baked goods

gluten-free apricot-strawberry cake

When my dear friend Tita met Danny for the first time, she knew he was the right man for me. She said she could tell by my joyful ease as I sat next to him, across from her and John at their picnic table. But it was more than that.

“Don’t you realize? You had never brought a man to meet us before,” she said.

It’s true. Even though I had dated a few men in earnest (and oh, was I earnest before I met Danny), I had never brought them home. I don’t mean bringing a man home to my parents. I only wanted to introduce a man to my parents after I was engaged to him, a big step in a relationship I already knew would last. (Danny actually proposed to me the night before he was going to meet my parents for the first time.) . But John and Tita? They are my dearest friends on Vashon. My touchstones. (John has always known how to cut me down to size, playfully.)  Simply, they are the wisest people I know.

Tita loved Danny from the first 5 minutes she met him. Six years ago, he was much more shy than he is now, although he’s still a shy kid at heart. I had been a little worried they wouldn’t see the man I loved in that first meeting. But they did.

“Do you know why I already know I like Danny?” Tita asked me. I listened, interested. “Because it’s clear that he is so much more than he seems at first. My favorite people in the world are the ones who don’t announce themselves, loudly, when you first meet them. They’re the ones that you know, slowly, quietly, over years of friendship. My favorite people are the ones who are far more complex than they seem.”

I had never put it that way before, in my mind. Or maybe I had never been as wise as Tita, so I didn’t know what she said. For years, I had fallen for the loud ones: the dark and stormy Slovenian poet, the Swiss mime who lived in Paris, the impetuous romantic I met on a surprise flight to Las Vegas. They each gave me fits of passion and terrible pain. But Danny? He was so easy to love, right from the beginning. The longer we know each other, the more we know each other. And the less we have to prove.

I feel that way about food now too.

watermelon feta

When I first started cooking in earnest after finding out I had to be gluten-free, I wanted to celebrate every dish. Looking back now, I was a little loud, with a lot to prove. Look at this food! It’s gluten-free! But it’s delicious! See? Celiac isn’t so bad! I don’t blame myself. Everything was new. I wrote for myself and a few friends on this site, then people started coming in droves. Maybe I was self-conscious. Maybe I had to go through the equivalent of the Slovenian poet before I could calm down a bit and enjoy quieter meals.

It was in this period that I first encountered Nigel Slater. Friends I trusted raved about his book, The Kitchen Diaries. I looked through it, a bit confused. Certain pages made me hungry but the book was just what it said: a diary of meals. Where were the fabulous recipes that tested my culinary knowledge? Where were the crazy flavor combinations that would demonstrate my newfound skills? I was dating a chef, we were eating meals at midnight, and I wanted to learn every technique and pan sauce I could devour. I returned the book to my friend and forgot about it.

Nigel Slater, I’m sorry I underestimated you.

These days, I always have one of Nigel Slater’s books near me while I write. He’s my reminder to reign in my tomfoolery and just tell a story. His quiet cooking looks deeply satisfying without it being about him. It’s about the food. He’s a home cook — even if a masterfully talented one — who is determined to not be a chef. He picks food from his garden, brings it in the kitchen, cooks up something delicious, and shares it with whoever is there for him to feed.

“There is something quietly civilizing about sharing a meal with other people. The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning. It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy. It is in itself a sign of respect.”

A meal as a sign of respect. I like that.

Nigel Slater’s food is a pan full of ripe apricots, poached in sugar and lemon verbena tea, with a star anise thrown in. Those apricots are lush and fall apart at the touch. The syrup, when reduced and drizzled on a plate of those apricots, makes something wonderful to share with a friend on a summer evening. This is the only kind of dessert I want right now.

Slater’s on Twitter now (@realnigelslater), where he answers specific questions about dishes and writes simple recipes for what he is cooking that moment. One day, he wrote that in the heat of the day, the only lunch he wanted was watermelon, feta cheese, briny black olives, and a splash of olive oil. Danny, Lucy, and I ate some the next day, outside on our deck, on the first warm day of the summer. Nigel Slater was right. It was just the right lunch.

I wish I could share a meal with this man.

