Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Even More Giveaways!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Pancakes (Beautiful photography by Matt Calabrese at Calabrese Studio)

Are you getting excited yet? Have you ordered your copies of The Essential Gluten-Free Baking Guides? I know you want to make these Peanut Butter and Jelly Pancakes for breakfast...

Okay, okay, I'll stop trying to sell you, and get to the fun part! Giveaway Day #2 begins with three wonderful gift packages!

What are we giving away today?

Simply Organic Gift Pack:
I love Simply Organic pure vanilla extract, and was so happy when they offered to send one lucky winner a package of their almond extract, lemon flavor, orange flavor, peppermint flavor, vanilla extract, and Ugandan vanilla extract. In all honesty, I wish I could win this giveaway myself! This giveaway is open to addresses in the continental U.S. only.

Organic Vanilla Extract & Orange, Lemon Flavors Bundle

NuNaturals Gift Pack:
Brittany and I decided early on not to do stevia-based recipes in these books, but we do give lots of tips on how to adapt recipes to use stevia, as well as our favorite brands. And NuNaturals is it! As you know, I love using stevia in my cooking and baking, and I will definitely be adapting some of my cookbook recipes into stevia recipes for the blog further down the line. NuNaturals is giving away not one, but four gift packs that will include: one box of NuStevia Packets, and one bottle of NuNaturals Vanilla Liquid Stevia. This giveaway is open to addresses in the continental U.S. only.

Triumph Dining Gift Packs:
Trimph Dining is our publisher. And we absolutely loved working with the team there! But before we ever spoke with them, I was already a huge fan of their gluten-free guides. Today, they're giving away a gift pack of their Gluten-Free Grocery and Restaurant Guides. These are essential for anyone who needs help in navigating shopping and eating out gluten-free. This giveaway is open to addresses in the continental U.S. only.

The Essential Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide

How to enter: (This giveaway is now closed)
There will be six winners for this giveaway (winners posted on Friday), and six winners for the same giveaway on Brittany's site today as well! You have until midnight on Thursday so start getting those entries in! Here are all the ways you can enter. Please leave a separate comment for each entry, and you MUST leave an e-mail address or way for me to contact you.

  1. Leave a comment telling me which gift pack you would like to win.
  2. Visit Simply Organic, NuNaturals and/or Triumph Dining and tell me something you like about them (they are truly awesome companies).
  3. Like my Facebook page and/or post about the giveaway on Facebook. (2 possible entries)
  4. Follow me on twitter and/or tweet about this giveaway. (2 possible entries)
  5. Blog about the giveaway.
If you haven't already, head to Brittany's blog to enter there as well! There will be twelve winners in all. And come back tomorrow for our final giveaway! We have three gifts for you, each more exciting than the last!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Giveaways Galore!

Cranberry Orange Cake (Amazing photography from Matt Calabrese at Calabrese Studio)

On Thursday, The Essential Gluten-Free Baking Guides will officially be available and in the mail to anyone who has purchased them! Needless to say, I am beyond excited! The project that began in May is finally coming to fruition and I cannot wait for you all to see the final results. Mostly, I am excited because now I can share with you everything my co-author, Brittany, and I learned over 9+ months of nonstop baking. Plus, I really want you to try my Pizza Roll-Up recipe. And Brittany's famous Cinnamon Rolls. And our Lemon Squares. And that Cranberry Orange Cake above. And the list goes on...

But today, I want to get you as excited as Brittany and I are. So we're having fun this week by giving away some of our favorite products. For the next three days, Brittany and I will be giving away daily gift baskets from companies that we love! All of the gift baskets have been donated from the companies themselves, so be sure to send them lots of love for sharing their goodies with us all! And these companies were chosen for one reason: We use their products regularly. You'll notice in our books that when we talk about different ingredients, we also let you know which companies we prefer. We know that when it comes to baking, quality of ingredients is extremely important, and we want you to have only the best when you try our recipes!

What are we giving away today?

Big Tree Farms Gift Pack:
Big Tree Farms is sending one lucky winner one 8.5 ounce bag each of Ginger, Turmeric, and Cinnamon Flavored Coconut Palm Sugar plus a jar of Korintje Cinnamon Honey. I use their coconut palm sugar all the time in my baking, and I love that they have flavored versions! This giveaway is open to continental U.S. addresses only.

