Monday, April 21, 2014

Black Sesame + Dark Milk Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Several years ago, at a gathering for a publication that I wrote for, I struck up a conversation with another writer. The topic turned to ice cream. I told her that I'd just finished making maple bourbon pecan, and she told me that she had developed a perfect recipe for black sesame. "The secret," she said, "is grinding the sesame seeds first." I nodded and tried to look impressed, but the truth was, I didn't even know that black sesame ice cream was a thing. I tried to imagine how it would taste, but I couldn't. From her tone, it sounded difficult to make.

I spent the next two years kicking myself for not requesting the recipe, or even getting the woman's contact information. Meanwhile, pretty pictures of the stuff taunted me all over the internet. But black sesame ice cream remained nonexistent in my local stores and ice cream shops. And I remained too lazy to make any.

But a few weeks ago, my black sesame dreams began coming true. My friend Amelia and I were shopping for dinner ingredients at a natural foods store near her home in San Mateo when we found a carton of local, organic black sesame ice cream from Tara's. We snapped it up. 

Ice cream is never better than when you've arrived home from the grocery store, hungry and tired, to crack open the carton and scrape off and devour the melty top layer. (The one exception is when you've made the ice cream yourself and you're standing over the sink, licking the dasher, hoping that none of your neighbors can see you through the window.) One mouthful of that toasty, charcoal-grey goodness, and it was love at first bite. My mere curiosity peaked to obsession. I needed more.

The following week, Amelia and I found more black sesame dessert love at Namu Gaji, a Korean restaurant in San Francisco with which we are quite obsessed. Their black sesame pudding came in a mason jar topped with chocolate ganache and whipped cream. The combination of chocolate softened with cream against roasty sesame custard was perfection. So I dreamed up a black sesame ice cream studded with flecks of chocolate.

Most recipes that I found called for black sesame paste, an ingredient most commonly found at Japanese and Chinese markets. This product is different from tahini in that the seeds are roasted prior to being ground. Some ice cream recipes additionally ask for black food coloring to create an even darker color. But I remembered the words of my writer friend, and decided to try making mine from scratch. I based the recipe on my preferred ice cream base which has a good balance of fat, eggs, and sugar. I tweaked the ratio of milk to cream in order to compensate for the richness of the sesame, and I increased the sugar a bit since sesame has a hint of bitterness.

Love my Kitchen Aid stand mixer ice cream maker attachment

I roasted a ton of black sesame seeds in a skillet until I could hear them crackle. I let them cool, then ground them to a paste in my food processor. This took a good few minutes of grinding and scraping down the sides of the bowl. The paste tasted so strong, I feared I had burnt the seeds and the ice cream would be ruined. But I steeped the paste with sugar, milk, vanilla bean, and a touch of salt before whisking the mixture into egg yolks and cooking the mixture to a custard. The hot custard gets poured into cold cream, which stops the cooking and cools the mixture – no tricksy ice baths necessary.

I tried straining the mixture at first, thinking that would make it extra smooth, but this filtered out too much black sesame goodness; in the end I left the mixture as it was. It still tastes perfectly creamy on the palate.

For my first batch, I spun the ice cream and scribbled it with bittersweet chocolate that had a 70% cacao mass. I have David Lebovitz to thank for introducing me to the scribble method, which is not only fun, but it incorporates the chocolate in tiny shards that become one with the ice cream in a way that simply stirring in chocolate chunks doesn't.

The combination of bittersweet chocolate and black sesame was a happy one, but I noticed that after a few bites, the chocolate began to take over and hide the gorgeous flavor of the sesame seeds, which just wouldn't do. Trading the bittersweet for dark milk chocolate provided the perfect solution; the milder flavor of the dark milk chocolate allowed the sesame to be the star, and its softer texture melted more quickly on the tongue, even a tongue cold from eating ice cream. Dark milk chocolate has a cacao mass of around 40% (as opposed to the super-sweet 10% of commercial milk chocolates). It still has the deep chocolate notes of semi- or bittersweet, but powdered milk and a bit more sugar round out these notes, bringing out the chocolate's fruity qualities and tempering its bitterness. I'm particularly fond of my neighbor Michael Recchiuti's Dark Milk Bar, (and while you're at it, try his restaurant in the Dogpatch), but Scharffen Berger and Tcho also make excellent dark milk chocolates.