Cooking has become so much more than it used to be for me. The words about the cooking have become quieter. Honestly, sometimes I think if I didn’t write this site, I think I might enjoy my meals more. There’s this unbending pressure on all the places around blogs (Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon, Instagram, Reddit, etc.) to shout our BEST! and PERFECT! and YOU MUST MAKE THIS! I feel sometimes like I’m standing in the middle of a big market, listening to jewelry sellers hawking their wares. And I feel the pressure to hold out my jewels too.

But my favorite moments of food are hardly worth mentioning.

We’re in Tucson right now, staying for a few days with Danny’s parents. We have spent most of our time here in the house, gathered around the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the newspaper, or sitting together at the dining room table, joining hands in a sweet Amen before we dig into the food. Lu doesn’t need much more than being with them, plus time to play in the garage. We can’t go far. Danny’s dad has slowed down dramatically in the last few years. He’s aching with arthritis, unable to sleep much for the pain in his shoulder, and hampered by exhaustion. He’s napping a couple of times a day, more than Lu. His entire world has dwindled down to his bed, the kitchen table, the dining table, and the chair in front of the television.

Every night, Danny’s dad has a glass of chocolate milk to take the dozen or so pills he must swallow before bed. Danny’s mom had bought a half gallon of whole milk for Lu. The first night we were here she mixed up some chocolate syrup in the whole milk instead of the skim milk he has been drinking. The next day, he told us, with joy in his eyes, about the surprise of that glass of chocolate milk. “It was so rich it was like drinking a milkshake. I’d never had a glass of chocolate milk like that before.” He told us about it again, later that evening, just before he had another glass.

We’ve eaten some wonderful meals while we have been here. But what I will remember best is Danny’s dad’s memory of that glass of chocolate milk.

And my favorite moments of the days before we left for this trip was standing in dappled sunlight in our kitchen, cutting up apricots for this Nigel Slater cake.

As always, Tita was right. She knew this truth long before I did: the best food (and people and writing and moments) is the kind that may seem pretty simple at first. The best food isn’t shouted but shared quietly instead.

APRICOT AND STRAWBERRY CAKE, adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard

This cake is far more than it seems. It’s a homey, even homely cake: it’s dimpled with almond bits and cracked in places on the top. It barely stands three inches high. This is not the cake you make when you want to impress people with your baking abilities. Fondant would be absurd.

However, put it on the table and watch friends take small slivers, then take more. It’s dense with ripe fruit, whole-grain flours, raw sugar, eggs, and not much more. It doesn’t even have baking powder in it. This is a snacking cake, meant to be shared with the love of your life long after you stopped dating and started being yourselves.

200 grams (4 or 5 large) ripe apricots
170 grams (about 1 cup) ripe strawberries, tops removed, quartered
3 tablespoons honey
100 grams slivered almonds
175 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour mix
6 ounces (1 1/2 US sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
175 grams (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) demarara sugar (also known as raw sugar)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons whole milk

Preparing to bake. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with a round of parchment paper. Grease and flour the parchment paper and sides of the pan.

Preparing the fruit. Cut the apricots in half. Remove the pits. Chop the apricots coarsely. Combine with the strawberries in a large bowl. Drizzle the fruit with honey and let them mingle while you prepare the rest of the cake.

Combining the dry ingredients. Put the slivered almonds into the bowl of a food processor. Run the processor until the almonds are ground to the size of breadcrumbs but stopping before they become almond butter. Add the flour and mix them together. Set aside.

Creaming the butter and sugar. Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Start spinning the paddle attachment to whip the butter a bit, then add the demerara sugar. Cream the butter and sugar until they are pale and fluffy. Turn off the stand mixer.

Building the cake batter. Whisk the eggs until they are beaten together. With the stand mixer running, dribble in the egg mixture a tablespoon at a time, letting the mixer run after each addition. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to ensure that everything is well combined. (Slater says here — if there is any sign of curdling, add a tablespoon or so of flour to the mix. I haven’t seen any curdling here yet.)

Finishing the batter. Pour in 1/3 of the almond-flour combination, running the mixer at low speed until the flour has disappeared entirely into the batter. Repeat this with another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, and then again. Dribble in the milk until it is fully incorporated. Add the apricots and strawberries. When everything is combined, turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Baking the cake. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until the top is browned and the center has an athletic spring to it when you touch it with your finger. (You can also put a toothpick in the center to see if it comes out clean. This should take about 80 to 90 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen any sticky bits. Turn the cake onto a cooling rack, then flip it again. Eat when the cake is cooled to room temperature.

