Posts Tagged 'Gluten-Free Baking'

Almond Torte

Here’s another test recipe from The Dinner Party That Wasn’t Meant To Be…  At least I’ll be prepared when we’re able to reschedule.

Several years ago, I was a bit less resilient in the kitchen than I am now.  If a recipe failed, I’d be likely to toss it aside rather that make adjustments and try again.  I just wasn’t an experienced enough cook to know how to do a better job the next time.

When I first tried the Almond Torte recipe from the January/February 2004 issue of Everyday Food (actually back in 2004, I believe), it was a spectacular failure.  The cake was dry, and I think I managed to peel off the entire almond layer when I removed piece of parchment that had lined the bottom of the pan.  Somehow, though, this recipe stuck with me through the years.  I would think back on it because I had wanted it to work so badly (it’s a gorgeous, potentially delicious cake with only four Weight Watchers points per serving – seriously!), but I was never really motivated to give it another shot.

Until recently.

I have a very dear friend here in Denver who doesn’t eat wheat or dairy, and I’ve had her over for dinner and such several times since we moved back to Colorado.  As I’ve said before, she never expects any kind of special treatment, but I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with delicious dishes that everyone at the table can enjoy when she comes over.  In the beginning, I was more focused on taking “regular” dishes and making them gluten and dairy free by omitting certain ingredients or using things like gluten-free flour or specific brands of rice or soy milk.  I’ve discovered, though, that I much prefer making dishes that are naturally gluten and dairy free.

I was scanning my dessert recipe spreadsheet for options when I realized that the Almond Torte was exactly what I needed.  It had a short list of naturally gluten- and dairy-free ingredients: almonds, powdered sugar, egg whites, salt, and almond extract.  I just needed to be brave enough to give the recipe a second try.  The most recent Daring Bakers’ challenge actually helped me feel more prepared; I know way more now about what almond flour and/or meal should look like.  Five more years in the kitchen have also exponentially increased my comfort level when working with egg whites.  I was ready to kick this one in the tail.

There are some very important differences between the recipe as it is printed in the magazine and as it is posted online, so I’m going to provide you with the printed version.  Afterwards, I’ll discuss the techniques I used for getting it right this time.

Almond Torte
Serves 8
Prep time: 20 minutes | Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Note: Cut the paper liner before making the batter, but do not spray and line the pan until the batter is ready; this will prevent the spray from pooling in the bottom of the pan.

1 1/2 cups plus 1/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
4 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 325F.  Cut a piece of wax or parchment paper to fit the bottom of an 8-inch round nonstick cake pan; set aside.

Process 1 1/2 cups almonds with 3/4 cup sugar in a food processor until finely ground; set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form.  Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; beat until peaks are stiff and glossy.  Beat in extract.  With a rubber spatula, gently fold in almond mixture in two additions.

Coat cake pan with cooking spray; line with reserved paper round.  Spray lined pan; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 cup almonds.  Gently spread batter in pan; tap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake until golden brown and firm in the center, 40 to 45 minutes.  Cool completely in pan; invert onto rack.  (Gently remove parchment before serving.)

Source: Everyday Food, January/February 2004

Almond Torte

Here are my tips for perfect results:

  • I’m not sure if it makes a difference, but I used parchment paper – not wax paper – to line my pan.
  • The printed recipe says to use “sliced almonds,” while the online recipe says to use “sliced blanched almonds.”  I didn’t want the almond skins in my homemade almond meal, but I could only find slivered blanched almonds, not sliced.  My compromise was to use 1 1/2 cups of slivered blanched almonds to make the batter, while I used regular sliced almonds for the top layer of the cake.  Everything worked out beautifully.
  • I actually processed my almonds in three batches to get almond meal that I thought was ground finely enough.  I processed 1/2 cup of almonds with 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, pulsing until the mixture was pretty finely ground.  Using a fine-mesh sieve, I sifted the almond meal into a medium bowl and then put any chunks that didn’t make it through the sieve back into the food processor with the next batch of almonds and sugar.  In the end, there were still some bits that were too big to be sieved, but a large percentage of the meal was as fine as flour.  Just don’t get overzealous with your processing or attempt to process any almonds without powdered sugar; you’ll end up with almond butter.
  • Neither recipe mentions this, but I always bring my egg whites to room temperature before beating them for better volume.  Letting them sit (covered) on the counter for about 30 minutes will do it.  (If you’re short on time, nest the container of egg whites in a larger container of warm – not hot! – water, but don’t get any water in the whites.)  Eggs separate better when they’re cold, though, so separate them before bringing them to room temperature.  Also, be sure to use a copper, stainless steel, or glass bowl when you beat your egg whites.  Plastic bowls can hang onto residual fats, which will interfere with your egg whites reaching maximum volume.
  • I didn’t even realize I had done this until now, but I actually used 2 tablespoons of superfine baking sugar when I beat my egg whites instead of 2 more tablespoons of powdered sugar.  Since I was happy with my results, I would do this again next time.
  • The printed recipe says to use 3/4 teaspoon of almond extract, while the online recipe cuts it back to 1/2 teaspoon.  If you like a strong almond flavor, use the full 3/4 teaspoon of extract.  I’ll probably try the 1/2 teaspoon the next time I make the torte to see if we enjoy a more subtle flavor.
  • Both the printed and online recipes have suggested baking times of 40 to 45 minutes, but my cake was done in 35.

