We’re just now settling into life back in Louisiana, where we’ll be for the next couple of months before we’re officially underway. If you were following along on Instagram, you already know some of the trails we’ve traveled and sights we’ve seen and meals we’ve cooked during our 10-day road trip across the states. I have more to say on all of that, lots more, on both the unmatched beauty we encountered and the downright ugly. But today, I want to talk to you about gulten-free baking.
Before we left Portland, I’d intended to bake treats for the people I loved there and was leaving behind. Rum cake for a gathering of friends, cookies for a neighbor, something fabulous and gluten-free, for my hairstylist Joel. Joel had gone to great lengths to secure me a large batch of hair product before we set sail – he’ll tell you and I’ll just admit it here, I’m particularly vain when it comes to my hair – and I wanted to do something nice to thank him. Especially since his gluten allergy kept him from indulging in so many of the leftover blog goodies I’d brought into the salon in the past.
But, quite frankly, the challenge of gluten-free baking was more than I could conquer in the few hours I’d set aside for the gesture, so I showed up to Joel with just my usual hint of hair vanity, an extra large hug, and entirely empty handed. Mind you, I like to think my hugs are pretty rad. That they have the potential to be a solid substitute for a tremendous platter of baked goods any day. But then again…it would take some kind of megahug and at least ten arms to trump a perfect pile of cookies or platter of fudgy rich brownies.
Lucky for me, but not so lucky for Joel, Alanna the seriously talented baker/photographer behind The Bojon Gourmet, released her beautiful new book of gluten-free baked goods, Alternative Baker, earlier this month. And just days after my last appointment with Joel, I found myself curled up on the couch flipping through pages of artful photos, admiring her ingenuity and drooling over her recipe for Chestnut Brownies, a recipe she lovingly adapted from the one and only Alice Medrich. Eggs and sugar whipped for five minutes make a batter that’s light and has just the right amount of air. The melted chocolate whisked into the egg mixture while still warm makes for the perfect flake-thin layer of crisp on top of thick squares of fudge. And the gluten-free flour centerpiece – chestnut flour – made for a uniquely sweet dense base, all in a recipe that took no longer than 45 minutes from start to finish. (If you don’t let them cool, that is. I’m never one to let a brownie pan cool before slicing out a small-ish square to snack on.)
Alanna, I can’t congratulate you enough on this gorgeous book. Your photos are stunning, your recipes innovative, and you’ve officially convinced me that this recipe deserves to take the place of my former gluten-filled go-to brownie recipe – for all of my gluten-eaters and non-eaters alike and hopefully, someday when we return to Portland, also for Joel.
- 6 tbsp (85 g) unsalted butter
- 8 oz (230 g) bittersweet chocolate (60–70% cacao mass), chopped (about 11⁄2 cups)
- 1⁄2 cup (50 g) chestnut flour
- 2 tbsp (15 g) tapioca flour
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3⁄4 cup (150 g) organic granulated cane sugar
- 1⁄2 tsp fine sea salt 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350oF (175oC). Line an 8-inch (20-cm) square baking pan with 2 crisscrossed pieces of parchment paper cut to fit widthwise, leaving an overhang on each side. This will make the brownies easy to remove from the pan.
- Place the butter in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan set over the lowest possible heat. Add the chocolate and let melt together, stirring frequently to prevent the chocolate from scorching. Continue cooking until the mixture is pleasantly warm, but not super hot, to the touch. Remove from the heat and keep warm. Sift the chestnut and tapioca flours into a small bowl and set aside (chestnut flour tends to clump, so don’t skip this step).
- Meanwhile, place the eggs, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and whip on medium-high speed until the mixture is very light and fluffy, 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low and stir in the vanilla until just combined, then the warm chocolate-butter mixture. Add the flour mixture and mix on low until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a flexible silicone spatula to give the batter a final stir by hand, scraping the bottom of the bowl and making sure all the flour is incorporated.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer. Bake the brownies until the top is puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs, 24–30 minutes, taking care not to overbake. Let the brownies cool completely, then use the parchment handles to lift them out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Use a sharp chef ’s knife dipped in hot water and wiped clean between each cut to slice the brownies into 16 squares.
- The brownies keep well, airtight at room temperature, for up to 3 days, or refrigerated for up to 5 days.
This was my first time working with chestnut flour and I instantly fell for the slightly sweet nutty flour. That said, it can be difficult to find. If you're in Portland, you can find it at People's Food Co-op or Sheridan Fruit Company, both in the bulk sections. Otherwise, check at your local specialty foods store, online, or request your neighborhood Whole Foods Market to purchase some for you if they don't already carry it.
Finally, don't skip the part where she instructs to whip the eggs and sugar for 5 full minutes. This part is critical to establishing the air bubbles in the brownies.