The Christmas That Went All Pear-Shaped

Hi everyone, I hope you’re enjoying the holidays! Do you have exciting plans for the new year, or perhaps for New Year’s Eve? Because Gil and I are antisocial, we’ll be dining at our favorite local-ish restaurant — Café Matisse — instead of going to a party. And because we’re old and geeky, our reservation is bordering on Early Bird Special territory so we can be home early enough to watch at least the first installment of the LOTR trilogy. (Tradition must be given priority, after all.)

For Christmas, we visited my family in Louisiana, though Gil’s visit was cut short when Ru and Otis got sick. The boys are on the mend now, but we thought it would be unfair to burden our teenaged dog sitter with arse-spraying mayhem when she should be with her family, enjoying a day free of frequent walks and poop-stained carpet (I hope), so Gil flew home on Christmas Eve to tend to them. I know what you’re thinking: “How will Gil survive a full year without boudin?” amirite? But don’t worry, I ate his portion at the family party that evening, so as a couple, we’re covered till next Christmas.

In a stab at healthy eating, I also indulged in loads of fresh citrus from my Dad’s trees this year. I gloried in satsumas, mandarins, kumquats and grapefruit, and even fit a couple of Meyer lemons into my bulging carry-on. My distress at coming back to a fruit-scarce home was unnecessary because I returned to find huuuuge boxes of grapefruit, apples and pears sent by our friends in Florida!

So for the next week I’ll be sharing recipes for grapefruit, apples and pears just in case you lucked into similar bounty.

Gluten-Free Flaugnarde with Pears | Minimally Invasive

In honor of our pear-shaped Christmas, I thought I’d start with this indulgent breakfast recipe — Gluten-Free Flaugnarde with Pears. Though a cousin to the clafoutis and the Dutch baby pancake’s doppelganger, it tastes less eggy and doesn’t puff up quite so much in the oven. I made a few adjustments to the recipe, which I’ve detailed below, but even with the changes, Gil ate roughly 2/3 of the finished product, so I’m comfortable labeling it a complete success.

What were the highlights (or lowlights) of your holiday season?

Gluten-Free Flaugnarde with Pears adapted from Food & Wine

While adapting this recipe to make it gluten-free (with Cup4Cup flour), I winged a few other minor changes. There was no butter listed in the ingredients, so I took a page from the Dutch Baby rulebook and melted a tablespoon of unsalted butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet until the foam subsided, then poured in the batter. (I think I’ll skip this preheating step next time, as the crust was a little bit tough.) I swapped out dark rum for my homemade dark rum-based vanilla extract and liked the results, so I adjusted the amount of rum in the recipe and added regular vanilla extract for flavor. Then the pears cried out for a little cinnamon, so I sprinkled a small amount over the top before baking, but can see myself using a heavier hand next time around.  

3 large eggs
1 cup gluten-free flour blend
2 pinches of salt
1 cup warm milk
1/2 tablespoon dark rum
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 ripe medium Bartlett pears— peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Cinnamon, to taste

In a blender, combine the eggs, flour, salt, milk, rum and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside for 30 minutes before proceeding with recipe.

Preheat the oven to 450°F and coat bottom and sides of a 10-inch cast iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Pour the batter into the pan and arrange the pear slices on top. Dot with the remaining butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and remaining sugar and bake in the lower third of the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F and bake for 30 minutes longer, or until the flaugnarde is puffed and deeply golden.

This is the Pie You’re Looking For…

I’m pretty sure blueberries employ some kind of Jedi mind trick on me when I see them at the market. They coo as I pass, suggesting, “Strawberries are not the fruit you’re looking for; you will buy blueberries instead. We are better for you and more delicious.” How else to explain coming home with THREE QUARTS of them last weekend when I rarely eat fresh blueberries? It makes no sense, but I’ve come to terms with my inability to resist them if I wander in their vicinity. Do you have this problem, too? Ah well, it gave me some new items for my portfolio and today’s dessert, so I’m not complaining.

