Happy Birthday Kid!

Growing up birthdays were an exciting time. And now as an adult, I keep that tradition alive and well! I love the simple idea that there is a day to celebrate each and every one of us. Celebrate the life that we are living, celebrate the place we have come from and where we are going.

Even once we had moved from Pittsburgh to Princeton, NJ, my family always celebrated birthdays back in Pittsburgh when we went to visit.  And no birthday was complete without a cake from Dave’s Bakery.

This cake is a part of my soul and childhood as much as my Legos and summer swimming lessons.  A classic old school ice box cake.  I always chose chocolate with vanilla icing, while others in family were partial to yellow cake with vanilla icing. No matter which flavor was your favorite, you were always treated to a big beautifully decorated cake.  And then the piece de resistance! The sugared nuts.  Yup, sugared nuts.  All around the sides of the outside of the cake.

Now as a small child, these nuts upset me.  I was not a nut fan and did not want my beautiful birthday cake ruined by these mutinous crunchies. But ohh man, the first time I tasted this cake, icing, nut combo pack, I was hooked.  It was genius to me! Soft, luscious middle with a slightly sweet crunch to round it out! Nothing could be better, and this was all I ever wanted to eat as my birthday cake from that time on.

When I first went gluten-free I my biggest lament was that I couldn’t have birthday cake anymore. Cj literally scoured all gluten free bakeries for me each year, trying in vain to find me a treat that could compete with my Dave’s Birthday cake.  Sadly no such treat existed, leading to us both being endlessly disappointed.

Then last year I decided that all I wanted to do on my birthday was re-create that cake. With CJ working all day and rain pouring down outside, I set out to have an amazing birthday.  I had all my ingredients in advance, or at least what I figured I would need.  I mixed and chopped and baked and flipped.  When those cakes came out of the oven, I was floored.  They were chocolatey smelling and springy to the touch.  Then came the roasting of the sugar nuts.  A waft of nostalgia filled the room. Ohh I could feel it, I was getting close.  Then the icing.  Oh what to do?! A traditional buttercream was too, well buttery. Yet a shortening based frosting was too, blah. But perhaps the combination of the two? Blasphemous to some, I was on a mission to recreate my childhood and nothing was going to stand in that way.

When the cake was finally cooled and frosted and decorated, I was atwitter with anticipation. Would it be at all close to my memories? Would I be disappointed? That first bite washed all need for sadness away! I had done it! A moist chocolate cake, with a sturdy vanilla frosting and ohhh those sugared nuts. Nothing had ever tasted so good.

That cake last year saved my birthday’s from being a thing of the past, and welcomed in a new tradition, which is every bit and bite as enjoyable!

So for my birthday, and for all of your birthday’s as well, I say “LET’S EAT CAKE!”

CHOCOLATE ICEBOX CAKE

1 1/3 cup Brown Rice Flour

1 cup Sorghum Flour

2/3 cup Cornstarch

1/3 cup Tapioca Starch

1 tsp. Xanthan Gum

(This should make about 3 cups of flour mix.  Use 2 1/2 Cups for this recipe.)

1 cup Earth Balance (I use the soy-free kind)

1 cup Water

3/4 Cup Cocoa Powder (I use dark that is a blend of regular and Dutch process, as I think it yield a delightful yet light flavor)

2 cups of Sugar

2 Eggs

1 cup Almond Milk + 1 Tbsp lemon juice (mix and set aside)

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tsp. xanthan gum

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

Approx 2 cups of chopped pecans (or any nut you prefer)

2 Tblsp. coconut sugar

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Combine the chopped nuts and the coconut sugar with a teaspoon of canola oil. Place  chopped nuts on a cookie sheet and bake for about 7 mins at 400 degrees, or just until you start to smell the nutty oils. Remove from oven and let cool.

Reduce oven to 350 degrees. Grease and powder with cocoa powder, 2 8- or 9-inch pans.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, add the water and cocoa powder. Bring to just about a boil. Pour over the sugar and mix, allowing the sugar to dissolve.

Yum...nothing better than melty chocolate goodness!

Yum…nothing better than melty chocolate goodness!

Add the eggs, milk/juice mixture, and vanilla. Mix to combine.  Scrape down the sides of your bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine the 2 1/2 cups of flour mix with xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add the dry mix in 3rds to the wet mix, mixing at medium low speed after each incorporation. Scrape down the sides between additions.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two pans, and tap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake for about 35 – 40 mins (depending on your oven), until toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean.

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While the cakes are baking, make the Double Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:

1 cup room temp Earth Balance (also I use the soy free but any will work)

1 cup GF Shortening

Approx. 4-6 cups of powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tsp. vanilla bean powder

Cream the butter and the shortening until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar a cup at a time until you have the desired consistency that you want. (I find that will frosting, everyone is a little different when it comes to what texture they like. So do you!)

