Posted in custard, thickening

I’m a Daring Baker!

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

This is the point when I came around to making graham crackers - it looks like cookie dough!

In December I found out about the Daring Bakers, and I really wanted to join but I thought, I’m probably not up to speed with them.  But they have deadlines for getting in each month due to the way they all reveal the challenge on the same day, and the thought of missing the deadline and having to wait a long time gave me that extra push.  So I dove in, and here I am doing a Daring Bakers’ Challenge!

Unfortunately I missed the month they did cannoli only to come in right on time for the graham cracker month.  Graham crackers.  I won’t even eat the things if they aren’t in s’mores or pie crusts.  But ok.  I wanted to be a Daring Baker, I’ll do it.

At least there is also a recipe for the graham crackers to go in – Nanaimo Bars.  This is cool because it’s a Canadian recipe I had never heard of, so I’m learning.

A sheet of graham crackerness coming out of the oven.

I’ll be learning about gluten-free cooking, too.  I of course wanted a deeper understanding of the chemistry of gluten-free baking, so I read up on the different kinds of flours at Gluten Free Mommy.  I soon realized these flours replace the starch of wheat flour; the binding action of the gluten is left up to other ingredients, like xanthan gum.  Gluten-free Lifestyle gets a little more into the nitty gritty of it – you need less xanthan gum for products that would otherwise rely less on gluten than yeast breads.  Guar gum is another possible binder.  And adding protein, such as milk powder or gelatin, can be helpful, I suppose because protein strengthens the structure of the baked good.  Apparently, graham crackers don’t really need a binder, because there is no egg or gum in them at all.  I guess they don’t have to support much!

I couldn’t find glutinous rice flour anywhere, so I used white rice flour.  It seemed to work fine.  One of my flours seemed not to be milled quite fine enough, though, and left a grainy mouthfeel that kept me

Some was sacrificed to the Nanaimo bars.

from enjoying them too much, although the flavor was good otherwise.  I don’t know which it was but for some reason I suspect the sorghum.  I also substituted a little 1% milk and a little cream for the whole milk I was supposed to use.   I forgot to make my graham crackers look like crackers, but that didn’t matter for crushing them up for the Nanaimo bars.

It seems kind of a shame to forfeit the lovely texture of a custard, yummy as the mix-ins were.

The bottom layer is a chocolate custard with stuff mixed in – graham crackers, coconut, and almonds.  This is the part I would do differently the next time around.  1) The custard curdled on my first try.  I redid it a little differently: I melted the butter halfway, so it wasn’t too hot, then took it off the heat and added the rest of the ingredients, then put it back on the heat and let it thicken.  If you don’t mind dirtying up another bowl, mixing the egg with the sugar first would be extra protection.  Alternatively, you could cream the butter and sugar and then add the egg, like you’re making cookies.  The point is, if you have fat and/or sugar mixed with the egg, the proteins will be protected somewhat from curdling.  If you add the egg to already hot ingredients, you should remember, unlike me, to temper them first by adding a small amount to

Middle Layer

the egg and then adding the egg to the rest. 2) I think the flavor would be better with melted chocolate than

cocoa powder.  I think this about most chocolate flavored things.

The middle layer is mostly butter and powdered sugar.  Gross to think about, delicious to eat.  The top layer is mostly chocolate.  Delicious again.

I served these at a party I threw recently and they got great reviews.  I happened to have a guest who eats gluten-free, so she was pleasantly surprised!

The finished bars

PS: Apologies for the bizarre look of this page.  I wrestled with WordPress to get my pictures displayed nicely and WordPress won.  Kind of took the fun out of my first Daring Baker post, to be honest.

Posted in baking


I have been craving pancakes for sooo long. Yesterday when I got home from class, I was starving, and when I’m starving, I tend to get in a bad mood. What better way to solve both problems than to make pancakes?

I used a recipe from dakota kelly at Allrecipes, which was fine although the batter seemed way too thick.  The pancakes turned out just right though, so I guess it didn’t matter much.  It may have been due not to the recipe, but to my way of mixing.  When I have to mix melted butter with milk, I melt the butter with the milk in a double boiler (the metal mixing bowl I’m using over a pot of a little boiling water) so that the milk gets warm and doesn’t make the butter solidify when I mix them together.  But this probably makes some of the milk evaporate.  I doubt it evaporated enough to make a big difference, though.  I put the recipe on metric so I could use my scale to measure, which speeds things up.  I made the pancakes in my cast-iron skillet, which was fun.  Unfortunately my stove only heats a small part of it, so I had to keep the pancakes right in the middle for them to cook evenly.  I wonder if it would help if I preheated the skillet in the oven first so that the whole thing was hot.  At any rate, my stove definitely heated that center part, because the pancakes cooked faster than I remember them cooking at home.  I was always afraid they wouldn’t be done on the inside, but they always were.  It got too hot at one point and I burned some of the butter, which gave the outside of a couple of pancakes a gross burnt flavor, but the rest came out just right.  The recipe made about 10 medium-small pancakes.

When my roommate came in and saw me making them, she asked if they were hard to make (they’re not), and I have to say I was kind of shocked at the idea of anyone not knowing exactly how hard or easy it is to make pancakes from so many Sunday mornings with their mom.  I made sure to call my mom and thank her for all the good breakfasts.  My usual breakfast is cold cereal, and I have no problem with that (I quite enjoy my Frosted Mini-Wheats, and even when I was in France, where they really do not understand the concept of sweetened cereal, the Monoprix brand tasteless cereal + hunks of milk chocolate really grew on me). But on some Sunday mornings, the mornings before big standardized tests, and other special occasions, my mom, sometimes with the help of my sister and I, would make one of the Breakfast Trinity: pancakes, waffles, or French toast.  (The French did get some things right.)  Yes, I left out biscuits, but perhaps that’s because we never quite perfected those.  Biscuits and cinnamon buns usually took the place of a member of the Trinity when we had breakfast for dinner.

Despite my love of pancakes, I have to say that I always preferred French toast.  I realized that maybe this is because my family uses powdered sugar on French toast as opposed to maple syrup.  (And keep in mind that by “maple syrup” we always meant “maple flavored corn syrup” in the form of Aunt Jemima’s Lite.)  I tried powdered sugar on my pancakes, but it was too dry.  I think French toast has more moisture.  So I mixed a little milk in with the powdered sugar.  I think it would be better if you warmed the milk a little first, but it did the trick for me.  Never mind that this means I eat my pancakes with icing on top! It’s yummy.