July 17, 2011

Gluten-Free Burnt Almond Torte

I concocted this recipe from a few different sources, putting my own spin on things a bit. The Italian buttercream and pastry cream recipes are from Joe Pastry, who I trust in all things pastry-related. I cannot begin to express how amazing Italian buttercream is if you've never had it. It's simultaneously very light and very rich, and tastes like a cloud that just melts in your mouth. This frosting recipe makes a bit extra for this cake, although you could use it in place of pastry cream in one of the layers.

My recommendation is to make the pastry cream at least a day in advance, then the cakes (the day of, or the day before you plan to assemble the cake), toast the almonds after you've baked the cakes, cut the cakes after they've cooled, assemble them with the pastry cream, make the buttercream, frost the cake, then make the almond topping and put it on the cake. I know, it's a lot of steps, but the end result is certainly a show stopper! It is a massive cake meant for a crowd, for special occasions. (I made it for my partner's birthday.) Keep that in mind as you scroll through the ingredients and realize you need seven sticks of butter, ten eggs, and more than four cups of sugar!

By the way, if you don't need to bake gluten-free, you can make this recipe more easily (and cheaply) by simply using 3 cups of cake flour instead of a GF flour mix and xanthan gum.

Burnt Almond Torte
serves at least 16

Move over, Prantl's

There's a lot of things I have to say about gluten-free baking, but here's my main approach: use a tried-and-true flour-containing recipe, and replace the flour with a mix of gluten-free flours and xanthan gum. It works for me every time. Different baked goods require different combinations of starches and starchy flours and hearty flours. For cakes, I like the ratio of 2:1 starchy flours (rice, millet, corn) to starches (cornstarch, potato starch).

Anyway, this was my first attempt at making a big, layered, fancy-looking gluten-free cake. I wanted to do a gluten-free version of the Pittsburgh classic: burnt almond torte. I saw some "copycat" recipes online, but they didn't really looking authentic. I knew the components I needed: a white cake, custard, buttercream, and toasted almonds. I went to work and found my favorite versions of each one.

I'll post a full recipe soon, but basically I just replaced the 3 cups of flour the cake recipe called for with my 2:1 ratio. I used 1/2 cup each of: white rice flour, sweet rice flour, brown rice flour, millet flour, cornstarch, and potato starch, plus 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum. I hate the taste of tapioca starch, so I never use it. I think that it's what makes things have that funky "gluten-free" taste.

So don't throw out all your beloved family recipes that use wheat flour; just make a simple substitution! The resulting cake was slightly denser than your average layer cake, but it was moist and had a good crumb. Full recipe to come!

July 6, 2011

TVP Breakfast Sausage

I started eating vegetarian in January 2011, mostly because I think it's healthier and I don't really ever crave meat (except seafood, which I still occasionally eat). One thing I missed though was having a good breakfast sausage with my pancakes. Well, no more!
TVP (textured vegetable protein) is an amazing thing. It's soy protein that has had the fat removed (it's what's left when extracting soybean oil) and then they heat it and extrude it into various shapes. Most TVP you'll find is textured to simulate the consistency of ground meat. You just pour boiling water over the dried TVP, let it rehydrate, and it's ready to go. It's great to add protein and bulk to a vegetarian tomato sauce, and you can even use it to bulk up ground meat, making it both cheaper and healthier. You can make vegetarian meatloaf, burgers, meatballs, or my favorite, a savory and slightly sweet breakfast sausage. (Really, for me, this is a vehicle for sage, my favorite herb.)

