Monday, November 23, 2009

The Flan That Would Be Pumpkin

pumpkin flan with gluten free crust

naked pumpkin flan

If you still have pumpkin or ran to the store and bought out the dwindling supply, this recipe is for you. Pumpkin flan in a pate brisee crust, topped with a little cream fraiche or whipped cream will make your guests think you are Martha Stewart.

Oh, yeah. This is Martha's recipe. Sort of. Since it was made in the L&P gluten free test kitchen, it has, shall we say, been modified to meet gluten free standards and enhanced slightly. In addition, since it is a MS recipe, we sought to simplify wherever we could.

First, begin by making a pot of high test French Roast coffee. You will need it. Second, make sure you begin a couple of days before you want to serve the dessert. It tastes better the second and third day. It was not so good the first day.

You could get a gluten free (or regular) pie crust mix at the store. That is a great alternative to save you time.

But if you are a whiz at the pie crusts, you know these crusts are simple to make and don't take much time at all.

Just remember - the flan needs to be a little bit smaller in diameter than than the pastry crust.

The hardest task was the making the caramel. It goes from perfect to hard candy in a flash. Be careful. And no, the hard candy stage will not get you the caramel you need for the flan finish.

Just have patience and learn from our mistakes. The caramel is easy. It is simply water and sugar boiled gently on really low heat until the color is perfect. Martha said to make it a nice deep amber color. Don't!

It will be hard candy in about 5 seconds after it turns amber. Just get it to that light blond stage and by the time you pour it, the color will be perfect. And it will pour! Hard candy doesn't pour. My first batch made it to the ramekins and then became a hard shell.

The flan is flavored with real ginger - so beware. If you enjoy the sharp taste of ginger, by all means, use the recommended dose. But if you want a subtle taste of ginger, dial the portion back a touch.

And last, be sure to follow the directions to strain the flan into the ramekins unless you enjoy little stringy bits of ginger and pumpkin. It makes a difference. And don't press too much on the strained stuff or you will push through some things you don't want in there - speaking from experience.

And the biggest advice of all: Don't serve it with the pate brisee if you don't want to bother making the crusts. It is perfectly pretty and tasty all on its own. The pastry crust is fun, but really, it is the kind of thing we expect from Martha, a little over the top.

We made it so you don't have to - but you might want to. It is really good. But then again, I was dreaming of Smitten Kitchen's chocolate pudding pie as I was making the crusts. That should tell you something.

Pumpkin Flan in a Gluten Free Pate Brisee Crust

Ingredients for Caramel Sauce

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup filtered water

Directions for Caramel Sauce

make sure the sugar and water dissolve

In a small saucepan with high sides, heat the sugar and water gently till disolved. Don't stir it at all. Just swirl the pan with the handle. Have a glass of cold water and a pastry brush nearby. Once the sugar is dissolved, heat to a gentle low-heat boil, keeping it simmering at the lowest heat possible. Use the cold water/brush to brush down the sugar crystals that form on the side of the pan once in a while. Swish the saucepan once in a while. Do not let it get to the deep amber color Martha suggests. Light blonde is good.

once it dissolves gently boil it

As soon as it is the right color, set the pan in cold water for a second - be really careful - boiling sugar is hot and can burn. It will sizzle like crazy when it hits the cold water. Immediately pour the caramel into the bottoms of 6-8 shallow ramekins about 4 inches in diameter. Don't worry about the size so much - just divide the caramel evenly. Let it cool on the counter while you prepare the flan.

this would be the perfect color

If you did this right, the caramel is runny. If you did it almost right, the caramel might be slightly hard, but still gooey. That will work too. The only instance where you need to begin again is if the caramel is hard as a rock. It won't make that nice runny stuff when you flip it and will stay in the ramekin. Do it over.

this is the do-over color, sigh

Ingredients: Flan

cast of characters pumpkin flan
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups of whole milk
  • 12 ounces canned pumpkin (not pie mix)
  • 1 tspn grated fresh ginger root (MS uses 2 tspns)
  • 1 tspn cinnamon (MS uses 1/2 tspn)
  • 1/4 tspn freshly grated nutmeg
  • pinch salt
  • 5 large eggs plus two large yolks
  • 2 tspns vanilla

