Croissants and Speculaas

Yesterday was gluten free day but I did also start a batch of croissants. I’ve made them before and they were a resounding success and, honestly, I don’t know why I don’t make them more often. They do take time but it isn’t a solid block of time.

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The first step is making the dough and refrigerating it overnight (or several hours). Easy – the mixer does all the work; I just throw in the ingredients. The second step is rolling the dough with enveloped inside it – three times. The dough needs to rest between rolling sessions and, after the third time, the dough is, once again, refrigerated overnight. The third step is the final rolling and shaping of the croissants, then baking.

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Even though I’ve found a recipe for gluten free croissants, I’m not sure I want to go there yet. And, besides that, I think John’s feeling a little bit of gluten free overload.

Also in the plans for today is a batch of Speculaas, a beautifully spiced cookie from Holland. You may have seen windmill cookies in your favourite grocery store; well, those are speculaas and when you bake them yourself, your house smells amazing and your taste buds sing. They’re nothing like the store bought cookies. I won’t be rolling them out and using cookie cutters; I’ve had my eye on a cookie stamp and yesterday, I bought one. I’ll be rolling the dough into balls and using my lovely cookie stamp.

The recipe I’m using comes from a Dutch cookbook, given to my mother by one of my cousins. Mom’s on her own and doesn’t do much in the way of baking anymore and she knows I can read Dutch so I became the proud owner of this cookbook. I’ve made a few things out of it already and they’ve all turned out great. I have had to resort to Google Translate once or twice but I’ve managed pretty well.

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There’s just one measurement in the recipe that has me bemused. In Dutch, the recipe calls for “2 mespunten” of a couple of spices. Translated, that’s two “knife points”; how much is a knife point? The recipe also calls for Almond Essence; it’s not something most of us are familiar with but Dr. Oetker makes essences in tiny tubes. They’re much more potent than our North American flavourings. I just happen to have some, so that’s what I’ll be using. If you don’t, simply use 1 tsp. almond flavouring. Another substitution I’ll be making is that I’ll be using a Speculaas Spice Mix rather than the cardamon, clove, and cinnamon called for in the recipe. If you’d like to do the same, I have a recipe for the mix here.

I should add that they’re not as spicy as some I’ve had but they’re pretty darned tasty.

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Here’s the recipe, as written (translated); my measurements are in parentheses.

Speculaas (Spiced Cookies)

[printable]

  • 500 grams flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 250 grams sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 drops almond essence (or 1 tsp almond flavouring)
  • 2 knife points ground cardamon (1 tsp)
  • 2 knife points ground cloves (1 tsp)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 200 grams soft butter
  • 100 grams ground almonds or hazelnuts

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Mix all ingredients together in the bowl of your stand mixer, at low speed until mixed, then at high speed until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is too soft to work with, refrigerate until it’s firm enough to roll. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and use cookie cutters to cut out shapes or use the dough in a speculaas mold. Bake at 170-200ºC (350ºF) for 10 minutes or until cookies are set.

Gluten Free French Bread

According to the write up of this recipe, “This french bread is amazing!! It tastes so similar to the wheat containing french bread. Plus it freezes wonderfully !!! It’s crusty on the outside, and soft and tender within…. You can make it from start to finish in about one hour!!”

Wow, apart from grammatical errors, that’s quite the endorsement. Is it true, though? Let’s find out, shall we?

The recipe is a Food.com recipe and can be found here: Gluten Free French Bread by Gluten Free Girl. I’ve been pretty impressed with her recipes and have used her recipe for making pie pastry (see here).

The gluten free blend of flours used in the recipe is a mix of white rice flour, tapioca flour and xanthan gum. The recipe also calls for egg substitute as an optional ingredient, which I don’t have. I’m not interested in making this bread vegan, so I’ll opt for not using it. The recipe calls for egg whites anyway.

And away we go…

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All of the ingredients assembled and ready to go. From the left to the right… Flour mix, sugar, yeast, vinegar, and egg whites. Butter, ready to be melted, is at the front. The empty bowl is there for the warm water for the yeast and sugar.

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This is really quite simple. All of the ingredients are added to the mixing bowl and then you beat it. Seriously, that’s it. If this is any good at all, it’s the simplest bread I’ve ever made.

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This is not your mother’s bread dough. No kneading involved. This looks more like buttercream frosting than bread dough! At this point, after 3 minutes of beating (yes, 3 minutes!), it’s ready to spoon onto the baking sheet.

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The loaves, now ready for rising. I used wet hands to shape them into the shape of French bread loaves; without doing that, they were just a little too rustic and ragged looking for my sense of aesthetic. Both have been brushed with melted butter and slashed to give them that classic French bread look. Now, we wash the dishes and wait for the dough to rise.

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After about 20-25 minutes, the dough has pretty much doubled, now ready for baking.

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Out of the oven, this definitely isn’t the prettiest bread in the world but, oh does it smell good. That lovely yeasty bread smell is certainly there, enough to make my mouth water. But what about taste? And what about texture?

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I don’t know about you but this doesn’t look bad at all. The crust is definitely crispy, as a good French loaf crust should be. The texture is a little different than a classic French loaf, a little moister…. not sure if that’s the right word… but it’s just out of the oven. It’s a little different than wheat based bread but not objectionable.

As for flavour…. well, I think this speaks for itself.

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It hasn’t yet passed the “John” test but I’ve left the loaves out on the kitchen counter and I’m about to head out the door for a little while. It will be interesting to see how much of the cut loaf is left when I get home (he’s out at the moment but I expect him home before I get home). I’ll let you know.

Well, it didn’t pass the John test. He had one slice, declared it bland (it’s white bread.. it’s usually bland) and that he didn’t like the texture and “it’s gluten free, isn’t it?”. He was disappointed.  I’m not. For anyone who can’t tolerate gluten and still wants French bread, I think it’s a great option.

It did, however, pass the Kristen test. She and the kids came to pick up the loaves late in the afternoon and her eyes lit up at the first bite. I’d call that a success!

Change in Direction

Ok, I think I like this layout and look. Now, for the content. Up until now, I’ve posted some of our favourite recipes. I’ve found, however, that I don’t really think about the food blog much even though I’m in the kitchen every weekend, experimenting, baking, and cooking. This blog could be a whole lot more than it is right now.

To that end, I’m going to change direction somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still post about other recipes but now that we know that my daughter is gluten intolerant (you don’t even want to know what happens when she eats gluten based foods… it isn’t pretty), I’ve been doing some experimentation. What better place to document those experiments? If you read my main blog, you already know that I’ve been doing some of that already, and documenting there. I’d like to do more.

First, I do want to specify that only my daughter is gluten intolerant. Thus far, neither of her children has exhibited any symptoms and none of us besides her has any known food allergies apart from some nut sensitivity (Kristen and me).

This weekend, it’s my intention to jump into the deep end and try baking gluten free French bread. I will be posting a link to the recipe I’m using but will not post the actual recipe; I don’t want to infringe on anyone’s copyright in that way. I will be making notes and taking pictures along the way and will let you know the reactions I get.

I’ll tell you right now, my biggest critic will be my husband. As soon as he hears the words “gluten free”, I can see the wall going up. In his mind, if it’s gluten free, it’s immediately not as good as the “real” thing.

Care to watch me try to change his mind?

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GF Dutch Apple Pie and GF Lemon Meringue Pie