Okay, I’m so in love with David Lebovitz now. The man is hilarious, like David Sedaris hilarious, with a thousand tiny asides that made me squeak with laughter in the middle of his chocolate cooking class, sometimes too loudly. And then, oh my god, he knows how to cook everything with chocolate, including recipes without flour, just for me. Can you imagine how handy he would be to have around the house?
I’m in love.
Okay, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. But seriously, you didn’t meet the man. It’s not just that he was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse for twelve years. (And even though I have never been there, someday, in my dreams, when I’m celebrating something really, really special, I’ll fly down to Berkeley to eat at the restaurant, and smile hard all evening.) And it’s not just that he wrote these gorgeous cookbooks full of spectacular desserts, especially Ripe for Dessert, which has juicy possiblities for those of us who can’t eat gluten. And it’s not even that he makes part of his living by giving chocolate tours of Paris. Sigh. It’s just that he’s so damned cool.
In the middle of his fabulous chocolate cooking class at Sur La Table on Monday, David pointed to me, then said, “Do you mind if I do this?” Well of course not. And then, like the mensch he is, David declared for everyone in the audience, “I’d like to point out the Gluten-free Girl. Shauna and I met online.” Pause. Another beat. “We’re going to be married on Sunday!” Oh goody! I get to marry David Lebovitz.
Seriously, though, it really moved me that he made a point of talking about food substitutions and working with those of us who can’t eat gluten. Actually, it impressed me that many of the recipes he made that night didn’t require any gluten at all: spiced nuts with fleur de sel (just omit the pretzels, if you can’t eat gluten); Parisian hot chocolate (my oh my); and Gateau Bastille, which involved lots of tiny pieces of prunes, bittersweet chocolate, and heavy cream, but no flour. Yum.
But best of all, because I was in the audience, David sweetly decided to make chocolate financiers without any flour. Instead of the one tablespoon of flour that the recipe originaly called for, he just used another tablespoon of Dutch-processed, unsweetened cocoa powder. And let me tell you, they were fantastic. He told us that in Paris, people eat these tiny little chocolate perfections as a late-afternoon snack. Just a few rich, chocolate bites, with no hint of cloying, tides everyone over until dinner. That’s an afternoon tradition I could sustain.
One of the best parts of the three-hour class was David’s running patter of food facts and fabulous stories of chocolate. I scribbled notes as quickly as I could–and with a pen that had been in a cold car for too long, so it exploded blue splots all over my fingers–learning something every few moments. Here are a few choice facts for you:
–Stock up on almonds, right now, because the price is about to skyrocket.
–In spite of all our best hopes that we could chocolate as a way to health, the higher-quality chocolate actually has fewer antioxidants than the lower-quality ones you don’t really want to eat.
–However, the tradition of putting little chocolates on hotel pillows started because people believed there was something in chocolate that helped to prevent tooth decay. And recent studies have shown it might be true!
–If you cook for yourself, without ever using processed or packaged foods (and certainly avoiding fast foods), you’ll only eat about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt per day. This is certainly not too much.
–Italian hazelnuts taste the best.
–Sift your dry ingredients when you are baking. “You don’t have to sift. You also don’t have to wear shoes, but I recommend it.”
–Don’t try to melt chocolate chips for recipes. They don’t contain as much cocoa butter, so they simply won’t melt.
–Brown sugar is just white sugar with syrup on it. Therefore, it’s no better for you.
–Making vanilla extract is the most labor-intensive process in the world.
–Clabber Girl baking powder contains aluminum, and thus will make your baked goods taste tinny. Use Rumford instead.
But mostly, I loved what he said about stocking your kitchen. “It’s okay to spend a little money on yourself.” As he melted butter and stirred up recipes, David said he’s always surprised when people ask him how restaurants make everything taste so good. Is it magic recipes? No, it’s simply that they use the best ingredients. “If you cook with better ingredients, you’ll change your life.” I’ve certainly see that come true in my life this year. I recommend that everyone do the same.
So I had a wonderful time, savoring little bites, laughing with Dorothy by my side, and talking with David before and after the class. Once again, I’m amazed by this food blogging world. Here I am, just writing out my enthusiasms, and suddenly I’m in a room with David Lebovitz, listening to our wedding announcement.
But I can’t believe that I forgot to bring my camera with me. I bring my tiny Nikon with me everywhere there might be food. When did I become such a dumbkopf? So I wanted to show you luscious close-ups of all the foods he made for us, and a photo of the man himself. Instead, I have to share that picture of me holding the Gateaux Bastille with Creme Anglaise, which David took on his camera, grinning, goofy gaping, happy as can be.
p.s. Sam in San Francisco is claiming that David proposed to her in the cooking class there. But dear, I have to say, I met him first. And you have Fred. He’ll just have to be mine.
Gluten-free Chocolate Financiers, courtesy of David Lebovitz
These can be made in Fleximolds and are meant to be bite-sized snacks, eaten often in the late afternoon in Paris.
6 tablespoons (3 oz/90 gr) unsalted butter
1 cup sliced almonds
4 tablespoons Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup egg whites
1/4 teaspoon best-quality almond extract
Preheat the oven to 425°. Lightly butter the financier molds, mini-muffin tins, or Flexipans, placed on a sturdy baking sheet.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and set it aside until room temperature.
In a food processor or blender, grind the almond with the cocoa, salt, and powdered sugar. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Stir the egg whites in the ground almond mixture, then gradually stir in the melted butter until incorporated and smooth.
Spoon the batter into the molds, filling them 3/4 full.
Bake for ten to fifteen minutes, until slightly puffed and springy to the touch. Remove from oven and cool completely before removing from molds.
Once cooled, financiers can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.
Makes about 15, one-inch financiers.