Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kosher For Passover, or What I Swore I'd Never Do

"Never Say Never" is something my mother often told me when she advised me in my life's pursuits. Basically, she was telling me to keep an open mind because opportunities are often disguised. That became even more obvious recently when I bumped up against the necessity of doing something that I thought I'd never do: bake gluten-free.

Okay. I'm over fifty years old and for most of my life, the concept of "gluten-free" was nowhere to be seen. In the last twenty years, "food allergies" have become more and more talked about and marketed to, so I'm a little more conversant with the concept. I don't scoff at those afflicted but I was convinced that I'd never be able to bake for any of my friends who have taken to removing gluten from their diet. In fact, I had to cancel a plan to offer a friend her choice of baked goods as a birthday present because she was now "gluten-free".

A Brief Word On The Subject Of "Gluten-Free" Baking: Why the reticence? It's simple, really. I'm barely beginning to get a handle on "gluten-full" baking! Why should I clog up my hard-won progress as a baker with trying to learn how to bake without the very thing that provides structure and texture to so much of what I do? 

A Brief Word On The Subject Of "Gluten-Free Baking Ends.

"Never say never," I heard my mother's amused voice say. And then came...(insert dramatic suspenseful music here)...Passover 2014. We've been fortunate enough in the last few years to be invited to a Seder that our friend "L" and her wife "K" host. It's an amazing gathering of unique and far-ranging folks and our hostesses provide a ritual and celebration that relates to each and every one of us, no matter the paths we walk in life. How they manage that is beyond me but it's an event that means more and affects me more deeply each year I attend. Not only that, but "L" prepares one of the most delicious meals for their Seder! Her brisket is to die for!

I've baked for this event before and they kind of let me slide with what I chose (a coffee-walnut tart served with coffee-flavored whipped cream) but this year I wanted to go full-on kosher with my dessert, a flourless chocolate torte that I made years ago for one of my Big Dinners. I ran the recipe past "L" and she gave me the thumbs up. Out of the blue, I asked if she would mind if I brought more than one dessert. Maybe it was out of gratitude for the experience in which I was to take part.

Of course she didn't mind she told me. And she was going to let folks know that she was outsourcing dessert this year! She might as well have waved the green flag at me because I was off to the races! I decided on the the second recipe, a French-styled apple tart, that I planned to pair with a gluten-free crust recipe I found.

Never say never.

Of course, I also put my foot in it, pretty deep because of this whole "never baked gluten-free before" thing. Actually, that's not true. I mean, the chocolate torte didn't use any gluten. But this tart would be different because it had a crust and as we all know, I take pride in my dessert crusts. I would be mortified if I flubbed this dessert because I couldn't make a decent crust.

The crust recipe I found seemed like I wouldn't have too much trouble with. Right out of the gate, however, I tripped a little. I was hung up on nut flour and procured a bag of Red Mill Almond Flour – at a prettier penny than I was prepared for. But it was for Passover, so I didn't much mind. Until I found all-purpose non-wheat flour, apparently made from all the kinds of beans in the world, from the same company at half the price! Needless to say, with my crust-making ability in question, I opted to use the less expensive version...just in case.

I opened the bag and immediately smelled one of the problems I'd have with this flour: it smelled like beans! And what something smells like to me is what it'll taste like. I hoped that once I pulled it out of the oven, it wouldn't smell like baked beans. My baker's intuition told me not to fret, though. A little more sugar and some cinnamon (which I rarely use) and all would be well. Time and baking would tell. The second hurdle, the olive oil, was more of a speed bump. I started my pie baking with making vegetable oil crusts, so that technique wasn't foreign to me. Pulling it all together wasn't that big of a problem.

The thing that really threw me, though, was patting the dough into the tart pan. It wouldn't mush around the pan like normal. It was like wet sand! I might have added a bit too much olive oil or this may just be the way this recipe works. I'll have to try it again to make sure, but it took more work to get the dough evenly spread on the bottom and up the sides. Once it was baked, though, it looked, and smelled pretty good.