Navitas Naturals Gift Pack:
Navitas Naturals is giving away a great sampler that includes flax seeds, chia seeds, palm sugar, and organic sweet cacao nibs. Many of our xanthan/guar gum free recipes use flax or chia seeds, so this gift pack will definitely be a must-have for your gluten-free kitchen! This giveaway is open to addresses in the continental U.S. and Canada.

Palm Sugar

How to enter: (This giveaway is now closed)
There will be two winners for this giveaway (winners posted on Friday), and two winners for the same giveaway on Brittany's site today as well! You have until midnight on Thursday so start getting those entries in! Here are all the ways you can enter. Please leave a separate comment for each entry, and you MUST leave an e-mail address or way for me to contact you.
  1. Leave a comment telling me which gift pack you would like to win.
  2. Visit Navitas Naturals and Big Tree Farms, and tell me something you like about them (they are truly awesome companies).
  3. Like my Facebook page and/or post about the giveaway on Facebook. (2 possible entries)
  4. Follow me on twitter and/or tweet about this giveaway. (2 possible entries)
  5. Blog about the giveaway.
If you haven't already, head to Brittany's blog to enter there as well! There will be 4 winners in all. And come back tomorrow to see what we're giving away next!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101: Vegan Banana Bread and the Top 5 Ingredients to Have in Your Gluten-Free Pantry

Whenever I write a post in this series, I leave you all with an invitation to send me a recipe you'd like to have me convert in some way. A few weeks ago, I got a request from a lovely woman named Yolanda to make banana bread. Yolanda's two-year old son was recently diagnosed with Autism, and she has started him on the gluten- and casein-free diet. Finding recipes the whole family can enjoy has been very important to her, and she knows they all love banana bread. So Yolanda sent me a link to this recipe for Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread, and I've been working on this recipe ever since. What I came up with is a sweet treat suitable for a snack or dessert (too much sugar for breakfast, in my opinion, although probably less than in most sugary cereals). While Yolanda's son does okay with eggs, I decided to make a vegan version for today's post. But it's equally easy to make this loaf with or without eggs, so I'll put in directions for both.

Now before I tell you how I converted this banana bread, Yolanda also asked me to share my thoughts on which flours she should stock in her pantry. I'm including part of her e-mail because I think we can all relate to this initial fear of gluten-free baking:

"I haven't baked anything yet 'cause I'm a chicken, and not to mention my brain goes to mush trying to figure out the best flours to use when it comes to GFCF baking. So maybe you can give some suggestions on which flours would be good to keep on hand. The only flour I use right now is brown rice flour when I fry foods sometimes. I'm open to learning all that I can!"

