Blog, Desserts

How to bake delicious desserts with gluten-free flours: the ultimate brownies!

If someone said even just 3 years ago that I would be baking with gluten-free flours now, I would have been completely incredulous.  King Arthur and I have been intimate friends for a long, long time (I always loved getting to ask for “Sir Galahad” and “Sir Lancelot” when placing my orders!).  I can’t even imagine how many 50-pound sacks of flour I’ve poured my way through since I began my career in pastry in 1996.  Every time I tasted something gluten-free it tasted terrible, and then when I decided that I’d had enough of wheat myself, I was completely despondent.  How would I exist without eating all of my lovely pastries???  Einkorn flour seemed like a good solution, and it really is for me since I don’t have a gluten allergy.  For many of our guests, however, it isn’t an option.  Einkorn does have gluten and it’s hard to know if you’re going to be able to tolerate it or not without trying it for yourself; it’s also not exactly readily available so many folks’ first chance to try it is dining at Chez Nous.  With all of the effort that we’ve been doing to make our food as gluten-free as possible, we just can’t substitute Einkorn flour in the desserts across the board.  In order to really satisfy our guests’ needs, as well as my own pastry cravings in my now-wheatless life, I  needed to get rid of my fears and prejudices (and my easy-to-make-gluten-free desserts like custards, flourless chocolate cake, etc.) and GO FOR IT!

Throwing away food is really not what you want to be doing when you cook or bake for a living.  Margins are tight and never mind the waste of TIME and the frustration!  But there I was, throwing away batches of cookie dough and cake layers, struggling with BAD online recipes and BAD advice and some very BAD-tasting flours.  It really took almost a year for me to get into the gluten-free groove and I’m really, really, really happy to say that I’m there.  I don’t have to depend on other people’s (maybe not-so-good) recipes using gluten-free flours, I can use my own recipes, and there isn’t a week that goes by these days that I don’t try another recipe from my repertoire with new flours and have an incredibly satisfying result.  On our current menu, only one dessert isn’t available gluten-free (the crumble), and the tart dough, madeleine dough, etc. are all based on my original, much-loved & hard-won, recipes.  So much for any hope of me on a diet!!  I can happily remain wheat-free myself and sample away at my own desserts whenever I want to…

The pleasure of hearing, as I do all of the time, a grateful guest enjoying a dessert who doesn’t often have a piece of really good tart or cake or a cookie ever since discovering a gluten intolerance, really is what it’s all about, actually.  There are a lot of products out there, and actually some are very good now (some breads and pastas, and one “lavash” so far we’ve found and enjoy), but for pastries it’s still kind of the Wild West. And in restaurants it can be very hard to find something interesting that’s gluten-free for sure.  I love being able to offer people with gluten intolerance so many choices and I stand by them all as indistinguishable from their gluten-full counterparts.

Would you like to know some of my gluten-free dessert recipes?  I’m happy to share them, and I’ll start here, first with the blend of flours that I’ve been substituting in most (not all, unfortunately…the concept of “all-purpose” is out the window with the wheat) of my recipes with great success. It’s courtesy of Jeanne Sauvage, a wonderful gluten-free cookbook author, and it is an excellent blend.  It’s not nutritious by any stretch; I’m sure it’s as high-glycemic as wheat recipes are, and we’re working with other things that are definitely healthier in some recipes.  However, if you’re in the mood for a brownie, or a Madeleine, or a really nice piece of cake, then usually you’re looking for a treat and not for your daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.  If you’re going to have something, at least have something real.   Like my Nana always said (as we clambered and begged to eat her delicious home-made desserts for breakfast) “It’s just good wholesome ingredients” and made with love (and no wheat).

Jeanne Sauvage’s Gluten-free Flour Blend:

Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix (mix together and store in a cool, dark place, or in fridge for long-term storage).  1 C of this mix equals 140g. Use this mix cup-for-cup or gram-for-gram in all of your recipes:

1 1/4 C (170 g) brown rice flour
1 1/4 C (205 g) white rice flour
1 C (120 g) tapioca flour
1 C (165 g) sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour or under the brand name, Mochiko)
2 scant tsp. xanthan gum

It’s really worth reading the link provided, and understanding the work and thinking that Jeanne went through to develop this great blend.  She also has some recipes, but so far I don’t love them all, so I am going to continue to adapt my own recipes using her flour mix, starting here with two of my favorites, Orange-Almond Cake & Brownies!


My Best Brownies- Now Gluten Free

I’ve been making these brownies for literally two decades.  They truly are my ultimate, as they are for many people.  The original recipe appeared in Gourmet magazine in the early 90’s and I’ve seen it reproduced, credited or uncredited as such, many times.  Again, I knew that it would work great with Jeanne’s flour blend, since it has very little flour and lots and lots of chocolate and butter, as any self-respecting brownie should.

Triple-Chocolate Fudge Brownies- makes 1 9X13 inch pan

1 lb                  dark, bittersweet chocolate

12 oz                butter

3 c                   sugar

2 c                   Jeanne’s gluten-free flour blend

2 t                    salt

150 g               chocolate chips

8                      eggs

1 T + 1 t           vanilla

-Line your pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil for quick and easy brownie removal.  I use a little spray grease just to hold the paper down to the bottom of the pan.  Also preheat your oven to 325F.

First, melt the chocolate with butter.  I have my efficient way that I like to do this with a metal bowl holding the chocolate placed over a wide pan (wide enough to hold the bowl up so the chocolate is nicely nested and won’t get burned or scorched by the fire nipping up at the uncovered part of the bowl, and the bottom never touches the hot contents of the pan below) with the butter in it.  As the butter melts, the chocolate will begin to melt, and pouring the hot butter over the chocolate will finish the job.  Some people like to use a microwave for this, but I find it tedious to have to keep taking the bowl out and stirring, putting it back, etc.  I try to teach people to bake in a way which will make them love baking and not find it tedious!  If you have an actual double-boiler, by all means use it!  Just put the butter in the pan instead of water (Why waste energy heating water when you can get a head-start and melt the butter instead?  You’ll still get the intoxicating experience of smelling chocolate and butter together when you stir them in a minute….see below…).

Mix togther the chocolate and butter and breathe in deeply.  I believe that the smell of these two ingredients together is one of the best smells in the world, so I can be seen embarassing myself regularly at work as I inhale the scent every time I make a recipe calling for chocolate and butter melted together.  I’m such a pastry geek.

Anyway, now you’re ready to add the sugar and vanilla to the bowl.  Add eggs gradually.  Then add the sifted flour mix and salt.  I like to sprinkle the top with chocolate chips just to take these up a notch.  Of course you can fold them in if you like, or stir in some nuts if you’re one of these slightly odd people who want to desecrate their brownies with ingredients other than chocolate and butter and sugar…go ahead…

Most importantly, don’t overbake your brownies!  Pop the pan in the oven and set for 10 minutes.  Turn the pan for even baking and set the timer for 10 more minutes.  Times are tricky, since every oven is different, but when you test them at 20 minutes (I always test brownies with a thin knife or cake tester.  Even after baking for so long, it’s the only way that I can tell they’re perfectly cooked) you should have WET CRUMBS clinging to the tester.  Not liquid batter, wet crumbs, please.  A clean knife means they’re overcooked.  Sorry.  They still taste good, of course.

If you know your oven runs hot then set that 2nd timer for 8 minutes, or whatever makes sense.  The barely-cooked-ness is part of what makes this brownie so fantastic.  The other things is the chocolate that you use.  Really good chocolate really gets to shine in this recipe.

I usually chill the brownies before attempting to unmold them and cut them.  They keep very well, especially wrapped in the freezer.