biscuits

gluten-free strawberry shortcake

I’m in the middle of strawberry swooning season. It happens every year. We wait all year long, patiently, and then not so patiently, for real strawberries to appear at the farmstands here. From the fall until spring, we can wait. We freeze the red berries so we have some more smoothies and the occasionally decadent fruit pie in January. There are chilly lovely touches to the winter foods too. However, by April, we can’t wait.

And every year, we fall for it again. Maybe this will be the time that the plastic clamshells stuffed with perfectly shaped huge berries will be right this time. And so we buy one, take it home, tug off the green top, and bite down. Then, we come up with grimaces. We fell for it again. Inside those bright red spheres? White, white, pale and deathly white. Those aren’t real strawberries.

So, when they finally do arrive — smaller than the grocery store strawberries, a bit smushed on one side, and so sweet they taste as though they have been dipped in honey — we go wild. We have a strawberry riot. We let the strawberries sit in some sugar and lemon juice to make jam, then set aside some of that syrupy goodness for homemade strawberry sodas. We make strawberry coulis with black pepper and balsamic. We put whole berries into cold yogurt and make Lu popsicles for the summer evenings. We freeze them. We make pies. And we eat them, by the handful, sighing into the sweetness and that dark dark red inside.

Oh my, it’s strawberry season.

A couple of weekends ago, I had the joy of seeing a passel of kids I adore gathered around our table, hands reaching, bare chests covered in red splotches, giggling, and cutting up strawberries. Some of my best friends here on the island came over to bake bread and talk about our lives. The kids ran around our yard, happily shrieking as they climbed trees or turned sticks into swords. At one point, all the adults were called out to “see the play! We made a play!” We stood on the deck, these women and I, watching our children gather under the cherry tree, holding hands, and babbling something incomprehensible about princesses and rescuing turtles and a pirate with a bandana mistakenly covering his eyes. The kids dispersed to go down the slide and have pretend tea parties and the women and I returned to the kitchen.

Someone asked if I had a strawberry shortcake recipe I like. Having just found one I love, I said, “Let’s make some.” As I pulled more flours out of the cupboard, some of the older kids wandered into the house. “Are you baking? Can we watch?”

We pulled chairs up to the counter for the little kids, who followed the big kids in adoration. As I cut up butter into small cubes and explained why we were mixing flours and butter, I looked to my right to see 8 children under 8, craning their necks, jostling for position on chairs, and asking to feel the dough. In that moment, all was alive in the world.

“Okay, we need some strawberries cut up,” I said. The kids jumped down from their chairs, the older ones shouting, “I know how to use a real knife!” We mamas set up cutting boards and grabbed butter knives and plopped pints of strawberries onto the table. The kids chattered happily, some of them eating more than cutting, juice running down their chins. The sun was shining through the windows from the west, the windows were thrown open, everyone felt released into the warmth of summer that took a long time coming this year.

A few moments later, one of these wonderful women said to me, “This is why I moved to this island. This: kids playing, women baking, wonderful talking, someone is nursing, we’re sharing our lives.”

I felt as much amazement as she did.

 

After we pulled the shortcakes out of the oven, spread a bit of melted butter over the tops, and let them cool just enough to keep them together, we pulled the plates down from the cupboard. We only had five shortcakes — and one had been nibbled to bits by all the tasting — so I plopped shortcakes on plates, topped them with strawberries we had let sit with sugar and lemon juice, then grabbed forks for every kid.

And for a few moments, there was silence. We reached toward those red berries and flaky crumby biscuits and sighed.

Then the room exploded in happy talking, the joy of berries finally in season, the gathering around the table. All the women in the room looked at each other and smiled.

We were here. And so were the strawberries.

GLUTEN-FREE STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE, adapted from Cristina Ferrare’s recipe in Big Bowl of Love

After months of working on shortcakes, with recipes from some of my favorite cookbooks turning out fine but not flaky, I was thrilled to find this one emerging from our oven. It’s a sweet, slightly crumby biscuit, with enough gravitas to hold a tumble of sugared strawberries without falling apart, yet light enough to disappear on the teeth.

