Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sweet Potato, Chard and Black Bean Enchiladas

I love enchiladas, but unless I'm dining at Gracias Madre in the Mission district of San Francisco, the standard choices tend to be limited to sketchy meat or a triple bypass surgery's worth of cheese. I've come to accept that when I want an enchilada with nutritional value, I have to make it myself.

This version combines soft nubs of roasted sweet potato with caramelized onion, wilted chard leaves, creamy black beans and tangy goat cheese. Jack cheese adds melty goo, and a piquant, tomato- and chile-based sauce bathes the tender tortillas. I dare any omnivore to claim hunger after a serving of this satisfying vegetarian meal.

The sauce is the aspect of enchilada-making that usually puts me off, as it turns the project into a more time-consuming endeavor than I usually have the stamina for. Enter my enchilada savior: Sara of Sprouted Kitchen, one of the most stunning food blogs on the interwebs. Until I read her post, I never realized that you can buy enchilada sauce. Our local co-op carries an excellent, organic version made by Sweet Creek that rivals any taqueria with its smoky tomatoey-ness. I no longer hesitate to make them for company, or when I want a filling and easily-re-heatable dinner for a few nights.

I do like to cook my own beans, however. This time around, I used purple-flecked Moros from Rancho Gordo (which look suspiciously like Mixed Berry Smoothie Jelly Bellys). Rancho Gordo's beans are fresher than the usual suspects, and they cook up plump and creamy, seasoned with salt and bay. The beans simmer in the time it takes to roast the sweet potato cubes, caramelize the onions, wilt the chard, and grate the cheese. Soaking helps them cook faster, but it isn't vital to their success.

I wrap the heavenly filling (which, minus the jack, makes a tasty dish on its own) in pliant corn tortillas and lay them in a saucy baking dish. I especially like blended corn-wheat tortillas here, which bake up with a dumpling-like chew, but pure corn tortillas work well, too. More sauce tops the rolls, the dish is covered, and into the oven it goes to heat through. Extra cheese on top makes them pretty and delicious.

The flavors in these enchiladas make them equally appropriate for an Indian summer lunch or for dinner on a chilly fall evening. I plan to make them year-round, but particularly during the dead of winter, when bright flavors will be especially welcome.

If you do have the time and energy, feel free to make your own enchilada sauce (this one from Simply Recipes looks fabulous and easy) and/or your own tortillas.

Sweet on Sweet Potatoes:

One year ago:
ANZAC Biscuits (which are actually cookies)
Two years ago:
Three years ago:

Sweet Potato, Chard and Black Bean Enchiladas

Beans cook faster if you have the foresight to soak them overnight; if not, just simmer them until they're tender. They'll take a bit longer than if you had soaked them. The bay leaf supposedly helps make beans more easily digestible, and it adds a lovely depth of flavor. You can use 1 1/2 cups (1 can) of cooked black beans in place of cooking your own. Drain them and rinse off the goo before combining them with the other ingredients. 

Avocado and sour cream make nice garnishes to serve with your enchiladas, especially leftovers which dry out when the tortilla absorbs the sauce. If you happen to make Avocado Tomatillo Salsa with your extra cilantro, that goes well, too. These keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days, but are best when fresh from the oven the first time around.

Makes 12 enchiladas; 6 main-course servings

1/2 cup dried beans (such as Moro or Black)(or 1 1/2 cups cooked beans from 1 can)
1 bay leaf
1 large (12 ounce) sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4" dice (2 cups)
light olive oil or sunflower oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced (1 generous cup)
leaves from 1 bunch chard, washed and torn coarsely
1 cup crumbled fresh goat cheese (4 ounces), plus extra for garnish
2 cups loosely packed grated jack cheese (7 ounces), divided use
12 corn tortillas
2 cups enchilada sauce (homemade or storebought; I like Sweet Creek's mild sauce)
handful cilantro leaves, chopped, plus extra for garnish

Make the filling:
If you can, soak the beans overnight. Drain the beans and place them in a medium saucepan, cover with 2-3 inches of water and add the bay leaf. Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are quite tender, but not falling apart. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, so check the beans frequently and add more water to keep them submerged. When the beans are mostly tender, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the pan.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400º. Toss the cubed sweet potato with 1 tablespoon of oil and a few pinches of salt and spread it out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast the sweet potato until tender and golden in places, flipping the cubes halfway through, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Season with a big pinch of salt. Scrape the onion into a large mixing bowl and wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

Add the chard leaves and a splash of water to the pan. Cover the pan and let the chard steam until wilted and bright green, 3-5 minutes, tossing the chard once or twice for even cooking. Drain the chard, rinse with cool water, then squeeze all the moisture out of it and chop it coarsely. Add it to the bowl with the onion, then add the sweet potato.

