Sunday, May 24, 2015

The BEST Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Cookies

As promised, I've been baking gluten-free all month. It has required a library of carbohydrates instead of just one. My pantry has been stocked with rice flour, oats and an array of tuber starches instead of the almighty all-purpose wheat flour.

I've learned that starch is a pain in the butt to clean up after!

You know that thing that happens when you add your dry ingredients to the mixing bowl of your stand mixer and then you are supposed to turn it back on low speed, but you somehow always switch swiftly past LOW and straight to MEDIUM? Well that means a whole lot more when working with starches. It means if you don't pay attention you will paper mache your kitchen.

The tricky thing about gluten-free baking is that to get the best results, you need to cater each recipe to the specific bakery product that you intend to make. It is very difficult to build one all-purpose gluten-free flour. The proportion of starches needs to be manipulated to suit the desired texture of the final product, such as an open texture for muffins, fine crumb for cakes, and dense moist texture for chewy cookies.

The best part about making gluten-free batters is that there is no worry of over-mixing. Win! 

And that's just the case for this cookie dough. These are the BEST as far as gluten-free is concerned.

They are crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, like every great chocolate chip cookie should be. And those earthquake crevices are the perfect mark of exactly that.

Here I've used a combination of tapioca starch and fine white rice flour to set the structure. White rice flour helps to dry out the dough and give it just the right amount of stiffness that it needs to be rolled into balls. Tapioca starch gelatinizes or sets at a lower temperature than corn starch so it binds water quickly - that means chewy - I like chewy! It also means faster structure-building when we have a relatively short bake time.

On rice flour, the type that you choose to use has a critical impact on the texture of your cookies! For great baking, use the absolute finest grind of rice flour. That grittiness does not go away when your goodies are baked, so however gritty it is between your fingers is how gritty it will feel between your teeth.

The secret ingredient is honey. Honey is a humectant, meaning that it binds water very well to give us all the moist-in-the-middleness that you see within the cracks. It also keeps things soft and chewy while helping to mask some of that powdery mouthfeel that comes with tapioca and corn starch, as well as mask the grittiness that comes with rice flour. 

This dough can be rolled and baked immediately but, for extra thick cookies, refrigerate it for about an hour. If you prefer wider flatter cookies, bake in a cooler oven (325 degrees F) for 10-12 minutes.

Other than the use of tapioca and rice flour, this recipe appears no different than your typical cookie recipe from the surface. But, it is the proportions that count! Stick to it and weigh your ingredients for best results.

Note that a laughable amount of cocoa and chocolate is involved - I hope that's OK with you.

They look like regular cookies. They taste like regular cookies. They are just damn good cookies!
Enjoy enjoy enjoy.

Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies

½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup (150g) sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp (15mL) honey
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup (120g) tapioca starch
1/3 cup (55g) fine white rice flour
½ cup (50g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (200g) dark chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Beat in the egg until well combined. Beat in honey and vanilla extract until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, sift together tapioca starch, white rice flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix on the lowest speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Continue to mix until well combined. Finally mix in the chocolate chips. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour (this is optional). 

Roll tablespoons of dough into balls and place on prepared baking trays, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart. Flatten slightly with the palm of your hand and bake for 9-11 minutes, until set around the edges and cracked at the surface. They will still be soft in the middle. Let cool for 3 minutes on tray before transferring individually to wire rack to cool completely. They will set as they cool and the centers should be dense and chewy.
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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Flourless Chocolate Pear & Hazelnut Cake

Being intolerant to something as prevalent as wheat means that you are a nightmare to a dinner party host.

(Just to clarify, I am not gluten-intolerant, but I have many friends who are).

It usually means that you are going to be the special one with the special meal. While everyone has home-made ravioli, you get the bowl of gluten-free spaghetti. While everyone enjoys big giant crusty garlicy buttered baguettes, you get a tiny turd bun wrapped in foil. And while everyone devours a decadent cake, you just sit and stare as you munch on your apple.

That special food is never as good, never as big, never as effortful... In fact, it's not very special at all!

That ends here, with this cake.
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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (dairy-free, egg-free)

Did I ever tell you the story of my allergy appointment? My dreadful allergy appointment with the allergen specialist?

It was many years ago. It involved 60 needle pricks to the back and seven (SEVEN) big slow shots to the arm.

I was exposed to all sorts of substances and my degree of reaction was measured.

I left with a list of foods I needed to avoid and a very heavy heart.

Apparently I was allergic to bananas, yogurt and CHOCOLATE, of all things. This is just to name a few...

Let's just say I'm not quite sure about the credibility of that doctor, or where he is now, but if he reads this blog he'd have a laugh I'm sure.

I'm happy to report that chocolate makes a very daily appearance in my diet (so do bananas and yogurt) and I feel nothing but great about it.
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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Freakin' Fudgy Gluten-Free Brownies

For the month of May, I want to share with you my favourite gluten-free recipes.