And we owe this one to Cristina Ferrare.

A few months ago, I had the joy of sharing breakfast with Cristina when she was here in Seattle for her cookbook tour. I’d been a fan for awhile after watching her on the Oprah show and seeing her recipes appear on the big O’s magazine and website. I love her warm and generous nature, which clearly infuse her food. For Cristina, food is the reason for gatherings, for family, for passed plates and stories told, for hands reaching and that feeling of being at home at the table. How could I not like her?

She turned out to be even more gracious and real in person than I had expected. Her daughter (the hilarious Alex Thomopolous) was diagnosed with celiac recently. Alex began reading this site, then started her own gluten-free cooking and baking blog as she also began culinary school. Watch for this one and her website, Dishn’ It Out with Alex. She knows what she’s doing. And so, Cristina came to breakfast open and excited to meet me. (That kills me.) We could not stop talking and laughing and I felt as though I had known her for years. That’s what happens when you sit at the table with someone open to life.

Cristina’s cookbook, Big Bowl of Love, has been in our kitchen ever since. The gorgeous photographs were taken by our friends Todd and Diane, who shot our cookbook trailer (Watch these two. They’re taking over the world.), so we were a little biased going in. But what Danny and I both love about this book is how simple, homey, and hugely accessible the recipes all are. This is food meant to be put on the table on big plates so you can say to your family, “Dig in, everyone.” We’ve been inspired by it.

The keys to these shortcakes? Cold butter. Working deftly and not over-handling the dough. Having a biscuit cutter and cutting straight down instead of twisting into the dough. And mostly, breathing into these and remembering why you are making them. Feed your family. It’s strawberry shortcake.

315 grams Aherns’ AP flour mix

1 teaspoon psyllium husk powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoons baking powder

3 tablespoons organic cane sugar

115 grams (1 US stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1/3 cup whole yogurt

2/3 cup cold buttermilk (if you can’t do buttermilk, check this post)

flour for dusting

2 tablespoons melted butter

 

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a large cast-iron pan with butter. (If you don’t have a cast iron pan, may we suggest you get one? In the meantime, you can try the largest skillet you have.)

Combining the dry ingredients. Combine the flour, psyllium powder (if using), salt, baking powder, and sugar. I like to put them in the food processor and let it run for a few minutes to aerate the flours. You can also use a whisk and bowl.

Working the butter into the flour. Put the butter cubes into the bowl of the food processor. Pulse the ingredients together, about 7 times, until the butter chunks are about the size of lima beans.

(You can also work the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter or your fingers, if you prefer.)

Finishing the dough. Move the flour mixture to a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the ingredients. Mix together the yogurt and 1/3 cup of the buttermilk. Stir the liquids with a rubber spatula, moving in gentle circular motions, incorporating the flour as you go. The final dough should just hold together, with all the ingredients moist. If there is a bit of flour left on the sides of the bowl, add a dribble more of the buttermilk, then combine, then a dribble more if necessary. If the dough grows too wet, don’t fret about it. Just add a bit more flour. You’re looking for a shaggy dough, not a smooth round.

Sprinkle a little flour on a clean board. Turn out the dough on the board and sprinkle with just a touch more flour. Fold the dough in half, bringing the back part of the dough toward you. Pat the dough into an even round. fold the dough in half again and pat. this should make the dough fairly even. If not, you can fold the dough a third time. Pat out the dough to a 1-inch thickness.

Cutting the shortcakes. Dip a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter into a bit of flour and push it straight down into the dough, starting from the outside edges. Do not twist the biscuit cutter. Cut out the remaining biscuits. Working quickly, pat any remaining scraps into another 1-inch thick dough and cut the last biscuit.

Move the biscuits to the prepared cast-iron pan, nudging them up against each other. If you nestle the shortcakes alongside each other, edges touching, you will have taller shortcakes after baking. (They have nowhere to go but up!)