Drain the beans well. Add them to the vegetables and toss everything together. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed, then toss in the goat cheese and all but 1/2 cup of the jack cheese. Add the cilantro and taste again for seasoning.

Assemble the enchiladas:
Pour 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce into the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish (lasagna pan). Position a rack in the center of the oven and decrease the temperature to 350º.

Coat a medium skillet with a thin layer of oil and place it over a medium flame. Add a tortilla and heat for 10 seconds on each side until heated through and pliable. Place the tortilla on a cutting board, and place 1/4-1/3 cup of filling on the lower third of the tortilla, squishing the filling into an oblong shape. Roll up the tortilla and place the roll seamside-down in the baking dish.

Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling until all the filling is used up. Pour 1 cup of the sauce all over the enchiladas, and cover the pan tightly with foil.

Bake the enchiladas until the sauce is bubbling and the enchiladas are heated through, 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, top with the remaining sauce, and sprinkle the remaining jack cheese over the tops. Bake until the cheese is melted, 5 more minutes.

Serve the enchiladas garnished with cilantro leaves and goat cheese. They are best when freshly baked, but extras keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days; reheat in an oven or toaster oven until heated through.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gluten-Free Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

I get as excited about Halloween as I do about organized sports: indifferent at best. Whether this comes from being childless, squeamish, or just a total killjoy, I don't know. But you're as likely to see a recipe for finger/eyeball/spider-shaped treats on this site as you are baseball-decorated sugar cookies.

You're also about as likely to spot me dressed up as a sexy cat/witch/vampire as you are to see me seated in a sports bar swilling beer and shouting at a flat-screen. (Well, maybe the beer part would be ok...)

But come October, pumpkin desserts are something I DO get excited about. I reckoned that swirling pumpkin cheesecake into bourbon-spiked brownie batter would give me a relatively quick fix, so I based a recipe off of the Gluten-Free Espresso Cheesecake Brownies I adapted from David Lebovitz last spring.

I wanted plenty of cheesecake here, as I knew that too much deep chocolate brownie would overwhelm the more delicate flavors of pumpkin and spice, so I increased the amount, and adapted the cheesecake recipe from my favorite one. Easy peasy.

Or so I thought. For my first trial, I managed to over-beat the cheesecake until it was thin and watery. Then I let my brownie batter get cold and thick. The watery cheesecake and sludgy chocolate goo were impossible to swirl together, so the brownies baked up tasty, yet cosmetically challenged.

For trial 2, I made the cheesecake batter first (careful to only beat it smooth) and refrigerated it while I made my brownie batter, which I kept warm with hot butter and chocolate, and room temperature eggs. I added extra bourbon for more boozy bite and liquidity, and swirled away.

These brownies baked up tall and handsome, with elegant, tiger-stripey swirls throughout–almost too pretty to eat.  


When you bite into one, the spiced pumpkin cheesecake hits you first–rich, tangy, and reminiscing of pumpkin pies and childhood Thanksgivings. Then the chocolate emerges in the form of chewy, gooey brownie. The sweetness of both is tamed by bitter chocolate, tart bourbon, tangy cream cheese and salty, er, salt. The occasional chunk of chocolate gives you something to sink your teeth into.

Whatever October festivities float your boat, bring along a batch of these brownies to enjoy with your creepy cocktails or sporty suds. Your pals will thank you.

Pumped up on pumpkin:
Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns
Creamiest Pumpkin Pie
Spiced Pumpkin Ice Cream

One year ago:
Indian Summer Blues Cocktail (with Cardamom, Rose and Gin)
Two years ago:
Avocado Tomatillo Salsa
Three years ago:
Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins

Gluten-Free Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

Adapted loosely from David Lebovitz' Cheesecake Brownies

Makes sixteen 2" square brownies

To warm your cream cheese in a hurry, cut it into small cubes, place them in a metal bowl in a single layer, and place the bowl on a dish towel on top of the oven while it preheats, rotating the bowl occasionally. I used Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet chocolate for the batter, with Guittard 60% chunks folded in. These brownies have a subdued sweetness that I find just right. 

Sweet rice flour is naturally stickier than the regular stuff, and fantastic for gluten-free baking. Look for Mochiko brand in the bulk or gluten-free section of well-stocked grocers. If you only have regular rice flour, try adding 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum along with the dry ingredients. If gluten isn't an issue for you, you can use all-purpose flour in place of the rice and tapioca flours. 

