Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Gluten Free Wha-at?

Though I could hardly boil an egg when I said I do all those decades ago, time and practice have made me a competent cook. I especially love to bake bread and try new desserts. Last year I discovered Mark Bittman's no knead bread recipe. Even the OC, a man not given to superlatives, declared it the best we'd ever made.

It's difficult to impress someone raised in NY city, surrounded by all kinds of ethnic, old world bakeries, so it's possible I became a bit arrogant. The baking gods were onto me though and decided, last week, to instill in me a little humility.

Some friends were coming for lunch, one of whom was having a birthday. The OC (tactical error) asked what she'd like us to make for dessert. She'd love apple strudel, she replied, especially if we could make it gluten free. Oh for pity's sake, I muttered to myself, my name is neither Julia nor Martha. Ask me for a cheesecake, a lemon meringue pie, a rustic berry torte, chocolate mousse, but gluten free anything?? In my limited experience, gluten free means something that tastes like cardboard.

No turning back now though. I needed my game face, a recipe and a trial run.

The OC dug deep on the internet and found Dagmar. Dagmar explained how she had toiled long and hard to fine-tune a gluten free strudel recipe for her finicky Austrian children who liked their strudel light and crispy. After many failed attempts, her children finally gave their sticky thumbs up to this recipe which she was now generously sharing with the world.

 In addition to apples, raisins and nuts we would need GF bread crumbs, Dagmar told us, psyllium seed husk powder, apple cider vinegar and teff flour. 

 WTH? I was beginning to lose my enthusiasm. Teff flour? Never heard of it.  Neither had the grocery store. Even the health food store looked at us askance. "Teff?" they intoned, "how do spell that?" Obviously not in their inventory. Psyllium seed husk powder, by some miracle, we already had.

Say what you like about Amazon, no matter what outlandish thing you're looking for, cross their palms with enough pieces of silver and they'll have it on your doorstep tomorrow. And so it came to pass. A 16 oz bag of teff flour and a box of GF breadcrumbs to boot.

Yoohoo! On with the show. Maybe we could make this work.

 Recipe at hand, I took my first tentative step towards what Dagmar assured us would be light, crispy and delicious apple strudel.

 I mixed 1 cup of teff flour (so little? red flags started gently waving in my head) with 1/2 tablespoon of psyllium powder and a pinch of salt. To this I added 3/4 cup water and 1 tablespoon each of oil and apple cider vinegar. I was instructed now to 'take' the mixture out of the bowl and place it on a surface sprinkled with teff flour. The red flags were flapping noisily now. Ahh, excuse me Dagmar, I don't think this is going to work. In the bowl before me was a greyish, sloppy, messy, mostly liquid and thoroughly unappetizing looking substance. I was sure that 'pour' was the only applicable verb.

I consulted the OC. He thoughtfully stroked his beard. We agreed that our 'substance' needed to be substantially thicker, so we added a little more teff flour. Still it remained stubbornly liquid so we added a little more, and still more, until finally, it began to hold together.

Telling myself to trust her but with my confidence in tatters, I soaked the raisins in rum, melted butter and roasted the breadcrumbs, following Dagmar's instructions to a T.  The OC optimistically peeled and sliced the required Granny Smiths and chopped the walnuts.

We placed the dough (if it could be called such) on a sheet of parchment paper liberally sprinkled with teff flour, placed another sheet on top and rolled it out. When it was paper thin and we'd already mended a few tears, we gingerly peeled back the top layer of paper, gently spread the breadcrumbs, apples mixed with sugar and cinnamon, rummy raisins and chopped walnuts over it and basted the edges with butter. As carefully as if we were handling the Dead Sea Scrolls, we rolled it up, brushed more butter on top, eased it onto the baking sheet, slid it into the oven, crossed our fingers and set the timer.

Forty five minutes later the timer dinged. We held our breath and opened the oven door.

But alas! First glance did not inspire optimism.

The color was shoe-leather brown, the texture that of a rock. Tapping it with a knife produced a dull thud.
It was not light.
It was not crispy.

 I would like to have invited Dagmar and her persnickety children for tea and dared them to risk their teeth on it while I beat their mum around the head and neck with my rolling pin. That being the stuff of venomous fantasy, we took an axe to it, not wanting to damage our good knives, and broke it open.  The filling inside was quite tasty, but the overall experiment was, as the OC succinctly put it, "Not ready for prime time."

Lunch went well. There was no gluten free apple strudel but everything else was good and, though it was not gluten free, nobody, not even the birthday girl, suffered from dessert deprivation.


Sabine said...

This made me laugh out loud.
But: Well done!

My sister is a celiac, i.e. someone who gets really seriously ill if she eats gluten, even the tiniest trace, and we all had to master the art of gluten-free cooking, baking AND gluten-free equipments and kitchen surfaces and cupboards when she visits.
When it comes to sweet baking, we all failed, again and again. So it's meringues meringues and more meringues. Unless there's time to order something online.

