Crêpes were the first recipe I made over after I was diagnosed with celiac disease more than 35 years ago.
A few months earlier, I had been given Julia Child’s first cookbook, “Mastering The Art of French Cooking,” and I was cooking my way through Julia’s wonderful recipes. Her cookbooks opened a door and, whisk in hand, I went through. I cooked and baked and held parties just to have tasters who would help me devour my experiments. Her book was my beacon, my inspiration.
Then a doctor told me to avoid gluten and I was overwhelmed. I could not simply put those books back on the shelf and close my mind to the delicious foods I had discovered. So I went to culinary school and began experimenting again, but this time, I made my recipes with gluten-free flour. As long as I maintained the ratio in a recipe, the balance of wet to dry and fat and sugar, and replaced regular flour with the same amount of gluten-free flour, I had success every time.
I picked crêpes first because the formula called for a few simple ingredients - eggs, milk, and flour. What could be easier? And the batter sits overnight so the mixture is tenderized and softens. It turns out, the ingredients have an affinity for rice flour. The crêpes held together beautifully. The results were delicious. I flamed them with brandy to make Crêpes Suzette. I filled them with ricotta cheese, lemon and currants. No one had any idea they were gluten-free.
With my taste buds engaged and my curiosity in overdrive, I was ready to try more recipes. Today, I am confident that any recipe can be made over with gluten-free ingredients. My cookbook, “Gluten-Free Makeovers,” is filled with many of these successes.
Last week would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and the 50th year since “Mastering The Art of French Cooking,” was released. Celebrations large and small were held all over the world. I made crêpes in honor of Julia’s birthday, reserving an extra shot of brandy for a toast. Happy Birthday, Julia and Bon Appetit!
This recipe is a classic French formula. The trick is to make these very thin so they are pliable and easy to roll. Since this is peach season, I made up a quick peach Melba-style filling. Unfilled crêpes freeze well.
Makes Fifteen to Twenty 6-inch Crêpes
The Crêpe recipe is reprinted from my cookbook, Gluten-Free Makeovers (Da Capo Press) where you’ll find more delicious fillings for them.
2 large eggs
¾ cup rice flour
¼ cup tapioca starch/flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 tablespoon sugar (for dessert crepes)
1¼ cups milk, soy milk, or rice milk
1.Whisk together the eggs in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine rice flour, tapioca starch, salt, xanthan gum, and sugar, if using. Whisk into the eggs just until moistened. The mixture will be very thick and gloppy.
2. Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring vigorously until the mixture is smooth and the consistency of heavy cream. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.
3. Lightly oil one or two 6-inch crêpe pans or heavy frying pans and set over medium heat. Pour about 2 tablespoons of the batter into each pan and swirl until the pan is coated. Pour any excess batter back into the bowl. Cook the crêpe until the edges look very dry, about 1 minute. With a sharp knife, loosen the edges of the crêpe. Using fingers, grab the edges and flip the crêpe. Cook another 30 seconds and remove to a platter. Continue until the remaining batter is used, lightly oiling the pans with a paper towel as necessary.
Peach Melba-Style Filling
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
2 tablespoon brandy
6 medium vine-ripened peaches, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 peach, skin left on, for garnish
Combine jam with brandy. Spread 1 tablespoon of the mixture over the surface of a crêpe. Add a few pieces of cut up peaches. Roll the crêpe. Repeat until all the crêpes are used. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.
I envy Northern California for its long growing season, its verdant farms and endless vineyards. But from June to September, Connecticut is in full bloom and I am content to stay close to home, near the local orchards and farms that rival anything I’ve seen in any other part of the US. Our best chefs know that cooking with fresh, local foods can turn ordinary recipes into three-star meals. I’m reminded of that secret when Connecticut’s harvest smiles. I load up on fresh corn, heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and herbs. I can never have enough!
And just about now, the orchards are bearing fruit – - pears, apples, and peaches. Ah. Peaches. Perhaps my favorite of all the local produce. Nothing else comes close to that juicy, tree-ripened crop. Their faint fruit perfume floats over the back roads as I drive by the local orchards. I buy them by the bushelful. By the time I get home, I’ve devoured a sizable number and my car seat and steering wheel bear the sticky evidence. It’s a race to reach my saturation point before the trees return to their dormant state. So I eat just as many as I possibly can. But I reserve enough to bake a few special treats.