Without a plan and far too many berries (and nectarines, as it turned out) languishing in the refrigerator, I decided that pie would be a good idea. Yeah, I know. Pie/the bane of my existence/the very reason I hate baking. But I’m determined to make a go of pie for fear I’ll forfeit my Mennonite card forever if I don’t. I’m not sure what made me attempt a lattice-top version when I have trouble with a standard crust, but I sought instructions at Simply Recipes and it seemed doable, even ::gasp:: easy. And I was very pleased with the results! The lattice top is impressive and disguises flaws well; you love this pie and didn’t notice that I over-floured the edges.

Blueberries aren’t the only ones who can use Jedi mind trick. Hmph.

Now that my crust is semi-presentable, I really have to work on getting my fruit fillings right. It seems they’re either too juicy or too firm; I’ve never hit that sweet spot, which I think will come with experience. For this pie, I used the Cup4Cup crust recipe from this post, but rejiggered the filling a tiny bit. Because ground almonds worked so well as a juice-absorbing layer in my strawberry galette, I thought they’d be pretty successful here, too. I used about 1/4 cup of almond flour and it added a nice flavor, but my nectarines were freakishly juicy and overwhelmed the best efforts of the almonds. I’ll try double that next time if conditions seem the same. I’m sure I’ll have another blueberry situation before summer’s over, after all.

Gluten-Free Blueberry-Nectarine Pie | Minimally Invasive

Field to Feast: Strawberries & Rhubarb, Part I

To be perfectly honest, rhubarb won’t make an appearance until the second post, but I hope you’ll forgive me, because today’s strawberry galette is a doozy on its own. And that was a surprise to me, because I usually find cooked strawberries a bit underwhelming on their own.

Galettes are one of my favorite desserts to make when spring rolls around because they’re incredibly easy and are supposed to look like crap RUSTIC, imperfection being a key selling point of this dessert! And honestly, I need no particular encouragement to make my baked goods look RUSTIC and HOMEY!

Gluten-Free Strawberry Galette at Minimally Invasive

See? RUSTIC! 

I’ve always been happy enough with the crust I use for galettes; it’s shot through with cornmeal, which gives it some heft and a really pleasing crunch that goes so, so well with whatever filling I’m using. This time around, I did swap out AP flour for Cup4Cup because I bake gluten-free now, but it worked perfectly.

My relationship with fruit fillings has always been a bit complicated. I like the individual berries to still have some form after baking — mushiness doesn’t do it for me — while tossing them with flour seems to muddle things on the visual and flavor fronts. I honestly didn’t think there was anything to be done about the flour because the juice that develops during baking has to go somewhere, but I was wrong to think there wasn’t another approach. Oh, so wrong. While looking around for some general amount of flour to use on the strawberries, I found a really interesting way around it; using ground almonds mixed with flour and sugar as a base layer, then topping it with sugared berries.

Gluten-Free Strawberry Galette at Minimally Invasive

You can see above how the berries still glisten with sugar (and with balsamic vinegar, one of my special additions that really adds some complexity to the dessert) before baking. I nibbled on so many of these before putting the galette in the oven that I’m surprised the pastry was still filled by the time it started baking.

Gluten-Free Strawberry Galette at Minimally Invasive

But the minimal amount of self-control I exhibited paid off with a dessert I’ll be making again and again while strawberries are still in market. The ground almond layer handled the juices like a champ and kept the strawberries looking and tasting exactly as they should, even after baking.

You can use any combination of berries you like in a galette, so if strawberries aren’t your thing, maybe blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or even cherries would be more to your liking. Or maybe rhubarb. Or later in the year, maybe try apple or pear…

Learn about growing strawberries and check out the delicious Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce at The FarmGirl Cooks!

Strawberry Galette adapted from Cooking Light and Laura Calder/Cooking Channel

The ground almond layer added a very subtle almond flavor, which I loved. If you want more of it, use the optional almond extract.

