Almond Biscotti and an Ode to North Carolina Weather

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Winter storm Jonas has come and gone and for those of you who think a state as far south as North Carolina would get off easy, let me enlighten you. Here in the south there is a dreaded winter phenomenon (which requires stockpiles of toilet paper, gluten and milk) known to locals by its scientific name – Wintry Mix.

Situated smack in the center of the eastern seaboard, our state has four seasons (which I refer to as allergy season, hot & humid hell season, autumn and winter) and occasionally an extreme weather situation like a tornado. The coast and outer banks also stick out far enough to make them good target practice for rogue hurricanes that didn’t follow their hypothesized trajectory. Storms against this smattering of islands that jut out into the ocean earned the area its nickname long ago as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Moving from our coast to the beautiful mountains (aka the Smokey Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway, for example) you will find yourself in the center of the state, also known as the piedmont. The piedmont area and the sand hills of North Carolina include the capital city of Raleigh, famous golf courses and retirement communities, college towns like Chapel Hill, my own industrial-turned-hipster hometown, Durham, a number of pig, corn and tobacco farms, and probably more than a few trailer parks and meth labs less classy than the ones as-seen-on-TV in Breaking Bad. We are a state of great diversity as you can see, and that diversity lends itself to the weather as well. As global warming continues to do very weird things to the outdoor temperatures, snow storms cruise in and cover the suburbs almost as quickly as 70 degree weather comes in to melt it all. And when snow hits the piedmont, our one snowplow just doesn’t quite cut it.

Winter storm Jonas wasn’t nearly as bad in Durham as the meteorologists claimed it would be, and for that we were very fortunate. They predicted up to an inch of ice, which would have been absolutely crippling. Luckily, we only got about 0.2” of ice and almost 2” of sleet in some places. Power outages caused by the ice in other areas of the state accounted for nearly half of the power outages on the east coast thanks to Jonas and while we had electricity, driving on thin ice (haha) simply was not an option for two days (we waited nearly four). So, I did what any normal person would do given the circumstances; drank lots of tea, watched Hallmark movies, and baked.

Being stuck indoors with daily tromps through the snow and ice isn’t nearly as bad as it seems. It happens rarely enough in North Carolina and when it does, for me at least, it is a welcome sort of vacation. The world is silent and covered in white and there is nothing to interrupt your morning coffee or afternoon tea with a perfectly tender and crunchy gluten-free almond biscotti in hand.

I got the second volume of America’s Test Kitchen’s gluten-free cookbook from my father for Christmas and I figured this would be the perfect time to experiment with some of the incredibly thorough and fail-proof recipes. I chose biscotti to start because it seemed a terribly elegant and European cookie to accompany my almost hourly consumption of warm beverages. The biscotti are twice baked; once to cook the dough and twice to crisp the edges just so. Biscotti in general can be a crumbly mess, so it is easy to imagine a gluten-free biscotti being even drier, but this recipe provided the perfect balance and made for a soft center.

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almond biscotti and cold brew coffee

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. gf flour blend
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. xanthan gum (I omitted this because I add so much xanthan to my flour blend. If you don’t make your own mix, read the ingredients carefully and decide if you will need to add extra xanthan gum)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 1-inch pieces
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ c. slivered almonds (the recipe calls for ¾ c. whole almonds toasted and chopped coarsely, but I find slivered untoasted almonds just as good!)

 

Directions:

  1. Whisk the flour blend, baking powder, xanthan gum (if using), and salt together in medium bowl. Using stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, water, almond and vanilla extracts to the butter and sugar and beat another 2-3 minutes until well-incorporated.
  2. On low speed, add the flour mixture and blend until you get a homogenous mixture. Add the almonds and beat to combine or mix in by hand. Cover the bowl and let sit for 30 minutes on the counter (not in fridge).
  3. Heat oven to 350 and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer all of the dough to the parchment paper and with wet hands form a long rectangular/log shape about 12”. Bake 35 minutes, or until just golden brown and cracked on the edges.
  4. Remove biscotti from the oven to cool for 10 minutes and in that time reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. On a cutting board, slice ½ inch-thick biscottis with a bread knife. Place the cookies flat and space ¼ inch apart on a wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.
  5. Bake another 35 minutes, or until the biscotti is crisp and golden on both sides – e sure to flip the cookies over halfway through baking. Let them cool before serving and keep up to 3 weeks.
  6. Make tea/brew coffee and enjoy!

