoy telling myself that, I know that is most definitely not always true - just ask my friend who takes Zumba with me. For sure, those dance moves are not something that I insist on mastering. There are times, though, when something that I don't get right the first time makes me persistent enough to keep going until it's great - like when it comes to baking.
Fun with the extra batter...
    When I make a new recipe for the first time, I start measuring and mixing with visions of Pinterest-worthy cakes and cookies dancing in my head (only sometimes are they also singing showtunes, but that's unrelated); only once I pull those treats out of the oven can I tell if my hopes were anywhere near accurate.
   This weekend, my mom wanted to make a classic Brazilian layered dessert (recipe coming soon!) that includes ladyfinger cookies. Since it's hard to find gluten-free ladyfingers in the grocery store, and I wanted her to be able to eat the dessert, I set about making my own version. Now, I assume the name "ladyfingers" comes from the long, thin shape of the cookies you find in the store - let's just say that my first attempt, while yummy, looked like "fingers" that would have to come from a lady weighing around 5 tons. So I sat on my kitchen floor and cried for a while munched on thin, crispy cookies while perusing the internet for a new recipe.
   I decided to try a whole different idea and go for a recipe that wasn't naturally gluten-free. I substituted in gluten-free all-purpose flour and a little xanthan gum for the regular flour, carefully whipped eggs, folded batter, and piped "fingers," and slid that tray into the oven. And somehow, magically - maybe it was just a better baking day for me (although the macarons I attempted to make later that night would beg to differ) - it worked. Out came fluffy ladyfingers that are perfect in any sort of creamy dessert, or just for snacking on with a cup of tea.
                                                            Gluten-Free Ladyfingers
                                                     (adapted from King Arthur Flour)

                                                           3 large eggs, separated
                                                     9 tablespoons granulated sugar
                                                        1 teaspoon vanilla extract
                               1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh is best, but bottled is okay)
                                                                 pinch of salt
                                              2/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
                                                       1 teaspoon xanthan gum
                                                 confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat the egg yolks, 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, vanilla extract, lemon juice and salt until light in color, and most of the sugar has dissolved. Set aside. 
In another bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Continue beating while adding the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until whites are stiff. 
Fold half the flour and all of the xanthan gum into the egg yolk mixture. Gently fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture, then add the remaining flour, stirring gently to mix. 
Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a half-inch plain round tip. Pipe batter about 1-inch wide and 4 inches long onto parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheets. Space ladyfingers about 1-inch apart. Sprinkle the tops lightly with confectioners' sugar. 
Bake for 15 minutes, or until a light gold color; don't let ladyfingers brown. Immediately remove from baking sheet and cool completely on a wire rack. 
   -Makes about 24 ladyfingers.
Note: I seriously recommend doubling this recipe if you're planning on using the ladyfingers as part of a dessert - at least 20 will be consumed by excited family members hanging out in the kitchen as the cookies come out of the oven.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream

    Valentine's day can be a total downer for girls without boyfriends. This year, my friend and I decided to have a girls' night in to celebrate the fun parts of the holiday for single girls like us - takeout, romantic comedies, and most importantly, chocolate!
   We took a basic yet delicious chocolate cupcake recipe (with amazingly tasty, slightly chewy edges!) and wanted something to make it incredible. We found a recipe for buttercream. With an entire jar of Nutella added in. This frosting takes everything great about the chocolatey spread and multiplies it by a thousand, making it light enough to eat by the spoonful! Although, who am I kidding, we ate some plain Nutella by the spoonful too...
Basic Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups sugar 
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
1 teaspoon salt 
2  eggs 
1 cup milk 
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
1 cup boiling water  
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 30 cupcake cups with paper liners, or grease.
Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Divide batter amongst prepared pans.
Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Nutella Buttercream 
(slightly adapted from Cannella Vita)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 13-ounce jar Nutella
pinch of fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1.5 pounds confectioners’ sugar