Baking the shortcakes. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake the shortcakes for 6 minutes. Rotate the skillet 180 degrees and continue baking until the shortcakes are firm and light golden brown, about another 6 to 8 minutes. remove the skillet from the oven and brush the tops of the shortcakes with the melted butter. let them rest for 10 minutes, then remove them from the pan gently. Split open the shortcakes and serve with strawberries.

Feeds 6.

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buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free

buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free II

“Biscuits in the oven going to watch em rise…
right before my very eyes.
Hey hey.”

We have been dancing around here, to music we never expected to love.

Our friend Monique gave us a cd before Little Bean was born, telling me it was one of her kids’ favorites. When I saw the name, I wanted to cringe, but I resisted. Raffi. I had heard of him, and I thought he was cheesy. I had a flash image of concerts with kids in the audience, all waving flags, everyone singing music that the parents couldn’t stand to hear again. Before Little Bean was born, I swore we would never listen to music meant just for kids. Instead, we’d teach her how to sing with Johnny Cash, and Alison Kraus, and Elvis Costello. All our favorite music was good enough for her, right?

So I took the disc and thanked Monique and tucked it away.

One afternoon, about a month ago, Little Bean was crying. It was late afternoon, the time when babies grow fussy, mysteriously. (Does anyone know why that is?) She’s such a sunny little being, with the wide-open eyes and tiny pursed mouth of a cartoon character, that her crying took me by surprise. I went through the usual routine to soothe her. Nothing worked. I danced her around the room to Prince, which had just come on the iPod. She was having none of that. We went outside. I took her in the kitchen to smell herbs. She jiggled on my knee. I tried to stay calm, which calmed her for a moment, but she went right back to crying in jagged sobs.

Exhausted, I remembered Monique’s present. I flipped Baby Beluga into the cd player and turned it on. I swear, from the first high-pitched squeaks and giggles of the whale in the opening moments, Little Bean was transfixed. She forgot to cry. She started to smile.

“Hell with it,” I thought, sinking back into the couch cushions. “Kids’ music is fine.”

When “Day-O” came on, I started to sing, exaggerating every syllable with my mouth, like Harry Belafonte on steroids with a face made out of rubber. Little Bean looked up at me, and she stayed looking. At that point, she only made glancing eye contact. The Chef and I both longed for her stare, the adoring eyes. Until that moment, the ceiling captured all her grins. But when I sang to her, the words tumbled from my memory, even though I didn’t know I held them. As she bounced on my knee, she watched my mouth, looked at my eyes, and took me in, for the longest time since the day of her birth.

That was the point I began to love Raffi.

Since then, the Chef and I have been playing this album for her every day. She loves it every time, her eyebrows flinging upward, her feet beginning to kick. Each song makes her happy (except for one called Joshua Giraffe, which goes dark and stormy in the middle, and she cries every time). She always dances.

Here’s what we never expected, however. The Chef and I are hooked on this music.

He’ll call me from the restaurant and say, “I’ve been singing that one song all day.“
“Which one?“
Now, normally, the answer might be some sappy country music song we heard on the radio on the way to work that made us both teary. Or some old song by the Clash that mirrors any anger in our minds. Or any of two dozen Beatles songs that are important to us.
But lately, it has been: “You know, that jaunty one, how oats and beans and barley grow.“
And I start whistling, right away.

(I’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact that barley contains gluten. We’ll come up with another grain when she’s older.)

These are great songs. I’m not kidding. They’re funny and loving, memorable and whistle-able. (I don’t care if that’s not a real word.) And more than that, they are the kind of music we want Little Bean to listen to, as she’s growing into this world.

One of the songs, “Thanks a Lot,” feels like the only kind of prayer we’re likely to say around the dinner table. A traditional song that Raffi sings so sweetly, “To Everyone in All the World” reminds me every time that our political system would be mighty much better if we lived like this: “I may not know the lingo/but I can say by jingo/no matter where you live, we can shake hands.” And perhaps for obvious reasons, one song makes me cry every time:

“All I really need is a song in my heart
food in my belly
and love in my family.”

