Almond Flour Brownies (Gluten Free)

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Back in February, when the weather was still cold and snowy, we decided to throw a winter chili party. We figured that it would be a great way to get everyone together and shake away the winter blues with some warm chili and lots of wine. We invited our friends who live in the city and made two big batches of chili: a Moroccan beef chili with raisins (that I will share with you at some point) and Steve’s vegetable chili. As always we made too much and had chili in the freezer for weeks afterwards. But it was worth it. The party was a hit. Everyone loved the food and, more importantly, the chance to hang out with everyone and catch up (or in some cases, meet for the first time).DSC05126

When it came time for dessert, I wanted to give people a couple of options. So, I made my mom’s pasta flora and for the second option, I decided to try a recipe I had bookmarked months before and was always curious about. It’s a recipe for brownies that uses only ground almonds and no flour at all (so it’s naturally gluten free). I’ll be honest, I didn’t think they would come out that great but I was really wrong. More than one person at the party (including myself) proclaimed them some of the best brownies they’ve ever had. They have a deeply rich chocolate taste and they’re chewy with a crackly top. The almond flour gives them a pretty unique texture that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in a brownie before. And the best part? They are made in a single bowl with just a wooden spoon (or sturdy spatula). DSC04984

Almond Flour Brownies (Gluten Free) – Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes 9 large or 12-16 smaller brownies

Note: This recipe is all about the cocoa you use. Choose a good brand (like Valrhona) of  cocoa.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups sugar
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-process or natural
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups almond flour
3 large eggs
Flaky sea salt for topping (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8″ square pan or 9″ round pan; either should be at least 2″ deep. Place parchment paper in the pan, letting it overhang on both sides, to make it easier to remove brownies.

Place the sugar, butter, and salt in a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for about 2 minutes, stopping it every 30 seconds and mixing it with a wooden spoon or a very sturdy spatula.

Add the vanilla and cocoa to the sugar mixture and using the wooden spoon or sturdy spatula, mix them well. Add the baking powder and almond flour and mix with the spoon/spatula until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be getting quite thick.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the eggs to the sugar/cocoa/butter mixture and use the spoon/spatula to mix them until the batter becomes looser and shiny.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges. Sprinkle a few flakes of flaky sea salt on top (optional).

Bake the brownies for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is set and the middle still feels a little wobbly when you touch it (the edges will be more set). A cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center will come out with wet crumbs.

Remove the brownies from the oven and cool them for about 15 minutes before cutting. Once the brownies are cool, cover them tightly with plastic. Store at room temperature for several days or freeze for longer storage (they are delicious straight out of the freezer).

Almond and Macadamia Nut Milk

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Steve approaches cooking a little differently than I do. While for me, cooking can be a creative endeavor, an almost meditative exercise, for Steve it’s often approached as a fun project. Since he works a lot more hours than I do, he doesn’t cook very often, but when he does, it’s for something new or interesting in some way, something that caught his eye online because of the unusual technique it uses or the unique ingredients it combines.

So it was, that when he read an article in the New York Times titled “The Best Iced Latte in America?” he immediately identified a project he wanted to tackle: making the almond and macadamia nut milk that is the main ingredient of said “best iced latte in America.” And so we went shopping for the ingredients (blanched almonds, macadamia nuts, and dates) and went about making our first batch. In our haste, we failed to taste the macadamia nuts, which were quite rancid, resulting in not-the-best iced latte in America.

Undaunted, a few weeks later Steve wanted to try again. This time we tried the nuts and they were fresh. The nut milk came out smooth and fresh and ever so slightly sweetened by the dates. It’s not hard to make, but it is a project. And how was the iced latte? Pretty great. Best in America? Not really sure.
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Almond and Macadamia Nut Milk – From the New York Times

Note: When we made this the second time, we used a nut bag, as the recipe suggests, but the milk ended up too gritty. We strained it again through two layers of cheesecloth and it was perfect. So, opt for the cheesecloth if you can.

Ingredients:

1 generous cup/150 grams blanched almonds
½ cup/50 grams macadamia nuts
⅓ cup/40 grams pitted dates
1 liter filtered water

Directions:

1. Combine almonds, macadamia nuts and dates in a large lidded plastic container. Add filtered water, cover, and let soak overnight at room temperature, at least 12 hours.

2. Using a blender set to the highest speed, process mixture for 3 to 4 minutes or until finely puréed. Strain the mixture through a nut bag or jelly bag into a bowl, squeezing hard until only solids remain. (Or set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and line with two layers of cheesecloth. Use a spatula to force the mixture through the lined sieve, then repeat the process using fresh cheesecloth.) The nut milk should be silky and creamy, not gritty. Milk will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days. Shake before using.

To make an iced almond-macadamia milk latte, combine 8 ounces of the chilled nut milk, a double shot of hot espresso and ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake for about 30 seconds, then strain into a chilled glass with fresh ice.

Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies

Last weekend, I was sitting next to our friends’ adorable six-year old daughter, eating breakfast, when she turned to me and asked:

– Why don’t you and Steve have kids?

