I have a lot to thank Alice Medrich for. My college years coincided precisely with the last four years of her ownership of the legendary Bay Area bakery, Cocolat, and the portion of my freshman 15 not accounted for by See's Candy bridge mix (purchase-able in increments of 25 cents, when we were window-shopping in the overpriced mall and pretending that we were not going to circle back for another dollar's worth), nor by a horrifically caloric and delicious 2am niblet that my friend Nina pioneered (involving a bagel, an awful lot of butter AND cream cheese AND cheddar cheese, some tomatoes and both a toaster and a microwave), is all on Alice Medrich and the chocolate truffle, a Friday-only indulgence (or this is how I choose to remember it; if you have other data that contradicts, please keep it to yourself) that made a little team of four of us feel glam and luxe and very, very happy.
I am not sure my thighs ever recovered, but in the correct hypnotic state I bet I could remember each of the truffles and the good woman friend I shared it with. So Alice M. can add that to her resumé.
Thanks to that introduction, I bought her first cookbook and stained it well. But she really put muscle into keeping me insulated for winter with some brownies I read about in a magazine somewhere years later, and which, customized slightly for my gluten-free tendencies and acquaintances, have become the signature R&P brownie.
Customizing things for gluten-free applications is a touchy subject for me. Sometimes I go to great lengths attempting to create a passable facsimile of something normally made with wheat flour, and sometimes it works out well, but I know from sad experience that it's more of an art and science than it is the work of a moment, and it can end in tears and bankruptcy. Generally, I think if you're thinking of attempting a dessert to suit numerous restrictions, you should probably give your oven a rest and poach a pear.
Enter Flavor Flours, the new Alice Medrich cookbook. It isn't a book about baking gluten-free desserts, though every recipe is gluten-free. It's a book about all these wonderful, weird flours and doing things with them that taste good and work well, mostly without gums and stabilizers. I am probably not doing a good job of conveying how revolutionary a notion this is to me, because it makes me want to race around the kitchen whooping and chortling and thumping on stuff like a chimpanzee on speed. No, not thumping on the chimp. Poor guy--he has a drug problem! As if he needs me pounding on him, to compound his troubles. Thumping as a chimp might, on the counters and walls. I mean--the legendary Cocolat Queen of Sheba cake, made with teff flour, but not in a weird, tooth-polishing, "what is this, teff or something?" kind of way. More in a "whoa, are you sure I can eat this?" kind of way. Whoop, whoop. Thump.
After reuniting with the Queen, I moved on to an unassuming little recipe for crackers. Buckwheat crackers. She makes them with walnuts and I refuse to admit that walnuts exist, so I made them with pecans, among other minor little tweaks.
I set one down near my son, while he was pretending to do his homework.
These are damn fine crackers. And if you are a gluten-free person pining for those artisan slab crackers in the fancy cheese section, the ones that up to now you could only gaze upon, then this is your moment of chimp glory.
adapted from Alice Medrich's Flavor Flours
- 1 c (100g) pecan pieces
- 1c + 2T (100g) brown rice flour
- 3/4 c (120g) fine white rice flour
- 1/2 c (60g) buckwheat flour
- 1/4 c plus 2T (40g) flaxseed meal
- 1T coconut sugar
- 1 1/2 t kosher salt
- several hearty twists of the pepper mill
- 3/4 c plus 1T water
- 1T rice vinegar
- 2t baking powder
- 2T excellent olive oil
- 2T neutral oil, such as canola, corn or safflower
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and hear the oven to 450 degrees. Put the pecan pieces in an oven proof-dish and toast in the hot oven until golden and fragrant. Locate two baking sheets, and cut four pieces of parchment that fit them.
In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, combine the flours, nuts, flax, salt, pepper and sugar. Add the water and vinegar and beat for two minutes at medium speed. Sprinkle the baking powder over the dough, which should be sticky and thick, and add the oil, and beat for another minute to mix these in quite well.
Drop about three tablespoons of dough in a little sausage shape onto the top third of the parchment, another 3T into the center, and a third wad of the same size in the bottom third. Cover with the second sheet of parchment and use the heel of your hand to flatten the lumps.
Now, with a rolling pin, roll these into oblongs that are somewhere around 3" wide by 7" long. They should be nice and thin, say 1/8".
Peel off the top parchment (use a bit of care, but the dough becomes magically unsticky and should give you no troubles) and set it aside. THIS PART THAT COMES NEXT IS A LITTLE STRANGE BUT IS NOT A TYPO. Put the crackers on the waiting baking sheet dough-side down. That is correct. Paper up, dough down, sheet ungreased, straight on 'til morning, don't look back. Bake them for five to six minutes, reversing back to front and top to bottom for even baking, until the paper starts to peel up and the edges are beginning to brown. Remove the paper, flip gently (the crackers, not you, you silly monkey!) and slide them back into the oven for another few minutes, until well browned at the edges and mostly dry.
They will crisp up all over, even the parts that look under-done, as they cool, provided you've baked about 9 or 10 minutes in total and the edges are well-browned. Don't attempt to get them toasty brown all over, or burned edges will result (trust me, as I did the necessary leg work on that matter).
Remove them to a rack. Repeat with all the remaining dough; note that it's fine to flip the paper onto a hot baking sheet as long as you pop it right into the oven as soon as you do. Some trays of crackers curled as they baked, making them look very swish and fancy, and others did not. No reason I can think of why this might be. Flat or curved, they were quite delish.