My first gluten-free crust!
The filling was a bit different for me, seeing as the recipe called for Granny Smiths, which I find to be just too tart for my tastes. I had to throw a couple of Jonagold's in there to sweeten it up. I like the technique of baking them and then mashing them a bit before putting them in the tart crust to finish baking. That brought out some lovely flavor. I did a reduction of the water and juices and added that back to the filling before I put it in the crust, though. So that probably added to the richness of the apple flavor.

Filled and ready for the topping.
I decided to use my square tart pan instead of my round one because I find the square one easier to manage. Plus, this pan and I go back quite a few years; it's never let me down. I'm sure it values my loyalty. Here's where I sacrificed finesse for speed (I did have a second dessert to bake and a batch of ice cream to make – and the dinner was less than twenty-four hours away at this point). I should have sliced the apple wedges a little thinner, and covered the top of the tart with about half-again as many wedges but I really needed the time for other things. The amount I put on top was actually fine and they were thin enough so that the edges browned. However, had I cut them thinner, the edges would have gotten black, as is called for in the recipe, and looked fabulous against the brown brown of the crust and in contrast with the rest of the apples. Live and learn. It still looked good regardless!

Nicely browned edges.
The last element to add to the tart was the glaze.The recipe called for apricot jam but apricots and I have a sordid history. Actually it just boils down to the fact that I don't like them because they masquerade as little peaches but don't taste like peaches. I could have stuck to the recipe and used the apricot jam but then I wouldn't have been able to taste, with an unbiased palette, the  result of this little experiment in kosher baking. Did I say I don't like the taste of apricots? I had some lovely plum preserves in the house and used those instead.

I will have to admit that there are things I'll do differently if I ever attempt this tart again but I had a slice and it really did taste pretty good. The non-flour flour crust didn't come within a hundred miles of the taste of my regular crusts but I was very pleased with the results! And the plum preserve glaze was perfect. (Take that, apricots!)

Plum glazed over!
Next up was the flourless chocolate torte. This is something our host "L" usually makes for for the dinner, so she was very glad I wanted to include my version, which uses this recipe. I didn't deviate from it too much; I mean, it's pretty basic. Egg yolks, sugar, egg whites, butter, chocolate, vanilla extract. I love the process of this dish, though. I love to see how the chocolate mixture and the yolks combine to make a batter. I love whipping egg whites to the right consistency. Wait. I should say that I love learning how to whip egg whites to the right consistency. I am by no means an expert at this! It's just...fun for me. I love checking in on the torte after it's baked and watching it collapse like a building that's been rigged with explosives for a controlled implosion. Only slower. And with much, much less, plastic explosive, detonator caps, and foremen with bullhorns telling the crowd to keep behind the barricades.

Baked and beginning to sink.

Check out those edges!
It amazing me that I do as well as I do with our oven. Having to frequently check the temperature is a drag, but it's necessary. One of these days I'll have an oven that will be consistent and much less of a pain in the buttocks.

The collapse of the Torte Empire.
As I said, I've made this dessert before and I'm very happy with the way it turned out. It's rich, dense, and delicious. I added powdered sugar and raspberries and it positively burst with flavor!

The golden table setting!
The ice cream was a little bit of a surprise in that I suddenly decided to make it to leave with "L" and "K" as a special thank you for hosting the Seder. Not only is vanilla my favorite to make, it's also the simplest recipe so i can do it quickly. Truth be told, I was also looking for a reason to use the ice cream containers I just bought, so there you have it.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for new ice cream containers!
I learned an awful lot with this little adventure. Not only about gluten-free baking but also about how to turn out two or more great desserts in a short amount of time. It's all about picking the right dishes, those with an element of simple complexity, if that makes sense. I also learned more about how to trust my baking instincts and intuition.

And I learned to "Never say never."

Currently listening to: Oraanu by E.S. Posthumus



  1. And it was delicious! Next year I'll try to eat less brisket so there's room for more cake but the slivers I had were wonderful ;)

    1. I'm glad you liked it, honey. You do know that I can make that for you whenever you want, right? ;)