Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gluten-free Chocolate Carob Fig Layer Cake

My first foray into made-from-scratch layer cakes! It dawned on me that the only layer cakes I had ever made were from a box, years ago, with mom's help. So it was time to branch out and throw on another layer onto my homemade cakes and put a little something in the middle.

This cake starts with figs. My initial idea was to make the cake sugar free, using only the figs as sweetener, but I later caved and added some sugar. But it is possible!

Put the dried figs (10 or so) in a bowl and pour steamed milk over the top. This helps soften them up for the food processor.

While those are getting ready, you can prepare the flour mix (all the measurements are estimates):
3/4 cup Almond flour (or use the food processor to grind whole almonds
1 cup Rice flour
1/2 cup Carob flour
Baking soda

On the stove, start melting:
1/2 bar dark chocolate
1/2 stick butter
splash of milk

And in a small bowl, whisk 3 eggs and a bit of sugar.

Now, those figs should be ready. Throw them in the food processor, and blend until smooth. Add the fig mixture to the chocolate butter, and then the eggs. Stir quickly so nothing cooks (the chocolate will still be hot).

Finally, add bit by bit the flour mixture to the liquid. Taste for sugar and consistency.

Now comes the exciting part: Not one, but TWO pans. Lined with aluminum foil or greased, separate the batter equally in them, and into the oven at 350. Bake for around 20 minutes, or until done (but be careful! Carob is tricky and the cakes turn a very dark brown so they look burnt, even if they aren't. Always check the middle with a knife or toothpick before taking them out).

For the middle filling, I ground up more almonds with a sticky brown sugar and a bit of butter. And the top is graced with a melted chocolate layer. Put on those layers!:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cardamom-Carob Mousse

I made the mistake, or rather, took the risk of making an experiment for guests that were eating here at Huerta Grande.

And the result was about as can be expected with an experiment: average. Some people loved it, other people hated it and politely pushed it away, and other people kept expecting chocolate with each bite, even after being proven wrong the first few times.

That's the tricky thing about carob- it's not for everyone. According to one guest, it tasted "green". His tastebuds were confused: his eyes promised him something that tasted brown (read: chocolate) and instead reality gave him carob. Which, though it is used as a substitute for chocolate, doesn't really taste the same.

Which is why I think instead of thinking of it as a poor man's chocolate, carob should be considered as its own, delicious ingredient. Many recipes claim that carob can be used as a substitute for chocolate, but it is simply not the same. So this introduction is my disclaimer: don't expect this to taste like chocolate mousse! It's much lighter, does have a bit of an earthy taste, and is incredibly decadent in its own way.

And it's almost vegan! I wanted to make it vegan, but caved in the end and used a bit of cream. But you can easily substitute soy milk or even soy creamer and create a vegan bliss.

And if you have a food processor, it's a very quick and easy fix.

You need:

Carob powder
2-3 avocados
Cream/Soy milk
Dried figs
A bit of sugar
Shredded coconut for decoration

Before getting started, soak the dried figs in water or liquor for an hour or so. It makes them MUCH easier to process.

Cut up your avocados, tear up your now mushy figs, and add them to the carob powder and cardamom. It all goes into the food processor. Process these together, then check for consistency. If it's a bit thick and not smooth, add cream until you get the texture of a mousse. Also check for taste - the figs can make it pretty sweet, but if it needs sugar, throw a bit in.

Process, process. And done!

Put in the refrigerator for a couple hours, top with some coconut, and you're good to go.

If you want to be super decadent, add fresh fruit (I used kiwi, but whatever is in season, mango, berries, cherries, etc. works). It adds some beautiful color and plays perfectly with the carob.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gluten-free Swiss chard and Mushroom Quiche

I normally enjoy the things I cook. And normally they come out about how I would have expected. But rarely am I ever as surprised as I was when I tried my first fresh-out-of-the-oven bite of this quiche.

It all started with an overload of vegetables. They desperately needed to be made into something more exciting than a soup or puree. A quiche, I thought. And then I realized that if I was making a quiche, I would need to make a pastry crust. And with that pastry crust I could make a little extra to make a mini sweet potato pie from leftover sweet potato wedges. And then it was a done deal.