Directions Flan

flan ramekins in roasting pan

Preheat oven to 325. Place the ramekins in a roasting pan. Bring the milk just to a light boil on the stove. In the meantime mix the remaining ingredients until well incorporated. Temper the mixture by adding the hot milk slowly and stirring at the same time. Whisk it all together. Using a fine strainer, pour the flan over the caramel, into the ramekins filling about 2/3 full.

before the boiling milk, the flan ingredients
tempering the mixture should get you this

Place the pan in the oven and carefully add hot water until it is halfway up the sides of the ramekins in the roasting pan. Place a sheet of foil over the top - it doesn't have to be a tight fit at all - just covering it is fine.

in the oven, with a water bath

Bake for almost an hour or until a knife comes out clean from the center. It can take a little less than an hour. Over cooked flan looks a bit grainy and crumbly. So keep a watch out. Once you've done it successfully you will know when to fetch it from the oven. The first time is always the hardest.

Let them cool in the bath until they are room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for the next day.

just done - wait until tomorrow

Ingredients Pate Brisee

  • 1.5 cups of gluten free flour
  • 1 tspn xantham gum
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tspn white sugar
  • 9-10 tablespoons of ice cold unsalted butter cut into tiny pieces
  • filtered ice water

Directions Pate Brisee

Measure the dry ingredients into a food processor. If you are using a bowl, do the same. Drop the butter bits into the flour mixture in the processor or a bowl. For the processor: Pulse it until the mixture looks like cornmeal. For a bowl, using a fork or pastry blender tool, mix in the flour until it looks like cornmeal.

whiz this until it looks like cornmeal

Add about 1/4 cup of ice water all at once. In the processor, pulse until it just comes away from the sides into a ball. Add more ice water to get there if needed. In the bowl, add the ice water and work it in until it just starts to turn into a solid ball.

ready to come away from the sides, perfect

Grab the ball of dough and divide it evenly in half, and then again in half again until you have four to eight even-sized pieces. Gluten free pie dough does not roll easily. Since you filling 5-inch tart pans, smack the dough into the pan and work it up the sides until it is nice and thin and evenly done. The dough will be quite soft by now.

You want to bake it when the butter is very cold, so refrigerate the tart pans on a cookie sheet for at least 30 minutes or longer. You can leave them overnight if you like. They freeze well too.

chilled, ready to bake

Take them from the refrigerator or directly from the freezer and bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes or just until they look very lightly brown. GF pie dough never browns like regular pie crusts - so don't worry if they are light color. They are supposed to be that way.

Let them cool completely at room temperature.

toasted blonde, not browned

Assembling the Tarts

Take the flans out to come to about room temperature before serving. Run a butter knife around the edges a few times. Take the tart dough and remove the tin if you can. If not, don't worry about it. Put the tart shell upside down on the ramekin and securely holding it so it doesn't shatter, flip the whole thing quickly and remove the ramekin.

Once you've done this, the rest will be easy. I always make an extra so if I break it, or screw it up, it doesn't matter. The first is the hardest.

Serve with whipped cream or cream fraiche.

Or serve the flan naked and skip the tart shell. Both ways are great.

Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pumpkin Who? Thanksgiving Ginger Cake & Poached Pears

Thanksgiving Gluten Free Ginger Cake & Poached Pears

Watch out, pumpkin pie.

This year, Thanksgiving is not just about that orange gourd-like squash. It will be all about another knobby little tuber called ginger root.

This gluten-free ginger cake with poached pears takes a little bit of time to prepare. It is one of those wonderful desserts that looks complicated, but is not. You can make the whole creation ahead of time and plate it at the last minute. While everyone else is eating that orange colored pie, your guests will be impressed with a dessert that will not only make them swoon, it'll help digest that ginormous Thanksgiving meal. Ginger is a great thing to eat after a huge dinner.

The original recipe comes from Fine Cooking Magazine, in an article from the husband and wife team of Nancy Oakes and Bruce Aidells. He, of sausage fame, and she, of Boulavard Restaurant fame. The modifications and enhancements come from the L&P gluten-free test kitchen.

Set aside a couple of hours to prepare this. A day or so before the holiday is fine. You can refrigerate the poached pears and sauce separately. The cake can be stored under a glass dome, or wrap it up in foil after it is completely cold and store it in the refrigerator too. Just make sure to take all the ingredients out the day you wish to serve it so that they come to room temperature. You can heat the sauce if you like it warm. It tastes great warm or at room temperature.