The question stopped me in my tracks. I mean, how do you tell a six-year old that growing up you always thought you’d have kids, you always assumed you would, but then you hit your 20s and boom! this life changing event happened – you came out? How do you explain to her that at that point you thought, ok, this settles it, I’m not going to be able to have kids, and you kind of came to terms with that but then the years passed and you saw more and more same-sex couples actually doing it, actually having kids of their own, and you thought maybe that will be me?

How do you tell her that for many years you were still finding your way, still looking for a partner in life, so kids were not in your plans, and then you met a man, a wonderful man, who would turn out to be the love of your life, your future husband? How do you describe how much fun you were having together and how the years started adding up one at a time until you both realized there was a deadline coming, to make a decision on having kids, and that the deadline came and you talked and you realized that you just loved your life together too much and you were too old by then, too satisfied with the way things were, too content with everything to disrupt it with the addition of a kid?

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How do you explain to this inquisitive, smart, and beautiful six-year old girl that it was a tough decision, a really tough decision, and that there are days when you are going to work and you see a blond-headed toddler who looks so much like Steve did in all the photographs from when he was little, and the little boy waves at you and your heart skips a beat? How do you describe the wistful feeling you have when you imagine a little version of Steve running around, but then the toddler starts to cry and scream and you see the parent scramble and try to find a way to make him happy, and you think yes, that’s right, it’s a sacrifice and a commitment for life and you weren’t ready to make either, and that is ok?

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Well, you don’t tell her any of these things. And I didn’t. I just smiled and told her simply that Steve and I had decided that we wouldn’t have our own kids and that we were instead really happy that we had so many friends in our lives with kids, just like her own dads and her and her brother.

As we both went back to our breakfasts, I thought of that alternate universe where our lives had taken a different path, one which included a little boy of our own, and how as soon as he was able to do so, I would bring him in the kitchen and show him how to help me make these vanilla almond orange cloud cookies, and how  much fun we’d both have making them and eating them. But then, someone asked me a question about one thing or another and the conversation shifted and the day took its own course.

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Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies – Adapted from Joy the Baker

1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
10 ounces almond paste
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
powdered sugar

Place two racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 325º  F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together granulated sugar, orange zest, and scraped vanilla seeds. Use your fingers to works the zest and vanilla into the sugar, creating a fragrant, moist sugar.

Place sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the almond paste. Beat on medium speed creating a crumbly sugar and almond mixture.

While almond mixture is combining in the mixer, place two egg whites in a small bowl. Whisk with a fork until loose and frothy. This will help in pouring the egg whites into the mixer. With the mixer on medium speed, gradually pour the egg whites in to the crumbly almond and sugar mixture. Beat until a smooth paste is formed.

Spoon or scoop batter by the heaping tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Using the tips of three of your fingers, make indentations in each cookie.

Bake cookies for 20 to 25 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Almond Cake

Almond Cake

There’s a great cookbook, called “Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients,”  written by the two guys that own the bakery Baked in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In it, they provide different recipes that use their favorite ingredients, including malt, caramel, and bananas. The book is great, the recipes fantastic, and the 10 favorite ingredients are spot on but there is one glaring omission, in my opinion: almonds, or more specifically almond paste.

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Something magic happens when you take almonds, mix them with sugar, and grind them into a paste, commonly known as marzipan if the sugar percentage is sufficiently high. They turn into something so addictive (at least for me), that I’ve been known to eat a whole stick of marzipan in one sitting. In fact, making marzipan is the first food I ever prepared.

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I was six years old when one day in school, our teacher taught us how to make amygdalota, marzipan that’s shaped into round fruit shapes, rolled into granulated sugar, and decorated with a single clove to resemble the fruit stem. I have never forgotten that day. The excitement of making the delicious amygdalota, bringing them home to show my mom, and then eating them on top of it all was just too much joy to ever forget it.

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Since then, I have loved anything and everything that uses almond paste, like this recipe for almond cake. This is an amazing cake. It’s moist and tender, with a distinct, but not overpowering flavor of almonds.

I have good news and not-so-good news about the cake. First, the good news. This is a single bowl cake, so it’s easy to make. The bowl in this case is the bowl of a food processor. Everything is added in order and processed to make the batter. It takes just a few minutes and you have very little to clean afterwards.

Now, the not-so-good news. You know how sometimes you’ll find an amazing recipe that uses really healthy ingredients but somehow makes something that tastes really rich and sinful? Well, this is the opposite kind of recipe. It uses lots of butter and eggs and sugar but the resulting cake tastes light and harmless. I’m not sure why, but I’d like to think that it’s the almond paste. In my book, it makes everything better.

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Almond Cake – Very slightly adapted from DavidLebovitz.com

1 1/3 cups (265g) sugar
7-8 ounces (198-225g) almond paste (not marzipan)
3/4, plus 1/4 cup (140g total) flour
1 cup (8 ounces, 225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (162ºC). Grease a 9- or 10-inch (23-25 cm) cake or spring form pan with butter, dust it with flour and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup (35g) of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand. It will only take a few seconds but make sure there are no clumps of almond paste left.

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3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup (105g) of flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla extract, then process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy.

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5. Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition. Scrape the sides down as needed.

After you add all the eggs, the mixture may look curdled (mine didn’t). It’ll come back together after the next step.

6. Add half the flour mixture and pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing the machine until the drying ingredients are just incorporated, but do not overmix.

7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 65 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center.

8. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.