Friday, February 11, 2011

Love, Vanilla, and the Marriage of True Minds

I noticed the other day that my stash of vanilla is getting a bit low.  Since I go through vanilla at a rather frightening rate, I normally buy it in 8 or even 16 oz. bottles.  But, since gluten free baking has entered my life, I have been introduced to the concept of gluten free vanilla extract.  Which makes me usual sources just a wee bit suspect.

For several days I contemplated the problem, until it occurred to me that I have about 90 vanilla beans in my pantry.  The deal offered by Vanilla Saffron Imports was just a bit too good to pass up.  And while I like to use fresh vanilla beans when I can, the sheer number is more than I will get to before they start to lose their flavor.  I cleverly decided to make my own extract.

A bit of investigating the process of making vanilla extract will reveal that a distilled alcohol of at least 80 proof, some beans, and time are all you need.  I pondered (out loud) whether vodka or rum would be a better choice.  Vodka has nearly no flavor of its own, while rum would impart a little sweetness and depth of flavor.  My husband, being a helpful sort, offered to go out and retrieve that necessary item.  Since he's a bit of a gourmand himself, I bravely left the choice to him.

We've been married for over 10 years now.  And I still forget to be specific.  My darling returned with - wait for it....... - a bottle of Canadian whiskey.

Hmmmmm.  While the distillation process destroys any protein and therefore renders even a rye or wheat based product assumably gluten free...  it wasn't quite what I had in mind.

It actually worked out fairly well.  I sliced a dozen vanilla beans in half, and placed them into a glass pint jar.  Then I filled the jar with whiskey and set it in my cupboard.  Six weeks later (shaking and inverting once weekly), I had a passable, though somewhat harsh vanilla extract.  Since I was using whiskey, rather than rum, I wanted to round out the flavor.  One Tbsp of corn syrup later, and we're there!

We'll put it to use soon.  (And we'll talk about the book - my very first vintage cookbook!)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day = Cupcakes!

I'd had it in my head for a while now to do some serious baking.  I came late to the Gluten free world, as far as my eldest daughter is concerned.  By that, I mean, she knows what all those check-out aisle goodies taste like.  So it was time to make her sometime special.
(Note:  I used unsalted butter throughout, which is why you see a little bit even in the icing.  If you use salted butter, you probably don't need it at all in the icing and can reduce it elsewhere).

A homemade version of a favorite treat that's been around since 1919.  On to the recipe!  First things, first, the cake:

1 stick butter, softened
2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 c. rice flour
1/2 c. plus 2 Tbsp tapioca flour
1/2 c. plus 2 Tbsp potato starch
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp xanthan gum
3/4 c. cocoa powder
3/4 c. boiling water
1 c. half-and-half
1 Tbsp cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar.  Add eggs one at a time and beat well between additions.  Beat in salt and vanilla.
In a medium bowl, combine flours, potato starch, soda, baking powder and xanthan gum.  Whisk to combine.
In a heat-proof dish, stir hot water gradually into cocoa powder.  Stir until smooth.  Set aside to cool.
With mixer on low, add dry ingredients alternating with half-and-half.  Pour in chocolate mixture.  Scrape down sides of bowl and beat again for 30 seconds.  Beat in vinegar.
Fill cupcake liners 2/3-3/4 full with batter.  (Avoid overfilling.  "Muffin-tops" seem to be a point of engineering failure during filling).  Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Cool completely.

And so, on to the filling!!

1 c. milk
1/4 c. tapioca flour
1/2 c. shortening
1/4 c. butter
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, heat milk to just below a simmer.  Add tapioca flour and whisk until a thick paste forms. Be careful not to let it scorch!!  Set aside to cool completely.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat together butter, shortening, and granulated sugar.  Add salt and vanilla and mix well.  Add cooled paste, and beat at least 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.  Insert the tip into each cupcake in the center, and carefully fill.  Overfilling will cause cupcakes to explode!
Here's what they look like from above, sitting on my stovetop, freshly filled;

Which, of course, means that it's time for the icing!

3 Tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 1/4 cup powdered sugar
3-4 Tbsp milk

In a small saucpan, melt together butter, salt, and cocoa powder.  Add powdered sugar and milk, alternately. Add just enough milk to reach a consistency that won't quite drizzle, but can be easily spread.  I find it easiest to ice the cupcakes with a large spoon (somewhat larger than a tablespoon).  Spread icing gently with the back of the spoon.
While the chocolate icing is setting up, make the squiggle icing.  (This recipe makes way too much - but there is a finite lower limit to how much icing you need to make a pastry bag work.)

2 Tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp milk

Melt the butter with the salt in a microwave safe bowl.  Add the sugar and milk alternately, stirring vigorously to remove lumps.  Go for a consistency slightly thicker than the chocolate icing.  Place in a piping bag with a small round tip and pipe squiggles across your cupcakes.