When Jay first saw me toasting a skillet full of black sesame seeds and asked after my plans, he gave me quizzical look when I answered, "Black sesame ice cream." I'm sure this was similar to my own expression at that writer's meeting years ago. On his first taste, though, his eyes opened wide and he said, "It tastes just like a Reese's peanut butter cup." I get what he means – the ice cream has the same addictive toasty/nutty/chocolaty thing going on, only in a more exotic, subtle way. It manages to taste familiar and completely new at the same time. Its charcoal-grey coloring adds to my fascination with the stuff. I would happily eat it for the rest of my life. And I'm no longer the only black sesame ice cream addict in the house. When I told Jay that I was writing up this post his words were, "You mean, the best ice cream in the world."

Now when I go to parties, I'll be the weirdo saying proudly to perplexed strangers, "I've discovered the secret to making black sesame ice cream..."

Black Sesame + Dark Milk Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

I love love love my Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment, pictured above. It goes in the freezer for 24 hours, then the bowl and dasher (which "stirs" the ice cream) go right onto the stand mixer. Turn it on low, and it churns the ice cream in about 10-20 minutes.

I found black sesame seeds in the bulk aisle of my co-op. The 10 tablespoons called for here yields about 6 tablespoons of toasted black sesame paste. If you can't find the whole seeds, you can probably substitute an equal amount of Japanese black sesame paste, though you may want to decrease the sugar in the recipe if the paste is sweetened. 

I like this ice cream best made with dark milk chocolate that has a 35-40% cacao mass. This has less sugar and dairy than regular milk chocolate, which only needs to have 10% cacao mass to be labeled as such. I'm partial to the dark milk bar from Recchiuti, but Tcho and Scharffen Berger make excellent dark milk chocolates, also. I found bittersweet chocolate a bit too assertive, though still quite tasty, so feel free to use it if you prefer. This recipe can also be made using 2 cups half and half and 1 cup heavy cream in place of the milk and cream.

All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes 1 generous quart

For the ice cream:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces / 80 grams) black sesame seeds
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces / 340 grams) whole milk
1/2 a vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
3/4 cup (5.75 ounces / 165 grams) organic, blonde cane sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
 4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces / 340 grams) heavy cream
4 ounces (115 grams) dark milk chocolate (40% cacao mass), roughly chopped (about 3/4 cup)

Make the sesame paste:
Place the sesame seeds in a dry, wide skillet. Shaking the pan frequently, toast the seeds over a medium flame until the seeds start to crackle. This can take anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pan. It's a bit hard to tell when they're toasted, since they're black and won't change color, and they don't give off much fragrance, but crackling is a good sign. Let the seeds cool, then whizz them in a food processor until they turn into a paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, 2 or 3 minutes.

Make the ice cream base:
Scrape out the black sesame paste into a medium saucepan, and add the milk, vanilla seeds and pod, sugar, and salt. Warm over a medium flame, stirring occasionally, until hot and steamy. Cover the pot and let the mixture steep at least 10 minutes or longer.

Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Place the heavy cream in a different medium bowl, or in a large mason jar and set aside. Rewarm the milk if necessary. Very slowly, dribble the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until you've added half the milk. Scrape the yolk mixture back into the pan and return to a medium-low flame. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly with a heatproof silicone spatula, until it thickens just slightly and/or registers 170ºF on an instant-read thermometer. Immediately pour the custard into the cold cream to stop the cooking.

Chill the ice cream base until very cold, at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, or up to 3 days.

Spin and chocolate-ify the ice cream:
Place the ice cream base in the freezer for 30 minutes to get it really cold, giving it a stir once halfway through. Place a loaf pan in the freezer as well.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate by placing it in a dry, metal bowl set over a saucepan filled with hot water that is barely steaming (not simmering or boiling, or you will scorch the chocolate). Stir the chocolate until it is melted, and let it cool slightly. When the ice cream is churned, the chocolate should be fluid enough to drizzle, but not so hot that it melts the ice cream. 

Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker until it is the consistency of soft-serve. Spread 1/4 of the ice cream in the bottom of the frozen loaf pan, then drizzle 1/4 of the melted chocolate over the ice cream. Repeat until you've used up all the chocolate and ice cream. Freeze the ice cream until firm, at least 2 hours. Once firm, scoop the ice cream into storage containers. It will keep frozen for up to a few months (though good luck making it last that long).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Grapefruit Custard Pie {Gluten-Free}

Rhubarb, my true love, is finally here, gracing the baskets at our co-op with its ruby-hued stalks. So are bright red strawberries, small and sweet. (Or at least they were, until the recent storms knocked out all the crops.) But all I can seem to think about is grapefruit, specifically in pie form. The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book is to blame. The book brims with tantalizing images of seasonal pies made by sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen and captured by photographers Gentl and Hyers. It is physically impossible to not want to bake a pie (or piesssss) after paging through their unique recipes.

I had a bunch of grapefruits left over from sake cocktail experiments and decided to slap together their grapefruit custard pie in the the gluten-free pie shell I've been working on. I wasn't planning on sharing it here since I figure you all have more to get excited about by now than boring old grapefruit. I certainly did. 

Grapefruits are available year-round in California, but I notice them mostly during the late winter and early spring. I'm not sure if this is just a selection effect that occurs during the gap between the last persimmons and the first rhubarb, but that's how it is. Their musky, floral flavor and bright hue are just the thing to get one past the final push of winter. (Or as we call it in California, "winter") but they usually fade from my radar after that.

But then I made the pie and shared it with friends and everyone went, "Grapefruit pie? I've never heard of grapefruit pie before. Wow, this is amazing! It really tastes like grapefruit. It's so light and refreshing. It's like a lemon meringue pie without the meringue. Meringue is nasty." I agreed on all counts. (Sorry, meringue.) Grapefruit pie was much more exciting than I expected.

So I made two more because I couldn't stop eating them wanted to get my modifications just right. Yes, very responsible. 

The original recipe calls for Campari which I didn't have; knowing that the aperitif is colored with red dye #40 (and used to be colored with dye made from crushed bugs – ech) didn't make me want to rush out and buy any. Since I love elderflower with grapefruit, I used St. Germain elderflower liqueur instead. This combination was introduced to me by my friend Calvaleigh who invented this stunner of a cocktail. I took down the sugar in the pie by half a cup since St. Germain is so much sweeter than bitter Campari, and I added back some of the bitter notes with grapefruit zest. I used blood orange juice for color. I traded the wheat flour in the filling for sweet rice flour which is commonly used as a thickener, and made a couple of other small tweaks along the way, too.

The recipe called for simply whisking all the filling ingredients together, then pouring the cold custard into the par-cooked shell and baking it. I thought I would be clever and cook the filling a bit first, which works well for lemon bars and that sort of thing. But that method turned out not to work well in this case. The cold mixture of sugar, eggs, and citrus juice thickened up when I whisked in the cream. But in a pot over a flame, stirring, stirring, stirring, the mixture thinned out again and took its sweet time thickening back up. (I think this has to do with the acids in the citrus breaking down the proteins in the dairy.) When I poured the hot filling into the crust, the pie took nearly as long to bake as the filling that started off cold and thick. The texture was denser, and had a less bright, fresh flavor. The filling that started off cold fluffed up more in the oven, and remained pleasantly delicate in flavor and texture. It was the clear winner. I won't second guess those sisters again.