The pastry crust was a simple combination of butter, corn flour, a bit of water, and a bit of rum. (The alcohol in the rum evaporates, leaving the crust nice and flaky.) It's the same that I used for the Gluten-free empanadas (, minus the sugar and plus the rum.

Then I sauteed, each separately, and in a generous amount of olive oil:
1 large onion (sauteed for a lonnnng time, letting the onion become sweet and caramelized)
Lots of Swiss chard, ripped into pieces, with the stalks removed
Lots of sliced mushrooms

I threw in a bit of salt and pepper to help them gather up some flavor while they cooked.

We had a lot of vegetables, and so I used them all, which produced a extremely veggie-laden quiche. By varying the amount of vegetables you put in, you can completely change the taste and texture. (Less vegetables, you notice the egg more (reminds me of a Spanish omelet), more vegetables and it feels less eggy.)

Then the cheese. I always feel like quiches don't have as much cheese as I want them to, and the cheese helps all the flavors wake up. So I grated a generous amount of Gouda and Parmesan.

Finally, the egg mixture. I whisked together until foamy:
5 eggs
A good amount (a cup or so?) of cream
Spot of olive oil

Then it all came together. First I pressed the crust into the baking dish, poking holes in the bottom and sides with a fork. Then I laid out the onions in a thin bottom layer. Next I mixed the mushrooms, Swiss chard, and cheese into the egg mixture, and all that happy eggy-cheesy-veggie goodness filled up the dish.

Into the pre-heated oven: about 200 Celsius for 30 minutes.

And the result, like I said, was surprising. I hadn't made a quiche in years, and consulted a couple internet recipes for a general idea of proportions. Of course, in the end I just threw things together and did it how I wanted to. But this quiche was something else. It got me so excited that I was talking about it in each Skype conversation I had that day and the next.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Gluten-free Lemon Avocado Cookies

For a lack of a nail, the horse lost the shoe... and down the line the whole war was lost. But sometimes lack can lead to invention which yields a far more exciting result. Were it not for a lack of egg, these would have been ordinary gluten-free lemon cookies, too plain to feature on my blog.

But due to some benevolent force, when I had my cookie craving and meandered into the kitchen to figure out what I could make, there were no eggs in the refrigerator. But I was determined to make cookies. I considered that many vegan cookie recipes call for banana instead of egg...but no banana. What did we have that had a similar consistency? Avocados. And so, lemon-avocado cookies were born.

First I blended:
1-2 avocado
Splash of milk

This made a nice, sweet, buttery avocado-butter. Depending on how ripe your avocados are, the milk may or may not be necessary. Mine weren't really quite ripe enough. I also tried to balance the sugar with the lemon juice. If you want a cookie that's not too lemony, just grate the rind into the butter mixture. If you want a bit of lemon punch, then add the juice too.

Then I mixed the flour - a blend of rice flour, corn startch, and corn flour, and added a pinch of salt and a bit of ground ginger. Then I mixed the flour into the butter mixture.

I spooned the cookies onto a greased cookie sheet and baked them at 200 C for about 10 minutes. I tried different sizes - having some rounds that were larger cookies, some that were smaller. The smaller ones are better, especially for tea.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gluten-free Zucchini Bread

Some things never change. I work on a farm in the very southernmost part of Spain and there is an overload of tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. I go to a farm in the Alpujarra mountains, close to Trevelez, the highest town in Spain, and I find the same abundance.

What to do with so much verdura?

Make preserves. This past week, I found myself discovering ways to preserve lettuce, to make cold creamy vegetable soups, and to deal with the ripe tomatoes that weren’t able to make it to the market.

And, along the way, I made two loaves of zucchini bread. According to my friend Rose, of, zucchini bread must have been invented by someone who had too much zucchini and didn’t know what in the world to do with it. Who else would have thought to put this vegetable into bread?

Well, I’m glad they did.

