Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Sponges and Beaches

It has been 50+ days without wheat (except for one small lapse at a wedding dessert buffet which only confirmed that wheat = bad for me.) It is starting to feel like forever. It's been remarkably easy - much easier than I would have initially thought - to cut out this entire category of foods.

The real problem with this allergy is that the 30 years of baking experience I have under my belt is basically now worthless. I have been turned upside down. I am beginning to understand why people my age who haven't grown up cooking alongside their parents, grandparents, etc are now completely daunted by cooking. Every recipe in my newly acquired Gluten Free Baking Classics book requires at least 3 kinds of flour, plus xanthan gum. And that's just for the basics. Don't even get me started on what's required if yeast is involved.

Incidentally, I feel that while on this topic a PSA is due: Don't spill xanthan gum on the counter. Or anywhere. That is easier said than done, as xanthan gum is highly powdery and just transferring it into a storage container almost ensures you will unleash a plume of white powder that evokes suspicious envelopes and ticking packages. Xanthan gum, required in small amounts in wheat-free items to provide structure that you normally get from gluten, becomes instantly, viciously viscous when put in contact with water, making it about as hard to clean up as egg white dropped on the floor. (And if you've never done that, trust me. Or try it.)

Completely overwhelmed, I bought a gluten-free flour blend at Whole Foods made by King Arthur that had approximately the same ingredients as GFBC says you should have in each recipe. This was my first mistake.
GFBC explicitly says that there is exactly ONE brand of flour that is acceptable because all other gluten-free flour blends lend themselves to gritty end products. However, this blend is unavailable in Northern California except for one little hippie co-op somewhere in Napa. Guess where I'm not driving to get some flour, for God's sake. Napa.

The bad news is that GFBC seems to be telling the truth, because the King Arthur didn't quite work as expected. Looks like I will be sucking it up and buying the super-refined brown rice flour online as instructed.

I decided to put this flour to the test with a GFBC recipe for Chocolate-Ricotta Muffins. I love chocolate and ricotta, so figured this was probably a good place to start.

In the end, the chocolate chips in this recipe are the primary redeemer. That, and heat. When these muffins are hot - ideally right out of the oven, but an oven reheating will also suffice, they are pretty tasty. When they are cold, well, let's just say I'd rather eat other things.

At least they look semi-normal. They were, admittedly, a bit spongy. Not in a sponge cake way. More like a Cell-O brand sponge way.

The second item, made simultaneously, was a fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomato tart modeled after this recipe on Epicurious. I had fantastic heirlooms and two giant bunches of basil from the farm box and all needed to be used up. Seemed like a perfect solution.

GFBC had a recipe for a tart crust. Only problem: the recipe was written for a sweet, not a savory, tart crust. I made a few substitutions (omitted the sugar, added parmesan and black pepper) and I thought I was in good shape. I par-baked the crust, and it came out looking normal, if a little crumbly.

Per the normal recipe instructions, I layered in the cheese, the homemade pesto, and the tomatoes. The tart looked beautiful.

The tomatoes from my farm box were just absolutely perfect.

It is at this point in the story that I am reminded of a moment from my childhoold. When I was three years old, in our Evanston townhouse, I used to paint watercolors with my stepdad. Not, mind you, with that strip of Crayola watercolors that you probably used at school. You know the ones - the "yellow" was never yellow, but usually some shade of hideous army green because of all the dumb kids who didn't clean their brushes well between colors, ruining the yellow for everyone. No, those were not real watercolors. We had actual art-store watercolor paper and the little tubes of pigment that you have to mix on a palette. Yes, I was three. I remember one particular painting I was really adding quite a lot of brushstrokes to and my dear stepdad observed that the difference between artists and non-artists is that "artists know when to stop." Truly, those are words I have remembered my entire life. They come back to me periodically at unusual times, like an old friend.

Unfortunately, they did not come back to me during the creation of this tart.
This is precisely the moment when the wheels came off.

I decided I wanted something pizza-y and threw the whole thing back in the oven to melt the cheese. The last-minute roasting at 425 had the unintended consequence of causing both the tomatoes and the cheese to give off all their liquid. Right into my lovely tart crust.

I brought the tart over to our usual Sunday football-watching venue (friends' house) and by the time I got there (one block away), it had given off at least a quarter-cup of liquid. Possibly a third. I actually had to drain it in the sink.
Surprisingly, it sliced nicely, but the crust was complete mush. The tomatoes and cheese and pesto were delicious and the crust tasted a little bit like what I imagine licking a Bermudan beach might be like. Only with better flavor. I will say this: the crust tasted good. But the gritty-pasty texture was really so terrible that you couldn't get past it.

I made an appointment with the allergist for Friday. Wondering if maybe I can get allergy shots for this wheat thing...

P.S. A special shout out to taste-testers Mer, Kevin, and Alex for sampling the above goods and not gagging. Audibly.

1 comment:

Chrissy said...

No No! Don't give up! It gets much better as you get used to it. Trust me. And you can order that flour online. And I don't even use it. I use the bin flour from PCC. It's good enough. Keep Trying. It took me at least a month to really get used to it.