Feeds 8 to 12.

Feel like playing? I can already tell that I’ll be making this cake throughout the summer, but with whatever fruit is ripe that week. I can’t wait until blackberry season.

In the photograph of the cake in Slater’s book — and yes, I deliberately modeled mine after his — powdered sugar has been sifted on top. That works for me too, although I don’t think this cake needs anything more than itself.




gluten-free brownies

Brownies seem pretty simple, right? They’re flat, they taste of chocolate, they satisfy a quick urging for a weeknight dessert. How hard could they be?

Let me tell you, people, there are no end to discussions about brownies in the world.

A couple of days ago, knowing I wanted to work on this recipe, I asked for people’s ideal of a brownie. There are over 100 comments on that post on Facebook, with some vociferous disagreement. (“Cakey!” “No, fudgey!”) Last night, after baking a failed pan of brownies (we had run out of sugar so I used honey instead — but it might be the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made), I spent at least 2 hours perusing every brownie recipe I could find. How much disagreement could there be? A lot. Granulated sugar. Brown sugar. Unsweetened chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate. Ice baths. Tinfoil. Butter. No, oil. 1 egg. 6 eggs. Fudgey, almost like ganache. Crisp edges. Dry and flaky like cake. Not one hint of cake. “If I wanted cakey, I’d eat chocolate cake.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen more disagreement on a single baked good in my life. Brownies create discussion, it seems.

There’s even an upcoming lecture involving brownies at Harvard: “Join fellow Harvard alumni in a special lecture series discussing the basic science and history of your favorite recipes for cookies and brownies featuring Michael P. Brenner, Glover Professor of Applied Mathematics and current Radcliffe Fellow.” (Actually, I wish I could go to that one.)

Let’s face it. Most of our first brownies had been made from a boxed mix. Mine were. I bet yours were too. And many people still long for their homemade brownies to taste like Duncan Hines. (It’s sad but it’s also natural. We crave what we ate for comfort as children.)

But I didn’t want to work hard to create a recipe that tasted just like it came from a box.

You see, this month on the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally, we decided to tackle brownies. Below you’ll see a list of bakers who made brownies and published their recipes on the same day together. That’s the fun of this rally idea — we’re in this together. So, if you don’t like the texture of our brownies, surely someone else will have made your kind.

I’m not going to give a ratio for brownies, which makes this ratio rally different than the others. Everyone has such a different sense of what makes a great brownie that I wouldn’t dare to presume. However, I will say this: the ratio of flour to the fats and eggs and chocolate is what really makes the difference. More flour in ratio to the other ingredients means a cakier brownie. Less flour means a fudgier brownie.

(Oh, and you don’t need gluten for a brownie! These are one of the easiest gluten-free baked goods to make.)

According to Shirley Corriher, mixing the brownie batter well after adding the eggs helps to make for a crackly crust, so don’t be afraid to keep stirring for awhile.

We already have brownies on this site, brownies I adore. These are an adaptation of Alice Medrich’s brilliant chocolate-determined brownies. They’re wonderful. They’re also just the tiniest bit fussy, since they require you pull out the brownies underbaked and plunge the pan into an ice bath in the sink. (Please don’t use a glass pan!) Other than that, they’re easy and decadent at the same time.

However, my priorities for what makes a great brownie in this house are simpler now. It’s this.

Since Lucy started standing at the counter with me and Danny, our priorities for food have shifted. In the past, I might have worried about making the “perfect” brownie, the most complex or stupendous. (That’s one of Lucy’s favorite words right now.) Now, I know that the best food is the food on the table. The best brownie recipe is the one that our daughter can stir together in one bowl, as I help her to add ingredients. I listened to her this evening, saying repeatedly, “Mama, Mama! I’m baking with you, Mama. Watch!”

Instantly, I was glad I skipped the instant espresso powder, the beaten egg whites, the shaved chocolate, or even slowly melting the chocolate in a double boiler. We melted butter and unsweetened chocolate together in the microwave, stirred in sugar, added one egg at a time, a bit of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and some teff flour. She stirred it all herself. I’ve never seen her so proud.

For that reason, these are the best brownies we have ever eaten.

You’ll probably disagree. That’s okay. You can make your own kind.


