Chestnut Flour Quick, Chestnut Flour Slow

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chestnutWith so many bakers exploring gluten-free options, here’s one to try: chestnut flour.  When this traditional Italian ingredient turned up in local markets recently (fall is the best season for the new crop of chestnut flour), it seemed an interesting alternative for cookies or pastries, like the crescents (a.k.a. Russian tea cookies, Mexican wedding cookies) in which chestnut pieces substitute so gloriously for pecans or walnuts.  (A note: we’re not talking about water chestnut flour here. That’s a totally differet animal).

So, admittedly, chestnut flour’s gluten-free properties weren’t even a factor until the idea of incorporating it into a yeast bread came to mind. Paleo bread recipes, common across the Internet, weren’t the ticket;  the search was on for a more rustic recipe in the Italian tradition.  Chestnut trees were once so  common in Italy that the flour was considered a downmarket ingredient, used in pasta, polenta, cakes and breads to cut the more precious wheat flour.

img_9527-chestnut-flourThat’s how it’s used in this recipe for Chestnut-Walnut Bread which needs some regular flour to develop the gluten, and thus structure. Chestnut flour’s naturally nutty, somewhat sweet character gives gives the bread an alluringly distinctive taste  in a loaf that bakes up with a tender, finely textured crumb —  denser than a typical wheat flour loaf, but not heavy.

On the other hand, chestnut flour’s natural properties make it a more a natural fit for quick breads, like this Chestnut-Chocolate Tea Bread that bakes up beautifully moist and tender.

Darling Clementine

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Tessa - clementine and almond cakeOur British friend, Tessa, has had to give up gluten. The worst part of it, she says, is avoiding hot bread when it hits the table. Second to that: saying no to cake, especially at the holidays.

Years ago, at a birthday party in Cornwall, the hostess decided Tessa should not go cake-free for the evening. She whipped up this tangy, delicious almond and clementine confection especially for her–and a tradition was born.

“In the U.K., clementines and tangerines are very much part of Christmas, and the combination of sweet oranges and almonds are a good gluten-free alternative to Christmas Cake (aka, fruit cake),”  says Tessa, who capped her holiday dinner in D.C. this year with this easy dessert.

Seeing Red

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The temperature dropped 40 degrees Saturday (sniff), and the shock to the system rebooted my brain to fall. Despite the continued availability of fresh fruit, the season makes me crave the cooked variety–with the flavor and taste of the sun concentrated to supple softness, accented with warm spices and featured in stick-to-the-bones desserts.

Top of my list in this genre this time of the year will always be the tarte tatin–a simple, beautiful, French upside-down tart (or cake) that traditionally showcases apples and is equally comfortable on the brunch or dinner table.

But I am in cleaning-out-the refrgerator mode. Instead of apples, I had a quart of fabulous black plums and a few leftover pluots that I scored at the farmers’ market last week. So, I created a plum-pluot riff on the tarte tatin, using up the fruit in my fridge as well as the leftover buttermilk and some gluten-free flour (part of the food cache I inherited when Sophie moved overseas).

As with the traditional tarte, I began by caramelizing the fresh fruit, peels on, in butter and sugar–producing a glorious fruity, red caramel. Then, I whipped up a tangy, nutty batter laced with ginger and cardamom to cover the fruit–using the same, oven-safe skillet I had cooked it in.

Did I mention how simple this is? Just 45 short minutes later, the browned cake was out of the oven and, slightly cooled, flipped onto a large cake plate, glorious and red. We ate the first slices still hot and a little gooey–and it was divine this morning for breakfast.  

While the apple version is marvelous and definitely worth a place in the repertoire, this is a show stopper. And, I’d say, tastier.