Best. Flourless. Desserts. Ever.
March came in like a lion, and I am already eagerly anticipating its lamb-like exit. At the end of the month is Passover, and soon after that, Easter. Which means, of course, that spring dessert season is upon us!
For those of you who have previously been oppressed by dense, uninspired Passover desserts laden heavy with potato starch and coated in cloyingly-sweet icings, perhaps this year is the time to celebrate your freedom from bondage. With our vast experience in wheatless baking, we gluten-free eaters are well-poised to shepherd the temporarily-flour-free flocks into a promised land flowing with delicious, indulgent desserts that are flourless by design.
Delicious and Flourless by Design
I’ve always thought the best gluten-free desserts were those designed to be flourless, rather than reverse-engineered, gluten-free approximations of wheat-based ones. This philosophy holds especially true when it comes to Passover desserts: if God had wanted us to make cakes and cookies from matzo meal and potato starch, he would have given us digestive systems with built-in pipe cleaners and Dran-O. Since he did no such thing, I feel a divine calling to share some ideas on how to make light, flour-free desserts for your Passover Seder or gluten-free Easter lunch that are good enough to enjoy year-round.
You might be surprised to learn that the French patisserie offers some of the best inspiration for flourless pastry-making. If you’ve allowed your sour grapes at not being able to eat croissants deter you from exploring the other fineries a patisserie has to offer, you may have missed:
- the ethereal classic meringue-based French Macaron (NOT to be confused with the coconut-based Macaroons so common this time of year)
- the decadent flourless Chocolate Walnut cookies developed by the venerable pastry chef Francois Payard
- delicate, spongy Chocolate Financiers, made gluten-free by Paris-based pastry chef and food writer, David Lebovitz
- Mark Bittman’s almost custard-like flourless Chocolate Souffles, which can be made dairy-free by greasing the souffle dishes with margarine instead of butter.
If all of this chocolate and Frenchiness is overkill, you can try:
- recycling my favorite New Year’s Flourless Honey Almond Cake recipe for the occasion
Note that most of these recipes call for confectioner’s sugar, which some Jews choose to avoid during Passover for its cornstarch content. If this is your practice, there’s an easy Kosher-for-Passover substitution you can make for confectioner’s sugar, courtesy of Epicurious.com: just take 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 tsp potato starch and grind them together in an electric coffee/spice grinder or mini food processor. (Multiply the recipe as needed). Voila!
The Chocolate Financiers recipe is lovely just the way it is, but I think I’ve managed to take it from great to greater by substituting hazelnut meal and hazelnut extract for the almond flour and almond extract the recipe calls for.
This gives these wonderful little cakes a divine Nutella-ish flavor. Also, a madeleine mold can be used in place of the Financier or mini-muffin mold the recipe calls for; if you use silicone molds, no need to grease them before filling. To make them dairy free, use margarine instead of butter.
If you’re making Payard’s Chocolate Walnut cookies, be warned that the recipe will easily make at least double the number of cookies it says it will, and they’ll still be pretty huge. Keep an eye on them while baking and take them out a smidge before you think they’re done; overbaking will make them too crispy. When baked properly, they have a gooey, almost brownie-like texture. They are insanely high in sugar, which is why I make them but once a year.
More on Macarons
Macarons are a delicate french confection that resemble mini pastel-colored hamburgers. Made from eggwhites, sugar and almond flour, they are naturally gluten-free. They’re becoming quite trendy these days, with reporters from NPR to New York magazine proclaiming them to be “The Next Cupcake.” (In fact, even Starbucks dabbled in some packaged ones from Chateau Blanc during Christmastime last year…to my expert macaron palette, they weren’t half bad!)
Unless you’re super ambitious and can afford to waste a fair amount of pricey almond flour on failed experiments, I recommend buying Macarons instead of baking your own. They are an incredibly temperamental confection, and achieving the ideal texture for the sandwich cookie–delicate as an eggshell, but moist and chewy upon biting in– is as much a function of good fortune and ideal oven conditions as it is good skill. If you’re up for the challenge, however, I’d suggest taking a class. (Here in New York, my husband took a class at the Institute of Culinary Education.) As far as buying your macarons Pret-a-Manger, while I have yet to find a place in New York that makes a macaron even remotely as good as those made by Pierre Herme in Paris (the veritable Platonic ideal of a macaron and the standard-bearer for macarons worldwide), I have found enjoyable versions sold at Macaron Cafe in the Fashion District, Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center and J’ Chanceaux Macarons (found at Green Apple, 202 Mott Street in Nolita). As macarons have very short shelf lives (and a bad macaron, unlike bad sex, is NOT still worth having), I’d only buy them from places that specialize in them, are known to bake them fresh daily and have high turnover. Avoid the ones sold at Whole Foods at all costs.
If you insist on trying your hand at making your own, I’ll refer you to David Lebovitz’s online resource guide for everything macaron-related. Good luck!
Making Room for Dessert
As if it needed to be said, nothing you read about here today is remotely healthy. It’s delicious, indulgent, sweet stuff. If it seems strange that a nutritionist is celebrating the confectionery arts–particularly a nutritionist who has been known to come down pretty hard on sweetened yogurts and such–then allow me to explain.
The tough love I dispense with regard to sugar is not because I hate sugar, but rather because I love it.
And because I want to be able to indulge in the occasional sweet of my own choosing without guilt or weight gain, I am vehemently opposed to the sneaky sugar in flavored yogurts, allegedly-healthy breakfast cereals, so-called “nutrition” bars, sauces, beverages, breads and countless other packaged, convenience foods. I want to spend 100% of my precious and limited sugar budget on small portions of the sweet things that give me the most pleasure. I make room in my diet for dessert by relentlessly cutting out silly, hidden sugar from places I won’t miss it and from foods that don’t need to be sweet, anyway.
According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons (!) of added sugars per day. By way of context, the recommended added sugar budget is 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men.
You can see, then, why I get all riled up when others try to spend my modest 6 teaspoon sugar budget for me without my knowing it! Be aware: there are numerous ways that your daily food staples are spending your sugar budget before you even contemplate reaching for that piece of chocolate, but plenty of easy swaps you can make to save room for dessert. Here are but a few examples:
- Choosing plain yogurt over flavored saves 2-4 teaspoons of sugar per day.
- Choosing an unsweetened (or lightly-sweetened) whole grain breakfast cereal (Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, plain Kashi Go Lean, Puffins, oatmeal) over other cereals masquerading as healthy choices (like Kashi Go Lean Crunch, Kellogg’s Smart Start, Raisin Bran) can save you another 2-3 teaspoons per day.
- Choosing unsweetened soy milk over Vanilla soy milk saves a teaspoon and a half.
- Choosing plain water or unsweetened tea saves 3 tsps of sugar per cup over Vitamin Water (and each bottle of Vitamin water is 2.5 cups).
(For a fun, visual representation of how much added sugar is in some of your daily food staples, you can check out the Sugar Stacks web site.)
Eating a single serving of any two of the sweetened versions of the foods above blows your entire target sugar budget for the day if you’re a woman! To me, this is sugar that could be spent much more enjoyably on a daily one-ounce dose of chocolate, or perhaps a bowl of ice cream every couple of days. Of course, that’s just my personal preference. Everyone is free to spend their sugar on what matters most to them!Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.