Friday, October 25, 2013

Recipe Review: King Arthur's Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've been putting off doing some true, from-scratch, gluten free baking for a while now. I've been baking for a long time and I have always loved it but this entire world of gluten free baking scares me. Have you seen some of the ingredients? Therefore, I've mostly only baked from mixes up to this point. 

As I've mentioned in past posts, among other things, I've made some brownie and cake mixes with mixed results. I've used gluten free Bisquick with very mixed results. And, more recently, have played around with Pamela's flour blends and mixes with better results. The Pamela's baking has been as close to from-scratch baking as I've gotten up until now.

Enter King Arthur's Gluten Free All Purpose Flour. I bought a box of this shortly after I was diagnosed, way back in June. I used it recently in my mac & cheese but I've really been wanting to get into some of that baking I miss. Ya know, the "throw a couple sticks of butter on the counter to soften and make sure you have enough eggs and brown sugar" kind of baking. At least that's how it goes in my house as I'm always running out of brown sugar and eggs. Why hadn't I dug right into this box of flour? What was I afraid of? King Arthur ruled my baking world prior to my diagnosis. Their catalog comes to my mailbox. I've been to their store a couple times. I only bought King Arthur brand flour. I always referenced their website and cookbooks for recipes. Why did I think they would not come through in my new, gluten free world?

Well, I decided it was time to find out if the King would continue to rule. I knew the brownie mix was amazing. Like, "is this really gluten free?" amazing. Would the chocolate chip cookie recipe be as amazing?

For the most part, yes. It's pretty darn good. 

I read through the recipe and also, the reviews. King Arthur's site is great as they have their staff respond to some of the negative reviews. Usually it's with offers of troubleshooting via their 1-800 number but sometimes they reply with troubleshooting tips right there on the review and that, to me, is invaluable advice. Especially to a new baker or to like me, a new-to-gluten-free baking-baker.

In reading the reviews, I learned that a couple reviewers were having issues with an ever present problem with gluten free baked goods, grittiness. What I loved was one of the descriptions of the residue that the cookies left in your mouth that was described as "microsand". Yes, gluten free food is so much fun to eat and describe. The King Arthur staff left some feedback about the xanthan gum and I had an "a-ha" moment. They're not only one of my favorite 80's band, a-ha moments are very helpful in gluten free baking too. 

The directions for these cookies instruct that you refrigerate them for at least an hour or up to 2 days. I get it, I can do that. However, I can see why some may be tempted to skip that step, we want cookies NOW. This does seem to be an integral part of keeping the cookies as grit-free as can be, as I learned from the staffer who commented on the review. I do love to know the reasons as to why I'm doing things and while I understand you can't explain EVERY single step in a recipe, things like this would be good to know. The staffer explained to the reviewer that refrigerating the dough helps to hydrate and activate the xanthan gum, reducing it's grittiness. A-ha. I don't know a lot about xanthan gum and I have a feeling I don't want to know about it. I will investigate that another day. But, now I know the longer I refrigerate the dough, the more I may reduce it's tendency to be gritty. 

The cookies were very typical to throw together. You beat the butter with the sugar, add the dry ingredients, add your chips. You have cookie dough. You refrigerate. You bake. You have cookies. The only two things I changed were that I used dark brown sugar and I added about 1/3 cup more of extra chocolate chips since I skipped the nuts. The light brown sugar I had was possibly cross contaminated since my husband had made apple crisp and I don't know if he double dipped with the flour measuring cup he used. 

I always have a rule when I bake cookies. You must taste them at every stage of warmth, right out of the oven and right through to room temperature. Here's how it went.

Out of the oven-
You could taste a bit of "microsand". Although, I would liken it more to a wheat germ texture. It almost tasted like a sneaky mom threw some wheat germ into the cookie dough to make this treat just a wee bit more healthy for her youngins. The cookies were good though. Very Toll House-ish. Homemade goodness was there, for sure.

Still warm-
The cookies continued to taste like mom was being sneaky with the wheat germ but now the cookie was firming up and it was really tasting so good. Woo-hoo. Baking from scratch can happen in a gluten free world and taste good. 