No one will guess that the dessert is gluten-free. The crumb looks like any other cake, and the ginger, molasses flavoring will make everyone swoon. The secret ingredient for the cake and sauce cannot be understated. It is key to the final flavor. And no one will ever know that it started as a bottle of artistan root beer. Many thanks to Bruce Aidells and Nancy Oakes for adding this crazy ingredient - who knew a bottle of root beer could be this versatile?!

Gluten Free Ginger Cake & Poached Pear
& Sauce with Whipped Cream

cast of characters

Ingredients: Cake

  • 2 scant cups gluten free flour (lightly filled)
  • 1 teaspoon xantham gum
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root powder (make sure it is a new jar)
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 scant cup veggie oil (not olive)
  • 3 large eggs or 2 jumbo eggs
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1.5 cups of dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup of the best crafty root beer you can find

Cake Directions

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9 inch square baking pan with straight sides. Dust with granulated white sugar. Set the prepared pan aside.

buttered and sprinkled with sugar

Mix flour, salt, spices, xantham gum together in a large bowl. Thoroughly mix eggs, oil and molasses in a smaller bowl and whisk until completely incorporated.

gluten free flour & spices

molasses, eggs & oil do mix, eventually

In a small saucepan mix well, and heat to boiling, the root beer and brown sugar. Be careful. Boiling sugar is hot!

brown sugar & foamy root beer

Meantime, pour the molasses mixture into the larger bowl with the flour et al. Mix with a wooden spoon. If you use a whisk (like I did) it will get stuck.

Once the rootbeer/brown sugar mixture is boiling, pour it into the larger bowl and this time using a whisk, make sure it is all incorporated. It will be very liquidy and may bubble up some. Just keep stirring until it feels incorporated.

pour and whisk carefully - tis hot

Quickly pour (yes, it pours like liquid) into the prepared pan and place immediately into the oven.

really liquidy batter into the oven

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes and then turn the oven down to 325 and continue to bake for about 15 minutes more or until a toothpick comes out clean. It can still look under-done but as soon as the toothpick comes out clean, take the cake out and set it on a rack to cool, still in the pan. Gluten free batters should bake at a lower temperature.

center looks gooey, but toothpick is clean, so it's done

Take a butter knife and drag it around the edges after about ten minutes just to loosen the edge of the cake, but leave it in the pan to cool for about 30 minutes. Take the rack and place it on top of the cake and flip it out of the pan. You may have to tap the bottom of the pan with a butter knife to convince it to come out, but it will. Be patient.

Quickly place your cake plate on top of the flipped cake and holding the rack and the plate, flip it over so the top is up again. I used a glass cake plate that has a dome. You can use anything you want but be sure to anticipate how you will be wrapping up the cake to store when you plate it. Once is on the plate you will not able to get it off - you have to cut the pieces from there to plate the servings.

nice crusty sugary edges

Poached Pears

This is the fun part. The hardest part about poaching is peeling and coring the fruit. We used baby bosc pears from the Farmer's Market. You can use Bosc Pears from anywhere, big or small. They both take about the same amount of time to poach.

Ingredients: Poached Pears

Allow 1/2 pear per serving

  • 4 large firm, but ripe bosc pears or 6 small ones
  • 3-4 bottles of the same great root beer
  • peel from 1.5 small lemons or one large one (not the pith)
  • 1/2 whole vanilla bean

Directions: Poached Pears

Peel pears, leaving stems intact if you can. Cut in half and core carefully. Use a tiny melon ball instrument if you can. Makes quick work of the core.

Pour root beer into a flat bottomed saucepan large enough to hold the pear halves laying down. Use enough root beer to cover the pears completely. Drop in large lemon peels and the vanilla bean.

Bring to a simmer and poach on low heat, so that the liquid slightly simmers. Don't cover the pan. Poach until the pears are soft, but still firm enough to keep their shape. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes. Just keep checking back.

prepared pears, lemon peel, vanilla poaching in root beer

Once the pears are done, remove them with a slotted spatula or spoon to a container that you can close and refrigerate if you are not serving them immediately. Let them cool completely before storing.

little poached pears cooling off

Meantime, turn the heat up a little and gently boil the liquid until it reduces to a syrupy consistency. It takes about 15 minutes. Watch it carefully at the end because it can evaporate and burn. I like to take it off the heat a tiny bit before it turns thick. It continues to thicken up even off the heat. Immediately strain our the lemon peel and vanilla bean, and pour into a container or a pitcher and let it cool to room temperature before storing.

this ended up being about 1.5 cups when finished

Whipped Cream

Buy a can or make it at home. If you whip it at home, add a touch of sugar and little bit of vanilla.