So, Yolanda, here's my answer. And what I would keep in mind is that this list is completely subjective. It's based on my own flavor and texture preferences, and my way of baking. Another gluten-free baker would give you a completely different response. Just as two painters may know the same color theory but create extremely different paintings, so can two bakers take the same basic knowledge and use it in completely unique ways. I'm basing my suggestions here not just on my favorite flavors and textures, but also on which flours I can use to create healthy recipes. I love the flavor and texture that sweet white rice flour imparts, but it's not exactly the healthiest option. And following a gluten- and casein-free diet is not just about taking out those two offenders. In my mind, it's also about substituting them with healthy options that will nourish your body and restore you to a healthier place. So keeping that in mind, here are my top 5 gluten-free pantry ingredients:
  1. Sorghum Flour - Sorghum is very basic. It has a mild flavor that is reminiscent of sourdough, but overall is relatively bland. This makes it a perfect background flour for many different types of recipes. I've used it in cakes, cookies, breads, you name it. It's easily swapped in recipes calling for quinoa, garbanzo, millet, white or brown rice flour, and if I could only keep a few flours on hand, sorghum would definitely be one of them.
  2. Blanched Almond Flour - High in protein and heart-healthy fats, almond flour is a must for anyone who can have nuts. Recipes baked with almond flour have a sweet flavor that will allow you to get away with using less sugar. In many cases, you can use almond flour alone without having to add any other flours or a starch. This makes for very simple recipes, which I love. I've also found that I can get a fluffy texture using almond flour that is really difficult to do with other gluten-free flours. In fact, my almond flour recipes (like my yeast-free English Muffins) are often the most popular with my non gluten-free friends. Almond flour is expensive, but I think it's worth it to keep your fridge stocked. It is generally more affordable to order in bulk online from companies like Honeyville or
  3. Teff Flour - Before I started my baking guides, I had never used teff. Now it is one of my favorite flours, and I bake with it all the time. It is very light, which means you can create recipes that will rise well without eggs. And I absolutely love the flavor, which has a hint of sweetness that I find unrivaled in most other gluten-free flours. I have found that it is one of the more difficult flours to find in stores, so I often purchase mine online from companies like and Bob's Red Mill
  4. Potato or Tapioca Starch - While I would love to bake without starches, I find it very hard when baking egg-free. It can be done, but converting a recipe to gluten-free is really simple when you have a starch to work with. Potato and tapioca starch work very similarly, so try them both and then use whichever one you prefer. I generally keep both on hand. Arrowroot starch is also a good option, but is more expensive than the other two, so I don't use it often.
  5. Flax seed meal, chia seed meal, or whole psyllium husks - While not technically flours, I have found all three of these ingredients to be integral in my baking. For years I used xanthan or guar gum as binders. But once I started hearing about using these ingredients instead, I gave it a try, and am now hooked. This is a great way to get more fiber into your diet, and I personally prefer the texture of many of my baked goods made with flax, chia, or psyllium husks to those made with gums.
  6. All-Purpose Mix - I'm cheating by adding a sixth ingredient. I rarely use all-purpose flours. It doesn't give me enough control over the flavors and textures I want. But if you're a new baker or don't want to be bothered with mixing flours, all-purpose mixes can be really helpful. I've only used Bob's Red Mill myself, and I like it just fine. But this is one of those cases where you really have to try a few and see what you like best. AP mixes can often (but not always) be used in recipes that call for a variety of flours. Just tally up the total cups of flours and starches, and use that quantity of an AP mix. This does not generally work for recipes that call for coconut or almond flour, since they work quite differently than other gluten-free flours. 
Okay, so now that you know which ingredients I like to use, I would love for you to leave a comment for Yolanda letting her know what your must-haves are in your gluten-free pantry.
And now on to banana bread! I started with this simple recipe for Cinnamon Swirl Banana Bread. Muffins and quick breads are probably the easiest recipes to convert to gluten-free, so you can use many of these tips for any similar recipes.
  • This recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of flour. For this, I decided to start with 1 1/2 cups of Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Mix. While I like to use my own flours, I think it's also helpful for readers to know when they can use an AP mix. I prefer to substitute by volume (cups) rather than weight (grams).
  • This recipe calls for 1/3 cup melted butter. I used 1/3 cup canola oil, although any mild flavored oil would work. Melted coconut oil would be my ideal (healthiest) ingredient here, but because it's not particularly affordable, I save it for special occasions. 
  • This recipe calls for 3/4 cup sugar. That seemed like an unnecessarily large amount of sugar on top of the bananas, so I cut it down to 1/4 cup. However, to replace some of the bulk of sugar, I added in 1/4 cup of chia seed meal. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone here because the chia would replace some of the sugar and also make xanthan or guar gum unnecessary. Chia seeds expand in liquid, helping to create a nice rise while simultaneously binding ingredients together.
  • This recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking soda. I noticed in the comments for the original recipe that a few people mentioned it did not rise as nicely as they had hoped, so I decided to add 1 teaspoon of baking powder for a little added oomph. Gluten-free baked goods also have a more difficult time rising, so extra baking powder is generally a good bet. 
  • I reduced the 1/3 cup sugar called for in the "swirl" to 1/4 cup. It's not a big difference, but any chance to reduce sugar is always a good thing. This is a very sweet bread so some of you may prefer to leave that sugar swirl out altogether. 
  • I kept all of these ingredients as originally written: 3 overripe bananas, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, dash of salt (1/8 teaspoon)

