Gluten-Free Almond Chiffon Cake

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The problem with strawberry shortcake—call me on this if you like—is the biscuit base. No matter how buttery and/or flaky, it’s still mostly white flour. In my view, delicate fresh strawberries are burdened by the dense and stodgy biscuit, with the flowery berries demoted to a topping rather than the point. Granted, I’m the person who savors every bit of the fruit and cream and takes only one bite of the biscuit. Previously, my version of strawberry cake was genoise layers, filled with sliced strawberries in their own syrup and frosted with lightly sweetened stabilized (by cooking a bit of the cream with cornstarch) whipped cream. That cake has the texture—light, meltingly soft, spongy—of my dreams. But this month, we’re doing distance dining in our backyard with one or two other people, and it seemed silly to bake and assemble a layer cake only to keep it unseen in the kitchen. Moreover, genoise, which uses whole eggs, seemed somehow too yellow, too rich, for the blank canvas I was dreaming of. I gradually realized that a chiffon cake would make a perfect base for fresh strawberries and cream. I wanted to use almond flour, and once that thought lodged, I thought it would be silly not to also make the cake gluten-free.

I love egg whites, because of their protein nutritive value (I remember reading that Martha Stewart’s diet consisted mostly of hard-boiled egg whites), and because they become something else entirely when air is whipped into them, a blank canvas. My favorite cakes use whipped egg whites as leavening. (I use the leftover yolks in brioche and stollen dough and in custards.) Angel food cakes seem cloyingly sweet to me, while chiffon cakes have the same lightness and a more moist texture. According to most sources, the chiffon cake is an American invention of the 1920s by an insurance agent named Harry Baker. Its genius lies in the combination of whipped egg whites plus baking powder for leavening.

So here’s an almond chiffon cake, whose (please cut them big) wedges make a wonderful base for fresh, sliced strawberries and softly whipped or drizzled heavy cream. The faint almond taste adds interest but does not destroy the “blank canvas” of the cake. Like a trifle but in no sense a leftover, and not at all messy, this cake needs no alcohol to revive it. If you do have raspberry eau de vie or kirsch on hand, you could add a splash of that to the sliced berries and sugar. Or just a squeeze of lemon juice. You could, of course, use other berries or sliced fruit—any stone fruit would be lovely with the almond flavor. This is the cake I’m going to bake all summer long.

Gluten-free Almond Chiffon Cake

6 ounces almond flour

2 ounces white rice flour

1 ounce tapioca (or corn) starch

8 ounces sugar (whirred in a food processor or blender until superfine), divided in half

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

½ cup avocado (or other neutral vegetable) oil

½ cup whole milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

3 egg yolks

10 egg whites

2 tsp. cream of tartar

Heat oven to 325 degrees and place one rack in middle.

You’ll need three bowls, plus a stand mixer and its bowl, and an ungreased angel food or tube cake pan.

Whisk together almond flour and starches, baking powder, salt, and half the sugar. Set aside.

Whisk together oil, milk, egg yolks, and extracts.

Whip 10 egg whites until foamy, add cream of tartar, and whip until soft peaks, then gradually add half the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Dump the stiffly beaten egg whites into a large bowl (11 quart).

Into the mixer bowl (without washing) dump the flour mix and the oil/milk mix and beat about one minute or until very smooth.

Take about two cups of the beaten egg whites and fold it into the oil/flour/yolk mixture to lighten. Then fold the rest of the mixtures together in the largest bowl.

Pour into an ungreased angel food (or large tube) pan and bake for 55 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Turn pan upside down onto a cup or bottle (if the pan does not have feet, or even if it does) to cool at least two hours.

Once the cake is completely cool, use a long, thin sharp knife and a metal skewer to dislodge the bottom and sides and around the core. I use a paper clip that I have straightened out for the core (the same device I use to test if the cake is done). Invert on a greased wire rack and reinvert onto a serving plate or cake keeper. One point about the crust: it gets gummy, like a genoise crust, and detracts from the pure sponge texture. I cut off a thin layer of the cake top and bottom before serving, and I’m glad I did; the result is cleaner and more attractive. The cake lasts in the refrigerator for over a week, and at room temperature for a few days.

 

 

 

Vegan Mushroom Bolognese

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One thing I’ve missed since I mostly stopped eating meat is Bolognese sauce, so umami and rich, with a satisfying chewy texture. I also miss the combination of a meaty sauce with those very broad noodles called pappardelle. I remember eating them with a wild boar ragù in Lucca in 1985. We found the restaurant by asking a passerby—a middle-aged woman in a suit—for a good place to eat lunch, and soon found ourselves in a cozy osteria with walls hung with tapestries and a vast wine display.