This peach cake is one. Fresh peach slices, fanned out over the buttery cake, turn this into an elegant dessert that bursts with intense flavor. The cake makes the perfect company dessert that fools most into thinking it’s not gluten-free. Perhaps that’s because I started with a great, gluten-filled recipe. This is a makeover from one I saw in Bon Appetit several years ago. It can also be packed and taken to a picnic or a pot luck meal. Don’t tell, but I make this with frozen peaches when the fresh varieties are not available. They beat the hard, unripened fruit that I find in stores throughout the rest of the year. I’ve also used fresh plums. The purple skin makes for an equally beautiful presentation.
3/4 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour blend *
½ cup sorghum Flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter or non-dairy buttery spread, at room temperature
1½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest
2 large eggs or egg replacer of choice
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
4 ripe, but firm peaches halved and each half cut into 4 slices*
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon for topping
Whipped cream or whipped dairy-free topping
Second Choice: Cascadian Farms or other brand Organic sliced peaches can be used. Thaw fruit before using. Purchase 2, 10-ounce bags and pick the prettiest slices for this cake. Save the rest for another use.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9-inch spring form pan. Combine the flour blend, sorghum flour, baking powder, and xanthan gum in a bowl; set aside.
Beat ¾ cup of the sugar and butter in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the dry ingredients and orange zest and beat until crumbly. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the orange juice and beat just to incorporate. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.
Arrange the peach slices on top of the batter so that they touch and form concentric circles that cover the batter. Press into the batter lightly. Don’t worry if the slices are not perfect. The cake will partially cover the fruit as it bakes. Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle over the batter.
Bake 55 to 60 minutes, until golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Run a knife along the side of the pan to release and remove the side of the pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or dairy-free topping.
* If the blend you use does not contain salt and gum, add ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon additional xanthan gum to the dry ingredients.
“I used to serve my family Strawberry Cake before I became gluten-free,” said Alice. Any chance you could create one like that?”
I told her I had seen a bunch of recipes. Some used Jell-O and others used real strawberries. What did she have in mind?
“Not the one with Jell-O. Mine was like a white cake with pureed fruit in it,” she told me.
“I know how to make a gluten-free cake and I’m a sucker for strawberries,” I told Alice. I mean, I’ve been known to plan vacations to coincide with the local strawberry crop, I explained. I was eager to give this a try. But, as it turns out, our local crop of berries has gone by and the fresh strawberries come from across the United States or South America this time of year. I ended up using frozen, whole, unsweetened strawberries. They were easier and tastier. The flavor was more concentrated and more consistent. So, you’ll see that my recipe calls for frozen berries. Unless your local berries are in season, I suggest you do the same. Use fresh berries for garnish and even dip a few in chocolate for an added touch.
And use a good gluten-free cake flour blend, one that includes sorghum and cornstarch. Sorghum is light and less grainy than rice flour. Plus it has nutrients and fiber. Cornstarch lightens the texture and adds structure to the cake. If you are able to have corn products, use it in this recipe. Otherwise, tapioca or potato starch are okay, but a distant second. If you can’t tolerate dairy products, Earth Balance products work well.
Now about color. That’s a matter of preference. I’ve seen versions of strawberry cake that are bright red. That’s not from the berries, I’m afraid. Rather, it’s from red food coloring. If you like that stuff and that color, by all means, add a drop or two to the batter. I prefer the subtle pink and don’t really like food dyes.
So, here’s a really, truly completely from-scratch, fresh strawberry cake. No Jell-O, food coloring, or artificial flavors! Using frozen strawberries makes this easy and means you can celebrate strawberry season anytime of the year.
1, 16-ounce bag frozen, unsweetened whole strawberries
1 cup white rice flour, more to dust pans
¾ cup sorghum flour
½ cup cornstarch
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
1 ¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk or milk of choice, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil 2, 8 or 9 inch round pans. Dust with rice flour. Set aside.
Slightly thaw strawberries. Puree in a food processor. Transfer to a mesh strainer and set over a bowl large enough to set the strainer over the opening. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the puree through the strainer, then scrape the underside of the strainer, catching the puree in the bowl. Repeat until just seeds and pulp remain in the strainer. You should have about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups of puree. Set aside and discard the seeds and pulp.
Combine rice flour, sorghum flour, cornstarch, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, and baking soda. Mix well.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add dry ingredients and beat to combine. Fold in ¾ cup strawberry puree. (Reserve remainder for frosting.) Add milk and beat until smooth. If you would like a deeper pink color to the batter, add a drop or two of pink or red food coloring here.
Divide the batter evenly among the pans and smooth tops.
Bake for about 23 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out onto wire racks. Let cakes cool completely before frosting.
Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8 ounce) package of low-fat cream cheese, softened
½ stick of butter, softened
½ cup pureed strawberries from above
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk (if needed)
Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth.
Slowly add the sugar in 1 cup batches until desired sweetness and consistency is achieved.
Stir in puree and vanilla. Add milk slowly if you need a looser consistency.
Frost cake and garnish with sliced or halved fresh strawberries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
You can also make 24 cupcakes from this recipe.
May is Celiac Awareness Month
I am celebrating with cupcakes and I hope you’ll join me. I’ll tell you how in a moment, but first, here’s a little background on why this event has far-reaching implications for all of us.
The World’s Tallest Gluten-Free Cake
Last year I was part of the world’s largest gluten-free cake event along with the American Celiac Disease Alliance (ACDA) and the 1in133.org awareness project. Hundreds of us met in Washington, DC to build the world’s tallest gluten-free cake, bring attention to the number of people with celiac disease and convince the FDA to reopen the process for creating gluten-free regulations.
While Jules Shepard and John Forberger headed the confectionery team, Andrea Levario and I headed to Capitol Hill to manage the legislative front. With our sons, media folks and gluten-free manufacturers in tow, we spoke to Congressional leaders about the importance of gluten-free regulations. We asked them to keep the pressure on the FDA to push the regulations forward.
They Heard Us And We Ate Cake
In the early evening, we gathered at a reception for supporters and Congressional folks. To our delight, the Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, Mike Taylor, attended. In front of hundreds of us, Deputy Commissioner Taylor told the group we would have gluten-free regulations. On August 4, the FDA reopened the comment period for the regulations. The comment period closed on October 3 and the FDA promised to issue these regulations by the end of the third quarter of 2012. The countdown is on.
Calling All Cupcake Builders
This May, as we await the forthcoming regulations, I invite everyone to make cupcakes – - one for every year you have been gluten-free. Take a picture and share it with the community by posting to the ACDA’s Facebook page. Then post to your Facebook page, blog and link back to the ACDA’s page. Vote for your favorite cupcake by “liking” the photos on the Alliance Facebook page. Prizes will be awarded in categories like best presentation; most unique decorations; most years being gluten-free; and kids categories. The winners will receive products and coupons from several gluten-free companies. Get out those whisks and mixing bowls. The more likes we receive the more voices will be heard from our virtual community. Go to 1in133 for guidelines.
Let’s Eat Cupcakes
This weekend, I made 56 chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting; 36 for me and 19 for my son, Jeremy. That’s a lot of cupcakes. Let me tell you. But, I’ve seen, firsthand, the power of community. When a standard for gluten-free on food packaging comes out, I can say I had a hand in making it happen. I hope you’ll join me in that effort. It feels good. And, besides, you get to eat cupcakes!
Here’s the recipe I used. You are welcome to “borrow” it. The chocolate cupcakes are a variation on those in my book, Gluten-Free Makeovers. The frosting is pure decadence – - a blend of peanut butter and cream cheese. I love peanut butter and chocolate and the slightly tangy cream cheese flavor cuts the sweetness in a lovely, subtle way. To bring it all together, I top these cupcakes with crushed Reese Peanut Butter Cups. If you are allergic to peanut butter, you could use sunflower butter or simply frost these with plain cream cheese frosting.
CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER BLOSSOM CUPCAKES
Makes 24 to 28 cupcakes
2 ¼ cups Cake and Pastry Flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter or non-dairy buttery spread, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk, soy milk, or rice milk
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease or oil two 12-cup muffin tins or line with paper liners. Combine the cake flour, cocoa, baking powder; and baking soda. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate. Blend in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin cups, filling a little more than half full. Smooth the tops and bake on the center rack for 16 to 18 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool completely before frosting.
PEANUT BUTTER BLOSSOM FROSTING
1 cup smooth peanut butter (any gluten-free brand)
½ cup milk
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup (about 6) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, crumbled (optional)
Beat the peanut butter, milk, cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Frost cupcakes. Sprinkle with crumbled peanut butter cups. Refrigerate until time to serve.
Cake and Pastry Flour
1 cup sweet white sorghum flour (4 ounces)
1 cup white rice flour (5.4 ounces)
¾ cup cornstarch (3.4 ounces)
1½ teaspoons xanthan gum (or guar gum)
½ teaspoon salt
SHORTCUT: This blend makes very light pastries and cookies with a fine crumb but, if you are pressed for time, you may use 2 ½ cups of any all purpose flour blend. Add the xanthan gum and salt if they are not already in the blend.