    My first batch rose beautifully and tasted amazing. My only complaint was that I had baked it a bit too long (55 minutes), so it was not as moist as I would have liked. For my second attempt, I wanted to make my own mix of flours and take out the egg. Here's how I did it:
    • To replace 1 1/2 cups of Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Mix, I used my 1:1:1 method (equal parts one flour + one flour + one starch). As mentioned above, I love teff, so I used 1/2 cup teff + 1/2 cup teff + 1/2 cup tapioca starch
    • To replace the egg, I added 1 more tablespoon of chia seed meal and 3 tablespoons of unsweetened almond milk with 1/2 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. To help the bread rise without the egg, I added an extra 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.
    • I baked this version for five minutes less.
    The result was a moist quick bread that I absolutely loved. My friends thought the teff gave it a hint of molasses that they were unused to but enjoyed. The combination of sugar and bananas made for a heady treat, while the high fiber content of the bread kept me full for hours (and yes, I actually did eat this bread even though it's not on my list of approved foods right now). You can tell from the photos that the egg-free version did not rise as high as the egg version did, but the flavor and texture were comparable, and in fact, the egg-free version was slightly moister.

    Banana Bread (Print-Friendly Option)

    Moist and chewy with sweet pockets of banana, your whole family will love this bread. For some fun additions, try adding in chopped walnuts, raisins, or chocolate chips. Quick breads are forgiving, so a number of substitution options are included below. 

    For the Swirl:
    1/4 cup sugar (50 grams)
    1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

    For the Bread: 
    1 cup teff flour (155 grams)
    1/2 cup tapioca starch (60 grams)
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

    3 medium overripe bananas, mashed (296 grams)
    1/3 cup canola oil (71 grams)
    1/4 cup sugar (50 grams)
    1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds (36 grams)
    3 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk (40 grams)
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 8.5 x 4.5 inch bread pan. 
    2. Mix sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Set aside. 
    3. Whisk teff flour, tapioca starch, baking powder, and baking soda together in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. 
    4. Place bananas, oil, sugar, chia seed meal, almond milk, vanilla, and apple cider vinegar in a large bowl. Beat with an electric hand beater, starting on low then increasing to medium speed, until ingredients are completely mixed. The bananas can still have small chunks, but should be mixed in well. 
    5. Beat or stir in flour until completely mixed. You can also do steps 4 and 5 in a food processor. Fold in cinnamon and sugar. 
    6. Scoop batter into pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
    7. Remove from oven and let cool for ten minutes before moving to a cooling rack. 
    Makes 1 loaf.

    Possible substitutions:
    Sugar: Use any granulated sugar here. Coconut palm sugar would work just fine.
    Flour: Replace the teff and tapioca with 1 1/2 cups of an all-purpose mix. Or replace the 1 cup of teff with a combination of any of these two flours: quinoa, garbanzo, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, white rice or brown rice flour.
    Bananas: Try using a fruit puree, such as applesauce or pureed pears. I suspect that you might end up needing to use a little less than the 296 grams of bananas called for, but not having tried it with this recipe, that's just a hunch.
    Canola Oil: Use melted coconut oil or butter, grapeseed oil, or extra light olive oil.
    Almond Milk: Any type of milk is fine here.
    Apple Cider Vinegar: Lemon juice can be used or just leave it out if you don't have either. I've made it without, and the recipe turned out fine.
    Chia Seeds: This is a tough one. Flax seed meal or whole psyllium husks would be the best choice, but the amount of each would be different. I suspect that you may need a little more flax seed meal or a little less whole psyllium husks, but I really can't give you any definite suggestions here other than to play around. If you can have chia seeds, play it safe and just use those.

    To make this with eggs, only use 1/4 cup of ground chia seeds. Take out the almond milk and apple cider vinegar. Add 1 large egg with the rest of the wet ingredients. 

    Enjoy Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101? Have a recipe you'd like me to convert or a topic you want me to cover? Leave a comment or e-mail me at iris (at) 

    This post is linked to Inspire Me Mondays

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Gluten-Free, Vegan Millet Burgers

    I have very special plans tonight. Fancy schmancy plans, if you will. I have the perfect dress all picked out, I'll get my hair and makeup done, and oh yes, there will be a carriage ride through Central Park. It will be fabulous. I'll be the envy of every other woman in the land.

