2011 Wrap-up! My year in baking...(part 2)

The second half of my annual baking review. This is when it gets heavy people, gluten-free cookies, bread pudding, a new type of snickerdoodle, craziness I tell you! Pure baking craziness.

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2011 Wrap-up! My year in baking...(part 1)

My annual breakdown of baking I've done. This only includes new recipes that I have baked from scratch. Not the simplicity of boxed baked goods. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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Gluten-Free Baking Month!

Gluten-free baking month, a self-imposed title, is gone. And I'm kind of bummed about it to be honest. Gluten-free baking is something that is not as hard as you might think. The month of July encompassed me making five (the goal was six, fail) desserts that were gluten-free. Gluten-free cooking/baking is nothing new, but like most things has received wider attention because of access to the worldwide web and the information available from the medical side. Those who suffer from severe reaction to gluten in terms of digestion and absorption of nutrients have celiac disease. A friend of mine informed me she was diagnosed with it late last year. And it completely changes your way of living/eating. There are many distractors and gluten, like dairy, is everywhere!

At Book Expo this past May one of the cookbooks I scored was Gluten-Free Cookies by Luane Kohnke. And what type of Baker would I be if I didn't indulge in all types of baking? A bad one? Indeed.

I haven't had many, if any, gluten-free items outside of flourless chocolate cake or other. But here was my chance to indulge and I have to say the results were pretty darn good. Anyone who may hesitate at the thought of gluten-free should think again. Of course, anything can be bad. Gluten-filled, gluten-free, vegan or other. But it takes skill, period, to make something taste good no-matter-what. So I have to say that Ms. Kohnke did a great job with her recipes because I enjoyed them all for the most part. And once I got beyond texture it was golden!

Now, the basis for most of Luane's recipes that contain wheat flour substitute(s) are as follows: brown rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, xantham gum, and almond flour (often added at the end of sifting the first four ingredients). Now these aren't the only flour(s) you can use but these were the ones referenced most in her recipes so I stuck to the book. As Luane lists in the frontmatter of her book you can also get gluten-free flour, cornmeal, guar gum, hazelnut flour. She provides flour blend measurements in the front which is quite helpful to get a sense of balance.

Note: The one downside to gluten-free baking with these specific flour mixtures was pricing. I spent about $30+ on flour alone. A half pound of xantham gum cost more than $10 and one of the flour substitutes was equally pricey. The others like brown rice flour came in around $4+ at 2 lbs. So when doing gluten-free baking on a budget definitely do your research to see if you can easily switch out an item or two or have to really restructure a whole recipe. There are many ready-made gluten-free mixes but it's nice to make stuff from scratch every so often so you know exactly what's in your food.

I am in awe of the time and care bakers put into creating specialized cookbooks while making sure the end result tastes good.  Good job, Luane!

First up, Jam Thumbprints (actually jelly because I didn't feel like buying jam just for this recipe).

Well these are just magical cookies! Magic, I say! They are buttery (1.5 sticks to be exact) and chewy yet crispy if that's even possible.

Note: Something I noticed about gluten-free baking, at least with these recipes, is that the transport of said cookies meant you were carrying precious cargo. They were brittle, not always to the touch but not able to take shuffling, even the lightest bit, and when biting into them would crumble.

I believe the almond flour/meal I got was the element that added a granular texture to the cookies I made. And it was most apparent in these because it was my first recipe (a) and because of the fact that the cookie was butter, basically plain (b). But  none of this took away from the taste!

Next on the list, Macadamia Nut Blondies. These blondies also had white chocolate bits (gluten-free!). I had to say that the texture was quite dense. But all I tasted was sugar. And for me even that was a bit much. It was like a shot of sugar, though my co-workers did not complain. Not bad, just too sweet for my taste and that is saying something. 

Note: When baking with flour for cookies I found that I had to pre-make the dough and then chill it for at least an hour or overnight. This resulted in me searching for some quick recipes and the blondies were one of them.

Onward to Sweet Cinnamon Snickerdoodles! Again, the transport factor weighed heavily on these cause I had to transport them to Brooklyn and gave some to a friend. After stuffing said cookies in her purse (in ziplock) they became dust. Tasty dust as I was told.

For me the cinnamon permeated in these cookies. More so than in the snickerdoodles I've made using the Sweet Melissa recipe (a fave of friends). Not bad, just too cinnamony for me. But enough butter inside and tastiness that I'd make again and that guests went through the cookies in minutes. Minutes! 

And then we have Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies. I wanted to make sure to do at least one flourless recipe and ended up making these since I love peanut butter. The issue in the baking is knowing when these are done enough so that they're not too chewy but don't get burnt and firm up too much. I found a balance after the first batch and even if a recipe says wait until edges are brown that isn't necessarily par for the course. It depends on your oven and your methods. But these came out tasty. I added chocolate chips (gluten-free!) also because I just love the taste of both. The peanut butter was overwhelming in these, not a bad thing. When I make peanut butter cookies with flour there's a slight dilution of the peanut butter because of gluten and plus you don't need as much. But when they are flourless the peanut butter takes center stage and you have a mouthful of it. I barely taste the chocolate chips I put in because peanut butter had to be a diva.

And lastly we have Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. These were the pièce de résistance. Chocolate cookies with a dollop of peanut butter mixture in the middle. Much like a Reese's peanut butter cup. Everyone loved these. Chocolate and peanut butter can do no wrong. Ever! 

Two stages to this one since you pre-make and chill the dough and then right before putting the cookies in the oven you make the peanut butter mixture to put inside it. Leftover peanut butter mixture makes a nice, light flourless peanut butter cookie that I liked a bit better than the Flourless Peanut Butter Cookie recipe I used because it was not as heavy on the peanut butter and had egg whites in it which helped with density.

The chocolate powder in the cookie mix isn't too overwhelming with the chocolate and neither is the light peanut butter mixture so it's a perfect balance I think. And they come in a petite size (or were supposed to as I'm heavy handed) and are a nice treat to pop in your mouth. Good times.

Even though Gluten-Free Baking Month is over in my household I still have many of the flours left over to make more items. I'm think I may try her Chocolate Cookie Cake next.

So that was Gluten-Free Baking Month. Delicious desserts with no loss in flavor at all! I'd highly suggest using and/or testing Luane's recipes for yourself. But as noted earlier in this post if you're going to invest you might as well go full on and do so for your own Gluten-Free Baking Month! I still have leftover xantham gum if you need any.

There are many resources you can find for gluten-free baking such as Gluten Free Baking, Lauren McMillan's website, Gluten Free Baking 101, Luane's website, and a host of other sites you can find via any search engine and also on sites such as Epicurious and Food Network.

Happy Baking!