Last week was my husband’s birthday. Should I tell you about how patient he is? How sweet and thoughtful? How he is wicked smart and a voracious learner, with an unquenchable curiosity and sense of adventure? How he makes me a better person every year that we’re together? I could tell you about his unfailing optimism and resiliency, and the way he faces challenges with gusto. I could write a hundred words about his sense of taste – simple, yet refined – and somewhere in there I would have to include his love of coffee, red wine and, of course, brownies.
He’s not one for cake, preferring instead a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies or a bar of really nice dark chocolate. This year for his birthday he requested a home-cooked Middle Eastern dinner, complete with chicken shawarma, hummus, and roasted cauliflower and eggplant salad, followed by a pan of freshly baked brownies - and specifically the teff flour-based recipe from the new Gluten-Free Girl’s American Classics Reinvented cookbook.
If you know my husband you might be surprised about this. Although he has long tolerated my pursuit of alternative wellness, he usually prefers to do things his own way; specifically, he prefers to eat the conventional (read: gluten-full) version of his favorite baked goods, rather than the grain-free, gluten-free ones I make. But lately we’ve been making a few adjustments and feeling really good about our little lifestyle, and this year the birthday brownies were gluten-free.
Ignore that for a minute – because you’d be hard-pressed to tell that these are gluten-free unless you knew beforehand – and let me instead tell you about how the caramel flavor of the teff flour marries beautifully with the semi-sweet chocolate chips sprinkled within. The end result is delicious hot out of the pan but even better after a night spent in the fridge, as the next day they are chewy and fudgy and dense. These are not a semi-acceptable gluten-free version of the brownies you loved as a kid. These are just brownies. If you eat gluten-free and have resigned yourself to tolerating less-than-stellar alternatives to your favorite foods, there is not much better than this.
As with everything from Shauna and Danny Ahern of Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, the recipes are precise, formulated after months of testing and rigorous research. But don’t think that their cookbook reads like an instruction manual – the entire book is warm and inviting, with little nuggets of wisdom about people and experiences and our relationships with food.
I’ve peppered my copy with post-it-notes, one on nearly every page. Some of the recipes I’m eager to try are hearty, like the Green Chili Pork Stew, or inspired by world cuisine, like the Cordova Salmon with fish sauce, ginger, garlic and lime. Every dessert is tempting, but I’m most eager to try the Snickerdoodles and the Seattle Coffee Cake.
Think that a gluten-free cookbook is too much work for a simple chef like yourself? Think again. Shauna and Danny have taken all of the guesswork out of gluten-free baking by formulating two flour blends to be used in every recipe, one with gluten-free flours and another with grain-free flours for the Paleo folks in the audience. If you can weigh and sift flours according to the instructions in American Classics Reinvented, you can make a gluten-free Red Velvet Cake, and a damn fine one at that.
The Aherns have a beautiful food philosophy that inspires me every time I come across their work. They champion quality ingredients, whole foods, local foods, responsibility and sustainability, all things that I support and seek for my own kitchen. Their philosophy is, put simply, a good mix of sustenance and indulgence.
But for those occasions when you want pancakes that taste like the ones your mama used to make on Saturday mornings, or when you want to bring a grain-free Apple-Walnut Crumb Cake to an office potluck and show the naysayers what for, this is your cookbook.
This book will make you want to get into the kitchen, to dig down deep into a bowl of rising (gluten-free) sourdough starter and knead with your bare hands; to take an afternoon to simmer a big pot of chowder on the stove to be enjoyed with family on a cool autumn evening; to melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler, and then pull a pan of fragrant brownies hot out of the oven for someone special in your life. It’s about the food, yes, but then again it’s about so much more than the food.
Brownies, Excerpted from GLUTEN-FREE GIRL AMERICAN CLASSICS REVISITED, © 2015 by Shauna James Ahern. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Fat for greasing the pan
8 Tbsp. (115 grams) unsalted butter
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 c. (210 grams) organic cane sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
100 grams teff flour
2 handfuls (100 grams) chopped hazelnuts
½ c. (85 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
Prepare to bake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with two pieces of parchment paper going opposite ways, leaving enough paper to hang over the edge. Grease the parchment with butter or oil.
Melt the butter and chocolate. Put the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Run the microwave for 1 minute. Whisk together the melted butter and chocolate. If there are any remaining chunks of chocolate, microwave for 30 more seconds. Stir well. (You can also melt the chocolate over a double boiler.)
Make the batter. Let the butter-chocolate combination cool until you can touch it. Add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring in between. Pour in the vanilla and stir. Add the teff flour and stir the batter thoroughly, with a rubber spatula, for at least 1 minute. Toss in the hazelnuts an chocolate chips and stir until just combined.
Bake the brownies. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly into the corners. Bake until the edges have begun to pull away from the pan and the center is just starting to set, 20 to 25 minutes. Lift both pieces of parchment paper and the brownies out of the pan and cool on a wire rack. Dig in.
Note: I've shared the recipe as it appeared in the cookbook. When I made these brownies the first time around, I unintentionally made tweaks based on what ingredients I had on hand - turbinado sugar, blended to a fine powder in the blender, instead of cane sugar; and semi-sweet chocolate instead of bittersweet. My version was good, but the original is better. Trust Shauna and Danny on this one.