So here is a recipe (serves about 4)  that will surprise you—the first time I served it to a friend she said, “Are you sure there’s no meat?”

1 pound tofu, extra firm/high protein or equivalent pressed (the less water in what you start with, the less frying time)

¼ cup olive oil (you may need more)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tbs. smoked paprika

½ small can tomato paste (2-3 tbs.)

(optional) a few drops Liquid Smoke

(optional) red pepper flakes (if you like a touch of heat)

1 ½ ounces dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup), covered in boiling water, then finely chopped in food processor

6 ounces fresh shitake mushrooms, diced or minced

Salt and pepper

8 ounces raw cashews, covered with water and simmered until soft (about 20 minutes)

4 cloves garlic

Red wine (as desired or needed) or water

To serve: fresh chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in large deep skillet and crumble in the tofu. Fry until all of it turns golden brown, and about half of the crumbles have crisp edges. Add chopped onion and smoked paprika and cook until onion is soft and moisture has evaporated. Add fresh mushrooms, cook five more minutes, then add dried, soaked, minced porcini and the grit-free soaking liquid.

To prevent grit from dried mushrooms getting into your food, lift the mushrooms out of the hot water into the food processor, and let the liquid in the soaking container settle. Then carefully pour off the top 90% into another container. Discard the last 10% and grit at the bottom.

My wife doesn’t like the texture of mushrooms, so I minced them in the food processor, but you can cut them into whatever size pieces you like as long as they are not bigger than the crumbled tofu. Add more olive oil if the mixture looks dry. You might need to use another ¼ cup.

Puree the simmered cashews, garlic, and water in a blender. The mixture should look like a milk shake. Add red wine (or more water) if it’s too thick.  Stir this into the tofu-mushroom mixture and cook for about five minutes until well blended. The cashew cream absorbs any grease from the sauce and it also adds protein, but it doesn’t add flavor, so add salt and pepper to taste, and add Liquid Smoke and red pepper flakes if you like. Add more red wine (or water) until the sauce is the right consistency for your pasta, but be sure to cook off the alcohol so the sauce doesn’t taste boozy. (If you’re making vegan Bolognese lasagna and don’t want to use ricotta cheese, you can use this cashew cream (salted) as a separate layer over the tofu-mushroom mixture, instead of combining them.)

The pappardelle pictured are made with eggs from a friend’s chickens—Thank you, Lynn! although of course you can use any kind of pasta. I love America’s Test Kitchen recipe because it’s easy to work with and egg-rich, which makes it full of flavor, too. For 3-4  servings: 5 ounces of flour (OK to include fine semolina or high protein flour but add another egg yolk); 1 egg, plus 3 egg yolks, 1 Tbs. olive oil. Let rest (wrapped in plastic) at least an hour and up to four hours. Roll out by hand or through a machine. Cut into 1 ½ inch noodles and boil in very well salted water. Because the sauce is so meaty, I like the noodles a tad thicker than if the sauce were lighter—5 on an Atlas machine as opposed to the last setting of 6.

Please let me know if you have questions or what you think if you try this!

Seed Cookies

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What’s as portable as a granola bar, but neater and homemade?  What contains lots of protein and fiber but no sugar? These cookies (should I call them energy balls?) have a firm and somewhat chewy texture. You can put them in your pocket and they won’t crumble. You can eat them and feel like you’ve had a good breakfast. You can mail them and not worry if the package takes a week to get there or sits in the sun. And you can make them with varied ingredients and they’ll still turn out OK.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup evaporated milk

4 ounces butter or other fat

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt (omit if you use salted butter)

stevia, erythritol or a combination, to taste

1 1/4 cup rolled oats

1 cup dried cherries, cranberries, or apricots

1 1/2 cups white hulled sesame seeds

1 cup raw sunflower seeds

Combine ½ cup evaporated milk with 1 stick melted butter. (It’s fine to use plant-based substitutes, i.e. coconut oil and cream, nut milk, vegan margarine. I have also used heavy cream in place of both butter and milk.) Add 2 tsp. vanilla and ½ tsp salt. Sweeten with stevia and/or erythritol to taste.

Whir and pulse 1 ¼ cups of rolled oats in a food processor with 1 cup of dried cranberries, cherries, or chopped apricots. The oats keep the fruit from sticking. The resulting mixture should have small and even particles of fruit.