    Okay, I'm lying. I'm going to my weekly Toastmaster's meeting to keep working on my itty bitty big fear of public speaking. But if I weren't, I would totally find a horse and carriage, and make this a special Valentine's Day. Just me, myself, my teddy bear, and the horse.

    What? Jamie (my bear) is a very suitable date. Except he would probably rather stay home with Buttercup (my other bear). So it might just be me and the horse. Which I'm totally fine with.

    And yes, Jamie is named after a certain James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, and I bought him in Scotland. (Just had to throw that in for those of you who know what I mean!)

    After my fancy carriage ride, I'd make myself some millet burgers. This is of course part of my fantasy because I can't actually eat millet burgers right now while I'm on a grain-free diet. But I developed this recipe a while ago and never shared it with you, so I thought you might enjoy it today. While we're all eating chocolates (or wishing we were), here's a healthy dinner recipe to add to your arsenal. It's pretty tasty, if I do say so myself. And perfect for Valentine's Day. Or any day really.

    Millet Burgers (Print-Friendly Option)
    The millet in these burgers lends a sweet overtone, while the parsley gives it a fresh note. Enjoy with your favorite burger toppings. I love making my own avocado dressing and serving it over a bed of greens.

    ½ cup uncooked lentils

    ½ cup uncooked millet
    1 carrot, chopped
    1/4 cup packed fresh parsley
    1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro 
    2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
    Sea salt to taste
    1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil


    1. Bring millet and 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook with top on until water is fully cooked down (20-30 minutes).
    2. In a separate pot, bring lentils and 1 cup of water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until water is fully cooked down (about 15 minutes). 
    3. While lentils and millet are simmering, chop the carrot. Place the carrot, parsley, cilantro, and sunflower seeds in a food processor.
    4. Once lentils are done cooking, add to food processor. Pulse a few times, until mixture is lumpy but not completely pureed. Once millet is done cooking, stir lentil mixture into the millet. Add sea salt to taste. Form carefully into 6 patties (I'm told this is a bit of an art form, but mind held together well). 
    5. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add ghee or coconut oil, and cook burgers until browned, a few minutes per side. Serve hot. 
    Makes 6 burgers

    Sending you a very Happy Valentine's Day, filled with virtual chocolates and carriage rides galore!

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Individual Chocolate Cakes for Two: A Gluten-Free, Vegan Valentine's Day Treat

    Let's talk Valentine's Day. I think there are generally two camps, right? The, "Valentine's Day was made up by Hallmark to sell cards," grumble, grumble, grumble camp. And the, "I love hearts and kisses and baking chocolate treats for my sweet," camp. The two are, of course, rather fluid, as one may desert one group for the other depending on relationship status. And then there are the staunch devotees, who will stick with one side no matter what his or her Facebook status may say. 

    Personally, I'm a wishy washy kind o' gal when it comes to this holiday. I like wearing red and pink, and I'll take any excuse to dress up (even if I'm only going to class). You already know I love baking, so I don't really need an excuse to make chocolate cake, but I'll take one anyway. But whether I'm single or coupled up, have a fancy date or a date with Sex and the City (or, dare I say, am sitting in the library doing homework), I approach Valentine's Day with just about the same amount of excitement. Which is to say, somewhat more than on President's Day but much less than Halloween, and nowhere near Christmas. It is simply a day in between the winter holidays and spring, but a day when I get to daydream and doodle hearts on my paper. 

    Oh yes. And bake. 

    Individual Chocolate Cakes for Two (Print-Friendly Option)
    Is there anything better than a rich, dense chocolate cake? How about one that is high in fiber and antioxidants? Apricots are a good source of fiber, vitamin A, and iron, and both apricots and chocolate have antioxidant superpowers. You can also use your favorite granulated sugar in this recipe, so go ahead and swap the cane sugar for coconut palm sugar if you like. 