For the cleanest cuts, chill the baked and cooled brownies until firm, about 2 hours, then dip a large chef's knife in hot water and wipe it clean between each cut. All ounce measurements here are by weight.

Makes 16 small but rich brownies

Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl:
8 ounces (about 1 cup) pumpkin or winter squash puree
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch allspice
pinch cloves
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bourbon Brownie Batter:
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (1 scant cup) (see headnote)
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Bourbon (such as Bulleit)
1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces) sweet white rice flour
1 tablespoon tapioca flour (also called "starch")
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (dutch-processed or natural)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces/80g) chopped chocolate or chocolate chips

Prepare stuff:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line an 8x8 or 9x9" square baking pan on all sides with parchment paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil, leaving a 2" overhang.

Make the cheesecake:
To extract excess moisture from the pumpkin, spread the puree in a 1/4" thick layer on a triple layer of paper towels, then stack 3 more paper towels on top, and press down gently. Let the pumpkin drain while you begin mixing the cheesecake batter. The paper towels will peel off easily.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium-low until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until fluffy, a few minutes, scraping the bowl and paddle once or twice to make sure the mixture is completely smooth. Beat in the salt and spices until combined, then the egg and vanilla extract. Peel the paper towels off of the pumpkin puree and add it in, scraping the bowl and paddle again, until the mixture is homogenous. Place the cheesecake batter in the refrigerator while you...

Make the brownie batter:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, add the chocolate, and stir until just melted. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the sugar. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla and bourbon until smooth. Add the flour, cocoa and salt and whisk until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chunks.

Scrape about 3/4 of the brownie batter into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Gently pour the cheesecake all over the top of the batter. Dollop the remaining brownie batter over the top in 7 or 8 big blobs. Drag the tip of a paring knife through the batters back and forth a few times in both directions to swirl. (But don't over-swirl–you want the mixtures to stay separate.)

Bake the brownies until puffed all over, about 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan, then use the parchment handles to lift the mega brownie out. (Optionally, chill the brownies until cold for the cleanest cuts, about 2 hours). Use a large chef's knife dipped in hot water and wiped clean between each cut to trim away the outer 1/4" (if you like), then cut the brownies into 16 squares.

Store the brownies in the fridge; they are best within the first 2 days of being baked, but will keep for up to 5.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Huckleberry Sprouted Wheat Pancakes

Huckleberries enjoy a late season here in California. From September through November, the tiny, indigo fruits can be found dangling blithely from green-leaved bushes in cedar and redwood forests throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Huckleberry harvesting requires the patience of a zen monk. While painstakingly picking the miniscule fruits, you're better off living in the present moment and smelling the musty earth; listening to the twittering of birds and scuffling of hungry mountain lions in the bushes; noticing the sensations of spiderwebs clinging to your skin, cedar fronds catching in your hair, and dust coating your berry-juice stained fingers. Focusing on your goal merely ensures frustration as you watch your reused yogurt container fill at an agonizing pace. Thoughts like, "Don't I have enough berries for a batch of pancakes yet?" "Why, god, did you make huckleberries so small. Just to torture me?"  "What the hell am I doing wasting my time in the middle of this stupid forest? I've got photos to edit!" and "Please, god, don't let me get eaten by a mountain lion. I'm sorry I questioned your judgement re: huckleberry size" will emerge. Notice these thoughts, then let them slip from your grasp like a handful of berries falling into a pit of brambles and mountain lions.

With the harrowing labor involved in our recent huckleberry-picking expedition, I was eager to make good and quick use of them. Huckleberries are tangier than their domestic counterparts - blueberries. They're also smaller, firmer, more flavorful and have a lower water content, all of which makes them excellent candidates for baking into cakes, muffins or scones. (More recipe links below.) I found a fantastic base recipe for Wild Berry Pancakes in a favorite cookbook, Mani Niall's Sweet!, and adapted it to use sprouted wheat flour, yogurt, and maple sugar. 

I began experimenting with sprouted flour several years ago at the recommendation a nutritionist friend. When a grain sprouts, its starches convert to sugars, making it not only sweeter, but easier to digest. Some people who are wheat-sensitive can tolerate its sprouted counterpart (though not people with Celiac Disease). My sister, for instance, has a skin reaction to any amount of gluten, but can eat all the sprouted wheat she likes to no ill effect. I personally enjoy happier digestion when I bake with sprouted flour. 

