My first foray into gluten-/dairy-/soy-/nut-free cooking did not turn out so well. I shared the allergen-free cake I made with that super-gritty Arrowhead Mills brown rice flour with my family. Nobody liked it, and my family LOVES cake. I also realized that another part of it is that we are just not used to the taste of brown rice flour. I mean, for people who eat things made from wheat flour all the time and aren't used to brown rice flour, it just tastes odd. That's not a fault of Cybele Pascal's recipe at all. It's just the product I purchased. And again, she warned her readers not to use the Arrowhead Mills stuff.
But I persevered, and my next recipe turned out much better, if I do say so myself. My next project took me into the wide, wonderful world of allergen-free brownies.
Yes, I admit: unlike most cakes, which I can rarely stomach from a box, I have never made a brownie from scratch. It's always been a box mix. So this bit of the food ethnography is not only my first allergen-free brownie from scratch, but it's my first brownie from scratch at all.
The dish: Allergen-Free Fudge Brownies
In her Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook, Pascal prefaces this recipe with a confession:
...allergen-free, gluten-free brownies were a bit like the Holy Grail... A chewy, moist brownie with a nice, crusty glossy top remained elusive. Until now, that is. (Pascal, p. 86)In retrospect, she did exactly that: a perfect brownie for anyone who is allergic to just about anything that would normally go into a brownie, save chocolate and sugar. All the chocolate and sugar are real.
For this dish, the first thing I had to do was buy an edible brown rice flour. So out went any remnants of Arrowhead Mills (I HATE wasting food), and in came a much finer bag of Bob's Red Mill. Just tasting the plain flour by itself I could feel the difference. And I mis-remembered the price, because the bag of Bob's Red Mill was actually a few cents cheaper. But it was also a little smaller. As for Arrowhead Mills: I'm sure they make many good flours, but their brown rice flour is not among them.
Pascal's fudge brownie recipe (it's in the "Cookie" chapter of her handbook) uses most of the ingredients from the yellow cake, so there were very few things I needed to buy new - this alone save me a good bit of money that was not saved the last time. However, other than the flour ($3.50) I ended up completely using all or almost all of the things I bought for the brownies:
- The unsweetened baker's chocolate ($5) was fairly easy to find. I went with a box from Baker's.
- The soy-free chocolate chips ($5) were much, much more elusive. Pascal suggests Whole Foods for many ingredients, so I went there for the chips. There were lots of varieties of vegan chocolate chips. But every single one - I mean every single one - used soy as an emulsifier. Dejected, I headed to the Health Concern in Towson. I still had to hunt for them among the many bags of soy-filled chocolate chips, but I did find soy-free chocolate chips made by Enjoy Life. Even better, it said right on the bag that the chips were made in a facility dedicated to allergen-free products. They are a tiny little chocolate chip, and I actually found this chip to be much more intensely chocolaty than others I am used to eating. But again, I had to use almost the whole bag for this recipe.
- The one final ingredient I had to use was puréed prunes. Pascal specifically recommends baby food. I've never used baby food in a recipe before, but it isn't that absurd, really. All it is, is the pure, puréed ingredient. I needed about 10 ounces of baby food, and I used Gerber nifty little 2.5 ounce single-serve containers, bundled into packs of two ($1 each, for a total of $2). This is the first time I have eaten anything with the Gerber label on it since the mid 1970's.
I was almost tempted to just eat it as is, but there were brownies to be made. Whisk together xanthan gum, baking powder and the flour mixture (again, potato starch, tapioca flour and the new brown rice flour) and add to the fudge in batches, and then add those chocolate chips before smoothing out in the pan.
Pascal recommends you leave the brownies in for 55 minutes. Again, this is for a 9" square pan. But I only have 8" square pans, and wasn't going to spend extra money on a larger one. This presented a challenge or two. For one, it made for a brownie that was much thicker than the ones in the photos in Pascal's book. For another, it increased the baking time. After the requisite 55 minutes, I had a pan of half-baked brownie goop. I am the kind of person who has to eat at least one brownie hot out of the oven. Yes, I know they are much softer when you do that, but that's just what I do. But these brownies were much goopier than most are out of the oven. So back in they went. In all, I left them in for an additional 30 minutes, after which they turned out much better when they cooled down.
In the end, I was quite impressed both with myself, for successfully interpreting this recipe and adapting it to a different pan as needed, and with Pascal's recipe, for creating a beautiful brownie that truly mimics a glutenous brownie with butter and milk and eggs (NB: no eggs or Egg Replacer in this recipe). Two things I expected to taste strongly were the brown rice flour, which I hardly noticed, and the baby food prune purée, which I didn't taste at all. It never dawned on me how well prunes blend in with chocolate to make them somehow taste more chocolaty! My family was also much more impressed with these brownies than with that cake. I would make these brownies again, and I can digest gluten like nobody's business.
Next up: at least one more foray into the wide, wonderful world of allergen-free baking, including a most buttery recipe absent of any and all butter or butter substitutes.