gluten-free goodness

dating him again

Date Night In VI

You lose a lot when you have children.

You lose sleep, of course. Everyone knows that. Well, you think you know that until you are dragging through the day, the 14th day in a row, with no real end in sight, reaching for coffee again and hoping for a nap. For years, when our daughter was less than 5 years old, Danny and I took turns being depleted of sleep every other night. She just had to dance, even at 3 am when she awoke from a dream. She still dances, everywhere, but it seems to sufficiently exhaust her now that she sleeps through the night. In fact, she started sleeping solidly, arm stretched out over her head in a graceful arc, just before her baby brother arrived. We’re right back to sleeping in fits and stages again.

You lose more than sleep when you have small children, however. You lose shirts without food stains on them. You lose the ability to drink an entire cup of hot coffee, slowly, without interruption. You lose conversations without interruptions. If you’re an introvert, like me, you lose the quiet space to gather your thoughts without having to answer a question or fetch a glass of water or hear again, “Mama! He’s touching my stuff!” You lose quiet. You lose the chance to read an entire newspaper in one sitting. You lose the ability to read more than a 1200-word essay, on the phone, while hiding in the bedroom for a few moments while your partner takes the helm. And at the end of the day, there’s another night of interrupted night’s sleep.

Life is full of loss. Everything changes.

These kids are worth the interruptions, the lack of sleep. Now, with Desmond here, the noise is doubled and the joy is quadrupled. This evening at dinner, we sat together eating butternut squash soup with coconut and curry, a quinoa salad with endive and cucumbers, soft Italian cheese, salami, and homemade bread. Desmond opened his mouth wide, asking for another spoonful of the soup. He closed his eyes and licked his lips and then opened his mouth again, like a baby bird. If I turned toward Danny to laugh about his expression of pleasure, Desmond slapped his hand on his highchair, demanding my attention. Lucy ate her soup too, giggling at Desmond, then pretending to be Laura from Little House on the Prairie again. “Ma, can I bring in some more butter and milk from the barn after dinner?” Danny’s chair broke underneath him — it had been feeling rickety for weeks — and he fell backwards. We all checked to make sure he was fine, then Lucy and I started laughing. “Nice pratfall, Dad!” Lucy shouted and Danny started laughing too. Lu and I cleared the table, and did the dishes while Danny fed more soup to the still-insistent baby. She asked me why we have electricity at the beginning of the talk while she helped me do the dishes. Later, she wanted to know why we have feet. Back at the table, Danny and Lucy and I enjoyed a little piece of bittersweet brownies with salted peanut butter frosting. Desmond ate almost an entire banana. Lucy grabbed her top hat and wooden stick horse and galloped through the dining room, begging us to sing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to her. We did, Danny out of tune (singing another tune, really) and Desmond clapping. Lucy danced. We sang Ob La Di Ob La Da to Desmond, whose eyes always go wide when he hears his name. He started bopping his head around, dancing, just like his sister. Danny and I looked at each other and just started laughing, singing louder. Who would trade quiet for this?

When I had the quiet hours to read the newspaper, more than a decade ago, I felt a little lonely there, wishing for someone else to share those stories. Now, there are no shortage of stories. And no shortage of small people opening my heart simply by being here, in the moments I start to think too much about myself.

Still, there’s one loss that seems inevitable, unless you work against it. It’s easy to lose the romance with the love of your life when you have children. You have a fellow dishwasher, someone with whom to tag team on the diaper changes, a lovely warm body to cuddle against as you watch an hour of television before climbing into bed. But someone who wants to woo you? That can disappear.

After 39 years of being alive, Danny came along, and I wrote every day about the joy, the joy!, of knowing him, finally. We had a year and a half together, dating each other, falling deeply in love with each other, and making a life together before Lucy was born. Sometimes I miss him now.

We spend every day together. We parent together. We work together. We write cookbooks together. We have started a business together. We talk about everything, everything, together. And I love this closeness, the nearness of him right now as I write this. But it’s awfully easy for our days to become a tangle of to-do lists, carpools, grocery trips, and endless conversations about the best way to ship boxes of flour and doing our taxes. But the romance? That we have to work at, when we can.