TVP Breakfast Sausage
yield: 6-8 patties
prep/cook time: 20 minutes

  • 1 cup TVP
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed*
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 egg*
  • Sausage herbs and spices (adjust per your preference)
    • 2 tablespoons fresh minced sage
    • 1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary
    • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon molasses or honey
    • 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar or sugar substitute
*you can omit the flaxseed and add an extra egg yolk, or omit the eggs (to make it vegan) and add an extra tablespoon of ground flax. Both of these ingredients are binders that help the sausage hold its shape. If you make a substitution, you may need to adjust the liquid up or down so it's not too wet or dry.
  1. Combine TVP, flaxseed, and all herbs, spices, and sweeteners in a bowl. Pour over boiling water and let sit for 10 minutes (or cover and wait until ready to use).
  2. Transfer mixture to food processor. Add egg and pulse until combine. (You can just mix the egg in without a food processor, but processing it helps it have a homogeneous texture and makes it stick together better.)
  3. Form into 6-8 patties. Fry on a greased skillet or griddle over medium high heat until browned (about 3-5 minutes). Flip and brown on second side. (Patties have a tendency to fall apart when forming/placing on griddle, but just press them back together and they'll solidify together when cooked.)
This could easily be adjusted to make a more Italian-style sausage, with more fennel or anise, red pepper flakes, garlic, onion, etc., or even a chorizo-style sausage with smoked paprika and lots of heat. One of these days I'm going to experiment with gluten-free biscuits and TVP sausage gravy! Stay tuned for my infinitely modifiable pancake recipe.

Recipe is naturally vegetarian (vegan: replace egg with flaxseed) and gluten-free. Contains soy (TVP).

July 3, 2011

Vidalia Peach Salsa

A friend of mine recently brought me a jar of some small farm's vidalia peach salsa. I'm not really a huge salsa fan, but that jar was empty soon after we opened it. I looked for a recipe for it, but most of what I found was completely raw (which didn't sound like what I had, or what I wanted), or it used canned peaches, which didn't seem right. I came up with this version for a Fourth of July party, and it was a huge hit! This recipe makes about two quarts, which is a lot, but you can easily halve it.

Vidalia Peach Salsa
yield: 7-8 cups
prep/cook time: 30-40 minutes
ready in: 5 hours (with cooling time)

  • 4 cups finely chopped Vidalia onion (1-2 large onions)
  • 2 cups finely chopped orange and/or yellow bell peppers (2 medium peppers)
  • 2 cups diced, ripe peaches (3-4 peaches)
  • One 28-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
  • Juice of one lemon (or lime)
  • The following are all optional/adjustable to taste:
    • Salt (1-2 teaspoons)
    • Pepper (1/2-1 teaspoon)
    • Smoked paprika (1 teaspoon)
    • Chipotle powder (1/4 teaspoon)
    • Dried oregano (1/4 teaspoon)
    • Apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon)
    • Honey, sugar, or other sweetener (I used 3 tablespoons; depends on sweetness of fruit and vegetables)
    • Fresh chopped cilantro
  1. Chop onions and peppers and set aside.
  2. Peel, pit, and chop peaches, catching all the juices.
  3. Drain tomatoes and peaches in a sieve, reserving liquid.
  4. On medium-high heat, heat a medium stockpot with a little non-stick spray or oil. Saute onions and peppers with some salt until starting to soften, about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, place tomato/peach juices in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add dried spices, vinegar, and honey and bring to a rapid boil (being careful not to boil over). Boil until reduced and reaches a syrupy consistency, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes to onions and peppers. Continue cooking for 5 minutes; remove from heat.
  7. Add reduced liquid, diced peaches, and lemon juice to the stockpot and stir to combine. Cool completely (4+ hours).
  8. When cool, transfer half of the mixture to a blender or food processor and blend until roughly smooth. (Or use an immersion blender and just blend half the mixture.) Stir smooth and chunky mixtures together. (If you prefer your salsa smoother or chunkier, adjust accordingly.)
  9. Add fresh cilantro (if using).
This turned out to be sweet, full-bodied, with a little smokiness from the paprika and a little kick from the chipotle. The vegetables are cooked and softened, but still retain a bit of bite. If you like it hotter, you could add some whole chipotles in adobo, or cut the bell peppers with some hotter peppers. You can also change up the type of onions and bell peppers, or even replace some/all of the peaches with mango.

Recipe is naturally vegetarian (vegan: replace honey with agave or other sweetener), gluten-free, allergen-free, and low-fat/fat-free (only fat is from nonstick spray or oil for sauteing the vegetables). Lower-sugar option: replace honey with no-calorie sweetener.