Our Pro Pastry series is 10 weeks long and designed to teach the science behind the recipes. Each of our students works independently, which allows for a great degree of variations from person to person. Stephanie Hamilton signed up for our Summer Intensive Session, ready to deal with the onslaught of flying gluten but open to experimentation. When she arrived, we decided that she would blog about her experience, cataloging her hits and misses working with a variety of brands. In a nutshell, Stephanie’s done the hard work for you, showing you which flours work best for which techniques.
Gluten Free Post #1: Caramel Shortbread Brownies
Baking is an art. You approach a blank space with variations of materials and mediums to attempt to create a masterpiece. Success and failure are closely intertwined: a tad too much baking powder or even adding ingredients out of order could delicately destroy your creation. Though baking is a specific science, this feat is proven even more difficult when the option of wheat flour is taken away. This omission garners in an entirely new array of options that must be carefully scrutinized in order to be successful. This is what I learned during the first day of my Pro Pastry Course.
Premixed gluten free flours consist of different types of flours mixed with starches or gums in order to mimic the beloved wheat flour, but it’s really trial and error in order to figure out what works for whatever recipe you might have in hand. Today, I picked Arrowhead Mills Heritage Blend All Purpose Flour. As Arrowhead Mill had xanthan gum listed in its ingredients, and having learned from Clemence (our fearless, ridiculously knowledgeable leader) about how xanthan gum can contribute expansion in baking, I thought a shortbread brownie recipe would be a match. Though initially the shortbread recipe was a bit wet, with a slight addition of 20g of flour, the shortbread not only browned just as beautifully as the wheat flour options next to it, but had a delightfully full flavor that was void of dryness or brittleness, two characteristics that have continued to be associated with gluten free baked goods, discouraging many from trying such treats. This presents the greatest difficulty in gluten free baking. Not only must the baked good look and act like the traditional wheat based product, but, in order to be respected (or even acknowledged) by those around you, the deliciousness of this gluten free treat is mandatory. Lucky for me, this flour was perfection in combination with my buttery crust and cocoa brownies.
Now, the chewy caramel that coated the center of these brownies undoubtedly added chewiness and moisture, thought I’m certain this flour could stand on its own. But if I have to add this caramel to everything I bake from now on, I think I’d be okay with that.
Gluten Free Post #2: Cookies!
Did you know that cookies bake better with a sufficient amount of flour? Well, now you do. This seems like a problem that is easy enough to avoid, but alas, it is the crux of the problem of gluten free baking. The only way to solve this problem is through trial and error; the latter seen in my first attempt at a chocolate chip cookie. The batter was not substantial enough to hold its own and spread thin over the parchment. A delicious mishap, I might add, as crunchy chocolate chip cookies are a personal favorite. However, as the intention was to create a chewy cookie, the flour was deemed unsuccessful. In the second batch I used the successful flour from yesterday: Arrowhead Mills. I split them into two batches: one was baked right away and the other was set aside. Both batches were delicious, but those that were set aside and allowed to rest were more perfectly golden brown and had a chewier texture.
For the rest of the class I alternated between two flours: King Arthur All Purpose and Arrowhead Mills. Arrowhead Mills was once again successful, this time in carrot(cake) muffins and chocolate chip cookies. King Arthur produced drier products, though it allowed for a beautiful rise on blueberry muffins. I plan on trying the recipe again with added milk to balance out the dryness.
In contrast, the carrot muffins were delectably moist. Whether the answer was the oil based recipe or the brilliance seen thus far by Arrowhead Mills is undetermined; either way, I am starting to get the impression that the Arrowhead Mills gluten free blend is one of, if not the, best out there. When it comes to the untested gluten free flours, I’m most excited to try Pamela’s famously known (by Sprouts enthusiasts) blend in the coming lessons.
Gluten Free Post #3: Souffles
Today there were less opportunities to try out gluten free flour as the class was structured around recipes for egg based desserts. We did however make one dish, a cheese soufflé, that required a small amount of flour. I chose the Arrowhead Mills for a few reasons: it has xanthan gum as a binding agent, it was already opened, and it had been working so well the past two days. We all agreed that this was either going to be a beautiful soufflé, or a sloppy mess, but either way, it would taste good, and that’s always the priority. So when the soufflés exited the oven looking wonderfully light and fluffy, with a beautiful rise, we were all pleasantly surprised. The sense of excitement and celebration that comes from these gluten free successes serve as wonderful baking bonding experiences that has brought forward wonderful discussions and questions about the process that has enlightened me further.
John, our guest teacher for the day, offered the same professionalism and kindness that has been a constant of the Gourmandise staff. His passion for these creamy desserts was shown through the way in which he discussed the products and demoed the recipes. It was clear that many of us had never attempted these recipes before but he was able to instill confidence in each of us. He put the power in our hands and answered our questions with true care and willingness to help. He, just as Clemence does, allows us to become bakers and not apprentices through their ability to treat us as peers and the wisdom they impart onto us.