Room temp-
I'm definitely making these again and King Arthur is going to at least rule my gluten free chocolate chip cookie world. Wheat germ texture is minimized as it's cooled but still there towards the end of the cookie. The butter flavor is wonderful, it really shines through. I'm not sure these would completely fool anyone who isn't gluten free because of that bit of a wheat germ texture. In every other way they are the real deal though. Soft, chewy, chocolate chippy...so very good! 

Making this recipe has given me hope. Every time I play in my new gluten free world and have a little success, I have hope. My world certainly didn't end when I got my diagnosis, not even close. However, for those who know me, they know how very much I loved my world of all things baking. Celiac disease felt like a pretty cruel diagnosis for someone who loved to play with flour as much as I did. I truly enjoyed baking and to know that my hobby was wrecking my insides kind of blows my mind at times. 

However, I am learning that I can still bake. This little experiment here is proof. It's certainly not the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever had and I'm definitely limited to what I can do with my mixer (that I bought at King Arthur, by the way) but time will certainly help me to develop my abilities just as it did with wheat flour baking. It took years for me to learn the basics there so that I could venture off on my own and get creative. I just have to be patient and learn all over again, one basic recipe at a time. One down, many more to go!





Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gluten Free Homemade Mac & Cheese

I was going to just throw together a post on this quickly last week. I had a photo of this dish that I made a month or so ago and thought it was time to share it. Easy, peasy...write it up and publish it.

Then, I got a hankering for mac & cheese since I'd been thinking about putting it on the blog. I made it last Friday night with the ingredients I had on hand, which were different than the ingredients that I used in the picture I had, and it turned out so wonderfully better! While it looked the same, it tasted SO much better. I'm so glad I waited to write this.

When I first started playing around to make my tried and true mac & cheese recipe gluten free, I was using corn pasta and Trader Joe's gluten free all purpose flour. I really like corn pasta, a lot. It's most definitely different than wheat flour pasta but I appreciate it for what it is. Much in the way a chicken burger is different than a beef burger but I really like it for what it is...a chicken burger. 

This combo of corn pasta and Trader Joe's gluten free all purpose flour was good. My son does not appreciate homemade mac & cheese, he'd rather have the stuff in the box, but my husband thought the gluten free version was good. He had no problem eating it at all. I even made it when we had friends over for a cookout. They all ate it, even the kids, and I didn't notice anyone leaving it on their plate uneaten. I had been satisfied with that new variation of my favorite recipe until last Friday night. 

I started poking around in the cupboard to see what kind of pasta I had on hand. I had a lot. Trader Joe's, Sam Mills and Wegmans' corn pasta in various shapes. Gluten Fee Bionaturae pasta which is made with rice, potato and soy in a couple different shapes. Tinkyada brown rice pasta in one shape. The Tinkyada was calling to me. No reason, it just was. The only other time I'd used their product was for lasagna. It was hardly noticeable that it was gluten free. At one point my husband said, "I assume this is gluten free because you are eating it?" Yep. Love it when that happens. It's not like I'm kidding anyone because they know I'm not going to cheat so if I'm eating it, it's clearly gluten free but when it's not obvious, it makes me very happy. 

Onto making the recipe. I used the last of the Trader Joe's gluten free all purpose flour a while ago so I was now into my box of King Arthur gluten free all purpose flour. The box is open with a little bit used. I can't recall what I used it for. There's not much gone at all so it was nothing significant so I'm considering this my first time using it. 

Usually I wouldn't tell you what brands to use in a recipe. I will tell you what I use and why but that's only my suggestion. I suppose the brands in this recipe are my suggestions also but I will have you know that using the Tinkyada pasta and the King Arthur gluten free all purpose flour has made the best version of gluten free homemade mac & cheese that I've made yet. 

The Tinkyada pasta had a really good texture for his dish. It was soft without being mushy. Corn pasta tends to be a bit more chewy, I guess you could say. It's good, don't let that description turn you off to it. The softer texture of the rice pasta just seemed to work better with this recipe. 

