Since I started putting recipes on my blog, outeastfoodie, and writing the “What’s in Season” column here at Edible, I often get asked how to modify my recipes to make them gluten-free. Recently, someone asked if my grandfather’s ricotta cheesecake was gluten-free. I proudly responded, “It can be, if you replace the all-purpose flour with brown rice flour to dust the spring form pan!” Easy, right?
Others, not so much. On the East End, strawberries kick off the summer fruit season, and given the abundance of this heart-shaped, crimson-colored aggregate fruit—we indulge. One way is strawberry shortcake: a rich, buttery, crunchy biscuit with lightly sweetened whipped cream and slightly macerated berries. I hosted my first gluten-free dinner party at my new home, Sheridan Green, to accommodate a friend who is gluten-intolerant and loves strawberry shortcake. Gluten-free baking is not my strong suit, so I relied on my inquisitive spirit to acquire enough gluten intelligence to create a gluten-free high-rising biscuit worthy of our berries.
I scoured websites and cookbooks, jotting down ingredient choices: xanthan gum versus guar gum (xanthan gum helps starches combine to trap air, which imitates gluten, and is good for baking; guar gum helps keep large particles suspended in the mix and is good for cold foods like ice cream); tapioca starch versus potato starch (starches lighten, inflate and provide that chewy texture we love in most breads and soft baked goods; tapioca starch aids in browning and gives a higher rise than potato starch); or brown rice flour versus white rice flour (brown rice flour is made from whole grain rice, has a nutty, sweet flavor and is more nutritious than white rice flour, which is tasteless and stripped of its nutrients). After choosing, technique is key. To take my biscuit to record-breaking heights, the dough must be handled gently, so as not to melt the butter, and shaped using a technique similar to the one for puff pastry, just not as laborious.
Puff pastry is a laminated dough, which means you create alternating layers of dough and fat—folding and rolling and folding again—to achieve 729 layers in half a day’s time. The puff happens as the pastry cooks: the fat in the butter keeps the layers separate, while the water content turns to steam and forces the layers apart. If all goes well, you get a tall cake and that crack when you bite into it. For the biscuit—although I am not making a puff pasty—folding the dough with smallish chunks of butter marbled throughout made sense and took less than an hour. Once the ball of dough was chilled, I gently patted the dough into a 10- by 8-inch rectangle, then folded into a 5- by 8-inch rectangle, and again into a 5- by 4-inch rectangle. I repeated this one more time and then flattened the dough into a 10- by 8-inch rectangle, ½ inch thick. The dough should be light and handled gently or the biscuit will be dense. I found ½-inch-thick dough worked better than ¼-inch dough; a bit of height is needed for the butter, liquid and flour to do their magic.
There is nothing short about this gluten-free dessert; I was left scratching my head wondering if they should be named strawberry tallcakes. Either way, we all need a lift when it comes to our knowledge of gluten-free cooking; thankfully my gluten-intelligence is on the rise.
Gluten-Free Strawberry Shortcake
1 pound strawberries trimmed and cut in half; about 4 cups
¼ cup honey
⅓ cup water
Pinch of sea salt
Combine the honey, water and salt in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Once done cool and toss with the strawberries. Set aside for 1 hour to allow strawberries to release their juices.
2 cups whipping cream
1 vanilla bean split and seeded
¼ cup powdered sugar
Place a large bowl in freezer to prep for the cream. In a medium bowl place the cream; cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape seeds into cream along with the bean; gently whisk. Cover cream mixture and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Strain cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the chilled bowl. Add the powdered sugar and with a balloon whisk begin to beat the cream into soft peaks. (You can use a KitchenAid with a whisk attachment or a handheld beater.)
Set aside in refrigerator.
1¼ cups brown rice flour
¼ cup tapioca starch
3 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon agave syrup
1 stick cold butter, cut into ½-inch chunks
2 large eggs
⅓ cup whole milk Greek yogurt
Preheat oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and sprinkle with two tablespoons of brown rice flour. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix together with a whisk. Add the butter and use your fingertips to combine into the dry ingredients, try to work quickly to keep the butter cold. In another bowl, add the eggs, yogurt and agave and whisk together; add mixture to the dry ingredients and with a wooden spoon stir the dough together until a ball forms. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Turn dough out onto a clean surface and, working quickly, pat the dough into a 10- by 8-inch rectangle, fold into a 5- by 8-inch rectangle, and again into a 5- by 4-inch rectangle. (Repeat this one more time.)
Then press dough into a rectangle, ½-inch thick; 10 by 8 inches. Using the top of a glass or a 3¼-inch circle cutter, cut out 2 biscuits; you will not be able to get 6 biscuits in a 10- by 8-inch pass so you will need to repeat this step again, however your rectangle will be smaller, keep with the ½-inch thickness for good measure.
Arrange the biscuits with ample room in between each one; they need room to grow while baking. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow biscuits to cool before assembling.
Split each biscuit and place the bottom half on plate. Top with the berries and its juices and then top with the whipped cream. Then place the top of the biscuit on the shortcake.