I don't always bake with wheat flour. Some of my recipes work well with or without it... and sometimes they work even better without it. Sometimes.

One of the first brownie recipes I ever wrote, and featured on a Canadian daytime television show, was gluten-free. It was, for a while, my go-to recipe.

Since then I have learned to love an even chocolatier, thicker brownie which is what you are getting today!

Bonus: you don't need any special ingredients. In fact you probably have them all in your cupboard already.
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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cocoa-Cocoa Nib Wheat Cookies

My weekly grocery list looks something like this:

(other less important stuff...)

That will never change. They're five things will always grace my list. You can make wonders with those ingredients. Anything else I buy is usually just an excuse to bake cookies with it. If I remember, I'll pick up some meat and veg too. Priorities people.

Lately I've been a bit unnerved by the food interweb land... it's full of recipes with ingredients that are not what a French patissier would recognize.

Agave syrup, soaked cashew nuts, malt rice syrup (it's still sugar!), hemp flour, stevia and sweeteners galore, flaxseed meal, apple sauce, almond milk, egg replacers... Why replace eggs? The chickens work so hard... (allergens and vegans - I get that). Why is almost every recipe made in a food processor? What happened to technique? I'm concerned. 

I like coconut but I don't want everything to taste like it. Do all desserts have to come rolled into balls? Please don't trick me with chocolate-y looking truffles made from avocado, dates and nuts. I might punch you.
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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sky High Bounty Bar Squares

My favourite chocolate bar as a kid was Aero, hands down.

No nuts, no wafer, no caramel - nothing but chocolate. Pure chocolate with something special - texture. The bubbles! Oh the bubbles... It dissolves on the tongue so silkily. Silllllkily...

I also liked Caramilk and enjoyed a Kit Kat, but the second best for me was Bounty. I discovered Bounty a bit later in childhood, but learned to love it quickly. I remember the most significant Bounty that I ever purchased was at the corner store in Little Italy where my grandparents lived. They handed over a $20 bill to the group of us grandkids and sent us off in search of sweetness, as grandparents do (gotta love 'em for it!). I thought I'd sway from my usual and grabbed a Bounty. Great decision. Loved it. Hooked.

It was a texture thing too - soft, slightly sticky coconut filling and smooth chocolate coating. It was a flavour thing too though because who can deny chocolate + coconut?

I didn't care for Oh Henry or Snickers. I hated peanuts.
That's all changed - I love peanuts! If you peruse my repertoire of peanut butter recipes, you will understand...
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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chocolate Cheese Toffee Tarts

I worry a lot about my future children.

I worry about what they will think of me when I sit at our breakfast table with a slice of chocolate cake.

I worry about what sort of role model I will be when my afternoon snack is raw cookie dough.

I worry about how they will react to my gigantic stash of chocolate bars and my permanent supply of butter that occupies most of my fridge space.

Often I'll make a cream-filled chocolate cake that needs to live in the fridge, but there's a big cauliflower taking up most of the middle shelf. You can guess how this ends - chocolate cake always wins.

How will my future children know that it's really not OK to eat brownies before dinner if I do it all the time? I might need to change my ways... or find a good hiding place.
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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter Egg Surprise Cookies

I have very fond memories of Easter growing up.

There were loads of pastel-coloured foil-wrapped eggs. There was a trail of chocolates from the foot of my bed, down the 20-step staircase, through the hallway, over the carpet and into the living room that led to a wicker basket full of more chocolate. There were always Kinder eggs. Always. There were little presents like new hair ties and pins, a new cook book maybe, a toothbrush even! 

It was like Christmas but without the snow (well, sometimes... ooohhhh Canada).
A holiday about Jesus and chocolate. I love both those things.

I owe a lot to Easter because it was during this time that I first discovered and immediately fell in love with dark chocolate. I dumped milk chocolate instantly and never looked back. It was an immediate connection. Perfect chemistry. And, it came through a Dove dark chocolate egg. It was new and so different. It was so much more superior to the rest of the unbranded generic foil eggs. Firstly, it was wrapped in silver and chestnut brown. Beneath the foil was shiny (not dull), tempered dark chocolate. It was smooth (not mottled). It was everything the other foil eggs were not. It was bliss.

There was also plenty of family and hours of eating. I don't think an Easter ever passed without lasagna, roast beef, potatoes, ham, braised rabbit (not the bunny), cannoli, cheesecake, chocolate, chocolate and CHOCOLATE!
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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sweet & Soy Pecan Chocolate Pie Bars

Salt! Oh goodness I love salt.

And sweet! Jeez I don't know which one I love most.

Just imagine life without salt. Not worth living, if you ask me.

Ask any reputable chef what is the secret behind being a great cook and I'll bet the answer is knowing how to season your food. Do not be afraid of salt. Don't overdo it either. I'm sure you understand - it's a balance. But really, don't be afraid!