Pastry Crust
1 3/4 cups Cup4Cup flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup buttermilk
Turbinado sugar, for dusting

Filling
1/2 cup ground almonds, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon Cup4Cup flour
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved if large
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional

To prepare pastry crust, lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through salt) in a food processor; pulse two times. Add butter to flour mixture; pulse 4 to 5 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. With processor on, slowly add buttermilk through food chute; process just until dough forms a ball. Gently press dough into a 4-inch circle on plastic wrap; wrap tightly and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Unwrap dough and place on a sheet of parchment paper, dusting with flour if dough feels a little tacky to the touch. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and roll dough into a 15-inch circle. Carefully peel off top piece of parchment and slide dough with bottom sheet of parchment onto a baking sheet.

To prepare filling, whisk together almonds, Cup4Cup flour and 1/4 cup sugar. Spoon onto prepared pastry, leaving a 2-3-inch gap around the edges. Combine strawberries with 1 tablespoon of sugar, balsamic vinegar and optional almond extract, then spoon carefully onto the almond flour mixture.

Using a bench scraper, carefully fold edges of pastry up and over the strawberry filling. If you see any rips, pinch to seal. Lightly sprinkle edges of dough with turbinado sugar.

Bake at 350°F for 50 minutes to one hour, or until pastry is golden brown and strawberry juices are bubbling. Carefully slide galette still on parchment paper onto a rack. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Day 22, Alfajores

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 21

Hmmmm. These cookies, these cookies, these cookies…

I’ve had alfajores in the back of mind ever since Matt Armendariz first posted about them five years ago. I finally got around to making them this week, but my experience with them was mixed. Oh, they were delicious, as you’d expect from a dessert so dependent on cajeta. And the cookies themselves weren’t especially difficult to make; they didn’t spread at all in the oven, which can’t always be said about gluten-free dough. But the filling kept oozing out of them because I never quite got my cajeta to the perfect consistency despite cooking, cooling, cooking again, and cooling again. I realize this is entirely my fault, which is why I wanted to post about it anyway; you may have better luck than I did, after all. And if I wasn’t taking pictures for this blog, the consistency of the cajeta wouldn’t have been an issue, because who doesn’t love a layer of gooey caramel sandwiched between two cookies?

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 22

Come to think of it, maybe there was no problem at all. Have I mentioned that they were delicious?

Maybe rolling the edges in coconut as instructed would’ve helped, but I left it out because I didn’t want to interfere with the cajeta flavor.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 22

Get the recipe here and make it gluten-free with Cup4Cup Flour. The cajeta, as ever, came from Rick Bayless. I do heart him.

Day 19, Fig & Blue Cheese Savouries

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 19

While it may seem that all we do is consume sugar around here, salty or savory foods are what really do it for me. When I do want a little sugar, though, I’m happiest at the intersection of savory and sweet, which is exactly where today’s treats are located.

A few weeks ago, I was looking over my copy of the new Food52 Cookbook before its launch party when these beauties jumped off the page and demanded to be made. As always, I adapted this stellar recipe with gluten-free flour, but this time it took a little coaxing to get the results of regular flour. Still, this minimal extra work was rewarded with flaky, delicate pastries, so don’t let it scare you off.

(And how’s this for a shameless plug? Be sure to check out my recipe for Short Rib Ragu in the winter chapter of the Food52 Cookbook!)

recipe after the jump

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Day 1, Mini Apple Pies

Hello, and welcome to this year’s Advent Calendar! Are you in the holiday spirit now that December’s here? Maybe you’re the organized sort with your shopping done and presents wrapped. Maybe you’re dreading the idea and hope to put it off for another day. If so, consider yourself among friends; have a glass of prosecco and hang out for a bit. If you’re looking for inspiration, I’m here to help! My goal with this series is to post every day till Christmas with gift ideas and recipes (many southern-inflected, all gluten-free). Think of it as my own NaBloWriMo, only my failure is guaranteed the posts are planned to end on Christmas day. Wish me luck; it’s a huge undertaking for someone who typically posts once a month.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 1

You won’t find sweet stuff here everyday, but let’s start off with a bang, shall we? For your consideration, mini apple pies: all the goodness of the deep dish version, but portable, adorable and (hint, hint) perfect for giving. If you’re missing Hubig’s —and who isn’t? — okay, this isn’t the same, but close your eyes and pretend for a bit, then send some love their way.