Visit the other folks who participated in the Ratio Rally! 

Adina from Gluten Free Travelette made Chocolate Brownie Pie with Orange Zest
Angela from Angela’s Kitchen made Gluten & Dairy Free Cream Egg Brownies
Brooke from B & the boy! made Triple Chocolate Brownies
Caitlin from {Gluten Free} Nom Nom Nom made Peppermint Brownie Bars
Caleigh from Gluten Free[k] made White chocolate and marshmallow brownies
Caneel from Mama Me Gluten Free made Triple chocolate brownies
Charissa Luke from Zest Bakery made Slutty gluten-free brownies
Claire from My Gluten Free Home PB&J Brownie Whoopee Pies
Claire from This Gluten-Free Life made St. Patty’s Day Marshmallow Swirl Brownies
Erin from The Sensitive Epicure made Mexican Cocoa Brownies with an Almond & Pepitas Crust
gretchen from kumquat made salted caramel brownies
Heather from Discovering the Extraordinary made Nutmeg Blondies
Irvin from Eat the Love made Blueberry Citrus Marble Brownies
Jean from Gluten-Free Doctor Recipes made Blue Ribbon Brownies
Jenn Cuisine made Grain free brownies with no-bake ricotta cheesecake cream
Jonathan from The Canary Files made Vegan Marbled Banana Walnut Brownies
Karen from Cooking Gluten Free! made GF Chewy Crackled Top Brownies with Raspberry Puree
Mary Fran from FrannyCakes made Gluten-Free Hazelnut (Nutella) Brownies
Morri from Meals with Morri made Oaxacan Brownies & Mesquite Cacao Blondies
~Mrs. R from Honey From Flinty Rocks made Black Bean S’More Brownies
Pete and Kelli from No Gluten, No Problem made Caramel Mexican Chocolate Mesquite Brownies
Rachel from The Crispy Cook made Co-Co Nut-Nut Blondies
Shauna from Gluten-Free Girl made Gluten-Free Brownies
Tara from A Baking Life Mint made Chocolate Flourless Brownies
TR | No One Likes Crumbley Cookies Gluten Free Berry Fudge Brownies 

p.s I have friends who swear by this brownie pan that makes more edges to the brownies. Have any of you tried it?

GLUTEN-FREE TEFF BROWNIES WITH CHOPPED HAZELNUTS , adapted from Kitchen Sense: More than 600 Recipes to Make You a Great Home Cook

I knew exactly the brownies I wanted to make when I read my friend Anita’s description of her ideal brownie: “…shattery top, not too thick, relentlessly chocolate-y.” Immediately I sent her a message, “What recipe do you use?” This simple, stir-it-all-in-one-bowl recipe from Kitchen Sense worked well here. The final brownie? A crackling crust on top that disappeared into a fudgy center. The edges are crisper. The chocolate taste is intense. If you don’t like this brownie, I’m not sure we can be friends. 

The secret weapon here is teff flour. Teff has a faint taste of chocolate and hazelnuts, so if you add both to the brownie, the entire flavor jumps out in joy. Because teff is the finest flour in the world, these brownies have not one hint of graininess to them. Technically, because teff is a whole-grain flour, these are whole-grain brownies. Maybe a tiny bit healthier than the boxed-mix brownies. I won’t tell anyone if you won’t. 

4 ounces unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100 grams teff flour
2 handfuls chopped hazelnuts
2 handfuls semisweet chocolate chips

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 8-inch baking pan with 2 pieces of tin foil, going opposite ways, leaving enough foil to hang over the edges. Grease the foil.

Melting the butter and chocolate. Put the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Run the microwave for 1 minute. Whisk together the melted butter and chocolate. If there are any remaining chunks of chocolate, microwave for 30 more seconds. Stir well.

Making the batter. Let the butter-chocolate combination cool until you can touch it. Add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring in between. Pour in the vanilla extract and stir. Add the teff flour and stir the batter thoroughly, with a rubber spatula, for at least 1 minute. Toss in the chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chips and stir until just combined.

Baking the brownies. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly into the corners. Bake until the edges have begun to pull away from the pan and the center is just starting to set, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the brownies from the pan. Cool for at least 15 minutes. Lift both pieces of foil and the brownies out of the pan and cool on a cooling rack. Dig in.

Makes about 2 dozen brownies.


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