These pancakes, made with 100% sprouted wheat flour, cooked up into surprisingly light, fluffy pillows with crisp edges and soft middles that reminded me of oatmeal – moist, earthy and mild. Pockets of tangy berries pepper the cakes, bursting from the heat of the pan and infusing the cakes with their intense flavor. A pat of butter or scoop of thick, Greek yogurt and a puddle of maple syrup make a deliciously healthy breakfast full of protein and fiber to keep you feeling sated and energized all morning. Extras store beautifully and re-heat quickly in a toaster oven or hot skillet.

Luckily, making a batch of these pancakes in the comfort of your own kitchen is much less painstaking than forest-foraging (and probably safer if, as in my kitchen, the only wildcat around weighs 9 pounds, prefers stalking feta cheese, and high-tails it under the bed at the turn of a doorknob). Though feel free to use blueberries - wild or domestic, fresh or frozen, foraged or purchased - in place of the high-maintenance huckleberries. 

Happy huckles:
Lemon Huckleberry Tea Cake
Apple Huckleberry Pie
Huckleberry Chèvre Cheesecake Squares
Huckleberry Fig Crumble Tart
Maple Blue(or Huckle)berry Buckwheat Scones

Cake for breakfast:
(Gluten-Free) Banana Buckwheat Pancakes
Plow's Ricotta Pancakes
Berry Peach Oven Pancake
Bakes Pancake with Pears and Cardamom

Huckleberry Sprouted Wheat Pancakes

Sprouted wheat flour has a sweeter flavor and softer texture than regular whole wheat flour. I found Arrowhead Mills organic sprouted wheat flour at my local co-op; it's also available here, though you could try whole wheat pastry or spelt flour in a pinch.

You can use regular yogurt in place of the greek, though the pancakes will be a bit thinner and more spready. Lacking huckleberries, blueberries wild or domestic make a fine substitute.

For a gluten-free version, try these Buckwheat Pancakes with berries in place of banana.

Makes 4-6 servings (about twenty 3-4" cakes)

1 1/2 cups sprouted wheat flour
3 tablespoons maple sugar or turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup Greek yogurt (I used full-fat), plus more for serving
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 - 2 cups huckleberries (fresh, or frozen and not defrosted)

oil for the pan (clarified butter, sunflower oil and coconut oil are all good options)
maple syrup, for serving (grade B is the darkest and most flavorful)

Make the pancakes:
Preheat the oven to 200º - you will use it to keep the pancakes warm as you fry them up. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the yogurt, milk and eggs until smooth. Add the melted butter in a steady stream, whisking constantly until combined. Gently fold the milk mixture into the flour mixture until just combined and lumpy, then gently fold in the berries. The batter should be fairly thick, like a fluffy porridge.

Heat a griddle or wide frying pan over medium heat and coat with a thin film of oil. Drop 3 tablespoons of batter at a time into the pan (a #24 spring loaded ice cream scoop works wonders), spacing the pancakes well apart to allow for spreading. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the edges look dry and a few bubbles appear on the surface, about 2 minutes. Flip the cakes and cook until the second side is golden, another 2 minutes or so. 

Remove the cakes to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to absorb excess steam, and place in the oven to keep warm as you cook another round.

Serve the cakes with butter or yogurt and plenty of maple syrup at the table. Extra cakes keep well in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 days and can be reheated in a skillet or toaster oven.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Maple-Glazed Bacon Apple Scones

Some days you just need a scone.

Some days you need 12 scones.

Some days you need scones and bacon. 

Some days you need bacon scones.

Scones are one of my very favorite things to make (in addition to bizarre Dr. Seuss-esque food poetry, apparently). My avid scone-making springs partly from necessity as it can be hard to find a satisfying scone out in the wild, unless you stop by Sandbox Bakery in Bernal Heights. (For the record, Samovar also makes a killer cherry oat scone.) Unfortunately for all of us San Franciscans, Sandbox no longer makes their signature maple bacon apple scones - tragedy! So I was forced to take matters into my own, scone-making hands.

I cubed up some thick-cut, smoky bacon from the Corralitos Market and Sausage Company (a.k.a. the best bacon ever) and fried it until crisp. I removed the bacon bits to cool, poured most of the rendered fat into a bowl to chill, and sauteed apple chunks (the last of Kelly's pretty pink pearls) in the remaining bacon fat. I then mixed up a maple syrup-sweetened dough with the chilled bacon fat and cold butter, added the cold apples and bacon bits, and moistened the dough with milk and cream. Since these were sure to be rich and intense, I cut them into 12 small triangles. After they had baked, I veered from Sandbox and drizzled them with a sticky maple syrup glaze.