Stir the oat/fruit mixture into the milk/butter mixture and let sit at least 30 minutes (longer is fine, too, just refrigerate if it’s overnight). Mix in 1 ½ cups hulled white sesame seeds (or 1 cup chia seeds) and 1 cup raw sunflower seeds. The mixture will be very stiff, like Play-Doh.

Roll into one-inch balls and place on baking sheet. Greasing your hands makes this easier. Bake about 25 minutes at 325 or until golden AND LET DRY IN THE TURNED OFF OVEN until cool.  If you touch one while hot, it will crumble.

These stay fresh and good a long time, and refrigeration makes them last even longer.

Teacake

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Maybe it’s all the British TV and films we’ve been watching, or maybe it’s because I want “stay at home” to feel cozy, but I’ve been craving a poundcake-fruitcake hybrid, a buttery cake, moist and not too sweet, interesting yet somehow simple. I looked at recipes for both fruitcake and poundcake and couldn’t find one I wanted to follow, so this is my hybrid; Rose Levy Beranbaum’s pound cake is an influence, yes, but the almond flour, whipped egg whites, and alcohol-soaked fruit are mine. I keep a container of golden raisins and zante currants steeped in brandy, for use in stollen, the yeast-raised German Christmas cake, but you can use any dried fruit, as long as the pieces are small and they have been soaked as long as possible. You could “rush soak” by heating the fruit and alcohol together if you don’t want to wait.

Teacake (makes two 8 1/2 x 4  inch loaves)  Use room temperature ingredients.

2 cups dried fruit (apricots, figs, raisins, prunes, currants, etc.) cut into raisin-size pieces or smaller, soaked in (covered with) brandy or rum for as long as possible but at least three days, drained very well

2 cups almond flour

3 cups AP flour

3 sticks unsalted butter

1 ½ cups sugar

6 eggs, separated

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp cream of tartar

½ tsp salt

½ cup milk

1 tsp each almond and vanilla extract

Prepare loaf pans with parchment paper sling and spray with Baker’s Joy. Or butter and flour.

Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy—sugar needs to be thoroughly dissolved into the butter. Add the egg yolks one at a time and keep beating until smooth. Beat in extracts and salt. Beat in almond flour.  In another bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder, and mix into the batter alternately with milk. Stir in drained, macerated fruit. Scrape batter into a large bowl.  Clean mixing bowl well, and beat egg whites with 1 tsp. cream of tartar until stiff but not dry.  Start with one-quarter of the egg whites,  mixing into the batter, then continue with rest of egg whites until well blended.

Bake in 315-325 oven for 80-90 minutes. Check for doneness after 70 minutes: If a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, the cake is done. Let cool in pan for about five minutes, then use paper sling to lift out of pan. Continue cooling on a rack for at least two hours. Slice with a very sharp knife.

Middle Eastern Frittata

Baked frittatas are my go-to for using up old vegetables (red lentil soup is the other). I sauté the vegetables in olive oil until they have released their moisture, combine with eggs and cheese, seasonings, leftover grain if I have it, and bake in quiche pans or muffin tins.

This frittata is unusually fresh-tasting, however, because it used uncooked vegetables and herbs, and yet it is not watery, thanks to a couple of tricks.  For two 8-9 inch pans (8 dinner servings), start by coarsely grating 1 1/2 pounds of small zucchini.

Sprinkle with one scant teaspoon of salt and let sit at least an hour (or all day if you like). When ready to bake, place handfuls of the now soggy zucchini in a handkerchief and squeeze out all the liquid. Place the dry zucchini in a bowl and add one generous bunch of chopped green onion, a few handfuls of parsley and and a handful of mint, 8 eggs (my picture shows only 6 but I realized later I needed more), ground pepper, and about 10 ounces of crumbled feta cheese. NB: One friend made this recipe using US (Wisconsin) feta and found it too salty with 10 ounces. The Greek brand I used was not too salty. Also note that today I had to use less parsley and mint than usual because it’s not yet abundant in our garden. So the picture of the herbs on the chopping board is misleading in terms of the ideal.) Here’s the other trick: add two heaping tablespoons of powdered pea protein. This not only increases the nutritional value of the frittata, but also absorbs any excess moisture. I buy it online–it’s the main ingredient in Beyond Meat, for example. If you don’t have pea protein, I think any finely milled and blandly flavored grain, bean or even nut flour would work. Combine everything well and spoon into greased quiche pans (or cake pans, anything low).  Bake at 375 until puffed and a little brown around the edge, 30 minutes. It tastes good hot, warm, or cold, and keeps for five days, refrigerated.IMG_1302

 

 

Seed Crisps

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This makes a high protein, gluten free cracker that tastes something like Mary’s Gone Crackers, but better, I think. I like having control over the size of the pieces. You can use other raw seeds, like chia. You’ll see the imprint edges of the cookie sheet in the middle piece above. Why buy if you can so easily bake?