Other pies from Four and Twenty that I have my eyes on are:
Rhubarb Custard
Strawberry Balsamic
Chamomile Buttermilk Custard
Lemon Sour Cream
Peaches and Cream
Sweet Corn Custard
Brown Butter Pumpkin
Buttered Rum Cream
Black Bottom Oatmeal
Malted Chocolate Pecan 

Someone else who loves this pie? My friends over at Frog Hollow Farm's fruit CSA, Happy Child. An all-fruit box from Frog Hollow is pretty much a dream come true, and I was thrilled when Molly and Lael asked to include this pie recipe in their weekly newsletter and on their site. This week's boxes come stocked with an assortment of citrus and avocados, including bright red grapefruit, and they deliver to drop sites all over the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

It's always dazzling to taste something familiar in an unexpected form, like this pie which conveys the musky-floral-bright notes of grapefruit in a delicate custard. The texture of the softly set custard is somewhere between panna cotta and a delicate lemon curd. The alcohol in the St. Germain bakes away, leaving behind a hint of flowers and spring that blends seamlessly with the grapefruit. It's downright beguiling. I've found the paler orange-pink fruits to have a more tart, complex flavor than the bright pink ones, so I prefer them here, but either or both will work.

Encased in a buttery crust which manages to stay crisp for two or three days, it is pure heaven. It may even make you forget all about rhubarb. For now.

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Screw cake; let them eat pie: 

One year ago:
Two years ago:
Three years ago:
Four years ago:

Grapefruit Custard Pie {Gluten-Free}

Inspired by / adapted heavily from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

I highly recommend investing in a bottle of St. Germain to make this pie. The alcohol all cooks out, but it amplifies the floral flavor of the grapefruit and makes the pie taste magical. (As a bonus, you'll then be able to make the best cocktail ever, the Pink Grapefruit Vieux Mot, invented by my friend Calvaleigh, or splash it into prosecco or white sangrìa.) Lacking St. Germain, you could try substituting an orange or ginger liqueur, or simply omitting the liqueur and adding another quarter cup of sugar to the filling. 

I made this with my gluten-free pie dough, but if gluten isn't an issue for you, feel free to use your favorite pie crust (or half a recipe of my flakiest, all-butter pie dough) and use all-purpose flour in place of the rice flour in the filling. Having the pie crust hot when you add the filling helps to keep the crust crisp. My gluten-free crust worked best when I blind-baked it almost all the way, until golden all over; it didn't brown much more once the filling was added. This pie is best the day that it's baked, but can be refrigerated for up to three days.

All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes one 9" pie; 8-12 servings 

For the pie:
1 almost-fully-baked 9" gluten-free pie shell, hot
3 tablespoons (.75 ounces / 20 grams) sweet white rice flour
3/4 cup (5.75 ounces / 160 grams) organic blonde cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons (2 ounces / 55 grams) melted butter
1 cup (8 ounces / 225 grams) strained ruby/pink grapefruit juice
4 tablespoons strained blood orange juice (optional, for color - otherwise, 4 more tablespoons grapefruit juice)
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
2-3 teaspoons finely grated grapefruit zest (colorful part only, from 1 medium grapefruit)

Prepare things:
Have a rack positioned in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400ºF. Have your pie shell baking on a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and blind-bake it until it's golden all over, somewhere between par-baked and fully-baked. The gluten-free crust won't brown much more once the custard is added. (If your pie crust has already baked and cooled, that's fine – put it in the oven for 5 minutes before pouring in the custard.)

Make the custard:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, whisking until combined after each addition. Whisk in the melted butter, then the grapefruit and blood orange juices, and finally the heavy cream and St. Germain liqueur. The mixture should thicken up with the addition of the cream. Strain the mixture into a large measuring pitcher or bowl, and whisk in the grapefruit zest to distribute it evenly.

Bake the pie:
Pour the custard into the hot pie shell set on a rimmed baking sheet. Carefully transfer to the lower rack of the oven, reduce the temperature to 325ºF, and bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center is quite wobbly but not watery, about 35-45 minutes. Be careful not to over-bake, or the filling will separate.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool completely, 2-3 hours; it will still be cooking from residual heat. (If the filling is too soft to slice, chill the pie 1-2 hours.) The pie will keep at room temperature for one day, or refrigerated for up to three days, though it is best on the day of baking when the crust is most crisp.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gluten-Free All-Butter Pie Dough (Whole-Grain + Gum-Free)

After I posted this gluten-free apricot mascarpone galette and accompanying pie dough last fall, I got several questions from various friends and readers. (Can I just say how thrilled I am to get questions from readers, or to even have readers at all? When I started this thing four years ago, I didn't think anyone would ever care about my OCD food ramblings. So THANK YOU for reading and for asking me questions! [Not to mention friends – I'm happy to have those, too.])

