Thursday, October 15, 2009

Best Gluten-Free Brownie Recipe Ever!

(For those of you who just want the brownies NOW, click here for the recipe. For those of you who enjoy thrilling tales filled with chocolate adventure, read on!)

Yesterday I had one of those “Why the hell is there no chocolate in this house?” moments.

I was in the middle of looking up the nearest Godiva boutique/store locations when I noticed a promo for their Chocolate Chunk Brownies and I was SAVED because I remembered had brownies in the freezer!


Years ago I was perfectly happy with boxed brownies. I was a Duncan-Hines kind of girl. But somewhere in there I wondered if maybe I could do it better. I found a from-scratch recipe that was divine — particularly because I could choose my own cocoa powder and control the sweetness. Life was Good.

Until 2003. The year I went gluten-free.

Those were the Dark Days, my fudgy friends. Dark days, indeed. Yes, there were some GF brownie mixes, but they cost six bucks and tasted like the bag they came in. I resolved to do better. I took my divine brownie recipe and I CONVERTED IT to a GF recipe.

ZOMG you can’t do that! The chemistry! It won’t work! Think of the children!

Um, yes, you can do this, so let’s talk about chemistry and how I created the Frankenbrownie.

The easiest recipes to convert from wheat flour to gluten-free flours are those that don’t contain much flour in the first place. With only ½ cup of flour, this recipe fit nicely. Because GF flours have a lower protein content than all-purpose wheat flour, I knew I needed to add xanthan gum or guar gum as a thickener — but not much. Because of the lower protein content, I also knew I should treat the GF flour like cake flour. That means for every 1 cup of all-purpose wheat flour, I would use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of GF flour.

Some people get nervous about GF baking when they see that so many GF recipes call for blending your own flours or contain small amounts of different flours. “You mean I gotta buy three different flours?” Well, no, you don’t gotta, but it can really make a difference in the final product. HOWEVER, because there’s not that much flour in this recipe, there’s a lot of flexibility in which GF flour you use. Eggs and butter provide most of the structure. (Oh yeah, say it with me now: “Eggs and butter provide most of the structure.” Mmm...)

I have had success with the following flours in this recipe:
  • A blend of white rice, potato, and tapioca starches (my preferred)
  • Brown rice flour
  • Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose GF baking flour (which is not my favorite, because it contains garbanzo bean flour which makes the brownie taste slightly beany, but it is very easily found in stores)
You can do this. You should do this. Yes, the mixes are better now, but they still cost six bucks. Wouldn’t you rather use your own recipe and control the quality of your ingredients? Aren’t you tired of always refusing baked goods because you don’t want to be poisoned? Doesn’t your allergy-challenged kid deserve a decent tasting treat?

Oh come on — don’t you miss licking a truly delicious brownie batter off the spoon?

These brownies might just save your life. Well no, probably not, but they are really tasty.
Rich Cocoa Brownies
This recipe was originally published in the Oct/Nov 1996 issue of Fine Cooking magazine. Alas, I cannot find the author’s name. This is a fudgy brownie recipe, as opposed to the cakey, frostable type. My notes are in italics.

Yields 16 brownies More like 9. We are not here for the nutritional value, people.
  • 6 oz. (12 Tbs.) unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup natural or Dutch-process cocoa (I like Ghirardelli. Now is not a good time to be cheap.)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar ( I cut this down to ¾ cups because I like chocolate, not sugar.)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1tsp. vanilla extract (Gluten-free! Check the label!)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 2/3 oz. (2/3 cup) cake or gluten-free flour, or 2 1/2 oz. (1/2 cup) of all-purpose wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum or guar gum (or if you don’t have any, leave it out and see if you like the texture.)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9 x 9-inch pan. In a 2-qt saucepan, melt the butter, allowing it to get quite hot . Take the pan from the heat and whisk in the cocoa. Let the mixture cool completely.
Look for steam or the first bubbles on the bottom.
Cooling always baffled me, because...

Whisk the sugar, salt, and vanilla into the cooled cocoa mixture. Add all the eggs at once (NOW it needs to be cool or you'll scramble the eggs!) and whisk again to combine.
...there’s no reason why a little heat should bother any of these ingredients. BTW, before you add the eggs is a really good time to taste the batter and see if everything is going well.
With a rubber spatula, fold in flour until incorporated. Fold in the nuts. Spread the batter in the pan and bake until a toothpick comes out moist and gooey, but not wet, 18 to 20 min. Be careful not to over-bake the brownies or they’ll toughen. Allow them to cool completely before cutting.
I sift my flour and xanthan gum into the batter, then I fold. GF flour can have some funky particulates in it.
The time is dependent on your oven and your own preferences. Yes, it really needs to be a piece of wood and not a metal cake tester because the crumbs won’t stick right on metal. In my oven, I need to go for 22 minutes. Remember heat carryover!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Inertia: Just Do It

So sometimes the hardest part is the beginning, the just doing it, because inertia is in fact a contagious disease.

The anticipatory thinking of a thing, the "I don't wanna" and the "I'll do it tomorrow" often takes longer than (and is worse than) the doing of the thing you're so studiously avoiding. To wit: this post. It will take me 20 minutes to write it, but I've spent two and a half months avoiding it.

It's been so long that even my pen has succumbed to inertia (yes, I'm old-fashioned. I can edit at the computer, but I can't write), and I had to rinse the dried ink out of the nib. We get like that, too. We think we're dried up, but we're not; it's just that our creative nibs are clogged with day-to-day crap.

Okay, that was a tortured metaphor. Cut me some slack, it's been a while.

August was a lost month. We went out of town and the garden dried up, succumbing to squash vine borers (much to the relief of MP) and the weather. August always makes me think of strange things, and this August was no exception. However, to protect both the guilty and the innocent, I won't go into detail. No, it's no good. Don't ask.

Okay, here's a hint: F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night is a terrible beach read. Remember that.

The thing about Just Doing is to bear in mind that it is not the result that matters, but the endeavor itself. At long last you're doing something. Doesn't matter what, or how much; it's more than you did before.

Fear can be a compelling reason why we don't do something. I hate calling contractors to do home improvement work. Hate it. What do I know about someone's skills at carpentry? Get cold sweats. But I can not deal with crappy dirt and diseased tomatoes next year, and I will not hump 4 cubic yards of compost one wheelbarrow at a time along one side of the house, out around the back deck, and across the back yard because some cheap nitwit didn't put a gate in the fence on that side of the house. No.

I have learned to divide things into smaller and smaller chunks, distilling tasks down to their essence. When faced with fear, the question is this: what is the smallest step I can take in this project without succumbing to mind-numbing fear? Look up names. Choose three. Call one for an appointment. Call another. Get estimates and compare.

It is excruciatingly slow. But it is moving forward. Sometimes when things are scary, you have to go that slow. Like Zeno's arrow, you have to fool the frightened part of yourself into thinking you are not moving at all, that everything is fine. You have to reward yourself for tiny acts of bravery. In this way you create a body of accomplishment from which to draw confidence.

There are many people in this world who are doing things I would love to be doing. It isn't that they are fundamentally more talented than I am, but they are braver. It is pointless to entertain thoughts of cowardice -- you work with what you get. So what's the smallest thing I can do right now, TODAY, that put's me closer to my goal?

Don't dwell. Don't let it become a Big Thing. Just do it -- and then eat a chocolate afterward. Chocolate makes everything less scary.