If you love almond flavor, this torte is straight from heaven.  And despite the fact that it doesn’t contain any flour, oil, or butter, the recipe actually does make cake!  It’s really moist with a delicate crumb, and the crunch from the top layer of almonds is a terrific textural accent.  This recipe is a winner, especially for those looking for a light treat (only 184 calories per slice!) or a gluten- and dairy-free treat.

TIPS:  Many of you already know this, but if you’re going to cook or bake for someone with gluten or dairy allergies (or any kind of allergy for that matter), double-check the packaging of your ingredients to make sure the ingredient has not been exposed to trace amounts of the allergen.  Bob’s Red Mill, for example, sells a variety of products that are certified gluten free.

Recipe link: Almond Torte

Cinnamon Stars

It’s time for my first Christmas cookie post of the season!  I’m having a few friends over for dinner next weekend, and I can’t wait to serve up some Christmas goodies.  Today’s recipe – Cinnamon Stars from Robin on – is a special project because one of my friends doesn’t eat wheat or dairy.  She would never ask anyone to plan around her dietary restrictions, but I enjoy the challenge of coming up with something tasty that *everyone* at the party can enjoy.  I made these Cinnamon Stars last night and then brought some to her over lunch today…  They most certainly passed the test.  (And she asked for the recipe!)

First, I processed approximately 2 2/3 cups of raw almonds in the food processor until they were finely ground.  (I was able to get a finer grind by processing them in small batches, about 1 – 2 handfuls at a time.)  I say “approximately” because I didn’t actually measure the whole almonds; I just kept processing handfuls until I had 2 2/3 cups of *ground* almonds.

Once I had the almonds ground, I placed them in a medium bowl and whisked in 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon zest.

In the bowl of my electric mixer, I beat 1/3 cup of egg whites and 1/8 teaspoon of salt until soft peaks formed.  With the mixer running, I gradually added 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, continuing to beat until the mixture was stiff.  (It probably took 3 – 4 minutes on high speed to achieve the consistency I wanted.)  I set aside 1/3 cup of the egg white mixture for the glaze and then folded my almond mixture into the rest of the egg white mixture.

I lined 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Working with about 1/3 of the dough at a time, I rolled it out to 1/4-inch thickness between two sheets of parchment paper.  (I dusted the bottom one with powdered sugar to help prevent sticking.)  Using a 2 1/2-inch star cookie cutter, I cut the cookies, re-rolled the scraps, and kept cutting until I had a dozen cookies on each baking sheet.

To make the glaze, I added 1 3/4 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice to the reserved egg white mixture and stirred until the mixture was smooth.  (My glaze dried out just a bit as time passed, so I ended up adding another 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon after a few minutes.)  I used a pastry brush to lightly coat the cookies with the glaze.  Glazing took a few minutes, so I actually put the first batch in once it was glazed and then moved on to glazing the other cookies.

The recipe said to bake the cookies at 325F for 20 – 25 minutes…  No way.  I took my first batch out after 12 minutes and the bottoms were really misshapen.  It was like the centers exploded and oozed out or something.  I got perfect results – a light-brown, soft, yet completely-cooked-through cookie – with only 8 minutes in the oven.  I let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 5 minutes and then cooled them completely on cooling racks.

Cinnamon Stars

I’ll admit the wheat and dairy eater in me prefers a nice butter-and-flour-laden traditional sugar cookie, but these are pretty tasty.  They have a really nice texture…  They’re not “bendable soft,” but they’re not crispy either.  I think “tender” is the right word.  The lemon and cinnamon flavors really sing.  I also *loved* that they held their shape beautifully.  No butter = no spreading.

My friend really seemed to enjoy them, so I’m going to put them on my “best bets” list for anyone looking for a good gluten-free and dairy-free Christmas treat.  They’ll be on my table again next weekend!

TIPS: I used packaged, pasteurized egg whites for this recipe because it’s a heck of a lot easier to pour 1/3 cup of egg whites out of a carton than it is to measure fresh egg whites.  Just make sure whatever you buy is 100% egg whites.  (Ham and cheese Egg Beaters won’t cut it!)

Recipe link: Cinnamon Stars

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