Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Thick? It's January, Isn't It?

I'm thinkin', Pancakes!

Somehow - I'm not sure the reason - I've ended up with two half-full molasses jars. This is noteworthy only because I'm not a huge molasses fan, so why I'd replace my supply before needed is a mystery. Nonetheless there they sit, two bottles half full of viscous, sugary, thick-as-printers-ink syrup.
Don't get me wrong, there's a time and a place for this sugar byproduct. You can't make great Boston baked beans without it, and it's essential to BBQ sauce as well. I enjoy a dollop on buckwheat pancakes, and a tablespoon gives exotic depth to full-grain breads. Mostly though, molasses reminds me of my younger, disorganized years. Whenever I failed to plan carefully enough (this happened often) I'd run out of sugar and have to go rooting through the cabinet for any sweetener. Molasses it often was.   
Recently molasses came up in the form of a challenge. We were at a New Years Eve party when an acquaintance broached the topic of gluten-free baking. An excellent cook (we knew this from the outstanding appetizers she'd contributed) she bemoaned the fact that she'd failed to make acceptable molasses cookies.  We talked ingredients a bit, then the conversation drifted to other quarters, but I was left wondering if I could succeed.
The goal ... achieved.
It took a week for me to find the time, another to meditate on the problem, a third to try, and reject, an adaptation from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book (too spicy). By then I was mentally enmeshed in the classic GF baked goods problem: how to avoid powdery aftertastes and dry, crumbly results. The answer came while re-organizing my storage shelves. Deep in the back of a forlorn cabinet were 10 pounds of a flour I'd almost forgotten: King Lion Cassava. As soon as I saw it I knew it would save the day.
Cassava is a tropical plant that’s mostly starch. We use its extract, tapioca starch, as a common ingredient in GF baking. As the late Bette Hagman said, "It gives our products 'chew'." King Lion Cassava flour, however, is not an extracted product but the whole cassava root dried and ground. It's more nutritious than plain tapioca starch, and far more versatile. You can use it straight-up to make terrific brownies; it's quite helpful for Chinese dumplings; I depend on it for GF Kerelian (Finnish) bread. At the American Key Food Products booth in Carmel, Indiana, (AKFP imports and sells King Lion) I tasted some cassava cookies that were fantastic. 
My one problem with using straight cassava flour is its lightness. It not only makes products fluffy (sometimes unappetizingly so), it is also pale in color, so it would not make molasses cookies visually dark, which I felt was an important requirement. To solve this I mixed in some dark teff flour. Which, I quickly discovered, did not in itself make dark cookies, though it did add a complex, subtly spicy flavor.
As good as they look
In various ratios the dark teff flour never accomplished what I was after, color-wise. That's when I came up with yet another solution: Central American cake sugar. Actually I was on my way to buy dark brown sugar (I only had light in the house) when  it struck me that the Latin aisle contained these rustic, cylindrical blocks. Less sweet but more intensely flavored than standard Domino dark, the cake sugar presented just one obstacle: it must be shredded to be used. 
Using Goya cake sugar I finally got what I was after: dark, intensely flavored cookies that were crisp at the edge and tender in the center, without powdery aftertastes or over-reliance on spices. They're clean on the palette, a celebration of simple ingredients.
But there was one more idea I needed to try. Recalling that my favorite use of molasses was on buckwheat pancakes, I substituted buckwheat flour for the dark teff. When I assembled ingredients I discovered a shortfall of butter. No problem, I thought to myself, I'll use 1/3 coconut oil. The results were even tastier, though the cookies were less attractive due to more-rapid spread in the oven. I think pre-chilling will help - by which I mean sticking the shaped dough in the freezer for 10 minutes before baking - but I've eaten too many cookies over the past two weeks to want to bake more.
Incidentally, this recipe was intended to be another small yield formulation but didn't quite turn out that way. Its size is driven by eggs - specifically, egg yolks - and I've made it as small as practical by using medium eggs. If you are inclined to divide a yolk or shop for quail eggs, you could make it smaller. As with my upside-down cake, I've provided opportunities for substitution.
Gluten-Free Classic Molasses Cookies
5 TBLSP unsalted butter (or 3 TBLSP unsalted butter and 2 TBLSP coconut oil)
30 grams Latin American cake sugar (or dark brown sugar)
14 grams granulated sugar
17 grams dark teff flour (or buckwheat flour)
18 grams potato starch
1/3 tsp baking soda
A pinch, or 0.6 gm, salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (OK to substitute anise extract)
3 TBLSPs dark molasses
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 medium egg yolk
granulated sugar (for coating)
1. Preheat oven to 350 F and assemble ingredients, as well as a baking sheet and parchment paper. Set out butter and coconut oil, if using, and allow to reach @ 55 F. Place flours, soda, salt and xanthan gum in a medium bowl. Whisk until blended. Place egg yolk and vanilla in a small bowl. Place molasses in a second small bowl. Place the brown sugar and 14 grams of granulated sugar in a third small bowl. Place the larger quantity of granulated sugar in a medium bowl.
2. Using a power mixer set to medium-high, cream the butter, @2 minutes. Add the sugar blend and cream until smooth and light, another 2 minutes or so. Add the egg yolk plus vanilla and mix on low speed until blended. Add the molasses and mix on low speed until blended. Add flour blend and mix on medium until blended.
3. Dampen your hands or use a wetted, 1 tablespoon scoop. Form small balls of dough. Roll each one in the granulated sugar and place on the parchment paper, separating each ball by 2 inches. Bake 7 minutes, then turn the baking sheet 180 degrees and bake another 6 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.

No comments: