Saturday, April 16, 2011

playing well together

There are some dietary restrictions that play better together than others.

Cooking for vegans and vegetarians is straightforward: just make the meal vegan. Gluten-free and vegetarian? Serve an egg dish with potatoes or rice. Though I try not to cook for multiple dietary restrictions in one go, it's doable so long as there's a culinary lowest common denominator. The challenge lies in avoiding the dietary restrictions that are at odds with one another: the very idea of putting together a single meal for a vegan, a celiac, and an Atkins adherent is enough to make me reach for takeout menus.

Some dietary restrictions that seem challenging at first glance, however, can be surprisingly complementary. Though I’ve never needed to prepare a meal that was both gluten-free and kosher for Passover, I know it can be done with minimal frustration. Consumption of virtually all grains - including gluten-containing wheat, barley, spelt and rye -  is prohibited during Passover (in the Ashkenazi tradition), unless in the form of matzah or matzah-derived products. Therefore, a lot of Passover cooking is automatically gluten-free. In fact, when I first started experimenting with gluten-free recipes, I took many of my cues from Passover desserts.

My latest experiment, however, involved going the other way: taking a gluten-free recipe and adapting it for Passover use.

It started with leftovers. I had a lot of caramelized white chocolate left over from my complicated chocolate torte dessert, and I started casting about for other recipes in which I could put it to use. After browsing a little online, I hit upon blondies. A plain blondie is not much to write home about, but it’s a good blank canvas for mix-ins, and it seemed like a perfect starting point.

Adding caramelized white chocolate to a blondie would produce very sweet results, so I needed another flavor - something sour, or salty, or spicy - to balance it out. After rifling through my pantry, I pulled out a bag of tart dried cherries. Then a container of ground almonds caught my eye.

A blondie, like a brownie, is mostly fat and sugar, bound together with egg and a little flour. It occurred to me that I could probably make gluten-free blondies by switching out wheat flour for ground almonds. The trick would be adding some kind of extra binder so that they didn't become too crumbly. Thinking on it further, I decided to treat them as more of a candy than a bar cookie, a caramel with extra texture.

Caramel candy is produced from a mixture of sugar, invert sugar (some kind of syrup), and fat (butter, in this case), so my first move was to replace part of the sugar with golden syrup. Knowing that my dry ingredients would soak up less liquid than in a recipe with wheat flour, I opted to replace whole egg with egg yolk. Finally, I decided on a mixture of ground almonds and sweet rice (sticky rice) flour, reasoning that ground almonds alone might produce unpleasantly oily results. After some trial and error in baking pans (a larger surface area proved crucial), I had soft, chewy gluten-free blondies.

With the approach of Passover, I started wondering if I could tweak the recipe further. Kosher for Passover caramelized white chocolate might be too tall an order, but dried cherries pair equally well with dark chocolate. If I could do away with the sweet rice flour, I could produce a blondie that was both gluten-free and kosher for Passover. Unfortunately, the easiest modification - using just ground almonds - created the problem I'd originally predicted: the results were far too greasy. I needed a different approach.

I found a possible solution at Cake and Commerce (an excellent resource for allergen-free baking), after looking at a brownie recipe that used a gel made with tapioca flour, which is kosher for Passover. I reasoned that I could produce a sort of suspension by trapping the ground almonds in a mixture of tapioca gel, sugar, egg yolk, and butter, and that it should produce soft, chewy results. Unfortunately, the results were worse: I ended up with a gelatinous, greasy mess.

Back to the drawing board. Clearly, the recipe wasn't benefiting from the addition of butter. I had the feeling the egg yolk wasn't doing much good either. Why not see what would result from combining the ingredients that remained?

As it turns out, you can create a blondie from little more than ground almonds, sugar, and tapioca gel - and not only are they gluten-free and kosher for Passover, they're also vegan. I may still want takeout menus for dinner with a vegan, a celiac, and an Atkins adherent, but if I ever need to prepare a kosher for Passover meal that is both gluten-free and vegan, I'm all set for dessert.

(Kosher for Passover, Gluten-Free and Vegan) Cherry-Chocolate Almond Blondies

Tapioca starch is a kosher for Passover ingredient, but pay close attention to the labels – not all brands are certified kosher for Passover. The same goes for dried cherries, ground almonds, and vanilla extract.

If you can’t find certified ground almonds, run whole almonds through a food processor until powdery.

(Makes ten to twelve, depending on how small you cut them. Recipe may be doubled for a nine-by-nine inch pan.)

In a small saucepan, place a teaspoon of tapioca starch and add six tablespoons of cold water. Swirl the pan until the tapioca starch is fully dissolved. The liquid will turn cloudy and white.

Place the saucepan over low heat, and whisk steadily until the mixture thickens up and turns clearish in color. Remove from heat.

Allow the saucepan and contents to cool until just warm. Stir in a quarter-cup of white sugar and a quarter-cup of brown sugar. Add a half-teaspoon of salt, and a half-teaspoon of vanilla. Stir in a teaspoon of safflower or walnut oil.

Fold in one cup of almond meal, a little at a time. The mixture will be thick and sticky, more like dough than batter. Fold in three to four ounces of dried cherries, and three ounces of roughly chopped dark chocolate.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a nine-by-five inch baking tin.

Press the blondie mixture into the tin. Transfer the tin to the oven, and bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes, or until the mixture has puffed and is golden brown on top. Remove from the oven. Allow the blondies to cool completely in the tin before cutting them into squares.

(Gluten-Free) Caramelized White Chocolate and Dried Cherry Almond Blondies

 For a more pronounced almond flavor, bump up the amount of extract to a half-teaspoon.

(Makes ten to twelve, depending on how small you cut them. They'll keep for a few days in a sealed container.)

Melt half a stick (two ounces) of butter in a heatproof bowl, either in the microwave or over simmering water.

Stir in two tablespoons of white sugar, a quarter-teaspoon of almond extract, and a quarter-teaspoon of salt.

Add a quarter-cup of sweet rice flour, followed by two tablespoons of golden syrup. Stir in six tablespoons of ground almond meal. Beat in one egg yolk. Allow to rest for at least twenty minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a nine-by-five inch loaf pan.

Stir at least two ounces of tart dried cherries into the batter. (I say “at least,” because I can never resist adding a few extra.) Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, melt two ounces of caramelized white chocolate, and dollop spoonfuls of it all over the blondie batter. Use a skewer or a thin knife to incorporate it in swirling designs.

Bake for fifteen minutes, or until the blondies are golden in color. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares and serve alongside tea or coffee.


Molly said...

And early Friday morning I stood before a wall of kosher for Passover sugar, vanilla and tapioca at the Butcherie, and bought everything but the tapioca, thinking that I hadn't seen any good recipes for it. Ah well. I can always go back on Thursday...Thanks for the recipe!

adele said...

Molly - I meant to get this post written before Passover began, when people were still planning and shopping for ingredients, but life got in the way. *facepalm* I'm hoping it works as an "I don't think I can face any more matzah, what else is there?" change of pace. :)

Linsey said...

OMYGAWD Adele, those look gorgeous! Thanks for the nice words - I'm glad the tapioca gel worked for you. Its quite an amazing matrix. FWIW, when you use and egg in GF cooking, discard yolks and go for the whites - the protein makes all the difference in the structure. Cook on!

adele said...

Linsey - Egg whites for gluten-free baking?! I think you may have just provided a permanent fix for my perpetual too-many-leftover-egg-whites problem!

Cakelaw said...

Both types of blondies look and sound heavenly - can't choose between them.

adele said...

Cakelaw - Have both!