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Gluten-Free

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I’m a big fan of Clif chocolate brownie bars. They’re only a dollar at Trader Joe’s, taste like a brownie, and unlike Luna Bars, don’t have rice crispies in them. I might have discovered the holy grail to making no-bake, gluten-free sweets that taste very similar to Clif bars – Medjool dates. By themselves, they are sweet, chewy, and have a rich caramelly flavor that makes me think of chocolate. However, I do find them a tad bit dense, and they are fairly caloric (about 60-70 calories per date; for context, an average apple is about 90 calories). However, their sticky nature means they act as an effective binder when blended in with oats and other nuts.

I browsed around for some recipes, and it is really great how flexible this recipe is. Some combination of dates and oats along with almond flour and other berries would work well. I think this would be a pretty good hiking mix since it’s so compact and easy to eat, but note that there isn’t a ton of protein in it compared to the Clif bars. I made my version with cranberries and cocoa powder, but I imagine you can switch up the flavors as you like, using dates (to bind) and almond flour (for protein) as a base. I imagine raisins, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, maple syrup, and honey would work well here too. I also used a Vitamix to blend the ingredients since I don’t have a food processor, but that seemed to work out fine.

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No Bake Homemade Cranberry Chocolate Oat Clif Bars
Makes 6-8 snack-sized bars

120g Medjool dates, pitted (10-12 dates)
3/4 almond flour (or 1 cup raw almonds)
1/2 cup cranberries
1 cup oats
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup water

Put everything in a food processor and blend till it is reasonably mixed up. You still want some chunks, so no need to puree it up. Mold it with your hands into balls or bars, and either eat right away if you’re hungry, or refrigerate so it hardens up.

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I’ve missed baking with bourbon, and ever since I moved to my new apartment, I knew that this was the time to buy a handle of bourbon to fulfill all my baking desires. While I enjoy a nice top-shelf bourbon for sipping, Jim Beam works just fine when it’s going to be complemented with chocolate and copious amounts of sugar. The first recipe to kick off this bourbon baking dry spell was this batch of bourbon brownies.

The original recipe recommended a sea salt topping, but I forgot and now this is just a fudgy brownie with notes of woodiness. It’s not going to make you drunk but you can definitely taste the bourbon. I’d recommend eating these brownies chilled; it really enhances the fudginess. Whiskey and chocolate just go so perfectly together… I actually had some chocolate-infused, locally-made moonshine from King’s County Distillery and really enjoyed it.

As usual, I sub in gluten-free flour when adverse effects are minimal. I used Carol Fenster’s baking mix of 1 cup rice flour, 1/2-3/4 cup potato starch and ¼ cup tapioca starch/flour. The downside to this flour is that it tends to clump up and might lead to clumps in your batter.

Bourbon Brownies
Adapted from Baking Bites
Makes one 8-9 inch square pan

1/2 cup butter
2-oz dark chocolate (60-70% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp bourbon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup all purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt together butter and dark chocolate in the microwave. This should be done in 30-second intervals to avoid overcooking the mixture, stirring to ensure that the chocolate has melted. Allow mixture to cool slightly and transfer into a large mixing bowl.
Whisk sugar and cocoa power into butter mixture. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, followed by 1/4 tsp salt, bourbon and vanilla extract. Whisk in the flour and stir until it is just incorporated, and no streaks of dry ingredients remain visible.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Allow brownies to cool in the pan, then lift the foil to easily remove them before slicing.

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As my foray into gluten-free baking continues, I have been pushing the boundaries slowly. I’m not going to be making gluten-free bread or cake anytime soon – basically anything that contains flour as its main component will be tricky to perfect with gluten-free flours. I thought that an oatmeal cookie would be a decent compromise, since the oats take up considerable bulk in the cookie. I took a popular oatmeal cookie from Allrecipes and used a homemade gluten-free flour blend from the Celiac Support Organization website, specifically Carol Fenster’s General Baking Mix #1. I picked that recipe for its simplicity, and because I already had tapoica starch lying around.

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Then came the actual baking. These cookies are actually my second attempt. My first attempt came out overly spread out and lacy, and all the cookies merged into a giant lattice of baked cookie dough. It was still tasty, but it was more of a crisp and thin variety than soft and thick. Gluten-free flours without any additives generally don’t create structurally sound baked goods because the gluten protein provides a great deal of stability to a finished product. My hack was to then freeze the cookies so that they are less inclined to spread out. I then freezed the dough after shaping it into balls, and baked it at a higher temperature at a shorter duration. That worked wonderfully, and gave me cookies with a soft, almost cakey texture with a crisp caramelized rim.

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Soft Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies (Gluten-Free)
Makes 3 dozen cookies
Adapted from Allrecipes

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup gluten-free flour (recipe follows)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 cup white chocolate chips (I eyeballed it – add to your heart’s desire!)