Gluten-Free

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Gluten-Free Everything Bagels and “the List”

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Hello again, everyone!  I have been meaning to/wanting to write this post for months now, but after my fourth and most successful bagel-making attempt yet I figured I really should share my recipes and tips on how to make an incredible gluten-free bagel. So after months of work, travel, stress, college-graduating, job-hunting, teacher certification courses, etc. it’s finally time to get back to my blog and writing about one of the things I love most in the world – baking.

This is a fitting post for my reentry to the blogging world because one of the other things I love the most is bagels. Everything bagels, to be more exact. Especially if they’re from Bruegger’s Bagels and especially if they are toasted with butter, or filled with cheese, sausage and egg… Anyway, until four months ago when I braved the challenges of gluten-free bread baking (also known as chem lab for celiacs) I hadn’t had a bagel of any kind in over 14 months. Yes, I counted. And I think we can all agree that Glutino and Udi’s bagels, while edible if toasted and generously doused with butter, are not the same thing as fresh, warm bagels.

Some of you may not be as excited by bagels as I am, but if you can’t eat gluten I am sure you understand the sentiment and that you, too, have your own mental list of gluten-filled foods you’re going to eat the day second a cure for celiac disease is announced. My personal list goes like this: Chocolate croissants, toasted everything bagels, my mother’s scones, Walker’s shortbread, a crusty French baguette, a hot dog, brick oven pizza, cheese toast on real bread, pan con tomate, soft pretzels, garlic knots, fried chicken and waffles, and so on an so forth. You get the idea. It has also (tragically) occurred to me that a cure may not be discovered in my lifetime, so in lieu of a cure, I will also eat the contents of this list under the following conditions: if there is a zombie apocalypse, I am over 80 years old, I am diagnosed with a terminal illness, or if I am accidentally locked inside a French bakery for any amount of time. Needless to say, I’ve thought this subject over very carefully and more than I would care to admit.

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Now thanks to one of my favorite gluten-free cookbooks, Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread: (Biscuits, Bagels, Buns, and More) by Nicole Hunn, I don’t have to wait until the end of days to grab a bagel – and that, for me, makes this book worth its weight in gold. (If you don’t have gold bars lying around, it’s also about $15 on amazon.com.) While the bagel recipe is time consuming, it is technically easy and very well explained by the author. The trickiest part is rounding up the strange ingredients needed to make a gluten-free bread flour, a list of which is also provided and thoroughly explained by the author. Everything you need can be found in a local health foods store or in amazon’s grocery section, and while it might seem like a hassle, chances are if you’ve baked even one thing without gluten you’re already prepared for this. And trust me when I say you won’t regret the extra effort. There is nothing quite like making your own bread and if you successfully navigate gluten-free yeast-based breads you’ll be smiling for a week.

Without further ado, here is the recipe you’ve all been waiting for!

Basic Bread Flour Recipe (makes 1 cup, so you will need to do some multiplication here)

  • 100 grams all-purpose gluten-free flour (the author includes her own recipe for this and says it is based on BetterBatter.org’s recipe, so feel free to use that as well)
  • 25 grams unflavored whey protein isolate (NOT the vanilla smoothie protein!)
  • 15 grams Expandex modified tapioca starch

BAGELS

Starter:

  • 1 1/4 c. gluten-free read flour
  • 1 tsp. instant yeast (rapid rise)
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 c. warm water (95 – 100 degrees)

Dough:

  • 2 cups gluten-free flour, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2/3 tsp. instant yeast
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Starter
  • Molasses bath for boiling bagels = 6 cups water, 1 Tbsp. molasses, 1 tsp. salt
  • Egg wash = 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. water
  • Everything topping = Mix poppy seeds, sesame seeds, kosher salt, and dried minced onion to desired proportions

Directions:

  1. Start with the starter! Combine all starter ingredients in a bowl and whisk until well combined. Cover (I use a kitchen towel) and let sit in dry, warm spot until doubled – roughly 40 minutes. It will be thick and formless, don’t worry!
  2. After the starter has finished rising, place flour and yeast (from dough list of ingredients) in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine. Ass salt and whisk again. Add the starter to the bowl and mix on low speed with dough hook attachment to combine all the ingredients.
  3. HERE is where I had my troubles and got a really dense, chewy dough the first two times. I went straight to medium speed like the author describes once all the ingredients were well-combined, but in my stand mixer this meant all the dough became a rock attached to the dough hook. So I would suggest two things. First, grease the dough hook! This is a very sticky dough that is hard to work with. Next, beat on medium-low speed for 6 or 7 minutes rather than zooming up to medium strength.
  4. Lightly grease a large bowl or proofing bucket and do the same with a sheet of plastic wrap. Using a greased silicone spatula, scrape the dough into the prepared bowl and cover, greased side down, with the plastic wrap. Let sit at least 12 hours in the refrigerator or up to 5 days.
  5. Time to bake your bagels! Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly spray with oil. Next, on a clean surface, roll out your dough and knead lightly. Separate into 6 parts and shape into a bagel. There are two ways to do this. The first is to make a snake and connect the ends. My preferred method is to make a ball on the counter and stick a floured thumb through the center to make a large hole.
  6. Cover the bagels on the prepared pan with plastic wrap and let stand another hour until doubled in size. I usually start the oven so the warmth helps the bagels rise. Your oven should be at 325 degrees.
  7. After the bagels have risen, boil the water, molasses and salt and drop one or two bagels in at a time, boiling for less than a minute on each side and then returning to the pan.
  8. Next lightly coat each bagel with the egg wash and topping of your choice. For me, it’s obviously going to be the everything blend! Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown, let cool slightly, and enjoy!

*These bagels freeze well, so if you can’t eat 6 in 3 days like me, they’re great defrosted and toasted.

So that’s how you make a gluten-free bagel! Time intensive maybe, but oh so good. This should tide us all over until we’re cured forever, but in the meantime, you can find me drooling over my cookbooks, in front of bakery storefronts, watching Food Network, and oogling food photography on Instagram.IMG_0159 (2).

Oatmeal Banana Chip Muffins

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I love breakfast foods but when it comes time to actually prepare a real meal at o’dark thirty, I just don’t have it in me. I’ve never been accused of being a morning person and that being the case I stay in bed as long as humanly possible before dashing of to class or work. My breakfasts are either yogurt on the run or a gluten-free granola squished at the bottom of my bag… Not the most nutritious start to the day (but, all things considered, also not as bad as a McDonald’s drive-thru… so there!).

Anyway, I decided I really needed to remedy this situation and when we had some brown bananas wasting away on the counter I remembered a funny little muffin my roommate made once years ago. This “muffin” is naturally refined sugar-free and gluten-free and is super quick and easy to pull together. The recipe makes about 18 so you’ll have breakfast for over a week! (I usually eat 2 in the morning)

The original recipe is from this awesome blog, but I’ve also copied it below for convenience. Also, please ignore how ugly these little muffins are. Your taste buds won’t notice, don’t worry!

Ingredients:

  • 3 mashed bananas (browner the better for mashing and tastiness)
  • 1 cup milk (literally whatever kind ya got!)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp Baking powder
  • 3 cups Gluten-free Old Fashion or Rolled Oats (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 and spray muffin tins or muffin liners – this is important! The first time I made these I used muffin liners but did not spray the inside and the paper was impossible to get all the way off. So I had that extra fiber in my breakfast I guess…..
  2. Mix together all the ingredients except the chocolate chips and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Divide the batter evenly until 14-18 cups are almost full (they won’t rise much at all) and bake for 25 minutes  (checking and rotating halfway through) or until edges are starting to brown.
  4. Let cool before eating and store in fridge. Enjoy as you run out the door with coffee and healthy breakfast in hand!

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ugly little muffys, but pretty damn good!

Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake

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This has been a weird year for weather and in central North Carolina we saw a lot more (6 inches, woo!) more snow than usual. One day it was 70 degrees and the next it would be 30 with sleet. See what I mean? All these unpredictable snowstorms and icy roads meant a lot of canceled classes and work for me. Which meant a lot of time indoors with my brother and his terrible taste in TV programs (aside from the most sports games ever, he also enjoys Cops, Gold Rush and Bar Rescue… if you’re familiar with any of those you understand my pain).