Cut the cake into even sized pieces. Place the cake on a plate off-center a touch.

Take a pear half (we used two small halves for each serving just because we are piggies). And place it stem side up leaning on the cake.

Pour or spoon a little bit of the warmed or room temperature syrup over the cake and the pear. It will pool at the base of the cake. You want enough for each serving to have a tiny pool at the cake base.

Plop a little bit of whipped cream on top of each piece of cake. Garnish with mint leaves or candied ginger peel if you wish.

Serve and watch them swoon.

pumpkin, who?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Betty Crocker Goes Gluten Free: Our Test Kitchen Version

GF_Images_Box_DevilsWhen Betty Crocker offers gluten free cake mixes, you know that Celiac has become mainstream. The story about how the corporation came to develop gluten free products is on the box. A familiar tale - a child of an employee and a test kitchen employee were diagnosed with Celiac. No one wanted to leave them out of the joy of being able to eat Betty Crocker baked goods. Thus a rationale for the development of a new product was born.

Betty Crocker offers a chocolate devil's food and yellow gluten free cake mix. A gluten free chocolate chip cookie and brownie mix can be had as well. Their website offers a variety of recipes using each product.

In our test kitchen, we are mixing up the chocolate cake mix into cupcakes, adding a Betty Crocker frosting-in-the-can that seems to have no offending gluten ingredients, but is not labeled gluten free. One can assume that if they have gone to the trouble of developing a gluten free baking mix, the frosting will soon follow. Until then, finding the product that does not contain gluten is tricky because some do, and some do not. It pays to read carefully, or make your own from scratch.

We paired the chocolate cupcakes with Betty Crocker chocolate chocolate chip frosting.

Better with homemade frosting, or none at all

First, read the instructions and ingredients list on the box carefully. Gluten free is not fool proof entirely. The ingredients list is a tutorial in how the final product, once baked, might taste. The first ingredient listed is sugar. No decent cake should have sugar as the primary ingredient, even a gluten free cake. Especially a gluten free cake. But with a little innovation, you can improve the flavor.

The box requires that you add a stick of softened butter, some water, and eggs.

Always use unsalted butter. Water is a good because it blooms the cocoa powder and eggs are necessary. To this we added extra cocoa powder, some finely ground espresso (decaf) coffee, a tiny bit of vanilla and almond flavoring, a spoonful of sour cream, and one additional egg to compensate for the additional dry ingredients. The addition of unsweetened cocoa powder will cut back on the sweetness and enhance the chocolate flavor.

The Enhanced Ingredient List

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 cup of hot water (not boiling)
  • 3 jumbo eggs or 4 large eggs (at room temp if you can)
  • splash of vanilla and almond flavoring or liquor
  • heaping tablespoon of sour cream
  • 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of finely ground espresso beans


Preheat the oven to 325. Make sure butter is very soft, but not melted. Eggs at room temperature mix better. Mix everything on low speed until incorporated. Mix for 2 minutes on medium speed until fluffy. Scoop into cupcake pan (using paper liners) about 3/4 full. Bake about 22 minutes at 325 degrees. Toothpick should come out clean.

Cool and frost. Leave them out until frosting sets. If you cover them before that happens, the canned frosting will slide off overnight. Blah.

baked and cooling - they tasted best plain!

The Critique

Grainy - Not a bad mix, but they could use a better grade of gluten free flour that is not as grainy. That happens a great deal with commercially prepared gluten free products. There is no need for that anymore. Really finely ground gluten free flours are available these day.

Too Sweet - No adult would really enjoy a cake that sweet. It had to be cut with lots of unsweetened cocoa to lighten up the sweetness.

Overall Flavor - The initial flavor would have been flat. It needed a boost with the vanilla, almond or liquor. But it is a decent basic cake if you cut the sweetness.

Going Back for More? - Maybe. Probably would avoid having to do that, but in a pinch, with some modification, it might be a timesaver. But never would use that frosting again. It was pretty much the worst frosting we ever tasted. It could use substantial improvement but is not worth the effort. Would make our own next time, or just use a ganache.

Grade - A++ for the effort and production of a gluten free product. C + for the chocolate cake mix with sugar as the lead ingredient. And an F- for any of the Betty Crocker canned frostings.

just frosted, but later it all slid off the cupcakes...
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