For this recipe, as ever, I turned to Joy the Baker, who is unable to steer you wrong in matters of pie. Like Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson sifted together, she’ll buck you up and won’t let you fail. But even if you do (hey, shit happens), it’s still pie, and you can eat your mistakes.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 1

Once again, I brought out my prized Cup4Cup flour, which cured me of a fear of pie crusts. I don’t fear much in the kitchen and mostly keep my cool no matter what, but I absolutely am a big old drama queen when it comes to pies. Silly, I know, but you weren’t around to witness my abject failure whenever I tried to make a gluten-free version. Vapors were experienced, cursing ensued. But this flour is a dream to work with and the flavor’s right up there, too.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 1

But you’re not here to read about my issues. You want pie, and pie you shall have. With pictures. After the jump.

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Cup4Cup Week: The Bread

FOOTBALL! FOOTBALL! FOOTBALL!

Sorry, had to get that out of my system. Even though the taint of the Saints’ scandal lingers and I’m still smarting from the BCS championship game last January, I can’t help but be excited for the start of the season. We Saints/Tigers fans are an optimistic lot. The booze helps.

Of course, you’ll need good food for the games this weekend, and you could do so much worse than a muffuletta, the Sicilian-by-way-of-New-Orleans sandwich invented by Salvatore Lupo at Central Grocery. It shares a meat-and-cheese situation with the Italian sub, but goes above and beyond in two important ways — the bread (a soft, round Italian loaf that’s light but substantial enough to take on the filling) and olive salad (with pickled vegetables and heavy on the garlic). Since I have no hope of ordering the sandwich in north Jersey or of getting a gluten-free muffuletta loaf at the bakery, I made my own.

And, well, I have to say the bread was not great. Looked nice, though:

I really don’t know if it was the flour, the recipe, my own incompetence, or some combination of those factors, but it didn’t work for me at all. The bread rose — more than I expected, actually — but emerged from the oven dense as dwarf star matter. Still, I had loads of meats and cheeses and a ridiculous amount of olive salad in the fridge, so I plowed ahead with the muffulettas, hoping a good soaking with olive salad oil would render the bread pliable enough for ingestion.

I used Emeril’s recipe and thought his olive salad was delicious, but lacked garlic. I KNOW, RIGHT? Craziness. Emeril is garlic’s ambassador, its Kris Kardashian. He revels in garlic the way David Foster Wallace reveled in footnotes — unashamedly and without regard for the reader. “Perhaps you could add another footnote or five, David?” The effrontery! But this is no time for balance and restraint; the more garlic you throw at olive salad, the clearer its point becomes.

If not for the bread issue, it would’ve been a damned fine sandwich even with the garlic paucity. Each muffuletta probably was less than a quarter of the Central Grocery sandwich, but I still only managed to eat a half, and that without the top of the bread which threatened to destroy the roof of my mouth. No thank you, bread; my Cap’n Crunch days are long behind me.

So all good experiments must come to an end. I’ll look for a new bread recipe with the Cup4Cup and let you know how it turns out. But do give the muffuletta a try if you have access to good bread and a cast iron stomach.

And happy footballing!

Cup4Cup Week: The Cake

After the biscuit victory, I was hooked — is there anything this flour can’t do? The next test was a little unfair, simply because the cake recipe I chose uses a lot of butter and juicy nectarines and it’d be tough for any gluten-free flour not to shine under those conditions. Still, summer’s ending and I hadn’t made my favorite cake of the season yet — the Nectarine Golden Cake.