Sweet rice, millet, and oat flours with corn starch, tapioca starch, chia seed, sugar, and salt

And I had some questions myself. For one, could it be made without xanthan gum? Secondly, would it make a good pie shell? The answers turned out to be "yes" and "kind of."

Always start with cold, but not frozen, butter

According to, xanthan gum is a polysaccharide (science speak for a carbohydrate made up of various types of bonded-together sugar molecules) that forms during a fermentation process involving the bacteria Xanthomonas Campestris and carbohydrates from corn, wheat, dairy, or soy. Xanthan gum has strong binding powers and helps to make gluten-free doughs extensible, or stretchy, mimicking sticky, gummy gluten.

European-Style butter, such as Strauss, has a higher fat content that gives it a golden hue and makes the tastiest pastries

When you tell someone there's xanthan gum in the charmingly homemade baked good you've just given them, an odd look usually crosses their face, and the good in question suddenly seems a lot less charming and homey. The name and process by which xanthan gum is made both sound kinda creepy. It can be hard to find, most folks don't have it lying around the house, and some can't tolerate eating it. For all these reasons, I like to do without it when I can, using naturally sticky ingredients in its place. Inspired by many of the gluten-free recipes in Aran Goyoaga's Small Plates and Sweet Treats, I decided to try replacing the xanthan gum with ground chia seed, which, like xanthan gum, is full of polysaccharides. The seeds provide a more natural way to help gluten-free baked goods hold together, plus they're full of healthy fiber and omega 3s, and they add a pleasant nutty flavor to baked goods. (If you're chia curious, this article is a wealth of knowledge.)

A sturdy pastry blender makes this dough easy as pie

As for making the galette dough into a pie crust, I tried this several times, with some successes and some fails. The dough was fairly brittle – easy to form into a laid-back galette, but a bit tricky to wrestle into a pie pan, tending to crack apart on its journey from the counter into the pan. Once pressed into place, it sometimes baked up perfectly crisp and flaky; other times, for no apparent reason, it shrank and toughened in the oven. That would just not do.

Big butter chunks make for a flaky, tender dough

I wanted a bit more dough in order to make a thicker crust, so I increased the flours, butter, and ice water. I tried varying amounts of ground chia seed until I hit on the right amount to help it hold together, but not too much to overpower things. To solve the toughness problem, I added a teaspoon of cider vinegar. And I increased the sugar a bit to cancel out the edge of bitterness that the millet flour adds.

Add the ice water/vinegar mixture tablespoon by tablespoon directly to the dry bits until the dough will just hold together when you squeeze it

I had tried making the galette dough with tapioca flour in place of cornstarch, but didn't like the results. I found here, though, that a little tapioca flour in addition to the cornstarch helped to make a smoother dough that held together better. (I also tried potato starch in place of the cornstarch, but since potato starch is hygroscopic [science speak for grabbing water molecules out of the air], this dough became soggy quickly. The dough made with cornstarch browned more readily, and it stays crisp for days.)

To bring the dough together, I usually like using the fraisage method, an old-school French technique wherein portions of the dough get smeared quickly across the counter. This has the effect of flattening the butter chunks into thin sheets, in a puff pastry-like manner. When these many layers of butter hit the heat of the oven, they release steam, raising the layer of dough above it, making for flaky pastry. I wondered if this step could be skipped, so I tried simply kneading the dough 10 to 20 times in the bowl. This produced a crust that was not quite as flaky as the one using the fraisage method, but still pretty great, especially for a gluten-free dough. For extra flake, I like to roll the dough out once, fold it up in thirds like folding a letter, roll that into a loose spiral, and then chill it again before rolling it into a round to stick in the pie pan. Called "a turn" when making croissant dough or puff pastry, this helps smooth out the dough, making it easier to work with, and it also creates more flake and layers. I liked the dough that got fraisaged, chilled and folded the best, but you can simply knead the dough in the bowl to bring it together if you prefer. (The process shots shown here were made with the kneading technique; the finished pie with the fraisage technique. You can find photos of the fraisage process here; roll, fold, roll process here.)

