Alice Medrich, the woman who introduced the chocolate truffle to the United States, walks through a cloud of powdered sugar most days. Or does she wade through chocolate? Either way, there's usually a lot of butter involved. With awards from Jmaes Beard and the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the author has focused on cakes, cookies, pies and tarts in her past eight cookbooks.
Her latest book, "Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-Wheat Flours," explores a different way of creating desserts that we love to eat (but lots of us probably shouldn't).
When I talked with Medrich two years ago about her cookbook, "Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts," she'd already started thinking about this one. She'd done a few gluten-free recipes in previous books. "I'd found it really interesting and challenging," she says. "And that's like catnip for me."
With her longtime assistant and co-author, Maya Klein, who happens to have a wheat sensitivity, the two decided to take on the challenge. "For a long time now, there's been that section of the supermarket that has Bob's Red Mill Flours," Medrich says. "I had been walking by it [on my visits], and one day I stopped. And started looking. These looked like really interesting, flavorful ingredients."
She wondered how she could create new desserts with these unfamiliar flours. "[We] wanted to explore these flours and see what could be done with them," she says. "It's not about doing without and substituting -- it's more like, 'Oh, here's a cool ingredient. What can we do with it?'"
"We wanted to break with the tradition that has evolved in the gluten-free community," Medrich says, "which is to create all-purpose flour blends." Instead, "Flavor Flours" is divided into chapters that focus on one ingredient, like teff or chestnut flour, in many different recipes.
There were challenges. "Our entire Western baking tradition is built around wheat flour," she says, "and gluten has a functionality. It has an elasticity, a certain texture -- and we're used to that." When making bread, gluten needs to be developed; for tender cakes and cookies, gluten needs to be inhibited. Working without it at all was new territory.
"There was quite a learning curve," she says. Recipe-testing is always a laborious process for a cookbook author, but the recipes in this book needed to be made again and again. "The amount of testing, and the number of trials, and the number of adjustments was just phenomenal. It was crazy, crazy baking."
Check out her recipe for brownies below.
You can meet Medrich, where she's signing her book and baking a few things (plus samples!) at Fire, Flour & Fork on Friday, Oct. 31, at 3:15 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 1, at 10 a.m. during the event's speaker series. A one-day pass to the series is $70 and a two-day pass is $100. fireflourandfork.com
Recipe: Alice Medrich's Bittersweet Teff Brownies
Makes sixteen 2-inch brownies
These moist and deeply chocolate brownies have a light, rather elegant melt-in-your-mouth texture. Teff flour has a nuance of cocoa flavor to start with, so it is a natural choice for brownies. If you need something dressier than brownies, bake the batter in a 9-inch round pan and serve wedges with whipped cream -- and perhaps a scattering of seasonal berries -- and call it dessert. Either way, the recipe comes together quickly and the results remain deliciously moist for a few days.
(1¼ sticks/140 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
6 ounces (170 grams) 70% chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 scant cup (185 grams) sugar
¾ cup (100 grams) teff flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
3 large eggs, cold
1 cup (100 grams) walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
8-inch square pan, bottom and all four sides lined with foil
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Melt the butter with the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth.
3. Remove the bowl from the water and cool the mixture to lukewarm. Stir in the sugar, teff flour, salt, and vanilla, if using. Add all of the eggs and beat on high speed with the handheld mixer for about 2 minutes. The batter will get thicker and a little lighter in color, like chocolate frosting. Stir in the nuts, if using.
4. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly dry and clean (dont worry; the brownies will be moist even if the toothpick is not).
5. Cool on a rack. Lift the foil ends to transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares. The brownies may be kept in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days.
Variation: Cocoa Teff Brownies
Cocoa brownies have a softer texture than chocolate brownies. Substitute ¾ cup (65 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder for the chocolate. Increase the butter to 13 tablespoons (185 grams), and increase the sugar to 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons (235 grams).
Excerpted from "Flavor Flours" by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.