The King Arthur gluten free all purpose flour made a much smoother sauce than the Trader Joe's gluten free all purpose flour. King Arthur's website does mention that you can bake without "grittiness" so I'm not sure if they do something special to it to lessen that tendency or if it's the combination of flours and starches that they use. At any rate, whatever it is, there was a noticeable difference in the smoothness of the sauce. 

You can most certainly make this without using gluten free ingredients. This was the first mac & cheese recipe I made and it's still the only one I make. I found it in an old Betty Crocker cookbook from the late 80's. My mom bought it and decided she didn't want it shortly after she purchased it so she gave it to me. It's what I started cooking out of in my late teens. There are a few recipes out of the book that I still go to, this being one of them. The book is a disaster, it's been loved a lot over the years and has all the stains, splatters and splashes on the pages to show for it!






Gluten Free (or not) Mac & Cheese
Adapted from an old Betty Crocker Recipe 

6.5 ounces of uncooked, gluten free (or not) pasta (1 to 1-1/2 cups)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup gluten free (or not) all purpose flour
1 3/4 cup milk
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
gluten free (or not) bread crumbs (optional)
additional shredded cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Boil the pasta according to package directions to the al dente stage. The pasta will be baked again later so you don't want it to get too mushy with all that cooking. Drain pasta and set aside. 

Melt butter over medium heat. Once it's melted, add the flour and stir until combined. 

Slowly start to add the milk while whisking it in. If you add it all at once it will be hard to get it all incorporated. Once you have the milk all poured in and combined, stir frequently and bring the mixture to a boil, still over medium heat. Once the mixture is boiling, continue to boil and keep stirring constantly for 1 minute. 

Remove from heat and add the shredded cheese. Stir until cheese is completely melted. Add salt and pepper to your liking. I usually just add a little salt to help bring out the flavor of the cheese. 

Add drained pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to thoroughly combine. Once combined, pour into a baking dish. An 8x8 baking dish works well, as does a medium round casserole dish or a medium oval baking dish. You can now top it with gluten free (or not) bread crumbs and/or additional shredded cheese if you'd like to. 

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly and the top is golden brown. Or, however well done you like the top of your mac & cheese.















Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Disappointment


Generally speaking, I'm a pretty positive person. I try to be happy. I try to find the silver lining when things don't go my way. I believe things happen for a reason. Even the bad things.

However, when I'm anticipating something, I tend to expect the worst. I just had this conversation with a friend and she understood. When you expect the worst, you are prepared for when it happens. If it doesn't happen, then you are pleasantly surprised and it's a good thing.

And so I start the story of my birthday pecan pie.

I visited a health food store a few towns over in July, a month after my diagnosis, and spotted a gluten free pecan pie in the freezer case shortly after I got there. I found a lot of things there that day. So many things I was overtaken with emotion at one point. I well up with tears when I feel I've found that things aren't going to be so bad after all because there are foods or restaurants out there that will allow me to feel like I can eat normally. Heck, I broke right down into tears in Wegmans this past weekend in the pasta aisle when I saw that they had gluten free orzo. Not even the health food store had that. My son was just asking me not a week or two earlier about an orzo recipe I used to make and how much he loved it and could I make it? I could, but not for me. And there it was, I cried. It was building up though as I was seeing all the other wonderful things they also had, and that broke me. Orzo...sigh.

Back to the pie. So, pecan pie is my most favorite pie, EVER. I didn't buy it that day because I don't just randomly buy pie because I would most certainly randomly eat the whole thing, all by myself. I did keep this pie in mind for my birthday that was coming up in a couple months. Especially since the gluten free cakes I've tried since then have really been hit or miss. 

As my birthday approached I started to become very excited about the prospect of having pie. I've been back to following Weight Watchers so I was most definitely ready to treat myself to something indulgent like pie. I planned it all out. My birthday was on a Saturday so I would go out to the health food store on Friday and buy my pie. This way, it would not be tempting me for too long by being in the house for too many days prior to my birthday. Yay. I was going to have pie.  

Friday morning arrived. I dropped everyone off to where they needed to be in the morning. I took my cat for her allergy shot, came home, grabbed breakfast and then headed out. It was pie-buying day. I was already doing my "expect the worst" thing though. The whole, "They probably don't even carry the pies anymore" and "I'm going to drive all the way out there and they'll be out of them" thing. This is what I'm thinking all the way there.  