I've been tinkering with this recipe since last fall, and I'm 99% happy with this version. It's a pleasure to work with – smooth and fairly sturdy. It bakes up crisp, with a texture akin to a whole wheat pie dough – a bit denser than a white flour pie dough, and with a nutty, whole-grain flavor. The texture is crisp and buttery, and it stays that way even after a few days of being filled and baked, a feat for any pie dough. I filled this one with a grapefruit custard kissed with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, inspired by The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book (recipe coming soon).

I may continue to tinker, but for now, this is by far the best gluten-free pie dough I've ever worked with or eaten. I'll be curious to know how it goes for you readers out there, and what modifications you try, so please leave a note if you give it a go, and feel free to ask any questions that may arise – I love answering them. Happy baking.

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Dough-licious Tutorials:
Flaky, All-Butter Gluten-Free Pie Dough (version 1.0)
Flakiest, All-Butter Pie Dough
Quick(er) Whole Wheat Puff Pastry
Rye Flour Croissant Dough and Pains au Chocolat

Gluten-Free All-Butter Pie Dough (Whole-Grain + Gum-Free)

A few notes on ingredients:
This is the flour blend that worked for me, but do feel free to experiment as you see fit. A GF all-purpose blend could likely stand in for the sweet rice flour (I would hesitate to substitute regular rice flour, which is less sticky). Oat-intolerant folks could try sorghum or superfine brown rice flour in place of the oat flour. Chia seed is becoming more widely available; I use the lighter colored seeds, grind a bunch ahead of time, and keep them in a jar to use as needed. If you can't find chia seeds, try using an equal amount of ground flax seed (these have a slightly stronger flavor), or 1/2 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum in its place. European-style butters have more fat and less water, and will make for the most rich and tender crust; Strauss and Plugra are two widely available brands.

A few notes on timing:
If your dough has chilled for a while and cracks when you go to roll it, let it warm up a bit; this will make it easier to work with. Give yourself three hours to complete a parbaked crust if you plan to give your dough a puff pastry-esque turn (which I call roll, fold, roll), or two hours if you're skipping this step. Most of this time is inactive. The ideal timeframe for making this crust is as follows:
10 minutes to mix and fraisage the dough
30 minutes to chill
10 minutes to roll out and fold
30 minutes to chill
10 minutes to roll out the dough, get it in the pan, shape it, and dock it
20 minutes to chill
20 minutes to freeze
30-40 minutes to par-bake the crust

Do ahead:
You can make the dough up to two days ahead; let it soften up a bit before rolling it out. You can also wrap a frozen shell for up to several months; bake it from frozen when you're ready.

All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes one 9" pie shell

For the pie dough:
6-8 tablespoons ice water (from 1 cup ice cubes filled with cool water)
1/2 cup (2.75 ounces / 80 grams) sweet white rice flour (mochiko)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1.25 ounces / 35 grams) GF oat flour
1/4 cup (1.25 ounces / 35 grams) millet flour
1/4 cup cornstarch (1 ounce / 30 grams)
2 tablespoons (.5 ounce / 15 grams) tapioca starch/flour (same thing)
2 tablespoons (.5 ounces / 15 grams) finely ground chia seed
1 tablespoon (.5 ounces / 15 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces / 115 grams) cold, unsalted butter (preferably European-style such as Strauss), sliced 1/4" thick
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Make the dough:
In a large bowl, combine the rice, oat, and millet flours with the cornstarch, tapioca flour, ground chia seed, sugar, and salt. Scatter the butter pieces of the top, and work in with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles gravel, with lots of butter chunks the size of large peas. 

Stir together 6 tablespoons of the ice water with the apple cider vinegar, and drizzle the mixture into the flour mixture 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing the dough with a rubber spatula to moisten evenly. Add just enough water for the dough to hold together when you give it a squeeze, and add it directly to the dry floury bits that like to hang out on the bottom of the bowl; you may need up to 8 tablespoons of water, total. 