That’s one of the reasons I love Ashley Rodriguez’s beautiful new cookbook, Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship. Our friends Ashley and her husband Gabe are both incredibly talented, kind people, and Danny and I adore them both.  (You might know Ashley’s wonderful blog, Not Without Salt.) Ashley is a phenomenal photographer and former pastry chef. This woman knows how to cook. I love most what she wrote in the introduction to her book, about the routine they settled into in the evenings after the kids were finally asleep.

“It was in those quiet hours that I started to notice a very un–romantic routine forming. Gabe would retreat to his computer and I to mine. After a long day spent caring for three small children, I had nothing more to give; I felt like this time was mine. But the neglect to our marriage started to become clear, as we began to feel more like roommates than husband and wife.…It was then that I decided things had to change. We needed more than the quarterly date we were trying to squeeze into our budget and our schedule. Our finances were tight, and babysitters were not lining up at the door eager to hang out with our three young children. We had to get creative. So we turned to our modest kitchen as a new, romantic setting where we could begin to date again.”

This inspiring cookbook is a series of menus that Ashley created for Gabe on their date nights in. He put the kids to bed and she made a three-course meal to share together, meals like this: spiced cider toddy; brussels sprouts slaw with grapes and feta; white bean and pumpkin gratin with crispy shallot crumbs; and grandma’s apple cake with maple cream.

That’s my kind of date. And Danny’s.

We’ve been so inspired by Ashley’s lovely cookbook that we’re starting our own date night routine. Starting this week, I’ll put the kids to bed early (Lucy, go to sleep!) and Danny will spend the evening cooking for us. These will be dishes no one else will see. No recipe testing. No Instagram photos. Just a man cooking for the woman he loves and a woman grateful for this food. We used to share  a meal like this every night, after midnight most nights. We never make it up to midnight these days. But the two of us? We’re going to have meals without interruptions, with no talk of work, and no phones.

I’ll try not to spill food on my shirt.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about Saturday nights again.

 

Date Night In I

Date Night In III

Date Night In IV

Date Night In V

Date Night In II

Date Night In VII

Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting,
adapted from Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship

If your mouth is watering just looking at this photo, wait until you taste these brownies. They are super dark fudgy chocolate brownies, with a crackly top and the crisp edges people fight over as they come out of the pan. I’ve made brownies I love before but these are the best. (Ashley! Brown butter in brownies? Stop.) They would be enough. But topped with a creamy peanut butter frosting and flaky sea salt? Stick a fork in me. I’m done. 

Oh, and the fact that these brownies contain no gluten is lovely too. 

brownies
3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
90 grams unsweetened chocolate (we used bittersweet chocolate chips)
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) organic cane sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (70 grams) gluten-free girl all-purpose flour blend  

frosting
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (100 grams) smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup (40 grams) powdered sugar
flaky sea salt

Prepare to bake. Heat oven to 325°. Line an 8x8 square baking pan with two long pieces of parchment paper so a couple of inches of paper hang over all sides. Liberally grease the parchment paper.

Brown the butter. Brown the butter. Set a small pot over low heat. Add the butter. Let the butter melt, then come to a simmer. Keep an eye on the butter as you keep heating it, letting the edges come to a boil. There might be some spattering as the water in the butter starts to evaporate. Raise the heat to medium and give the pot a swirl to prevent any places from burning. After about 5 minutes, the butter will start foaming on the top and release a nutty smell. You’ll see parts of the butter at the bottom of the pan start to brown. Watch the pot carefully, swirling it sometimes. Watch the butterfat solids on the bottom of the pot and let them get as brown as you wish, about 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful — it’s so easy to burn butter. Take the pot off the heat immediately and pour the butter into a large bowl.

Make the batter. Add the chopped chocolate (or in this case, chocolate chips) to the brown butter. Let them sit for a moment, then whisk them together. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla while the the butter is still warm, stirring until the sugar has melted entirely. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, then the salt until everything is blended into one color. Slowly add the cocoa powder and flour to the batter. Fold them all together with a rubber spatula.

