Thursday, June 9, 2011


            A gluten-free blog is of necessity about baking. However, truth be told, I am more enamored of fresh fruit than I am of any baked good, sweet or savory. Thus it is with ecstasy that I celebrate the beginning of The Garden State’s (NJ!!) fresh fruit season.

Fresh from New Jersey's fields
            Early this week I drove to The Sussex County Strawberry Farm, a pick-your-own site which I genuinely believe has the best berries on earth. It was a hot day, and only about 6 other souls shared the field with me. The berries were heavenly – dark magenta, pink-in-the-center, astonishingly sweet and spicy with a taste of flowers. I’d eaten a quart by the time I got home, but to my dismay found I still had 7 quarts left. Now seven quarts is a lot of strawberries, particularly when your wife is out of town. I didn’t doubt I could eat them, but even my taste buds have limits, so I put a quart in the refrigerator for weekend breakfasts, froze another 2 quarts for winter-time pies and gave a quart to our concierge. That left me with two quarts, and a problem: whether to eat them all immediately or devise some way to preserve their warm, fresh-from-the fields sweetness.

            There’s few baked goods, in my opinion, that incorporate strawberries well. Yes, strawberry shortcake – but the berries are on, not in, the batter. Ditto “Forgotten Cake”, or Pavlova. Even strawberry pie is an “on-not-in” treat.

            As I was pondering what to do my eyes fell on my food dehydrator, sitting like an abandoned UFO next to the kitchen sink. It’d been put to good use for the just-ended morel season and its trays were fresh emerged from the dishwasher. Dehydrating is one great way to preserve strawberries. Their sugars intensify as water evaporates, and they remain tasty for months. One problem with dehydrated fruit, however, is it doesn’t look so great: it turns leathery and dull. But, as I’d observed when checking the drying racks in seasons past, half-dried fruit was a different matter. And then I remembered Buckles.

            Buckles are fruit-laded cake, so “full of fruit the surface buckles.” I’d tried making a strawberry buckle two years ago but the results were disappointing. Baking made the berries collapse, turn runny, and lose flavor, and the cake sweetness overwhelmed them. What, I wondered, would happen if I half-dehydrated the strawberries?

            Thinking the berries would lose about 50% of their volume after 5 hours in a 145-F dehydrator, I started with 8 cups. (4 cups of fruit are called for in the very good America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book recipe – page 353.) To my amazement I ended up with only 2 cups of fruit, but the taste was exquisite. As hoped, the sweetness and berry-ness were intense. So I made a half recipe.
Partial dehydration "wilts" berries but intensifies their flavors.
Foreground berries are half-dehydrated; background are fresh.

            There was one problem: While improvising a gluten-free flour blend, I forgot xanthan gum.

            This ended up affecting the streusel topping more than the cake, which was so loaded with berries it’s hard to even find the dough. There’s no problem with the streusel taste, but cutting through it reminds me of a hike across sand dunes.

            The recipe is my latest attempt to integrate American Key Food Products’ King Lion cassava flour into my gluten-free cooking, and I have to say I continue to be pleased. Since the product is not yet available at retail outlets, you can substitute any other tapioca flour (not starch), or if that proves elusive, use Annalise Roberts’ Brown Rice flour blend.
Gluten-Free strawberry buckle with streusel topping

 Half-Dried Strawberry Buckle

Adapted from a recipe by America’s Test Kitchen
Makes a 6” round cake

Streusel topping
Flour = 25 grams King Lion Cassava flour + 10 grams potato starch + 1/4 tsp Xanthan gum
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 TBLSP granulated sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
light pinch salt
2 TBLSP unsalted butter, softened

Flour = 40 grams King Lion Cassava flour + 35 grams Ivory Teff flour + 32 grams potato starch + 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
3/4 tsp baking powder
5 TBLSP unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp lemon oil or lemon zest
1 large egg at room temperature
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups semi-dehydrated strawberries

1 – wash, split, and dehydrate fresh strawberries for about 5 hours at 135 – 145 F
2 – Put an oven rack in the center position. Grease, flour and add parchment to a 6” round baking pan. Pre-heat oven to 350 F
3 – Using a large bowl, whisk together the streusel dry ingredients. Cut butter into small pieces, then beat it in with an electric mixer on medium speed until the streusel is moist crumbs.
4 – Use a small bowl to whisk together the cake flour and baking powder. Use a large bowl to beat butter, salt, sugar and lemon oil (zest) on medium speed until light and fluffy (takes at least 3 minutes). Beat in the egg until incorporated, beat in the vanilla.
5 – shift mixer to low and beat flour into butter/egg mix, just incorporating. This is a very thick, sticky batter. Remove mixer and fold berries in with a spatula.
6 – Scrape batter into cake pan, smooth, and add streusel. Bake 25 minutes, rotate pan half way, then bake another 25 minutes. An inserted toothpick should come out with just a few crumbs attached and streusel should be dark brown. If not, bake another 5 – 10 minutes.
7 – Let Buckle cool on a wire rack at least 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge. Put a plate over the top, invert baking pan, peel away parchment, then re-invert the Buckle and allow to thoroughly cool.

This cake is excellent with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


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