Gluten Free Post #4: Pies!
If gluten free pie crusts were ever a worry, fear no more. Pamela’s All Purpose Gluten Free Flour produced a flaky, crisp pie crust that amazed my friends and family. During our Pro Pastry class today we each made a pie crust and a berry filling, while the apple filling was left up to groups. In the beginning of class, we made our dough, were careful not to overwork it, and put it in the freezer. We made all of our berry fillings with corn starch and they were all beautiful!To construct our pies, Roxanna, our guest teacher, taught us how to correctly roll, measure, and crimp our pie crusts. Her expertise made it look like an easy and light feat. With her guidance, we were all successful in our crimping and our lattice tops, though we were not as quick or as poised in the process. However, when the pies came gliding out of the oven, it was as if they were all made by professional bakers. In one day, Roxanna was able to take us amateur bakers and make professionals out of us.When it came to working with Pamela’s Gluten Free Flour, Roxanna guided me along the way. She had me reduce the flour in the crust recipe by a half cup, which kept the dough from collapsing and created a flaky, non-gluten free seeming crust. Her wisdom proved correct as it produced just that! Overall, the lesson not only taught us the basics of pie making, but allowed for experimentation and individuality in each of our creations.
Gluten Free Post #5: Cupcakes!
Clemence told us a clever joke about buttercream today: The French use egg yolks, the Italians use egg whites, and the Swiss use both because they have a need to stay neutral. Today, we tackled the Italian buttercream, and joked that it was healthier because of this use of egg whites; however, the two pounds of butter pretty much negated any hope of health, though the delectable taste is well worth it.
And though the taste on the spoon was delicious enough, it was remarkable atop the Devil’s Food Cupcakes we had made earlier in the day. They are oil based, so there was very little trepidation in approaching these with the intention of using gluten free flour. Not only were they successful, but these cupcakes are by far the best chocolate (if not best overall) cupcakes I, as well as my friends and family, have ever had. A joyous thing to be sure, but the requests for these cupcakes will undoubtedly be frequent. Being the talk of the cupcake-making town is the cross that I must now bear.
Gluten Free Post #6: Pizza!
When I was in elementary school, I used to get frustrated with my classmates when they said their favorite foods were pizza and ice cream. I’d like to believe that it was my future gluten-and-lactose-intolerant self that was the envy of these carefree words, therefore making it impossible for me to share this sentiment with them. In that moment, however, I felt like they were being greedy and choosing something with so many delicious parts: cheese, bread, tomatoes. But that’s the glory of pizza, and the demise of the gluten free who live without it.
I spent the few days prior to my attempt at the Authentic Foods Gluten Free Mix calling various pizza places around me to see whether or not they had gluten free options. Disappointment and guilt oozed through the phone like the cheese on the pizza I would never again enjoy. Perhaps it was not guilt, but judgment I heard. As if the thought of a gluten free pizza crust was so taboo it should have its own Nat Geo documentary crew; only then will we begin to understand and accept the unthinkable.
This judgment has been something that has plagued my family for decades; not judgment of each other, but of pizza. Just as some yell at sports games, or even Oscar winners (and losers), my family has an adverse reaction to pizza commercials. Specifically, commercials that offer ingenuity in their pizza: pineapple, hamburger, barbecue chicken, cheese in the crust. “That’s not pizza!” they yell. “What is wrong with people today?” they exclaim, as if it were possible to commit a hate crime toward pizza. Maybe when you’re Italian, disrespecting pizza is a hate crime? Probably not. The expectations were high for this pizza. I was daring to change an integral part of that which is held in such high esteem.
The brilliance of Authentic Foods Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix lies within its simplicity. The instructions are similar to the pineapple upside down cake designed for an EasyBake Oven, though the taste is incomparable. As per the instructions, “Mix oil, water, yeast, and the pack of flour until a ball forms.” This happens in about a minute and the dough only needs to sit for 30-45 minutes to let the yeast do its job.
The flour mix lacks xanthan and guar gums, which make it easier on your digestive system, but a little tougher to work with. The lack of gluten creates a dough that lacks stretch: don’t expect to be tossing the dough in the air like your favorite New York pizzeria. The taste might be reminiscent of such a place, however. The dough was not too sweet (as gluten free dough can sometimes be) or too crumbly. I served the pizza and focaccia to friends and family, none of which are gluten free, but some of whom are Italian. There was only one complaint: they wished the pizza crust was crispier. This was my doing. In an attempt to make one large pizza, I opted for sixteen inch nonstick pans, rather than pizza pans or a pizza stone, which were both too small. This, mixed with the sauce, cheese, and herbs contributed to a less than crisp crust. The focaccia, not weighed down by such toppings, was crispier, though I think it would have done well to have the insulated pizza pan, or the unparalleled pizza stone.
Being delicate with the dough seems like a fair trade for being able to have a pizza crust that tastes like pizza, looks like pizza, and will hopefully one day infiltrate the masses and become the attainable crust of our gluten free dreams.