These scones are crumbly, flaky, creamy, tender, sweeter than a biscuit but more stark than a muffin. They bake up light and fluffy (if you can call something made with bacon, butter and cream "light"), with moist pockets of sweet apple and a distinctly smokey flavor from the bacon that blends beautifully with the earthy maple and whole grain flour. The glaze adds a sweet counterpoint.

These scones are sublime when fresh from the oven, with crispy edges giving way to tender centers. They can be assembled in advance and frozen until ready to bake, whisked effortlessly from the oven, coated in maple goodness, and shared with friends who are sure to swoon and/or propose.

Or you can hoard them all to yourself, if it's one of those days.

Maple-Glazed Bacon Apple Scones

Inspired by Sandbox Bakery

Counter-intuitively, grade B maple syrup is darker and more flavorful than grade A, and recommended here. I used pink pearl apples here, which were soft, gooey and delicious. If you use a firmer baking apple, like Granny Smith, Fuji or Pink Lady, let them caramelize and soften in the bacon fat - yum! Do make sure to let the apples, bacon and bacon fat chill completely before mixing the scones; this will keep them tender and flaky. You can use half and half in place of the milk and cream; or, for a lighter scone with a bit of tang, buttermilk. If you like, top the scones with a touch of flaky salt or extra bacon bits while the glaze is still wet. 

Makes 12 small scones

3 ounces bacon, cut into small cubes
2 medium baking apples, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons reserved, chilled bacon fat (see directions)
about 3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup (preferably grade B)
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream, more as needed, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing the scones

1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
about 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Make the scone dough:
In a medium skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and transfer to a small, heat-proof bowl. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat into another small, heat-proof bowl - you should have around 2 tablespoons. Cool both the bacon and 2 tablespoons of fat to room temperature, then place both in the refrigerator to chill until very cold, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute the apples in the bacon fatty skillet until tender and golden, stirring occasionally, 5-10 minutes. Tip the apples out onto a plate, let cool to room temperature, then chill until completely cold, about 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk or sift together the flours, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Measure the bacon fat, then add enough butter to make 5 tablespoons of fat, total. Cube the butter, and use a pastry blender or your fingers to work in the cold fats until the mixture resembles sandy gravel, with some pea-sized butter chunks. Stir the chilled bacon bits and apples into the flour mixture until evenly distributed.

In a measuring pitcher, stir together the maple syrup, milk and cream. Slowly drizzle the maple mixture into the flour mixture, tossing gently with a rubber spatula, adding more liquid directly to the dry bits, until the mixture clumps together and no floury bits remain. If the mixture is dry, add a bit more cream until it comes together.

Shape the scones:
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two equal pieces. Press each piece into a 1" high round, about 5 inches in diameter. Cut each round into 6 wedges. Separate the wedges, place them on a small baking sheet, and freeze for 30-60 minutes or until firm. (At this point, the frozen scones can be stored in a freezer-safe zip-lock bag and baked from frozen.)

Bake the scones:
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425ºF. Stack two rimmed baking sheets (to prevent the bottoms from over-browning) and line with parchment paper.

Remove the scones from the freezer and space them evenly on the lined baking sheet. Brush the tops lightly with cream. Bake the scones until golden all over, craggy and puffed, 15-20 minutes. Remove the scones to a wire rack and let cool slightly. 

Glaze the scones:
Meanwhile, sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl and whisk in enough maple syrup to make a drizzle-able glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the warm scones. 

The scones are best shortly out of the oven when their edges are crisp and their middles are moist. But extras can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days; reheat in a warm oven or toaster oven before serving.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Soft and Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's been years since I braved the gluten-free chocolate chip cookie. My only excuse (aside from not actually being gluten-intolerant) is that my first try was such a spectacular failure.

A senior at UC Santa Cruz, I decided to follow the lead of my crunchy housemates who read astrological charts, experienced past lives, and eschewed wheat in all its forms. I mixed up a batch of cookies, substituting brown rice flour for the wheat flour one for one. The cookies spread nicely, and when they had cooled, I scooped them off the cookie sheet with a spatula and set them in a tupperware to bring to a party. They looked like normal cookies.

At the party, the hostess's face lit up when she saw them, and she immediately reached down to pick one up. But the cookies were like a hologram: seemingly 3-dimensional, but eluding every attempted grasp. They crumbled at the slightest touch, slipping though our fingertips as we persisted, until all that remained were crumbs. (Which we still ate, natch.)

I now know to add something sticky, like xanthan gum, to crumbly rice flour, and that sweet rice flour is naturally stickier and smoother than the regular stuff. But despite such successes as gluten-free blondiesbrownies, and über-chocolate cookies over the years, all of which get help sticking together from melted chocolate, coconut, or plenty of egg, I still put off tackling the gluten-free chocolate chip cookie.