Susan Kane said...

I felt your pain. You were a brave friend.

My daughter has to eat gluten free food. After years of gut pain, it turned out that gluten is the problem.

I love her dearly, but not enough to go into the search and such you did!

Thimbleanna said...

Well, at least you tried. I hope you shared your story too, so your friend knew what you went through. I'm so glad no one in our family is gluten-free -- that would suck the joy right out of baking for me. Oh, and the fact that you had psyllium powder on hand makes me worry a little about you Molly LOL!

Secret Agent Woman said...

Wow. I could see asking for something gluten-free if you had celiac disease, but I can't imagine requesting a specific, difficult-to-make dessert.

Bijoux said...

You have a wonderful way with words! So funny and relatable.

I have a daughter with autism who always asks for the most difficult birthday and Xmas gifts, but Amazon always comes through!

Elephant's Child said...

That is TRUE friendship, and a valiant effort. I have to ask though. Why gluten free? Does she have coeliac disease?

dianne said...

well ... i wouldn't say no to rummy raisins and cinnamony apples ... the filling is all that really matters (says the woman who, years ago, gave up hope of EVER making an edible pie crust), right?!?

molly said...

Sabine - It wasn't totally a futile effort if it made you laugh! Meringues for dessert? Count me in.

SK - I'll try most anything once, but I'm content to acknowledge that there is no such thing as GF apple strudel, at least not on this planet.

Thimbleanna - you canny soul you! I will not sully these pages with the reason I had Psyllium on hand. It was another, even more unpleasant episode in my life last year, thankfully now in the past (knocking furiously on wood....)

SAW, EC & Bijoux- It almost seems as though GF is a fad with some people. I know it's a legitimate concern for those with celiac disease. I don't think that's friend's DX, she just claims to feel better eating GF.

Dianne - try it in your food processor - totally foolproof, not that I'm calling you a fool or anything...

Wisewebwoman said...

You made me fall down and laugh so hard, you have a way with words that is priceless.

Daughter is GF and this reminded me of a lovely surprise for her - GF pierogies made especially for her. We could have used them as bowling balls. GF baking is very challenging tho Daughter has mastered it.

The world thanks me for having given it up.


SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Neither wall papering nor apple strudel making are to be attempted by amateurs

Ali Honey said...

I started reading thinking "oh Good,I'm going to be able to steal this recipe off Molly." I have to produce GF meals ( thou no one is actually celiac ) when my young ones are here. Add to that vegetarian and no dairy and no sugar. I have been cooking since a very early age and now dread that challenge.
I agree that it takes the joy out of cooking when one has to use new and unreliable ingredients. Did you report back to the person whose recipe that was???

My opinion is food should be tasty ,healthy and a pleasure to prepare and eat.

Pauline said...

I chuckled my way through this. What is the delectable looking dessert you pictured (and served instead of the strudel)? One granddaughter is gluten intolerant so daughter has learned to make her own flour for bread and treats. I use King Arthur Measure for Measure for pancakes, etc. when they visit here.

Dee said...

Dear Molly, your wry wit and your sense of the ridiculous just delighted me in this posting. I could just see you handling the tissue-paper-thin dough like the "Dead Sea Scrolls." An the image! All you need add is that you were wearing gloves to keep your oily fingers from leaving prints!

So sorry this recipe didn't work out. Still, it would seem a good meal was eaten by all.

I'm wondering about that no-knead recipe. If I look up the name you gave, will I find it?

I have always enjoyed kneading yeast bread, but now that my back has started letting me know that I can't stand for the 8-10 minutes normally needed, I find myself hesitating on a Saturday about starting the process. So a no-knead sound like the answer to me. Take care. Peace.

Clipping Path said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vagabonde said...

I understand the disappointment with having bread that does not look and taste right. I finally found the brand new bread maker that I bought about 12 years ago and my husband had placed away in the garage far away behind boxes. I tried 3 recipes and all did not do well – their tops were sunken. I’ll try again when I am back in Nashville – give it 2 or 3 more tries and if not, bye bread maker.

Power Smith PAVC102 Review said...

I agree with Pauline


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Mimi Lenox said...

Hi Molly!

I am inviting you to Blog4Peace with us this year on November 4, 2019. We've been posting Dona nobis pacem in the Blogosphere since 2006. I hope you will join us.

Peace to you and yours,
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Lee said...

A friend of mine is on the Keto that is a lot of fun...NOT!!!!

Big mouth me said I'd supple morning tea...we got together at her home as our combined birthday "celebration" back in November!!

Almond "flour" costs an arm and two legs! So, I switched to recipes that required coconut "flour" which is minimally cheaper!!

I must learn to keep my mouth closed! :)