Add the vanilla extract and powder. Mix. Set aside until cakes are fully cooled.

So good I want to eat with my finger...and I do!

So good I want to eat with my finger…and I do!

Here is how I put this beauty together:

You can either do it this way or experiment and find out what works for you, remember this is cake.  It is supposed to be fun!!

When the cakes are cooled, place one cake on a flat surface or cake stand (whatever you have!). Place 1/3 of icing in the middle and begin to ice the top, spreading out from the middle to the sides and down.  Place the second cake on top and repeat, adding a little more icing to get the sides fully covered. Use the leftover icing to decorate however you want!

I chose a sun/turtle for my birthday treat!

I chose a sun/turtle for my birthday treat!

Next comes the special nut layer.  I am sure a true and tested pastry chef knows how to do this immaculately, but alas I am not one. And I really do like to make a mess when I bake….so, I simply take small handfuls in a cupped hand and kinda slap them onto the side of the cake. Do this all the way around, adding as much nut mixture as you deem awesome.

Ohhhh, get happy!

Ohhhh, get happy!

Once this is done, you have yourself a delicious birthday cake. Or anytime cake, because really cake is just about one of the best things on earth. 🙂

A slice of my birthday cake, one of many :)

A slice of my birthday cake, one of many 🙂

The Recipe That Started It All….Then & Now!

Me and Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies have quite the history.  That was the first recipe I ever tried to make on my own.  I was so excited and proud of myself.  I told my mom, who was outside gardening, that when she came back in, there would be a treat waiting. And boy was there! I climbed on counters gathering all the ingredients and tools. I was like a puppy with a toy, I was so excited. Unfortunately, I did my own version of reading the recipe, which was actually skimming, and ended up just dumping all the ingredients in a bowl…together…at the same time.  Needless to say this did not make good dough…or edible dough. When the first batch came out of the oven, I stood there staring at them in disbelief. Then the laughter began. And mom and I went back to the beginning!

But this did instill in me a love for baking and a deep love for the chocolate chip cookie!

Flash forward to five and a half years ago and  that is probably where this new baking journey began. I had begun to have terrible chronic migraines that would last for weeks on end.  Now, I had had migraines before, periodically and knew that my mother suffered from them.  But this was something quite different.  For those of you who suffer from migraines, you understand the whole host of other symptoms that accompany these delightful occurrences.  I felt like my whole body was out of whack and rejecting me.  I saw doctor after neurologist after allergist and on and on.  Soon I was taking a whole host of medications to stop the migraines, I was switching birth control and I felt like I was falling apart.

Soon after a quite scary heart event, possibly brought on by the medications, I started seeing a cardiologist.  With her help, along with my amazing PCP, I went on a 7- week regime to wean off of all medications. I also started a more natural regime of magnesium, niacin, fish oil, D3 and probiotics. And then they suggested one more thing….to go gluten free.  I remember being so resistant.  What about baking was literally my first thought?!? Followed closely by (if not concurrently) with the self pity. Haven’t I been through enough.  Wasn’t this enough changes? I was a healthy 20-something, why was this all happening to me? After a lot of research and many months (pretty close to 12 if I am being honest!) of trial and error, I finally embraced a  gluten free diet.

But through all of this, I was determined to figure out how to make the treats that I had grown to love to make.  Without fail, I would always want a chocolate chip cookie (or chocolate cake, but more on that later!) after a particularly bad migraine spell. So, the first thing I set out to do was re-create the chocolate chip cookie from my childhood.  I started where I always do. Reading.  I read posts and cookbooks and experimented with recipes.  And always something was missing. Too poofy, too hard, too soft, to crispy.  I was looking for that perfect outside crisp and inside chewy gooey delight.  So I went back to the beginning and I studied that Tollhouse recipe and based my own off of that.

To me, this recipe is perfection in a chocolate chip cookie.  Crispy, chewy, gooey…everything that a classic is supposed to be.  Nowadays, I often play around with the ingredients. Change up the chocolate, add nuts, etc.  But the basics always stay the same.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

1c. Brown Rice Flour

1c. Teff Flour

1/8c. + 1 Tbsp Tapioca Starch

1/8c. Cornstarch

1tsp. Xanthan Gum

1tsp. Salt

1tsp. Baking Soda

1c. Butter (I use Soy Free Earth Balance, but regular butter will work)

3/4c. Granulated Sugar

3/4c. Coconut Sugar (or Brown Sugar if you prefer)

2Tbsp Vanilla Extract

2 Eggs

Bag of Gluten Free Chocolate Chips or about 5oz Chocolate Bar chopped

Optional – 1c of Pecans (or any nut you love!)

