I am a terrible listener. I pretend to listen, I nod and say ‘mmm-hmm’ at the right moments, but really my mind is whirring away down the road. It’s not that I don’t care – I really do care very much. It’s just that the moment I hear the mention of a problem, a crisis, or a situation, my very goal-oriented brain rushes off to find a solution. But so many problems have no solution, particularly relationship-related problems.
So when my best friend called last week with an entirely different sort of problem, I was secretly thrilled. OK, ok, not thrilled that she HAD a problem, but thrilled that in this case I could actually DO something. I had braced myself to feel utterly useless in discussing romantic woes, but instead she (exhausted and cranky from a day of medical tests) quickly blurted “gluten is my enemy.” This I could work with. Yes, it is miserable to be forced to cut out the foods we love. And since gluten is in just about everything (seriously, start reading labels – you’ll be shocked), this is most assuredly one of the toughest special diets. But that doesn’t mean that spectacular gluten-free goodies don’t exist.
And since I’m on a mission to find these goodies, I started baking. I have to admit, despite my mother’s wheat sensitivity, I have had pretty limited experience with gluten-free baking. So the first few tries were awful, as you can probably imagine. I quickly learned that you really can’t just substitute gluten-free flours for wheat flour and expect a palatable texture. But most gluten-free baked goods seem to call for about a million different kinds of flours and stabilizers, and since I had just about none of those ingredients in the house, I needed to create something simple.
These little tea cakes are about as simple as it gets. Filled with bits of dark chocolate, they are so wonderful with a cup of cocoa (I know that I’m calling them tea cakes, but seriously, trust me and go for cocoa). I made mine in shaped tiny tart pans, but you can certainly bake them in mini muffin tins and they would still be adorable. Part cookie, part cake, these totally satisfy the craving for a treat.
Once I had mastered these little tea cakes, my confidence was restored and I was ready to experiment. I remembered an old Sephardic recipe for orange cake, rind and all, and figured this might make a moist base for a more sophisticated gluten-free dessert. This cake strikes just the right balance between bitter and sweet. It would be wonderful with some whipped cream, but being the addict that I am, I’d probably go for a drizzle of dark chocolate instead. Not that there is anything wrong with doing both. I have to say that it’s a good thing that this cake is no longer in my house. The flavor is simply so interesting that I just had to have taste after taste.
Chocolate Chunk Tea Cakes (Gluten-Free)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup rice flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Wisk together the egg, milk, oil and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in the rice flour, baking powder and salt until combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks. Divide the batter into greased tartlette pans or mini muffin tins and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake 18-20 minutes until slightly browned. Cool before unmolding.
Bitter Orange Cake (Gluten-Free)
3 cups water
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sesame tahini
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups chickpea flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring the oranges and water to a boil in a large pot. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for an hour until oranges are soft. Remove oranges from the water and cut into quarters. Remove any visible seeds and transfer the orange segments, rind and all, to a food processor. Pulse until pureed. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in eggs, honey, sugar, tahini and oil. Add in the chickpea flour and baking powder and mix well. Transfer the batter to a greased cake pan. Bake 40-50 minutes until firm and browned on top. Cool slightly in the pan and serve with whipped cream or melted dark chocolate.