If I had to cook without salt for a day, I'd get by but I would not be happy.
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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hazelnut Rocher Cake

The chocolate-hazelnut combination is Italy's signature. It is one of their many culinary gifts to the world.

Without it we wouldn't have Baci, Ferrero Rocher or Guylian shells. My grandparents would be clueless - what would they give out at Christmas?

There'd be no Nutella and I'd lose out on one of my favourite gelato flavours. My after-school toast would've been so much less exciting - 9 times out of 10 I'd combine peanut butter AND nutella. It was easier than choosing between them...

Now that I really think about it, chocolate-hazelnut (or gianduja as it is know in Europe) is no different to North America's chocolate-peanut butter combo. But somehow it is so much more sophisticated.

I picture chocolate-hazelnut with a long curly moustache - one that needs expensive wax to maintain. Chocolate-peanut would probably have one of those striped multicoloured beanie caps with a propeller on top. It finds its way into wrapped chocolate bars more than fine boxed pralines like Ferrero. It comes wrapped in orange instead of gold. I could understand the jealousy there...

However, I'd admit that I love them both the same.
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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tender Loving Crackle Cookies

It's no coincidence that the acronym for this cookie recipe is "TLC" because that is exactly what they do. They offer tender loving care.

Tiny little bites chalk full of chocolate flavour.

Even though these look like the typical cookie you might find on your annual Christmas platter or cookie exchange, they are made in a rather unique way.

No creaming butter and sugar. No beating. Just one or two bowls, a spoon and your crafty hands.

The first steps in making these cookies seems a bit deceptive.

You might think you're on your way to making a pie. It looks like the beginnings of chocolate pastry dough but trust that they will turn into cookies. Have faith in the method. Have faith in the science of sweetness.
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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Date & Dark Chocolate Discs

I was thinking about retirement. You can laugh - go ahead.

I'm not sure if it's because of the dates in this recipe that remind me of senior citizens (dates and prunes loved by the 65+, but also well-loved by me), or I need a vacation...

So many people who retire never actually retire. They just end up working part-time instead of full-time. Or they do a day here or there. The difference is, they love it! It's like retirement makes it OK to go to work. 

Like mom always cooking us dinner growing up. The idea of dad having to cook dinner every night would both exhaust and terrify him. But when mom had to work late and dad had to cook, he didn't actually mind and he probably enjoyed it. He knew it was just a once-in-a-while thing, and I knew it meant hot dogs and KD.

Or like work-related travelling. When it's twice a year it is a relief from the office and a bit exciting. When it's every week, it becomes tiring and annoying and you learn that you really hate airport food.
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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cookies & Cream Brownies

It feels almost cannibalistic to put cookies in brownies. I'm sorry.

Cookies & Cream has always been one of my favourite ice cream flavours. It's like the experience of dunking Oreos in milk minus the dunking, so it's even less effort. It's a faster way of getting full cream dairyness and chocolate cookies into my mouth faster.

This recipe features a quality fudgey brownie batter with the addition of crushed chocolate cookies and pure white chocolate chunks to create that "cream" effect.

White chocolate is mainly cocoa butter and milk solids flavoured with vanilla, so it makes complete sense.
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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chewy Coconut Oil Chocolate Chunk Cookies

So coconut oil... How 'bout it?

It's everywhere. The internet has exploded with recipes using coconut oil.

Could it be the paleo obsession or the viral (mis)information that it is so super healthy?... I struggle with this.

See - I like coconut oil. It's delicious. Every time I open the jar I think I'm on the beach in Mexico, or Thailand, or somewhere in the Caribbean. It's gorgeous stuff. I need a margarita. Stat!

Here are the things I do with coconut oil:

1. Rub it on my skin - moisturizer.
2. Rub it in my hair - again, moisturizer.
3. Cook Sri Lankan curries, Indian curries and Malaysian satays - it makes them taste so rich and very authentic.
4. Mix it with melted chocolate for a hard crackle topping on ice cream.
5. Use it in place of butter in a classic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe for a super tropical cookie flavour.
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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Creamy White Chocolate Lemon Curd Tart

I only ever have your best interest: consider making twice as much filling because you will end up on the couch with a spoon. This is for real.

This lemon filling is like lemon pudding if lemon pudding won the lotto, bought a black Bentley, drove to the airport, flew to a Polynesian beach, put up a hut and ordered margaritas until the sun went down. It's that rich and that happy. 

A lot of times you'll hear people say "less is more" and that is very sound advice when it comes to great cooking and baking. I practice this advice all the time and make great meals with few quality ingredients.

But sometimes more is more! Like ice cream with split banana, hot fudge, caramel sauce, roasted peanuts, whipped cream and cherries. I'm OK with that. And I'll have two of those please.

Or, like this tart - flaky pastry enrobed in dark chocolate and topped with luscious lemon curd enriched with white chocolate and whipped cream.
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