Friday, January 29, 2010

Mastering the Art of Biscuit: Gluten Free Cream Biscuits

a bit of cream biscuit: gluten free and warm
My mother, the baker, could make most any kind of old fashioned Jewish pastry with ease - strudel, rugelach, mandelbrot and even a brownie or two.  But aside from a once-a-year pancake feast prepared by the Ad Man dad, my parents never ventured into the kitchen in the early morning for anything more than a cup of coffee. 
We four kids were on our own.  Before I could reach the top of the counter, my brothers would generously set out a cereal bowl and spoon for me.
In fact, breakfast in our house was routinely cold cereal, and the boring Corn Flakes kind at that. Fluffy white-bread toast could be had, if you were lucky and there wasn't a line for the toaster.  With three older brothers the line was slow moving because they each had to toast several slices of bread.  By the time it was my turn, if there were any slices left, it would be the heel of the heels.
Sadly, until I was a teenager I had no idea that people made biscuits from scratch, or that they ate them for breakfast.  I thought the whole world got them from the Pillsbury Dough Boy and those funny little tubes of gooey dough.
As a grown-up with my very own kitchen, I tried making biscuits only to realize that making a seventeen layer chocolate cake with buttercream and ganache would be simpler.  Biscuits were a mystery.  The very best ones were flaky and light, yet substantial and always buttery warm.  The very worst were lard laden, cold hockey pucks that took an electric knife to slice open.
Most of the batches I made were alternately close to good or not worth the effort.  I finally gave up when my kids told me that McDonald's breakfast biscuits were way better than any I could make.  And McDonald's biscuits taste like they are made from the same fake butter source they use on movie theater popcorn.  That bad were mine.
It was entirely a lost cause.  That is, until we were forced by necessity to become gluten free.
Once again, I thought I would bravely try to bake some gluten free biscuits because everyone knows that when you have to bake differently than the rest of the universe you might as well begin with something that was impossible before. Expectations were pretty low.
Et voila!  Who knew that going gluten free would mean I could make a light and fluffy, yet flaky and substantial biscuit? 
No more having to mourn the loss of that tasty little breakfast treat.  We could make our own biscuit, sausage sandwiches, guilt free, aside from the fat in the sausage.  And the butter in the biscuit.  Or the cream.  No matter.  They were good.
Yes, they look a little bit funny, but these are larger in diameter on purpose because they were going to hold sausage patties and scrambled eggs.
The little flecks are from the various flours.  In this case, a bit of Authentic Classic Blend which is brown rice flour, potato flour, and tapioca flour.  And a tiny bit of Authentic Foods Featherlight blend made from cornstarch, rice flour, potato starch and tapioca flour.  The gluten free equivalent to cake flour.  Cake flour makes a wonderfully light biscuit.

Gluten Free Cream Biscuits
(modified from Dorie Greenspan's Baking Book)
  • 1.5 cups of Authentic Classic Blend Gluten Free Flour
  • 1/2 cup of Authentic Featherlight Blend Gluten Free Flour
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • About 1.5 cups very cold heavy cream
  • extra flour for rolling the dough
Preheat oven to 425.
Whisk together flours, salt, xanthan gum, and baking powder, and sugar until fully blended.   Pour in 1 cup of very cold heavy cream and mix with a fork.  Keep adding a little bit of cream until the dough almost pulls away from the sides.  Knead it in the bowl for about 4-5 turns  and slap it onto a floured cutting board.
Pat the dough into a circle or square about 1/2 inch deep.  Using a biscuit or other cutter, make as many as possible cuts as tightly together as possible.  You don't want much dough leftover.  Brush the extra flour off the bottoms and place on a silpat lined baking sheet (or parchment lined).
Bake about 10 minutes and rotate the baking sheet.  Bake about another 5 to 9 minutes or until they are very lightly golden.  Gluten Free flours do not brown and if you get it to brown, it is going to to taste burned.
Golden!  Barely golden.  What they lack in color, they make up in rich goodness.
Serve warm. 
Add a scrambled egg and sausage patty or serve with butter and jam.
The leftover biscuits can be reheated briefly in the microwave or used for shortcakes.  Note:  If you make these with regular flour, use a mix of all-purpose and cake flour  (1.5 all-purpose plus 1/2 c. cake flour) and leave out the xanthan gum.   Although I specified Authentic Brand Gluten Free flours, you can use all of one kind of gluten free flour - any brand,  if you wish.  They will be a little less light, but still taste great.  The cream must be very, very cold.  Also, the trick to light and flaky biscuits is to work the dough as little as possible.  Thus the mixing with  fork, just until it comes together, kneading it a bit, and patting it flat rather than rolling it to death.
  Bon Appetit
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Monday, January 4, 2010