DIRECTIONS:
1. In a medium bowl, cream together butter, white sugar, and brown sugar. Beat in egg, then stir in vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; stir into the creamed mixture. Mix in oats. Roll the dough into teaspoon sized balls, and freeze till hard.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. Place cookie balls 1 inch apart on cookie sheets.
3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet until completely cool.

Gluten-Free Flour Mix
Makes 1 cup
From Carol Fenster

1/2 cup rice flour
1/4 cup potato starch
2 tbsps tapioca starch/flour

Blend all flours till combined. These flours are very light, so take care to avoid coating your counter in white powder. Potato starch is also different from potato flour – be cautious in your purchase.

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I’ve known in the back of my mind how simple molten lava cakes are to make, but can you believe that I’ve never actually attempted this half-baked ubiquitous restaurant concoction? Now I have. And it’s actually really easy! The small amount of flour involved also means that the quality of the cake wouldn’t suffer too much with the substitution of gluten-free flour.

I used a Paula Deen recipe, fully well knowing that it would be excessively rich, which is why I third the recipe to create two ramekins worth of molten lava cake instead of six. And even then, each portion was way too rich for me – I ate it in fits and starts, and each ramekin took approximately three tries to finish. Whew.

This is a one-bowl recipe with little clean-up, and can be modified to your liking depending on what kind of flavorings or extracts you want to include. Sub the vanilla essence with peppermint oil, and you get a melty, cakey, After Eights. Add a dash of paprika for an inexplicable tingle on the tongue. Just let your imagination guide you 🙂

Small Batch Gluten-Free Molten Lava Cake
Makes 2 6-oz ramekins
Adapted from Paula Deen

47g bittersweet chocolate
47g butter
20g all-purpose or gluten-free flour
1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 tablespoons orange liqueur (optional)
Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Grease 2 (6-ounce) ramekins. Melt the chocolates and butter in the microwave, or in a double boiler. Add the flour and sugar to chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur. Divide the batter evenly among the ramekins. Place in the oven and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center will be runny. Run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto dessert plates.

One of my favorite snacks these days is Trader Joe’s Chocolate Almond Granola. It’s chocolatey, it’s crunchy, it satisfies my breakfast and mid-afternoon snacking needs – it’s really a great product. What’s even better about it is how simple the ingredients list is. Just about everything can be found in the grocery store, and I decided that instead of buying this cereal over and over again, I’m just going to make it. It’s too simple not to.

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Enter my riff on Trader Joe’s chocolate almond granola. My version contains old-fashioned oats, almond slivers, cocoa powder, honey, and canola oil, and chocolate shavings. The only item that I cannot procure easily that’s within the Trader Joe’s version is barley malt syrup – but that’s okay. Honey does a decent job of gluing it all together.

Aside from the taste of honey, this is a pretty close replica in terms of taste. However, I still have to figure out how to replicate granola that will actually clump together. That remains an untested challenge. I suspect a lower temperature and quick-cooking oats will help with the agglutination.

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Chocolate Almond Granola
Makes approximately 4 cups of granola

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Chocolate shavings, as desired

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with greased parchment paper or a silicone sheet.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together oats, almonds, and salt.
Mix honey and oil in a small bowl and whisk in cocoa powder until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour over dry ingredients and toss to coat.
Spread granola onto prepared baking sheet in an even layer. Bake until granola is no longer sticky, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool. When granola is just barely warm, grate a chocolate bar over the granola.

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These cookies are très chocolatey, and when I noticed how little flour it involved, I decided to swap it out entirely for gluten-free flour. Unfortunately I think it made my cookies too crumbly. That’s the downside to using gluten-free flour, it doesn’t seem to have the stretchy, bond-y properties that gluten protein has. Oh well.

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Unlike the recipe I adapted from, I didn’t have salted chocolate around, so I just used regular chocolate. The salt doesn’t seem to hold up too well in the recipe – I think sprinkling it before baking would result in a better contrast. I just forgot to =/ Try to use actual flaky sea salt; it’ll look much prettier on your cookies and I’ve found that it just tastes better.

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Salted Chocolate Truffle Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies
Adapted from Butter Baking

Ingredients
300g dark chocolate, chopped
30g unsalted butter
2 eggs
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup gluten-free flour (or regular all-purpose flour)
¼ tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt (plus extra, for sprinkling)
⅓ cup chocolate chips

Method
Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F) and line trays with baking paper.
Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring between each burst, until chocolate and butter are melted, smooth and combined.
Whisk in the sugar. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.
Add the flour, baking powder and salt, stirring to combine.
Allow the dough to cool a little, then stir in the chocolate chips.
Chill the dough in the fridge until slightly hardened.
Use a cookie scoop to drop balls of dough onto the prepared trays. Sprinkle each cookie with a little sea salt (optional and to taste).
Bake for 8 – 10 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are slightly cracked.
Allow to cool before removing from trays. Makes about 20 cookies.