    3/4 cup dried apricots* (126 grams)
    1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons full fat canned coconut milk, room temperature (90 grams)
    1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce (94 grams)
    1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar - or any granulated sugar (72 grams)
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    1/2 cup sorghum flour (63 grams)
    1/4 cup tapioca starch (30 grams)
    1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (20 grams)
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon sea salt

    *You can use dried prunes, raisins or dates, but keep in mind the flavor will vary depending on which fruit you choose. 

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil 2 large muffin tins.
    2. Place the apricots, coconut milk, applesauce, sugar and vanilla in a food processor. Process until apricots are pureed. 
    3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the sorghum flour, tapioca starch, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour into the food processor and process until completely mixed. 
    4. Scoop into muffin tins. The batter will be enough to fill both tins. Wet your fingers and smooth the tops of the muffins. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle just comes out clean. 
    5. Let cool for a few minutes before turning onto a cooling rack. Eat plain or top with your favorite frosting. 

    Makes 2 large muffins. 

    Because so many people are sensitive to chocolate, my original Valentine's Day goal was to come up with a recipe that could easily be made as a chocolate cake or a vanilla cake. Unfortunately, I didn't succeed with this one. While absolutely decadent, this chocolate cake is dense, halfway between a cake and a muffin really. For chocolate, that worked just fine. But when I made the vanilla version, it was very much a muffin, not a cake. And to be perfectly honest, it just wasn't up to my standards. It was a little too dense, and way too sweet. That being said, I thought I would let you know what I did so you can play around with it yourself if you so desire. And it's pretty simple:

    To make a vanilla version of this cake, I replaced the 1/4 cup of cocoa powder with an extra 1/4 cup (30 grams) of tapioca starch. I left out the baking soda, and kept everything else the same. But like I said, I wasn't completely satisfied with the results (which didn't stop me from eating them all). So if you can't have chocolate and want to try this recipe, consider this a starting off point, and be ready to do some experimenting. Laurel, I hear your kitchen calling you...

    For readers in the Seattle area thinking about going gluten-free or new to the gluten-free lifestyle, here's a great (free!) talk being given Monday morning by some of my classmates:

    Going Gluten-Free
    Monday, February 13
    10 - 11 a.m.
    Bastyr Center for Natural Health
    3670 Stone Way N., Seattle, WA 98103
    Free and open to the public 

    Join Bastyr University nutrition students, along with clinical supervisor Kelly Morrow, MS, RD, CD, for an engaging discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of consuming gluten. They'll explain the difference between a gluten allergy and a gluten intolerance; explore many different grains, both with and without gluten; and offer recipes and resources to help you and your family live a happy, healthy lifestyle without (or with less) gluten. 

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    10 Gluten-Free and Vegan Super Bowl Recipes plus Best of Triumph Dining Awards

    Living in my grad student, tv-less bubble, my only inkling that the Super Bowl was near was from recent posts on Facebook. So while I will readily admit I have no intention of watching this year, I'll happily share some what I would be making were I to have a party. When entertaining guests, I like to have options that are vegan as well as gluten-free. That way, I'm including as many of my guests as I can. Here are my top ten vegan party pleasers, including yesterday's Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars.

    1. Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars (grain-free, refined sugar-free)
    2. Fruit Slices with Caramel Dipping Sauce (refined sugar-free)
    3. Cinnamon Chocolate Cookies (refined sugar-free)
    4. Banana Chocolate Chunk Cookies (refined sugar-free)
    5. Cinnamon Snickerdoodles (refined sugar-free)
    6. Spicy Chicken Tacos
    7. Roasted Acorn Squash and Brussels Sprouts
    8. Chips with Garbanzo Bean Guacamole
    9. Veggie Sticks with Italian Cream Sauce
    10. Flatbread with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

    In more exciting news (at least for me), Triumph Dining is hosting their first ever Best of Gluten-Free Awards! And as a thank you for voting, they're giving away a bunch of prizes, including 25 copies of The Essential Guide to Gluten-Free Baking! Seriously, 25! That's a lot of chances to win! If you were trying to decide whether to purchase a copy, here's your chance to win one... And you can also vote for your favorite products, restaurants, and bloggers (including me) while you're at it!

    Happy weekend and for those of you watching the Super Bowl, enjoy!