In medium mixing bowl, mix all dry ingredients (first 7) together and set aside.

Here is what I used this time. Chocolate and espresso with pecans made out for an out of this world flavor sensation!

Here is what I used this time. Dark chocolate with espresso beans and pecans made out for an out of this world flavor sensation!

In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer or a crazy strong arm), cream together room temp Earth Balance, granulated sugar and coconut sugar. Mix until light in color and fluffy.

(I substituted coconut sugar for brown sugar to see about cutting down the sugar content, to me this added dimension and a deeper flavor to the cookies that I really liked without being overly sweet)

Add vanilla and 1 egg at a time, mixing after each addition.

Incorporate flour, in thirds, mixing after each addition.  Fold in your chips or chopped chocolate. Fold in your nuts.

Put on lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 7-9 minutes

(Note about baking times: I live in an old Astoria apartment. I love the size of my kitchen, which I know is hard to come by. But my oven frequently has a mind of its own. You made need to adjust baking time on these to a little longer, depending on the mind of your oven!)

ENJOY :)

ENJOY 🙂

 

Here we go!

So it is a very cold March day here in NYC, again, and I have been fretting for hours albeit days about how I should do this whole recipe section.

As an actor, you try to go into every situation as prepared as possible, but also as fresh and loose and malleable.  A weird dichotomy! And that is how I have been approaching this whole new creative endeavor. Be prepared, be fresh, be on my toes, have fun!

Except, this is a very learn as I go situation.  Yes I love baking. And yes, I am quite a good gluten free baker.  But a blogger, is new to me. Sure I can write the recipes, and give you an antecdote here and there or a really great “story behind the creation of______” but the technical aspects of setting up and maintaining a blog is a steep learning curve for me.

And then today my ever supportive and sometimes irritatingly logical boyfriend, reminded me of a quote he had heard from a casting director.  He said “Start at 85%. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it has to be a well put together start.”

Ah so true again Squeezy (my loving term of endearment for him!).

So I am putting it out there today at 85%! I can fix and fumble as I go along and hopefully you will be along with me.

I hope you enjoy these recipes, discover new flavors and baking combinations, and make something that is so tasty and delicious that you only want to bake that one thing over and over again…..until the next one thing comes out of the over!

So here is my first recipe for you…..A VERY VERSATILE GLUTEN FREE FLOUR MIX.

Now if you are like me, you are wary of this mix. And I don’t blame you! When I was first starting out, I was trying recipe after recipe and never quite seeming to make my treats turn out anything like the recipe said or looked in the picture.  I was reading about everyone’s best flour mix, and must use, etc, etc, ad nauseum.

And then I stumbled upon Artisanal Gluten Free Cooking by Kelli and Peter Bronski.  This was by far the best, and easiest in terms of ingredients, that I had come by.  I use a variation of theirs as my main recipe, as I have played around and this is how I like it best.  And I don’t use this in every recipe. But give it a try. Swap in different starches or flours to your preference and see what happens!

GLUTEN FREE FLOUR MIX

 1 1/3 cup Brown Rice Flour

1 cup Sorghum Flour 

2/3 cup Cornstarch

1/3 cup Tapioca Starch

1 tsp. Xanthan Gum

Mix this all together well. It makes a little over 3 cups. I like to use it right away, but any leftovers I store in my fridge in an airtight container. I never keep it for over a month, though I rarely run into this problem because I end up baking so much!! Enjoy!

HELLO WORLD!

Welcome to The Fancy Duckling!

So this is it! My first blog post….whew, I am nervous. Do I try to dazzle you with my wit and charm, do I list my qualifications to be speaking with you, or do I just dive in? Since I have always been a “road less traveled” kinda gal….let’s just jump!

I am an actress, writer and self-taught gluten free baker.  Four years ago when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, I was bewildered and overwhelmed.  Sooo much information to sift through to just understand what gluten intolerance was, let alone what the hell gluten was.  But after a little freak out and paper bagging, I started hitting every gluten-free bakery in Manhattan.  I wanted to understand what the texture and tastes were. Then I started devouring every gluten free cookbook and online recipe I could find.  And then finally the experimenting began…..

And experimenting it was! So many flours, so many binders, so many combinations!  But I would not be intimidated. I love baking and the creative release that it brings to my life, and I was determined to figure this out.  Soon, I realized that I enjoyed this type of baking so much more than non gluten-free baking.  Why? To me, each recipe is a puzzle.  And since I fancy myself Nancy Drew crossed with Wonder Woman and Joan Jett, this is magical.

I hope that you enjoy each of these recipes and that they inspire you not just to make them, but tweak them and play around to make them you own.

To some baking is structured and bound by rules, but to me baking is simply fun and delicious!

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