6-8 tablespoons milk

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and shortening until well combined, thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Slowly add in confectioner’s sugar, and continue mixing until well blended.
Add salt, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk. Blend on low speed until moistened. Add an additional 3-5 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk until you reach the desired consistency. Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 
Add the Nutella and beat for another 3 minutes.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Gingerbread Spice Dutch Baby

    Breakfast. It's recently become my favorite time of day to indulge in something special - taking time out of your weekend or day off to make a morning treat is always a great idea. Back in October, during Hurricane Sandy when I was trapped at home, I made a delicious Pumpkin Dutch Baby. Last weekend we had a big snowstorm here in New York City, and I decided to make another storm Dutch baby. And with my new favorite cookbook staring at me with a delicious-looking recipe, it was perfect timing.
   A Dutch baby is essentially a large, oven-baked pancake. This one is flavored with gingerbread spices, making it perfect for a freezing cold morning (alongside a big cup of tea, of course). The batter is poured into a skillet with some melted butter and then baked until it puffs up and the edges get all crispy and amazing. Pour on the maple syrup or dust it with powdered sugar, and your weekend treat just got ten times simpler (and yummier).
Gingerbread Spice Dutch Baby

2 large eggs
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon molasses (I ran out, so I used maple syrup)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Powdered sugar or maple syrup, for topping

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the eggs in a blender and blend until smooth and pale in color. Add the brown sugar, molasses, flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, salt, and milk and blend until smooth.
Melt the butter in a 9-inch ovenproof skillet over high heat, swirling it up the sides to evenly coat the pan. Pour the batter into the skillet and transfer to the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pancake is puffed up. Remove from the oven and  dust with powdered sugar or drizzle with maple syrup.
  -serves 1-2

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Condensed Milk Vanilla Pound Cake

    As much as I love making layered cakes and complex pastries, sometimes I just need something simple. I spent most of last week itching to bake something - when I got home on Thursday afternoon, I decided that it had gone on for too long. When my mom had put dinner in the oven, I jumped into the kitchen and got to work.
       I had had my eye on this recipe for quite a while, and with a can of condensed milk in the pantry, it was time to try it. I was curious to see how this would work out; the batter is made in a food processor, which is unusual, and has a full 3/4 of a cup of sweetened condensed milk.
    It resulted in a really interesting cake. The texture was different from what I've tried in the past - it is slightly more dense, and has a unique flavor from the mixture of condensed milk and vanilla bean. It's delicious! This recipe is definitely a keeper - it is just as yummy as a great pound cake, but seems light enough in texture to justify having it for breakfast.
Condensed Milk Vanilla Poundcake
(slightly adapted from 17 and Baking)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the pan
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter an 8.5 x 4.5″ loaf pan and set aside.
Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the sugar and chopped vanilla bean until the bean is finely ground. Sift to remove the large bits of vanilla, then return the sugar to the processor.
Add the butter and salt and process until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bottom occasionally. Add the condensed milk and pulse until well incorporated, about 15 times, scraping down the sides of the bowl once. Add the sifted dry ingredients and pulse until no traces of flour remain, about 10 times. Add the eggs and pulse just until combined, about 5 times. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and finish mixing by hand to fully incorporate the eggs.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until deep golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Cool completely in the loaf pan on a rack, then turn out onto a plate. Serve in thick slices.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Earl Grey Chocolate Chip Cookies