I walk in and make a bee-line to the freezer case. They have the pies. Woo-hoo. They have many pies. See, now I'm happy because I was expecting that they'd totally be out and they weren't. I spend a lot of time at the store and find many great things. My negative thinking worked and I'm pleasantly surprised by my whole pie buying experience.

This is where all positivity ends.
 
I pull out the box to prepare the pie on Saturday, the day of my birthday. I notice in the ingredients that the crust has been made with garbanzo bean flour. I try not to panic. I have cookies made with garbanzo bean flour and they're fantastic, as long as I don't think about it too much. You see, these little beans kind of freak me out. I have seen that some gluten free products do use garbanzo bean flour in them but they seem to be few and far between. Ugh. My lovely pecan pie is encased in....gag....garbanzo beans....gag, sputter...blech....can't handle it. I get ahold of myself and again, recall the cookies and tell myself that it's going to be okay. Really, it is.

I bake the pie according to directions and it's taking way longer to get warm in the center than the box is saying it should. I have found that when I bake gluten free that it seems it does always take longer than the the directions usually say but this is just baking a frozen pie. Who knows? I keep checking it with my thermometer to make sure the middle is warm enough in case it's not been pre-cooked since I can't find any indication on the box about that and there are eggs in it. I'm noticing as it's cooking that it's kind of goopy and runny.  It doesn't seem to setting up the way pecan pie should be. I pull it out when it is FINALLY done and let it cool. 

It's time to cut into it and try it. I turn off what seems to be a broken record player in my head screaming, "garbanzo beans, garbanzo beans, garbanzo beans", and cut into it.  It's so very runny. I use a pie server AND a spoon to get it onto a plate. What an extremely sorry looking piece of pie.
 
I sit down with it and muster up enough courage to try it. I seriously cannot believe that this is the pie that I have been so eagerly anticipating for two months. It's now in front of me and I feel like I'm on Fear Factor with a plate of something squiggly that I must eat in order to win the grand prize. 

First bite goes in. The filling, while very runny, is very pecan pie-like. The flavor is not bad at all even though the consistency is severely lacking between it being so goopy and the lack of smoothness that I can only assume is from the non-wheat flour thickener they must have used. I tasted it in my apple crisp too. The pecans are wonderful, when aren't they? Then, there's the crust.

The crust. You know I already have issues with the crust. What was it that I was not liking about it before I even opened the box? Oh yeah, GARBANZO BEANS. That broken record player turned right back on and a streaming chant of those two words were playing full volume. Shhhhhh. I'm trying to be neutral and give this crust a chance. GARBANZO BEANS, GARBANZO BEANS, GARBANZO BEANS. Can you hear it? If you could feel the way this crust felt in your mouth you might be hearing it too. I'm not even talking about my usual texture issues, this was just gross. It was a mushy I can't describe. I'm not even really sure what the flavor was. There was no chewing involved. It just kind of smashed against the roof of my mouth. Even if the dreaded garbanzo beans were not in this, I would not have been able to handle it. The fact that they were in it just made it worse. The crust that was on the edge of the pie tin got nice and crisp and that was not too bad so I have to wonder if the nature of the filling had something to do with the way the bottom crust baked up, or failed to bake up.

Disappointment.

I didn't touch the pie on Sunday. Normally, a pecan pie would be gone the next day. It would be breakfast and then dessert after lunch and also dessert after dinner. Gone. I was looking in the fridge Monday evening and was going to throw it away, something I hated to do but I knew I was never touching it again. That's when my husband stopped me and let me know that my son had a piece after his breakfast that morning. Really? He also had a piece last night after dinner. I can only assume that because he is a growing 13 year old boy who is constantly hungry that this pie is even remotely appealing to him. So, the pie is still in my refrigerator. I'm glad someone is enjoying it. I asked him if he liked it that much and he told me that it wasn't bad. Yet another gluten free thing that his child of mine doesn't mind. This does make me feel better knowing that he does have about a 1 in 22 chance of inheriting this disease from me. He's okay with most of the food. At least someone wasn't disappointed with my birthday pie!
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