At this point you can do one of two things: 
1) Knead the dough in the bowl 10-20 times to bring it together.
2) Dump the dough out onto the counter and fraisage by dragging portions of the dough across the counter with the heel of your hand (this makes for a flakier dough). 
Either way, gather the dough up into a ball (a metal bench scraper helps if using the fraisage method) wrap it loosely in plastic wrap, and flatten it into a disk. Chill the dough 30 minutes. 

Optionally, for extra flake, roll, fold, roll:
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out into a rough square that is about 1/4" thick. Fold it in thirds like you're folding a letter, then roll up from a skinny end into a loose spiral. Gently press to flatten it slightly, and chill for 30 minutes. Optionally, repeat this step once more.

Shape the crust:
Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12" circle, dusting the dough lightly with oat flour flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 9" glass pie plate, fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1" overhang. (Save the scraps to patch any tears in the dough post-parbaking.) Fold the overhang of the crust under, and flute the crust by pressing it between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other hand. Prick the bottom of the crust all over with the tines of a fork.
Chill the crust for 20 minutes, then freeze it for at least 20 minutes, until solid.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400º. Remove all other racks from the oven. If you have a baking stone, put it on the rack.
Place the frozen crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Line it with a piece of parchment paper, and fill to the top with pie weights, dry beans, or clean pennies, pressing the weights into the sides and corners of the crust.
Bake the crust for 15-25 minutes (shorter for a metal pan, longer for a glass pan), until the dough will hold its shape when you lift off the parchment. Carefully remove the weights and parchment and bake until the bottom is dry and lightly golden, about 8-12 minutes longer (for a parbaked crust) or until deeply golden, 15-20 minutes (for a fully baked crust). Use the saved scraps of dough to patch any holes, cracks, or tears in the dough, baking for a few more minutes post-patching.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Cookies with Buckwheat, Maple, and Oats {Vegan and Gluten-Free}

Spring seems to be the new winter here in California. Now that it's April, we're finally getting a bit of rain and "cold" weather. I couldn't be happier about this fact.

I grew up during the drought of the late 80's and came to associate flushing the toilet with feelings of severe guilt. So during a recent storm, I didn't even mind getting completely drenched on a walk home from yoga. My hair got so wet I could wring it out, and I was even using an umbrella. I've never been so not-grumpy about wet socks in my life. 

To me, rain means not only guilt-free toilet-flushing, but a great excuse to stay indoors listening to music, drinking tea, and baking cookies; preferably soft and chewy chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, but any cookie will do so long as I get to stay in my jammies.

I got inspired to make these gluten-free and vegan treats from a few different sources. First, Dana "Minimalist Baker" Shultz's beautiful gluten-free, vegan cookies packed with chocolate and peanut butter. Second, Heidi's vegan peanut butter cookies, loaded with whole grain flour and sweetened with maple syrup. I decided to combine the two, trading the olive oil in Heidi's recipe for coconut oil, using milder almond butter in place of the peanut, and keeping the flours gluten-free. 

I whisked together almond butter, coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla, then moved on to the dry ingredients. Since buckwheat goes so well in chocolate chip cookies, I decided to use it in conjunction with sweet rice flour, which is naturally sticky and adds chew to baked goods. And inspired by these oatmeal cookies from Flourishing Foodie, I added not one, but two kinds of oats: quick oats to absorb more moisture and keep the cookies thick, and old-fashioned rolled oats for hearty flecks and a bit of chew. I stirred in a ton of chopped chocolate, scooped the dough into balls which I topped with flakes of salt and more chocolate, and baked them into chewy pillows of cookie love. 

Then I made them three more times because, hey, it was raining. Also, I keep giving them away to all the gluten-free and vegan people I know, which is a lot.

I never thought I'd be able to make a good cookie that was both gluten-free and vegan, so I'm thrilled with the results. The texture is indistinguishable from conventional cookies: thick, chewy, soft, and moist. Sweet rice flour and protein-rich almond butter help to take the place of gluten, and they also let the robust flavors of chocolate, buckwheat, and maple shine through. The oats give you something to sink your teeth into, and the occasional burst of flaky salt makes them utterly addictive.