You will need two cookie sheet sized Silpats (silicone liners) and two cookie sheets, approximately 13×18 inches. (Of course you can spread the batter on larger or smaller ones, too.) Heat oven to 325 degrees.

2 cups water

½ cup gluten-free flour—I’ve used light teff, sprouted buckwheat, chestnut. I think any gluten-free flour would work. Mary’s Gone Crackers uses rice and quinoa flour. Rice makes the cracker particularly crispy, but I prefer teff or buckwheat. If you use chestnut flour, leave out the extra sweetening. You could flavor this cracker with spice (turmeric, cumin, etc.) if you wanted, but that makes it less versatile. Plain, it goes with anything.

2 Tbs. maple syrup (or equivalent Stevia powder—about 1/4 tsp.)

1 tsp. salt

½ cup sesame seeds

½ cup golden flax seeds

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds

Whisk flour into water and add sweetener and salt. Whisk in small seeds, then large seeds. Taste for the level of sweet and salt you like, and adjust, if necessary.

Let sit at least 15 minutes (longer is fine: this allows the starch to absorb the water and the flaxseeds to swell), then pour or spread onto silicone liners. I used a small angled spatula. Bake in middle of oven at 325 about 20-25 minutes, or until crisp and evenly brown. Rotate the baking sheet if necessary. If the seeds are browning before the water evaporates and the cracker dries out, turn down the temperature. If you like a lighter cracker, you can turn off the heat before it is completely baked and let the cracker dry out in the turned-off oven, even overnight. Break into pieces and store airtight for several weeks.

Perfection

I’m lucky to have a cousin who lets Laura and me stay at her house in San Francisco. This, and reasonable airfares from Salt Lake City, make regular food trips to that city possible. Over the years, like dogs returning to where they have buried bones, we visit Delfina, Tartine Bakery, the Slanted Door, and Rainbow Grocery. About Rainbow Grocery: where else can I find (in small quantities, without shipping costs) light teff flour, purple barley, and scarlet runner beans?

On our last trip in November, we walked up Valencia street bemoaning the fact that I had missed the window to make a dinner reservation at Flour + Water, a restaurant in the Mission. So we headed to Delfina for a pizza, salad, and maybe arancini. Just before turning onto 18th street, I noticed a new Flour + Water pizzeria on the corner! Fifteen minutes later as we tucked into a Marguerita pizza and salad, we ruminated about why this pizza was not only leagues better than anything available in Salt Lake City (sorry, Settebello and From Scratch), but also even better than Delfina. A chewy, charred, perfectly crisp cooked crust (yeah, gluten!) full of wheaty flavor, a sauce that was the essence of summer tomatoes. A few basil leaves and some mozzarella. Attention to detail and purity of ingredients. Flour + Water bakes its pizza at 600 degrees; Settebello in SLC advertises a Neapolitan pizza cooked for just one minute in a 900 degree oven—but often I’ve had soggy, not just foldable, pizza.

At Flour + Water we noticed also the camaraderie and joy of the workers; during shift change, one baker walked out the door with three boxes of pizza, while another stood at the corner of the oven in his leather jacket and bantered with the people coming in for the new shift. Producing perfect food requires not only the best ingredients but a consistent attention to detail, to which every worker signs on.

Also on that weekend, before  lunch at the Slanted Door, we walked through the farmer’s market outside the Ferry Building. We admired organic red gem heads of lettuce for $2, five different kinds of Asian pears, and at the stall run by June Taylor, jams, candied and jellied fruit, and one pound loaves of Christmas cake. Since I, too, make these things, I talked to June about her ingredients and process. She stressed the necessity of pure ingredients and attention to detail, time that she acknowledges not everyone may have, costly time. She sun dries different grapes for her fruit cake, sources unusual citrus (yuzu, heritage grapefruits, mandarins, lemons, and limes) from local and organic growers (varieties we never see in the grocery because they are either hard to grow or otherwise not moneymakers) and candies the peel herself, using organic sugar. She dyes and block prints paper to wraps the $75 cakes. Years ago, when I first acquired a dehydrator, I decided to make my own raisins. In went four pounds, laboriously washed and stemmed. Four days and who knows how many kilowatts of electricity later, I had a handful of lovely, juicy raisins. They were unlike anything commercially produced—so full of flavor. Maybe this fall I’ll try sun-drying another batch—if the weather cooperates.