Bake the brownies. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Let the brownies cool to room temperature. (I know. It’s hard.)

Make the frosting. Put the butter, peanut butter, and powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip them together until you have a light and fluffy frosting, about 3 minutes.

Frost the brownies with the peanut butter frosting and crunch the flaky salt on top, as you will.

Makes 12 to 15 brownies.

 

Feel like playing? We haven’t tried this yet, but I’m pretty sure that coconut oil would be a great substitution for the butter if you can’t eat dairy. This peanut butter frosting would be great on a chocolate cake for a birthday party someday.

As Ashley writes in her cookbook: “I realize that some people like a more cake-like top. So, here’s a way to please both with this one recipe. If you like the crackly top, follow the recipe above; if you prefer your brownies without the crackly top, simple add the eggs when you add the sugar. The crackly top comes when the sugar has a chance to melt before it bakes.”

 

gluten-free bread

You know, it’s said that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a craft, over and over again, until you can expect to master it.

If that’s true, then I’m nothing but a humble apprentice at making gluten-free bread. And frankly, I’m fine with that. I learn so much every time I bake. I can’t wait to taste the loaves I make ten years from now.

However, with all the failed loaves and rolls that rose, I’ve learned something. Every single time.

Today, I want to talk a little about what I have learned. And I want to hear what you have learned too.

This one took me two or three years to learn:

gluten-free bread dough doesn’t look like gluten dough.

If you were making gluten-free bread for the first time, and you followed the recipe, and  you looked down in the mixer to see this, what would you think?

Probably something like this: this can’t be right. I’m adding more flour.

Do that and what happens? Sawdust. Or more likely, that loaf of bread so hard and dry you could hit any burglar in the head with it and knock him out.

We don’t want that.

Instead, you let that dough stay as it is. There’s something a little mysterious about gluten-free dough. Let the dough when you are done mixing it look like this.

After two hours, it will look like.…

…this.

As the dough rises, it grows tighter and drier and more pliable. In fact, by the time it is done rising, that dough feels like.…bread dough.

Just knowing this will make your gluten-free bread better than mine was for the first three years of baking.

As I’ve written about before, I’ve recently cut out xanthan and guar gum from my diet. I feel better. That’s enough for me.

Most gluten-free baked goods don’t need them, it turns out. Bread, however, needs a little something.

Some of you have written to ask: “I made your bread or pizza or cracker recipe and just left out the gums. The dough was too wet. Was it really just that one ingredient?” Yes. Yes it was. Xanthan and guar gums are hydrocolloids, which means they mix with water and swell. They bind dough together in a way that makes them mighty alluring. Without them, the dough as written won’t work.

Does that mean a life without bread if you live without the gums?

Of course not. Do you think that little of my stubborn nature?

You just need a little flaxseed or chia seed.

If anyone out there knows the science of why they work, I’d be happy to hear. I think it’s something about the fiber. And given the way they react in boiling water — melting into a sticky gel-like substance — I have a feeling these are natural hydrocolloids too. Right now, all I know is they work.

These rolls were made with whole-grain flours, a bit of starch, yeast, sugar, water, and flaxseed. See that crust? The insides are soft and chewy.

Here’s my favorite discovery: gluten-free bread without the gums? It has the texture of bread.

You know how gluten-free bread, no matter how good, has a little of the texture of cornbread? I always thought it was the lack of gluten. Turns out it was the gums.

Gluten-free bread made with flaxseed or chia seed or a combination of the two looks and feels more like bread than anything I have eaten in almost six years.

I can’t wait to see what the next six years bring.

What have you learned about baking gluten-free bread? Share your insights with us here!

This is the recipe for the multi-grain bread I developed for Michael Ruhlman’s site. I’ve been working with it since then, and I’ve made a few tiny changes. No matter how many times I read that you can throw active dry yeast into the dough like a flour, I really do see a difference when I rise it in warm water and a bit of sugar first. So I’ve done that here.