Ada's Brownies (gluten free): Celebrating Mom's 93rd Birthday

Mom (center) with her dad & the Ad Man's mom, circa 1947
My mother was married to a vapid version of a Mad Men character.  Right decade, right self-important attitude, but wrong corporate milieu.  My dad was his very own tiny ad agency.   We will call him Ad Man.  His office was a room in the tiny bungalow they called home for 2 adults, four children and a dog.  My mother was co-opted into being his assistant without ever the acknowledgement that she worked not only in the home, but in the home office for the Ad Man.   He worked not 15 feet from the kitchen, but would yell for her to get him coffee a hundred times a day.  He yelled out when it was time for her to make him lunch.   He yelled out for her to tell the kids to be quiet when they talked too loudly.  Code:  anything above a whisper.
I was born into that fray and thought it all perfectly normal until I was in kindergarten.  I learned that most Dads left the house each day and came home for dinner.  I could go over to other houses to play after school, but because of the whisper-clause, no one ever came over to my house.  Only if the weather was fitting for outside play in the backyard would I be able to host friends.  Most of my friends thought I lived in the yard because they never got to see my room, or even believe I had a room inside.  That was cemented by the fact that mom brought us meals outside, too.   All that was missing was a tent and a sleeping bag.
As an adult I realized how my mom came to be such a fabulous baker.  She lived in the kitchen.  She couldn't be in the living room near the Ad Man's office because the swish of the turning pages of her book would bother him.   She read books in her bedroom on the other side of the tiny house, where I found her each day after coming home from school.   She spent the day baking and relaxed before dinner with a book.  Later, I learned that the relaxing had more to do with resting her damaged heart than just chilling.
Mom baked tons of goodies, but none more frequently than her brownies.  She was the entire welcome wagon for the growing neighborhood back in the mid 1940's and would bring a plate of brownies to every new family.  She baked them when requested and they became popular beyond reason.  We loved when she made brownies because the crisp edges had to be carved off before being given away.  The four of us fought over each edge though the pan was square.  As the youngest, I got first dibs most of the time.  I loved teasing my brothers and taking the imaginary largest sized edge from the square. 
Thankfully, the recipe made its way into print in the 1964 Syracuse Hadassah Cookbook.   Otherwise, none of us would have ever known how she made them.  Most of her recipes were hand-me-downs and no one ever bothered to write them out.  I still wonder how she got her strudel dough so thin and delicate.  And while I watched her make rugelach often when I was a tiny kid, I do not know the ingredients list.  
Undoubtedly these were oversights on her part, thinking she had lots of time to share them with us. She did not.  Mom died from heart failure when I was ten.  It is now fast approaching the bend in the road where she will have been gone almost as long as she was alive. 
Fortunately, the brownies live on.  I followed in her footsteps and made them as welcoming gifts for new neighbors when we lived in places that had neighbors.  I make them as gifts.  I've updated the recipe to reflect changing chocolate sources, but essentially I leave it alone.  Some things deserve to be historic mom-uments, including recipes that have a heritage and taste really good.
Ada's Brownies?  That would be the Ad Man's witty headline.  When the recipe was to be immortalized in the cookbook, it needed a catchy title.  A riff on Ate a Brownie became Ada's Brownies.   You cannot imagine how many people ask me about Ada and was that my mother's real name?  Um, no.  Just the Ad Man's moment of Zen.   Which is why he never was a Mad Men.
Happy 49.5 Million Minute birthday, Mom.  Your brownies live on, and now they will be travel that magic highway, the giant world wide web, where they will live on for virtual eternity.   Bon Appetit.

Ada's Brownies by Anne Stander
  • 1/4 pound of butter
  • 2 sq. baking chocolate
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tspn vanilla
  • 1/2 c. chopped nuts
Melt butter and chocolate and set aside to cool.  Cream sugar and eggs.  Add vanilla, then flour, salt and nuts.  Add butter and chocolate mixture.  Bake in greased, floured 9x9 pan.  350 degrees for 10 minutes, then 300 degrees for about 25 minutes.
My Notes
This is the original recipe written as was.  Translated:  1/4 butter is one stick of unsalted butter.  2 squares baking chocolate is 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate - use the best you can find.  Cut back on the (white) sugar slightly.  Nuts are optional.
For gluten free: use Bette's Featherlight gf flour blend from Authentic Foods and add 1/4 tspn xanthan gum.  Under measure the gf flour just slightly.
Mix everything as little as possible.  Brownies don't benefit from overmixing.  Less fussing makes them dense and chewy.