Alice Medrich gave me renewed hope in her latest cookie book Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, which contains plenty of gluten-free recipes. Her gluten-free chocolate chip cookies call for brown rice flour, oat flour, and xanthan gum in addition to the usual suspects. Since I only had sweet white rice flour on hand, I mixed up a batch with a few substitutions. These were good, but they didn't spread as much as I would have liked, and the texture was a bit sandier than I was hoping for (probably because I failed to agitate the dough long enough to activate the xanthan gum). They wanted more depth of flavor and more chocolate. I used walnuts, but their bitter flavor exaggerated the bitterness in the flours and wasn't a happy pairing with the bittersweet chocolate.

But I loved the basis of the recipe, and especially loved that the butter gets melted and stirred with the other ingredients, rather than spending an hour softening and then getting whipped in my heavy kitchen aid that lives on top of the fridge and is a pain to drag down. Alice claims that stirring the dough vigorously for 30 seconds activates the stickiness of the xanthan gum, making for chewier cookies, which is brilliant. Finally, she lets the dough sit for at least an hour post-mixing, which allows the starches to absorb more moisture, smoothing the rough edges of the rice flour. This leads to thicker, chewier cookies.

So as I melted the butter for trial 2, I thought, "Why NOT brown the butter?" I wanted more depth of flavor, and butter caramelized with vanilla bean is nothing if not flavorful. I also used super-molasses-y organic dark brown sugar, and increased the chocolate, hand-chopped Scharffen Berger bittersweet, by 50%. I used sweet, toasted pecans in place of the walnuts. As for the texture, I decreased the flours a bit to allow for more spreading, and I swapped in some tapioca flour, hoping it would make the cookies chewier. Finally, I added a few flakes of Malden salt to the top of each cookie prior to baking.

I couldn't have asked for more in a cookie. They melt into rippled puddles in the heat of the oven. Each bite is redolent with the flavor of salted butterscotch dough encasing deep, dark chocolate chunks. The occasional nip of flakey salt is addicting. When properly baked, the texture is indistinguishable from a wheaty chocolate chip cookie. Fresh from the oven, the cookies are crisp outside, soft and gooey inside, with big pockets of melting dark chocolate and toothsome nuts. But I find that they actually improve on the second day. The butterscotch flavor of the cookie blossoms, and the cooled chocolate tastes softer and less sharp, blending more readily with the vanilla, nuts and toasty butter. I've made four batches this past month; I want to share them with everyone. 

To put these cookies to the test, I mixed up a batch of my heretofore favorite chocolate chip cookies: the Thick and Chewy ones from Baking Illustrated. (Actually, I made 5 batches for a bakesale at my dance collective's annual charity showcase.) I was happy to find that my gluten-free cookies had double the flavor, and the texture was on par. No one will ever guess that these are gluten-free.

Cookies are at once one of the simplest treats to bake and one of the most sensitive. Here are a few tips to ensure cookie nirvana:

Ingredients for success: Flavorful cookies start with flavorful ingredients, so be sure your flours, butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate have been purchased within the past month or so, and have been properly stored. European-style butter (such as Strauss or Plugra) has a higher fat content and is better for browning. Brown sugar should be soft and full of molasses (I love Wholesome Sweeteners brand). Choose the organic, more flavorful and less processed turbinado sugar over the pure white stuff.

Chocolate deserves its own section; after all, there is nearly half a pound of the stuff in this recipe. Buy a couple bars of the good stuff and chop it by hand; the dust that flakes off is important to the texture of the cookies, and the uneven chunks look pretty, too. Since cookie dough needs to be sweet to stay moist and chewy, I like to pair it with a bittersweet chocolate with around 70% cacao mass. I usually use Sharffen Berger or Guittard as they are tasty, fairly inexpensive, and local brands, and I've recently discovered Theo Chocolate, which is made from bean to bar in Seattle, Washington. In addition to tasting as good as esteemed conventional brands, Theo chocolate comes from organic and fairly traded cacao. Theo partners with charities such as the Jane Goodall Institute and World Bicycle Relief. I gave these cookies a go with Theo's Rich 70% dark chocolate and am enamored of the chocolate's smooth flavor and coffee notes. That being said, use any chocolate that you like the flavor of.

Measure for measure: Accurate measuring is crucial for cookies, where too much flour will lead to  thick, dry cookies, and not enough will lead to thin, greasy ones. For best results, weigh your ingredients with a food scale. Lacking a scale, stick to the flours listed here, as rice flour weighs substantially more than oat flour, and both weigh in differently than wheat flour. Use the dip and sweep method for flours: fluff up your flour, dip in your dry measuring cup, and use a flat butter knife or your finger to sweep away the excess so that the flour is level with the cup. For brown sugar, pack it well into the cup; it should mostly hold the shape of the cup when turned out into the mixing bowl.