As the cabin fever set in I decided the only thing for it was to go on a baking spree. In anticipation of being snowed in, my mom stocked the fridge with butter and eggs before leaving town (very smart considering what happens when her son gets control of the TV). I made macarons, muffins, cookies, lemon curd and a delightful cake lemon ricotta cake from this blog. There is nothing quite like a bright, lemony cake to raise your spirits and mimic the freshness of spring when you’re stuck inside.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon zest, from about 2ish lemons
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs, also at room temp
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray loaf pan. Cut and place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, letting it hang up and over the sides.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk (and/or sift!) together the gf flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Set aside. In your mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and beat until incorporated. Add the ricotta, lemon juice, vanilla, and almond extract and beat on medium speed until well incorporated.
  4. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture and mix just until combined.
  5. Pour batter into pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool before removing from pan – make glaze while cooling!
    1. To make glaze, combine 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp. lemon zest, 1/2 tsp. almond extract and 3 Tbsp. of lemon juice. Wait until completely cooled before pouring glaze over cake.

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Enjoy with a cup of tea and a book, or serve up with a little fresh whipped cream after a light meal. You can’t go wrong with this recipe. The only thing I changed from the original was my use of a gluten-free flour blend (xanthan gum included).

Mile High Biscuits

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Most of the time I like to think I’m pretty smart but every once in a while it takes me an embarrassingly long time to catch on to certain things – like the fact that biscuits are not a universally enjoyed food. Unbeknownst to little old me livin’ it up with the buttery biscuits of the South, this breakfast staple is not as readily available throughout the U.S. as I originally believed. I thought they were just as widely consumed as, say, toast or muffins. But no, they appear to be a popular regional food that has sorta kinda spread to other parts of the country. Who knew?!

Whether you grew up without a clue such an amazing food could exist or you’re a biscuit connoisseur, I can guarantee you will loooove these biscuits – now gluten free just for you and me! Unlike the buttery, flaky biscuits of fast food chains, diners, and old-school Southern cookbooks, these biscuits almost approach a scone-like consistency and pair well with just about every topping I can imagine. Amazing on their own or loaded with jams and jellies, this biscuit will not disappoint you.

In my last post, I meant it when I said that adjusting to gluten-free meals wasn’t that hard. But here’s something I didn’t mention: I miss brunch – and all the croissants, pastries, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, scones and breads that come along with it – even more than my Cheez-Its and pretzels. My mom used to make these incredible biscuits known in our family cookbook as “mile high” biscuits because, you guessed it, they’re tall.

My gluten-free version stay true to the original recipe but they’re not as tall because I wasn’t quite sure how they’d bake the first time sans gluten. It turns out I worried for nothing because they are still incredible! After making so much lemon curd and spooning most of it directly into my mouth, I decided the time came to get civilized and make something to put it on. These biscuits were just what the doctor/dietician/gastro ordered. Enjoy!

ImageHere it is! Straight from the family cookbook from me to you.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. AP gluten-free flour blend (try Cup4Cup, Glutino or Betty Crocker’s rice flour blend if you don’t have you’re own mix you like to work with) plus extra for rolling out dough
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp.  baking powder (lots of baking powder to make them a mile high!)
  • 3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. shortening (butter flavored is fine)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 c. milk

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

2. Combine the first five ingredients on the list in a large bowl, being sure to mix well.

3. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until the mix looks course and the shortening is fairly evenly distributed throughout.

4. Combine the egg and milk in separate bowl before adding to the flour mixture. Stir until the dry ingredients are wet, but do not mix too long.

5. Turn out biscuits onto lightly floured surface. (Here I used the rice flour blend but it may give your biscuits a veeery slightly gritty quality on the outside, so just keep that in mind when choosing which flour to roll these biscuits out on.) Roll dough to a 1 inch thickness and cut with a round cookie/biscuit cutter. I use a 2 in. but you can use one with fluted sides or a slightly larger one works very nicely as well.

6. Place biscuits on prepared pan (they don’t really spread out, just up, so you don’t have to worry about that) and bake for 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. If yours are truly one inch thick, they will take a few minutes longer to bake but check them throughout the process as gluten-free flours tend to be a little more temperamental where the ovens concerned!

7. Eat plain, with butter, jam, lemon curd, eggs and sausage… whatever you’d like! The skies the limit with these towering biscuits.

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