In any case, I came home from this San Francisco trip committed to seeking out more pure ingredients—switching from white cane to organic sugar, for example. And paying more attention to detail.

 

Mistakes Were Made

 

I couldn’t find my recipe (computer files are no better than a file cabinet if you’re an impatient person who throws something in a bin instead of figuring out exactly where it belongs), so I tried to recreate it from memory. In the first attempt I used too much walnut meal. In the second, my cake rose unevenly so it was hard to cut off a neat top. So I reduced the amount of walnut yet again and added a teaspoon of baking powder—it’s not a large amount and won’t be noticeable in taste, but it should help stabilize the batter. This may seem like a lot of steps for a cake, but the advantage to having different components is that you can taste and correct each part as you go. And the result was worth it.

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Coffee Cream Walnut Torte with Raspberries (serves 10)

Cake Base:

9 ounces walnuts. Finely grind in a food processor with 1/2 cup chestnut flour and 1 tsp baking powder. You could use all purpose or a gluten free blend or corn starch. Chestnut flour (which is also gluten free) is naturally sweet, so if you use something else you might want to increase the sugar a bit. The flour or starch keeps the walnuts from clumping together by absorbing some of their oil.

9 eggs, separated

3/4 cup sugar, divided

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cream of tartar

2 drops  lemon or orange oil, optional

9” springform pan, bottom lined with parchment paper and the whole sprayed with Baker’s Joy (or buttered and floured).

Filling:

16 ounces heavy whipping cream

Up to 3 Tbs. instant espresso, instant coffee, or Dandy Blend (made from beet, chicory and dandelion)—taste as you add. If you want a lighter coffee flavor, use less.

3 Tbs. powdered sugar

2 pints fresh raspberries (frozen will work, too)

2 Tbs. raspberry liqueur or syrup (optional)

 

Ganache glaze:

Melt (gently) 14 ounces of good quality dark chocolate (for this cake, I recommend between 45% and 55 % cocoa content) with 16 ounces heavy cream and add 2 Tbs. corn syrup (optional, for shine). Any leftover can be frozen. One fool proof way to make ganache is to finely chop the chocolate in a food processor, then pour in almost boiling heavy cream through the tube and process until smooth. Let the ganache cool to room temperature before covering the cake.

Make the cake:

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form, then beat in half the sugar until stiff (but not dry). Dump into a very large bowl.

In the mixer bowl, beat the egg yolks with half the sugar and salt (and optional flavoring) until thick and lemon-colored.

Gently fold together the egg mixtures in batches, alternately with the ground nut mixture, in three batches, in the large bowl. A sifter or sieve will help distribute the nut mixture evenly. Take care to deflate the eggs as little as possible.

Spoon into prepared pan and bake until the cake begins to shrink from side of pan, about 40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a pick comes out clean from the center. The batter will rise up an inch or so above the pan as it bakes and then sink a bit once it’s taken out. Let cool for about ten minutes, loosen the spring form, and cool further on a rack. Unmold the cake, use a cookie sheet or flat plate to turn it upside down and finish cooling it on the rack. Peel off the paper from the bottom.

Once the cake is cool, with a sharp and serrated knife, cut off about one inch off the top of the cake and set aside. You could use something flat and strong, like an extra large spatula or a pizza peel to keep from tearing the top as you lift, but if it does tear, don’t worry, the chocolate glaze will cover flaws.

With a small sharp knife, and/or a serrated grapefruit spoon, cut around the inside of the cake, leaving 1 inch walls and a 1 inch bottom. You want the cake to hold its shape with a sturdy frame. Scoop the crumb-center into a bowl, and crumble into pieces, pea-sized or smaller.

Whip the cream until soft peaks form, then whip in the powdered sugar and instant coffee, until stiff. Gently mix the flavored whipped cream with the cake crumbs and pat back into the cake shell. Top with raspberries and drizzle with the optional raspberry syrup or liqueur. Replace lid on cake and cover the cake with ganache glaze. (I use a small angled spatula to spread the glaze.)

Refrigerate—the cake will last at least four or five days, especially if made with fresh raspberries. Don’t be afraid to take it out of the refrigerator a few hours before serving.