And here is my own version. Gluten-free, of course.

Maizena (Spanish brand fine white corn flour. But really it’s just cornstarch.)
Baking soda
Grated zucchini (if you have a food processor, you’ll be very happy.)

Once the zucchini is grated, dry it on with paper towel to take out some of the liquid. This will help avoid the too-gooey center problem that happens when fruits and vegetables make their way into bread. (A trick I picked up from

Toss the dry ingredients in a bowl. Then add the zucchini, tossing it with a fork. You want the mixture to look crumbly, and have almost an equal proportion of zucchini to flour, but a little heavier on the flour side.

In another bowl mix together:

One egg

Then add the wet ingredients to the zucchini-flour bowl and stir. Add in some cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove (or all three, depending on your pantry stock).

Into a greased baking dish and into the preheated oven. The oven I used was a bit broken, so I wasn’t able to judge the temperature. As a safety measure (and so as not to dry out the bread too much), I put a pan with water on the bottom rack, so that the bread would be moist.

This one I made for the market. But plans went awry, and we never made it to the market. So I ended up eating a good ¾ of it by myself.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gluten-free Sweet Potato Empanadas

I was dreaming of sweet potatoes when I walked into my kitchen on the farm. There, in a plastic crate was a pile of recently discovered sweet potatoes. They had been living a little while in an old brick oven kitchen, and had been forgotten. And then they had been uncovered, only to land in my kitchen where my eager hands grabbed them and started peeling.

Peeled them, chopped them in chunks, and tossed them in a pot of boiling water.

When the potatoes were soft, I took them out of their hot bath and mashed them in a bowl. I added (to taste):

A bit of butter
A couple spoonfuls of queso fresco (which, in this form, was more like sour cream)

Next, another discovery: you can use corn flour to make pastry dough.

Half fat to flour, I told myself as I approximated proportions. This pastry dough contained:

White corn flour

First I measured out the dry ingredients, then chopped in the butter. No pastry cutter, no problem. Criss-cross cutting with knives did the trick, until the dough was in small crumbs. Then I added water little by little, tossing the dough with a fork until it formed a ball.

Then came the tricky and not so elegant part - putting it all together. I am far too impatient to wait for a dough to get cold in the fridge, so it always is a bit more difficult to work with. Difficult, but possible.

I divided the ball in half, laying out the first layer in the rough oblong shape of an empanada. I spooned the sweet potato mixture inside, leaving a small dough border. Then I patchworked together a top - flattening the rest of dough in my hands in small bits and laying them on top. It worked surprisingly well, but was a bit tedious.

A sprinkle of sugar on top, and it was into the oven. 200 Celsius, for about 30 minutes, until it turned a nice brown.

My host family and fellow wwoofer were pleased, but not as much as me.

This is one case in which, in my opinion, using corn flour is actually better than wheat flour. The resulting pastry is the perfect complement to sweet potatoes which have a hearty flavor. Normally with gluten-free substitutes, I am trying to imitate something that I often see done with wheat flour. However, corn flour pastry stands on its own, has a different taste and texture, and is just as good.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Queso Fresco with Cranberry Sauce

Snack time!

I know this doesn't count as something I cooked, but it was such a tasty invention and so photogenic that I couldn't help myself.

And, as the name suggests, it was incredibly simple.

As vacation time has started creeping closer, the contents of the fridge are slowly being consumed and not replenished. Which leads to more creative snacking, and to this particular combination: queso fresco with cranberry sauce.

Queso fresco is a mild, unaged, white cheese that originated in Spain and has since then taken on many other forms (according to wikipedia, it has migrated to Mexico and other American countries and can be compared to a very mild feta or an Indian paneer cheese). In this case, it comes in a handy little yogurt-like container. When plopped upside down, it leaves its plastic home to rest on the plate in a small etched dome.

Alone, it's delicious, but often it's paired with membrillo (a quince paste). Our fridge did not have membrillo. But it did, courtesy of Ikea foods, have cranberry sauce.

A spoonful of cranberry sauce on top and I was in snack heaven.