Temperature: If your oven is too cold, your cookies will spread too thin, and will overbake in the centers before the edges show signs of doneness. Too hot, and the cookies' outsides will firm up before they have a chance to spread; the outside will be overdone before the innards get a chance to cook. Since most ovens don't run true to temperature (mine runs 50º cold, for instance) spend the 5 or 10 bucks on an oven thermometer. Your cookies are worth it.

Timing is everything: An extra minute in the oven can mean the difference between soft and hard cookies. Set the timer, and know the signs. Pull the cookies when they look underbaked. The edges should be just starting to color, while the tops should be puffed and soft, collapsing when you touch them gently with a fingertip. Use rimless cookie sheets and parchment paper so you can effortlessly whisk all the cookies off the sheet and onto a cooling rack to stop the cooking. The cookies' residual heat will bake them fully. Much of the softness of hot cookies comes from the melted butter and chocolate, both of which become solid at room temperature. The properly baked cookie will stay soft in the center when cooled. 

Hopefully you won't wait as long as I did to brave these cookies. If you give them a try, please let us know what you think in the comments section below. Happy baking!

C is for Cookie:
Gluten-Free Über Chocolate Cookies
Gluten-Free Chocolate Rum Coconut Blondies
Flourless Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies (gluten- and grain-free)
Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

One year ago:
Two years ago:
Cacao Nib Ice Cream
Three years ago:
Decadent Eggs on Toast

Soft and Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies with Brown Butter and Flaky Salt

Adapted loosely from Alice Medrich's Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

As I mention above, don't overbake these! The cookies should seem underbaked when you pull them from the oven, but will continue cooking from residual heat. Even a minute can make a difference, so set a timer, and watch these like a hawk. 

Vanilla bean brown butter adds incredible depth of flavor, but if you lack vanilla bean, add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract along with the egg. For the chocolate, I like Scharffen Berger's Bittersweet or Theo's Rich; both have a 70% cacao mass. Valrhona and Guittard are also excellent choices. For best results, chop up a bar of chocolate into pieces the size of a hazelnut; smaller shards will flake off, and the cookies will have a mix of different sized pieces throughout, which is nice, and the chocolate dust improves the texture of the dough and helps the cookies spread. Sweet rice flour, such as Mochiko brand, is stickier and more finely ground than other rice flours, and is important to the texture of these cookies. Look for it in the gluten-free baking section in well-stocked grocers, or order it here. If you're extremely sensitive to gluten, be sure to purchase certified gluten-free oat flour.

This makes a relatively small batch of cookies, as far as batches of cookies go, so feel free to double it. The dough keeps beautifully in ready-to-bake balls in an airtight container in the fridge, or longer in the freezer. Let the (defrosted) dough balls soften at room temperature while you preheat the oven.

All ounce measurements here are by weight.

Makes fifteen to twenty 2 1/2 - 3" cookies

4 ounces (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) packed organic dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (2 ounces) organic granulated sugar

1 large egg (2 ounces by weight out of shell)

1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces) sweet white rice flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) oat flour
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) tapioca flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) toasted pecans, cooled completely and coarsely chopped
flaky salt such as Malden for the top

Make the dough:
Brown the butter: Melt the butter and vanilla bean and scrapings together in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until the butter turns golden and smells absolutely amazing, 5-10 minutes. There should be brown bits (not black) on the bottom of the pan. When the butter starts to foam up, watch it very closely.

Place the sugars in a large bowl and when the butter has browned, scrape it and the browned bottom bits into the sugar immediately to stop the cooking. Let cool, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift together the flours, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum (I like to sift as oat flour tends to be clumpy). Set aside.

Whisk the egg into the sugar mixture until well-combined and emulsified. Use a sturdy wooden spoon to stir the flour mixture into the sugar mixture, stir until well combined, then continue to stir vigorously for 45 seconds; the mixture will firm up slightly. (Doing this activates the sticky power of the xanthan gum and leads to chewy cookies.) Stir in the nuts and chocolate until evenly distributed.

Cover the dough and let it sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours (alternately, scoop the dough into individual balls and store in the fridge or freezer until ready to bake - the dough is harder to scoop when cold).

