From culinary traditions from around the world.
“Gluten” is another name for the protein found in grains. For cooks, gluten is useful: it acts like a glue holding molecules together, helping food maintain its shape. However, gluten also causes inflammation of the small intestines, and for many people, adopting a gluten-free diet can lead to better health.
Since many popular pastries use grains that contain gluten, finding recipes for gluten-free sweets can be a challenge. Here are ten fantastic gluten-free desserts, drawing on culinary traditions from around the world.
Persian Shortbread (Nan-e Nokhodchi)
These rich shortbread cookies – a favorite in Persian Jewish communities – get their intriguing flavor from chickpea flour. In professional bakeries, these cookies are usually made in a tiny four-leaf shape using a cookie-cutter; I love making them at home and opt for an easier circular shape to save time.
2 cup chickpea flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter (plus 1-2 T butter, if needed)
1 t ground cardamom (or crush 10-12 whole cardamom pods, discarding the outer shells)
Mix ingredients together using first a spoon, then your hands. The dough will be very stiff: add extra butter as needed until it binds together.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form dough into round balls, one inch in diameter. Place on parchment paper and flatten the balls slightly with your thumb. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, until barely golden. Cool before serving.
Makes 2 dozen cookies.
Recipe from The Legendary Cuisine of Persia by Margaret Shaida (Interlink Books, 2000).
Chocolate Mousse (Mousse au Chocolat)
Chocolate Mousse makes an elegant dessert. This version is from the classic French cookbook, Ginette Mathiot’s Je sais cuisine (“I know how to cook”), which has educated generations of French cooks. (Note: raw eggs are not recommended for everyone. I’ve tried making this dish using pre-pasteurized eggs; it comes out less stiff, but still delicious.)
7 oz chocolate
2 T water
6 egg whites
2 T powdered sugar
In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, gently melt the chocolate in the water, stirring occasionally, to make a thick paste.
Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, add the sugar and continue whisking until very stiff. Fold the chocolate gently into the egg whites. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate for up to 3 hours. Serve cold.
Almond Cake in Orange Syrup (Gateau au Sirop d’Orange)
This classic Sephardi cake has its roots in the Jewish community of Spain. Ideally, it should be made the day before it is served, as it becomes more succulently moist with time. This incredibly rich version is from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food.
8 eggs, separated
1cup (200 g) sugar
Grated zest of 2 oranges
2 t cinnamon
1 cup (100 g) ground almonds
½ cup (50 g) blanched almonds, finely chopped
For the syrup:
2 ½ cups (600 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup (200 g) sugar
Mix well the egg yolks with 1 cup (200 g) sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, and all the almonds. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them in. Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch (26-cm) cake pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree F (180 C) oven for about one hour.
Make a syrup by bringing to the boil the orange juice with the remaining sugar. Remove from the heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.
When the cake has cooled, make little holes on the top with a fork to allow the juice to be absorbed, and turn it out onto a deep pan or dish that will just contain it and the syrup. Pour the syrup on top and leave to soak for a few hours or overnight.
A nice way of serving this splendid cake is with orange slices in syrup:
4 large sweet oranges with thick skins
5 cups (1 kg) sugar
2 cups (500 ml) water
Juice of ½ a lemon
Wash the oranges and leave them to soak in cold water for at least an hour. Then cut them into thick slices (about 1/3 inch [1 cm]) and remove the seeds. Put the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a large pan and bring to the boil. Put the orange slices in, pressing them down into the syrup. Put the lid on and simmer gently for 1-1 ½ hours, or until they are very soft. Lift out the slices and arrange on a serving dish. Reduce the syrup by simmering, uncovered, until it has thickened enough to coat a spoon, and pour a little over the slices. (Leftover syrup can be kept in a covered jar.)
These rich cookies are sweet and chewy, and can be made with all sorts of ground nuts, including walnuts and hazelnuts; flaked coconut can also be used. Ground almonds provide the most delicate texture and refined flavor and are an elegant end to a meal.
2 ¼ cups whole or slivered blanched almonds
1 ½ cups sugar
3 large egg whites
Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or wax paper; grease liner lightly with margarine.
Grind almonds with ¼ cup sugar in food processor until mixture forms fine, even crumbs. Add egg whites and vanilla sugar, if using, and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add remaining sugar in 2 additions and process about 10 seconds after each or until smooth.
With moistened hands, roll about 1 T mixture between your palms to a smooth ball. Put on prepared baking sheet. Continue shaping macaroons, spacing them 1 inch apart.
Press each macaroon to flatten it slightly so it is about ½ inch high. Brush entire surface of each macaroon with water. Bake macaroons 18-20 minutes or until very lightly but evenly brownd; centers should still be soft. Remove from oven. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Makes about 30 macaroons
Yvette Alt Miller
From 1,000 Jewish Recipes by Faye Levy (2000).