I love the whiff of earth and spice that buckwheat flour adds to these cookies but if you don't have any on hand, you can likely trade both flours for a gluten-free all-purpose blend, or wheat flour if gluten isn't an issue. Do be sure to use oats that are certified gluten-free for those cookie-eaters who are severely gluten-intolerant, and seek out chocolate that is vegan. Bittersweet chocolate doesn't usually contain dairy, but refined sugar can be processed with animal bone char which is a no-no for vegans.

And be sure to have a tall glass of something milk-like to wash down gooey, warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Because that is one of life's little pleasures...

right along with guilt-free toilet flushing.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Cookies with Maple, Buckwheat, and Flaky Salt {Vegan and Gluten-Free}

A few tips for cookie success:

These cookies are a bit sensitive to temperature; cold ingredients and a too hot oven can equal cookies that don't spread, while warm ingredients and a cool oven can result in excess spreadage. For the best results, have your ingredients at room temperature (I usually store my maple syrup and almond butter in the fridge, so I pull them out and stick them on top of the warming oven for half an hour or so before mixing up the dough). I recommend using an oven thermometer since most ovens don't run exactly true to temperature, and this can affect cookies more dramatically than other baked goods. Ideally the temperature here is 375ºF or a little cooler. I recommend baking off a test cookie or two to make sure they spread correctly; if you want more spread, flatten the scooped cookies a bit before baking and lower the oven temperature by 25 or 50 degrees. If they spread too much, chill the dough for fifteen minutes or so before scooping and turn the oven up by 25 degrees.

I do recommend making this recipe with the ingredients listed for the best results. I tried a simplified version using only buckwheat flour and old-fashioned rolled oats, but they weren't as thick and chewy as this version. I tried using a darker chocolate (85% cacao mass) which I found too bitter and overpowering. But I wouldn't want a sweeter chocolate here, nor would I want to decrease the maple syrup in the dough as it will make for less spready cookies. I find the sweetness here just right. I do think you could successfully substitute a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for the buckwheat and sweet rice flours, however, or a gluten-full flour (AP, whole wheat, spelt, or rye - in this case, skip the step of beating the dough for 20 seconds). To measure the flours by volume, dip your dry measuring cup into the bag or jar, fluff up the flour a bit, and sweep the excess flour off with a knife or your finger, leaving it flush with the cup. Be sure to use oats that are certified gluten-free, and chocolate that is certified vegan, if those are concerns for you or your cookie-eating helpers.

All ounce measurements are by weight

Makes about thirty-two 2 1/2" cookies

1/2 cup (2.75 ounces / 80 grams) sweet rice flour (mochiko)
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces / 70 grams) buckwheat flour
1/2 cup (1.75 ounces / 50 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats, plus an extra handful for the tops
1/2 cup (1.5 ounces / 40 grams) quick (baby) oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (or 1/4 teaspoon if your almond butter is salted)
1 cup (8 ounces / 225 grams) smooth, unsalted almond butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8.5 ounces / 240 grams) maple syrup
6 tablespoons (2.5 ounces / 70 grams) melted but cool coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (8 ounces / 225 grams) coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (preferably 65-70% cacao mass), plus some extra chunks for the tops
flaky salt such as Maldon, for the tops (optional)

Position a rack in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 375ºF. Line two or three cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweet rice and buckwheat flours with the old-fashioned and quick oats, baking soda, and sea salt.

In a large bowl, stir together the almond butter, maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined, then stir vigorously for 20 seconds. (This helps create a chewy texture.) Stir in the chocolate.

Form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls (either with two teaspoons or with a #40 spring-loaded ice cream scoop) and place at least 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets. If you like, top each cookie with a few flakes of flaky salt, a few oats, and a chocolate chunk or two. 

Bake the cookies, rotating the pans from front to back and top to bottom after five minutes, until the cookies are puffed and slightly cracked on top, and set around the sides, 8-10 minutes. (They will seem underdone, soft, and fragile at first, but will firm up as they cool.) Let the cookies cool completely, then store airtight at room temperature. They will stay soft and chewy for up to 3 days.