Also, I’ve given a slightly broader range of the amount of water to use. Bread is a fickle beast, a living organism, a wonderful challenge. The humidity in your area, the heat of your kitchen, the altitude at which you live — they all affect the dough. If you switch any of these flours out with another one, the dough will be slightly different, even if it’s the same weight. (The fat in the almond flour makes this a different dough than if you use brown rice flour, for example.) Listen to this from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s book, The Bread Bible: “Using different types of flour will also make significant changes in both the flavor and texture of the bread.…If you change the balance of different types of flours, the water amount will also need to be changed slightly.” (And that’s with gluten flour!)

So in that last step, after you have added the eggs and apple cider vinegar, add the water in little splashes. Keep mixing before you add more. You are looking for the dough to appear the way it does in that second photograph up there. Forget the measurements at that point. Go by your instincts.

If you cannot tolerate the goat’s milk powder, you can leave it out and simply add 30 more grams of the buckwheat flour. A little milk powder adds some good flavor and helps to brown the crust. But you don’t need it for the bread. (You can also use regular milk powder, if you want.) Rose Levy Berenbaum suggests using the powdered milk because it has been heated to a high-enough temperature to eliminate the enzyme in milk that slows down yeast production. (There’s a lot to learn about bread.)

Also, if you cannot tolerate the eggs, add the following in their place: 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 2 ounces apple cider vinegar. Mix them and add them quickly to the dough. (The next-to-last photograph up there is the bread made without milk or dairy.)

However, if you can tolerate eggs, the boule in the top photograph has a simple egg wash brushed on it: 1 egg plus a splash of water. Try that for a warm brown crust.

Finally, here’s another thing I know about gluten-free bread. It works best in rolls or small boules instead of giant loaves. Who’s going to turn down warm bread rolls?

15 grams ground flaxseed meal
15 grams ground chia seeds
60 grams boiling-hot water

1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
230 grams (1 cup) water, divided in half

100 grams gluten-free oat flour (make sure it’s certified gluten-free)
100 grams almond flour (make sure it’s blanched almond flour, finely ground)
100 grams teff flour
85 grams potato starch
85 grams arrowroot powder
70 grams buckwheat flour
30 grams milk powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 large eggs
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Making the flax-chia slurry. Mix the flaxseed and chia seeds together. Pour in the boiling-hot water. Whisk, quickly, until the seeds have formed a thick, viscous slurry. Set aside to cool down.

Rising the yeast. Whisk together the yeast, sugar, and 115 grams (1/2 cup) water heated to 110°. Set aside the yeasty water in a warm place until it has doubled in volume, about 8 to 15 minutes.

Combining the dry ingredients. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the oat flour, almond flour, teff flour, potato starch, arrowroot powder, and buckwheat flour in a large bowl. Whisk them together to incorporate them together and aerate. Add the milk powder and salt. Whisk to combine.

Finishing the dough. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and apple cider vinegar together. Pour this into the mixing bowl, along with the flax-chia slurry and yeasty water. Mix well. Warm the remaining water up to 110° and add part of the water, slowly, until the dough looks like it does in the second photograph above. (You may use anywhere from 1/4 cup to the entire 1/2 cup. The heat and humidity of your house, as well as the flours you use for this bread, will change the dough slightly.)

The dough will be wet and tacky. Don’t worry. That’s the texture you want. You will be tempted to add more flour, since you are thinking of gluten bread. Do not add flour.

Instead, scrape the dough into a large, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours. You won’t have as much of a rise as with gluten bread. However, over those 2 hours, the dough will become more elastic and a little drier.

Baking the bread. Preheat the oven to 450°. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven now.

The dough will still be a bit tacky to the touch. If you want to avoid bread dough sticking to your hands, wet them with just a bit of water. Cut the dough in half to form 2 small boules or into 8 balls for rolls. (If you still have the scale on the counter, form 3-ounce balls.) Let the boules/rolls rest and proof further as the oven preheats.

Put the boules or rolls directly onto the pizza stone. (If you don’t have one, use a baking sheet with parchment paper.) Bake until the outside of the rolls are crusty, the bottom has a good hollow thump when tapped, and the internal temperature has reached at least 180°. Allow them to cool.

Eat.

Makes 2 small boules or 8 rolls.

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