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101: Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars (Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Refined Sugar-Free, Vegan)

    For today's session of Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101, I had my mind set on making Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars. I had seen this recipe on pinterest, and just knew I had to make my own version. The original recipe used a regular shortbread base, with butter, sugar, and corn syrup in the caramel and chocolate layers. Not exactly the best ingredients for this sensitive crowd, but easily adapted. I already had a caramel filling in mind, with the intention of simplifying my caramel dipping sauce recipe from December. For the chocolate glaze, I would be adapting a recipe for Chocolate Glazed Brownie Bites from our upcoming cookbooks. So all I needed was a simple shortbread recipe. I just had to decide if I wanted to make a grain-based or grain-free recipe. Two factors helped me decide to go grain-free:
    1. The caramel filling has cashews, making this a nut based recipe already. No point in making a nut-free base, so I decided to play with almond flour for this shortbread (and for those sensitive to nuts, I've included links below to similar nut-free recipes you can try).
    2. My first try was actually grain-based and was a flop. Going with the fact that traditional shortbread calls for rice flour, I used a combination of coconut flour and sweet white rice flour. It was dry and flavorless, and didn't leave me with any desire to experiment with that recipe again. Problem solved. Grain-free was the answer!
    Once I decided to make a grain-free base, I had to decide whether to come up with my own recipe or use someone else's. I have two conflicting beliefs when it comes to baking. On the one hand, it's always more fun to invent your own recipe or adapt another recipe. On the other hand, there's no point in changing an already perfect recipe just so you can call it your own. Why mess with a good thing? Keeping in mind how expensive almond flour is, I chose to find a tried-and-true recipe, and save my wallet the cost of experimentation. Brittany had recently posted this recipe for Samoas, and I knew the cookie base would be perfect for my Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars. But of course as luck would have it, I didn't have enough almond flour and was out of applesauce, two main ingredients. So despite my best intentions to follow the recipe exactly, I had to adapt it anyway, and I needed to get pretty creative. After a quick scrounge in my fridge, I came up with a small amount of almond flour, coconut flour, and enough raw cashews to make my caramel filling and have some left for the base. Could I make it work? I think you know the answer to that! Here's what I did:
    • The original recipe called for 2 cups of blanched almond flour and 1 cup of tapioca starch. Tapioca serves a dual purpose of soaking up liquid and providing some extra binding power (i.e. keeps your baked goods from crumbling). I only had 3/4 cup of blanched almond flour, so I knew I had to make up the bulk of my base with coconut flour and cashews. Coconut flour soaks up liquid like crazy, so I knew a little would go a long way, and could theoretically replace the tapioca. I went for 1/4 cup rather than the 1 tablespoon of tapioca starch called for to help make up for the lack of enough almond flour. (Side note: I would not normally use a starch and coconut flour interchangeably in recipes, but I had a feeling it would work out well in this application. In general though, I wouldn't recommend it. Starches provide a lightness to baked goods, while coconut flour is quite dense.) And if I pureed the cashews in the food processor until they were more like a nut butter, that would provide some sticky binding power. Again, I was confined here to using what I had available. I had 1/2 cup of cashews left, so that's what I used. I don't always get so lucky when I'm experimenting, but when you're working with almond flour and cashews, you're pretty much going to get something that tastes great no matter what. 
    • Brittany's recipe called for applesauce. Like tapioca, applesauce can help hold baked goods together. I was out, but since I was going to puree the cashews, I figured I could leave that out with no problem. 
    • The original recipe called for salt, but since I was going to add sea salt to the top of the chocolate, I didn't want to use any salt in the recipe itself. 
    • Brittany called for 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. In addition to flavor, I'm guessing this also helped bind her ingredients together so she could roll the dough out. After processing my ingredients, I found they made a nice dough that I could press into the pan, so I didn't bother adding any vanilla. However, when I make these again, I might add 1-2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract, if only because I could tell the bars wanted to be crumbly. They held together well, but a few pieces did crumble a bit when I was cutting them. Which of course is always a good excuse to eat that piece, since you don't want to have any imperfectly shaped bars on your platter, right? 
    • Finally, Brittany calls for butter, ghee, Earth Balance or coconut oil. I used shortening because it's what I had on hand, but most likely any of these options would work just as well. If I were making them again, I would probably try coconut oil to be healthier, but since I haven't tested that out, I'm calling for shortening in my ingredients list below. I've had disastrous results substituting shortening with coconut oil in cookie recipes, so I don't want to make any assumptions that it will work here.
    • I used the same amount of coconut palm sugar and baking soda as called for in Brittany's recipe.
    • The original recipe called for a 10-12 minute baking time at 350 degrees F. I found with the addition of the cashews, they needed to bake a little longer, and left them in for 18 minutes. Just long enough that the bars would hold together, but not so long to get crispy. I still wanted that buttery, soft shortbread texture. 
    Once the shortbread base was made, I took a teeny tiny bite out of the corner to make sure I liked it. I didn't want to waste my caramel and chocolate on a bad shortbread after all. It was perfect. A hint of sweetness and a soft bite similar to traditional shortbread. All that was needed was to make the caramel and chocolate, and I was done! Easy peasy, and a recipe I would take to any party with pride. No need to make excuses for this gluten-free, vegan recipe! It was gone in two days, and I'll admit to you that I savored a piece of this confection as if it were the last dessert of a dying woman. The layers of flavor and texture absolutely melted on my tongue. I'm lucky really, that they disappeared so quickly, or I would be going back for seconds and thirds.

    Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars (Print-Friendly Option)

    These little goodies will leave you craving more, and with good reason. The shortbread base has a buttery sweetness due to the cashews and almond flour, the caramel filling just melts in your mouth, and the chocolate glaze provides that final delight to your taste buds as you bite in. The combination of flavors and textures will amaze you. And no need to warn everyone that these are gluten, dairy, egg, and refined sugar-free. They'll never know!

    3/4 cup blanched almond flour (78 grams)
    1/2 cup raw cashews (63 grams)
    1/4 cup coconut flour (34 grams)
    3 tablespoons shortening (Spectrum Organic is soy-free)
    1/3 cup coconut palm sugar (49 grams)
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda

    1 cup raw cashews (106 grams)
    1 cup powdered coconut palm sugar (147 grams)*
    4 tablespoons Earth Balance Coconut Spread (sub: shortening, butter, ghee)
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

    Chocolate Glaze:
    2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
    2 tablespoons coconut oil (sub: Earth Balance coconut spread, butter, ghee)
    3 tablespoons coconut nectar (sub: any liquid sweetener) *have at room temperature
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    Sea salt to sprinkle over chocolate (use sparingly)

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Cut it big enough that the paper will go up the sides; you'll use this to take the base easily out of the baking dish.
    2. Combine all of the base ingredients in a food processor until they come together into a ball. Press evenly into the baking dish. Bake for 18 minutes. While base is baking, soak the 1 cup of cashews called for in the caramel sauce in a bowl of hot water. Set aside.
    3. Remove baking dish from oven and allow to cool to room temperature in the dish (you can place it in the fridge to speed this process up once it cools some). 
    4. While the base is cooling, rinse and drain the soaked cashews. Wash out your food processor then place the cashews, alone with the rest of your caramel ingredients in it and puree until smooth. Once base has cooled, remove from baking dish and carefully place on a flat plate. Smooth caramel onto the base. I find it's easiest to place it in large glops, then smooth it all down with a knife.
    5. Now it's time to make your chocolate. Heat the chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often. Once the chocolate is almost completely melted, add the rest of the ingredients and stir until a smooth consistency is formed. Drizzle over the caramel sauce and then smooth over with a knife. Sprinkle sea salt lightly over chocolate. Chill in the fridge until the chocolate has hardened. Cut with a sharp knife into 16 squares. I find it is easiest if you clean the knife in between cuts since it gets a bit sticky. Serve chilled. 

    * To powder the coconut palm sugar, place it in a blender. Make sure the blender is completely dry inside first. Blend the sugar until it's the consistency of powdered sugar. Time will vary depending on your blender. 

    Makes 16 squares

    Want to make a nut-free version?

    Have a recipe you'd like me to adapt for your dietary needs for a future Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101 post? Drop me an e-mail at with your recipe and dietary restrictions, and I'll see what I can come up with!


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