Whenever that one comes on, the Chef and I scoop up Little Bean, hold her in our arms, and dance her around the living room, singing.

Okay, so we have become those parents. And you know what? We don’t care. Little Bean has been in this world for less than three months, and already she has encouraged us to let go of ridiculous expectations. There’s nothing wrong with admitting it: we love Raffi. If he were still giving concerts, we’d be first in line to wave flags and sing earnest songs that we still love to hear.

(So if any of you have recommendations for great kids’ music that’s still pretty damned cool for parents, we’d love to hear them.)

Besides, the best song on the disc is all about biscuits. “Biscuits in the oven, going to watch ‘em rise.…” After weeks of singing this to Little Bean, I couldn’t stand it any more. I had to make biscuits.

I remember my mom making biscuits from scratch some evenings. Now, I realize she used Bisquick as the base. What does that matter? She still put them together with her capable hands, cut through the pillowy dough with an antique cutter given to her by her mother, and pulled the golden warmth from the oven to our oohs and ahhs. I remember standing beside her in the kitchen one day, when I was about seven or eight, and watching her hands make biscuits. They seemed so sure, so reassuring. I wondered if I would ever be that strong.

Now, I look down at my hands, almost exact replicas of my mother’s at my age. And I wonder if, a few years from now, when I am making gluten-free biscuits inspired by the Raffi song, Little Bean will look at my hands and wonder what hers will look like when she is an adult.

I found, this week, that I had to create a gluten-free recipe that worked for me. The first two years of living gluten-free, I didn’t really care that much about baked goods. But now that our darling, hilarious daughter is here, I realize I want to make her biscuits some evenings and have her ooh and ahh at the warmth I am pulling out of the oven with my hands.

“When they get ready going to jump and shout
roll my eyes and bug them out.
Hey hey.”

buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS, GLUTEN-FREE

Of course, the only problem with baking biscuits in this house after hearing that song is that gluten-free biscuits simply don’t rise the way that regular biscuits do. Why? No gluten. That doesn’t mean they can’t be darned fine, however.

I’ve been baking biscuits for days around here, cutting butter into different flours and waiting in anticipation for the moment I could open the oven door. The first batch was horribly disappointing — the expected gluten-free hockey puck. But I love this trial and error process. Every batch taught me something different. And by the time I crafted the recipe you see below, I really was jumping and shouting to see them, like Raffi sings in the song.

The egg white takes the place of the protein gluten provides to a baked good. Lately, I’ve been finding that just a bit of egg white gives strength and structure to gluten-free goods.

I’m pleased with the softness of these biscuits, the fluffy center with air holes, and the crispness of the bottoms. They’re a little bit pillowy, and a little bit crusty. Frankly, I’m glad I found the recipe I like, because I have to stop eating so many biscuits now.

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 egg white
3/4 cup buttermilk (give or take a bit)

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Combine all the flours, the baking powder, and the salt. Stir them up well so they are one. Sift them into a large bowl.

Cut the butter into small pieces and drop them into the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender (also known as a pastry cutter), or two forks if you don’t own the fancier tool, cut the butter into the flours. You should have a good blend, with the butter the size of small peas, by the end.

Froth up the egg white with a fork or small whisk. You are not looking to make meringue here. Simply whip some air and volume into the egg white.

Pour the egg white and the buttermilk into the dry mixture. Stir them in slowly with a rubber spatula, taking care to not overwork the dough. When the liquids are incorporated into the flours, stop stirring. Bring it all together with your hands.

Drop small balls of the biscuit dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. (I prefer these biscuits small, about the size of a plum, to help the middles bake through.) Slide the tray into the oven.

Bake the biscuits for about 20 to 25 minutes. Test for your own version of doneness.

Makes about 8 biscuits.