     My parents and I love going to see musicals. Whenever we go to one, it tends to be around Times Square, and it's tricky to navigate the maze of tourist trap restaurants around there when looking for a place to have dinner before the show. My mom and I stumbled upon Radiance Tea House one day, and absolutely loved it - it's a cute Asian-fusion restaurant with tons of delicious teas and little bites (like the best vegetable dumplings ever). The dessert is what stuck with us - a warm chocolate chip cookie with earl grey flavor, topped with a melting scoop of vanilla ice cream.
    This weekend, I was determined to recreate my favorite cookie. That's right, I spent my Saturday afternoon trying to figure out the best way possible to make a chocolate chip cookie taste like tea. I'm definitely a typical high school girl grandma.
    I ended up taking my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe and making a few adjustments. I figured out from looking at a few recipes that the best way to get the earl grey flavor into the cookies, since they don't have water or melted butter in them that could be infused with the tea, was to cut open a few teabags and dump them in! This ended up working really well - hot out of the oven, the cookies taste pretty much like a regular chocolate chip cookie, but as soon as they cool, there is a definite taste of earl grey that isn't too strong, but is definitely noticeable. It took these chocolate chip cookies from really good to amazing.
   These ended up being the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever made. My dad took them to work to share with his colleagues (as he often does with treats I make), and apparently they were said to be one of the best things I ever baked. They were - dare I say it? - even better than what I was going for.
Earl Grey Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons earl grey tea (from about 6 teabags)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or 2 cups store-bought bittersweet chocolate chips

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and tea. If your tea leaves aren't already ground, mix them with the flour in the food processor for a few seconds.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes or so, until well-blended. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing only until each addition is incorporated. On low speed, or by hand with a rubber spatula, mix in the chocolate chips.
Spoon the dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between spoonfuls.
Bake the cookies- one sheet at a time and rotating the sheet at the midway point- for 10-12 minutes, or until they are brown at the edges and golden in the center; they may still be a little soft in the middle, and that's okay. Pull the sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 5 minutes, then carefully, using a wide metal spatula, transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature.
Repeat with the remainder of the dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thick Gluten-Free Pizza Crust

    Since my mom was diagnosed with Celiac Disease almost two years ago, a lot has changed in how we eat in our house. I still eat lots of cakes and breads (God, I love bread...) when I go out or am at a friend's house, but at home, we don't have a whole lot of "glutenous," as we've come to call them, foods around.
   My mom and I used to love making our own pizza at home - we could make it just the way we wanted it, and it ended up being a lot healthier (and cheaper) than ordering one. A couple of weeks ago, we decided to try to make one gluten-free.
I was terrified when I was faced with this giant blob, but alas, we must persevere...
   The biggest problem we've found with the gluten-free pizzas that can be found in the frozen aisle of the supermarket is that the crusts are either tasteless (think cardboard) or soggy (think wet bread type thing...). I was assuming that our first try at a homemade crust would be pretty bad and we would have to tweak the recipe in the future, but it ended up being great! It is fluffy with a crisp bottom, just like a thick, classic pizza crust.
  I wish I could say I was responsible for the lovely asparagus circle, but my mom took care of everything after the crust-making. Whatever she did, this was one delicious dinner! This crust is actually surprisingly filling, too - one 12" pizza (with a side salad) served three people easily. This crust will definitely be made again in the future - dare I say it's even better than a regular wheat flour crust?!
Thick Gluten-Free Pizza Crust

 1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend
2 tablespoons buttermilk powder or nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil (for dough)
2 tablespoons olive oil (for pan)

Place the dry ingredients (except the yeast) into a large mixing bowl; the bowl of your stand mixer is perfect. Mix until thoroughly blended.
Place the warm water, olive oil, yeast, and about 1/2 cup of the dry mixture into a small bowl. Stir to combine; a few lumps are OK. Set aside for 30 minutes or so, until the mixture is bubbly and smells yeasty.
Add this mixture to the dry ingredients, and beat on medium-high speed for 4 minutes. The mixture will be thick and sticky - don't worry, just keep going! Note: you must use a stand mixer or electric hand mixer to make this dough; mixing by hand doesn't do a thorough enough job.
Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes or so.
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil onto the center of a baking sheet or 12" round pizza pan. Scrape the dough from the bowl onto the puddle of oil.
Using your wet fingers, start at the center of the dough and work outwards, pressing it into a 12" to 14" circle.
Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Bake the crust for 8 to 10 minutes, just until it's set; the surface will look opaque, rather than shiny.
Remove from the oven and top with whatever you like (we used tomato sauce, cheese, and asparagus). Return to the oven to finish baking, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the toppings you've chosen.
Remove from the oven, and serve warm.
   -one 12" to 14" pizza