Bake the cookies:
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 375º. Line two rimless cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop the dough into 1 1/2" diameter balls (about 3 tablespoons; a size 24 or 30 spring-loaded ice cream scoop works wonderfully) and place on the prepared cookie sheets, spaced 2-3 inches apart. Flick a few flecks of flaky salt over the top of each cookie.

Bake the cookies about 7-10 minutes, rotating back to front and top to bottom after 5 minutes. When the cookies are ready, they will seem underbaked. The edges should be just starting to color, and the tops should be puffed all over with soft centers that collapse when gently touched with a fingertip. The centers will look wet under thin surface of dry, cracked-looking dough.

Remove the cookies from the oven and pull them, parchment and all, onto cooling racks. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before devouring. Or cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature. The cookies are best within 2 days of being baked.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Curried Carrot Soup, with Ginger and Coconut Milk

Last week, after nine years of co-habitation, Jay and I finally took a big step.

We got our knives professionally sharpened. 

Some tasks get put off indefinitely, and it isn't until a hip kiosk opens near your yoga studio that you realize how much time has passed. So many squashed tomatoes, bruised herbs, and mutilated fruit over the years; I get misty-eyed just thinking about it. (Or maybe that's the onions...)

Speaking of onions, they are another reason to get your knives sharpened, as a sharp knife slices through an onion's cells more cleanly, releasing fewer sulphuric acids to burn your eyes. 

But perhaps the best reason to get a new lease on the lives of your knives at Bernal Cutlery is that delicious experiences await you while you, er, wait. Pique your appetite as you sniff your way through the spice and herb blends at Spice Hound. Treat yourself to an egg cream and a rueben at Paulie's Pickling, a Jewish Deli counter that gives the Wise Sons a run for their gelt. And don't pass over the pickles – the half sours are to die for. (I'm Jewish, I can make these bad puns, ok?)

If you need to work off all those goodies, get your asana into Bernal Yoga for some stretches and twists; though you may not be able to pass up a buttery scone or croissant from Sandbox Bakery on your way back.

When we'd wrapped up our Bernal Heights shenanigans and got our knives home and unwrapped, we found them even sharper than when we'd first bought them, with a perfect, gleaming new edge on each steel blade. They make chopping sturdy root vegetables a whole new pleasure, which may or may not be why I've made this soup three times in the past two weeks. 

The other reason I've made so much of this soup is that it is darn good – an ideal meal for a chilly fall evening. At its essence a traditional carrot ginger soup, it packs a few exotic punches. Floral ginger and coconut milk mingle with earthy, sweet carrots and grounding curry spices. A squeeze of lime and some fresh cilantro leaves brighten the flavors. Creamy potatoes and a pour of rich coconut milk create a smooth and luxurious texture that prevents you from feeling in any way deprived. And all this deliciousness just happens to be vegan, to boot. 

Best of all, it's super simple to put together. In other words, you don't have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. (Though having one wouldn't hurt.)

Super soups:

Cuckoo for curry:

One year ago:
Two years ago:
Three years ago:
Mugolio (pine cone bud extract) Ice Cream (Incidentally, I discovered mugolio at Avedano's, the butcher shop next door to Bernal Cutlery)

Curried Carrot Soup, with Ginger and Coconut Milk

This soup is all about the carrots, so use the freshest, sweetest, smallest ones you can find. The soup keeps beautifully, its bright color kept in tact and flavors developing over a day or two in the fridge. In fact, I'd recommend making it at least an hour or two ahead to give the flavors a chance to meld.  Extra cilantro can be used up in Avocado Tomatillo Salsa or Cilantro Pepita Pesto.

Makes 6 main course-sized servings

2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 pounds (about 2 bunches) carrots, peeled and chopped (4 cups)
3/4 pound yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped (2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
5 cups water (or a mild, unsalted vegetable stock)
1(13.5 ounce) can full-fat coconut milk, 1/4 cup reserved for garnish
juice of 1 lime, to taste
cilantro leaves, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onions, ginger and curry powder and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender, 10-15 minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, salt and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are very tender, 25-30 minutes. Remove from the heat and add most of the coconut milk, reserving 1/4 cup for garnish. 

Cool the soup slightly, then puree smooth with an immersion blender (or in batches in a blender or food processor). Add lime juice to taste – it should brighten the flavors without standing out on its own – and more salt if needed (sourness magically diminishes saltiness, so you'll want to add more salt as you add more lime). 

Heat the soup gently, stirring, until it is steaming but not bubbling so as not to curdle the coconut milk, and taste again for balance and seasoning. Ladle hot soup into bowls, swirl in some of the reserved coconut milk, and garnish with cilantro leaves. 

The soup keeps well, refrigerated, for up to 4 days.