Gluten-free cake with Cup4Cup flour

The cake didn’t rise quite as high as cakes made with regular AP flour, but the flavor and texture were indistinguishable. Big win!

recipe after the jump

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Cup4Cup Week: The Biscuits

gluten-free

While pie-baking has long vexed me, biscuits only began to do so when I went gluten-free. In my mind, biscuits are the true test of a gluten-free flour blend, because none I’ve tried to this point has given me an acceptable biscuit, much to my eternal Southern disappointment. No amount of cane syrup could make those starchy hockey pucks palatable, and I practically wilted from each letdown while the vapors nearly overcame me, dahlin’.

But one of Cup4Cup‘s great claims is that you can sub it for AP flour in your recipes, so I gave this a go with a simple recipe from Three Many Cooks. And you know what? They weren’t only passable, but truly good. I’m talking airy and moist, the way a good biscuit should be.

gluten-free

Just look at them! Don’t you want to load up a plate and slather them with sweet butter?

For pie recipe with Cup4Cup Flour, click here.

recipe after the jump

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Cup4Cup Week: The Pie

Gluten-Free Pie with Cup4Cup flour

You can blame/thank Joy the Baker for this entire week of posts. If not for her gorgeous strawberry-ginger pie and enthusiastic championing of Cup4Cup Flour, I never even would’ve attempted this pie, much less five posts on the topic of… flour. My frustration with the intersection of pie crusts and small countertops is well-documented on this site, but I miss having a good slice of pie, especially after going gluten-free. See, I LOVE pie. I’m a pie girl. If you give me a choice of cake or pie, I’ll choose pie every day and twice on Sunday. I’m not too picky on the filling as long as it’s freshly-made and not dumped in from a can, but a bland or god-forbid bad crust really offends my delicate sensibilities. As Joy’s detailed instructions gave me hope of making my own pie with an amazing crust, I dove in after receiving my flour order.

Gluten-Free Pie Dough with Cup4Cup flour

Looks like pie dough, right? There’s usually a trade-off with gf flours: you don’t have to worry about overworking the dough, but it’s often so sticky, it’s tough to approximate an old favorite recipe. Not the case here, though! Win-win!

gluten-free

I didn’t buy strawberries at the market, but did come home with a load of beautiful peaches and blueberries, so I swapped out the filling. Like I said, I’m not that picky.

Gluten-Free Pie with Cup4Cup flour

Into the crust it went. I was down a peach, so the filling wasn’t as bountiful as it should’ve been, but it didn’t matter too much in the end.

Gluten-Free Pie with Cup4Cup flour

Sure, my crimping skills aren’t up to par, but let’s just call this intentionally rustic and leave it at that. I topped it with a mixture of palm sugar and cinnamon instead of white sugar because I’ve been on a real palm sugar kick lately; it can be subbed one-for-one with white sugar but has a much more complex flavor, somewhere between cane sugar and brown sugar without the added moisture. I just love it and it gives a little color to your baked goods. It’s also in the spotlight at the moment because it’s supposed to be low on the glycemic index. I don’t eat enough sugar to be that concerned with sweeteners, but if you do, you might want to look into it.

Since this was the first thing I baked with Cup4Cup flour and I’ve decided to turn it into a review series, you’ve probably already drawn the conclusion that it’s pretty good stuff. And it is. No complaints at all so far. Of course, the pie crust isn’t as flaky as one with AP flour would be, but it was leagues better than any other gluten-free crust I’ve tried — flavorful and tender. It’s a pretty starchy flour blend, but not so starchy that the crust squeaks when you bite into it. And it browns beautifully. Thomas Keller’s no slouch, as it turns out. Heh. On the basis of this pie alone, I’d recommend Cup4Cup.

recipe after the jump

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