Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nut Flour Baking with Priscilla Martel - Part One

If you enjoy baking, you’re in for a treat! I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with notable chef Priscilla Martel to talk about gluten-free baking. Chef Martel has enjoyed a long, circuitous career in the culinary world and is therefore accomplished in many facets of it. She owned two restaurants for many years before serving as Executive Chef of the Norwich Inn and Spa for a time. She also ran the American Almond Company for four years before taking her current position as the company’s Culinary Director.

Priscilla, who has authored award-winning cookbooks, has also penned countless articles for the Chicago Tribune, Connecticut Magazine, Cook’s Magazine, Food Arts, Food & Wine, France Amérique, New York Magazine, the New York Times, “W”, and Yankee Magazine. But it is in her capacity as Culinary Director of the American Almond Company that the chef has developed a series of gluten-free recipes that focus on nut flours instead of those that are grain-based.

Nut flours stand up very well to gluten-free baking and offer an inspiring option to grain-based flour mixes currently on the market, which tend toward a slightly bitter flavor, in my opinion. Obviously, there are considerations for those with nut allergies, but for those without, nut flours are certainly one of the more adaptable and nutritious choices for gluten-free baking.

For the blog, Priscilla offers two standout recipes: Lemon Chiffon Cake and Chocolate Earthquake Cookies. The latter is adopted from the gluten version which appears on the Oui, Chef blog. Earthquake Cookies get their name from the dramatic fissures that open up on the cookie’s surface during the baking process, as well as the enticingly dense chocolate flavor that I’m told might “make the earth shake.” (Wink, wink.)

Even though Priscilla is trained in the art and science of baking, she feels both of these recipes are easily tackled by the home cook with great results. However, she offered pointers on technique for better success.

For the cookies, Priscilla recommends whipping the sugar and eggs to the “ribbon stage” (when the batter folds into itself in ribbon-like swirls). She also notes a particularly goopy batter that would benefit from use of an ice cream scoop (or cookie scoop, as they are now sometimes referred to), both for better consistency in size and easier transfer onto the cookie sheet.

Earthquake Cookies (Yield: 2 dozen)

For the Dough:

1 cup Blanched Almond Flour (available at King Arthur Flour website)
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup rice flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
12 oz. high quality bittersweet chocolate (68% or higher) such as Scharffenberger or Green and Black
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tablespoon instant espresso or coffee powder dissolved in 1 Tablespoon hot water
3 eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar

For the Coating:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325 ℉. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Stir together the almond flour, potato starch, rice flour and baking powder and set aside.
3. Melt the chocolates and butter over a double boiler. Allow to cool slightly then stir in the dissolved espresso or coffee powder.
4. Whip together the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whip until light and expanded in volume, about 5 minutes.
5. Add the melted chocolate to the whipped eggs. Whisk in the dry ingredients.
6. Chill the batter until firm.
7. For the Coating: pour the granulated and confectioner’s sugar into two separate bowls. Portion the chilled batter into rounds. Roll each ball of dough until it is uniform and smooth. Roll each ball of dough first into the granulated sugar then in the confectioner’s sugar. Coat each piece generously. Position the dough spaced 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
8. Bake the cookies until there are deep cracks in the surface, and they are firm to the touch but still moist in the center, about 15 minutes. (Do not overbake them.) Let the cookies cool until they are just cool enough to eat. Or let them cool completely before storing. They will keep at room temperature for about 1 week, several weeks if frozen.

Next month, check back for Part Two, when I post Chef Martel’s Lemon Chiffon Cake recipe and her tips for success.

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