If you follow the Smart Kitchen Blog, you may know that personally, we keep, on average, if not a Gluten-Free Household, at least a Gluten Aware Household. It is the words “on average” that bedevil easy description. 2/4 of the P Chef family are strictly, rabidly Gluten Free. If a 3 year old can’t technically be “rabidly Gluten Free” on his own, his mother’s easily helps push him up into the rabid category. Mrs. P Chef, for health reasons is a Gluten-Free zealot.The next fourth, my 6 year old daughter, is ambiguously Gluten-Free, some of the time.
As a hearty eater of everything tasty, (oops should have written Gourmand to make it sound better), it’s Dad who skews the average towards Gluten Aware from Gluten Free.
I grew up with Pancake Sundays, where family and any tag-along, sleep-over friends stood around the kitchen talking, joking, making and eating pancakes. Initially, I’d eat one or two. As I got older and into sports, I ate 3, then 4 then 8 etc. The more eating, the longer the making, the greater the number and quality of the laughs. I want to share that warm, homey tradition with my wife and little chefs.
But when 2/4ths of us went seriously Gluten-Free, the idea of Pancake Sundays, (with Dad, Spatula at the ready, attending the Cast Iron Lady) seemed lost and heading the way of the Dodo bird. Walking the aisle of the grocery store last week, shopping for Cornstarch for SK Chef’s Valentine’s Appearance on ABC 15, I thought I spied salvation for Pancake Sunday on a mainstream grocery store shelf. King Arthur on his Flour Power Charger, seemed to be riding to the rescue under a “NEW” banner proclaiming a solution for King Arthur’s Gluten-Free, All Purpose Flour.
If you have tried any Gluten-Free baking or cooking, you know that there is a difference between claims and results. But I had faith in the King Arthur brand. Perhaps because of their generations of marketing with the bluegrass, musical King Arthur Flour Hour or just the fact that they are an employee owned company from Vermont swayed me. I added the Gluten-Flour to our cart, in a separate, non-company, personal pile of course.
At home, we have low-grade, ongoing, tug-of-war in the kitchen between the adherents of health and the adherents of taste. The neutral foods, “The Switzerlands of the Pantry,” that both sides can agree on, are few and far between. I am in the camp that tries to make healthy decadent. My wife, and by extension my little chefs, are most often in the camp that says “Leave it alone.” I had great hopes for this new flour turning the tide towards flavor and decadence and was excited this past Sunday morning to inaugurate Gluten-Free Pancake Sunday. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The success of our foray was really determined by the “Benchmarking.” The gluten free community, our 2/4 loved the new pancake recipe. Mrs. P Chef did her signature move and shouted ”Great” before devouring her portion and then saying she could not have more because “the carbs would make her sleepy.” I really enjoy her enjoying food I make and made her another single, heart-shaped, Valentine Pancake and called it a win. My 3 year old, little P Chef said “Dad How did you learn to make such good pancakes?” and asked for more. My daughter at 6, begrudgingly, when asked (no volunteering), said that they were good but the proof was that she had a big helping of seconds. A lot of the times the proof is in the eating.
As for me, I have been improvising from the Joy Of Cooking’s Pancake version for a few years now. I like the proportions and mixing the wet with the wet and the dry with the dry before combining them all. Needless to say, my benchmark is a bit higher than the Gluten-Free team when piloting our enameled skillet, The Red Warrior. The Gluten-Free pancakes bubbled up as they should and formed a nice crispy, butter-fried edge.
They turned out a bit paler, and a little thicker than gluten pancakes but they had a good “Mouth Feel” which is one of the tougher things to accomplish with Gluten-Free cooking. Also, I forgot to mention that I “Cheated,” a tiny bit, in the tug-of-war competition between health and taste. I added a couple squares of melted Toberlone White Chocolate to the wet ingredients before incorporating them with the dry. This could also have made them paler and thicker.
Ultimately, I will praise King Arthur, and not just because he is armored and carries a lance. They are trying to do something difficult by competing with Gluten. They mostly succeed and do it admirably. The product comes out tasting clean and a bit “ricey” which makes a very good blank canvas on which to slather butter and real Maple Syrup. Those tastes are winners that I am down for. Compared to all the other Gluten-Free preparations out there, King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Flour is a coup.
I also did not exactly follow the directions on their package, which is a “No-No” when preparing a product for the first time to evaluate it. I substituted Guar Gum for the recommended Xanthum Gum because they are close substitutes, and because honestly, we had one in our gluten-free area of the pantry. At the moment, on that Pancake Sunday, improvisation trumped getting dressed and heading for the store. And of course, I got a small lesson in continuous cooking education. Guar Gum, as Smart Kitchen will tell you, is best used mixed into the wet ingredients, not the dry. Oops but also a good reason to re-state that cooking is a continual lesson and a re-learning of things forgotten. If ever the phrase “I’ve forgotten more than X,Y or Z!” applies, it is in cooking. So now I know for next Sunday, Guar Gum with the wet. If they are even more in demand than the last batch, which had Dad working the Spatula ambidextrously, then great. We all decided to chalk up the experience as a win and I got to head back to bed for an hour with Julia McWilliams*, who is not Mrs. P Chef.
*For fun, I am reading An Appetite for Life by Noel Riley Fitch. It is a very classy, literate biography of Julia McWilliams from Pasadena, Ca. As I was reading, she was just finishing up in the OSS (the pre-cursor to the CIA) in Asia after WWII where she met Paul Child, who she married to become Julia Child, the “Julia Child.”
At this point in the biography, Julia and Paul are just getting married after a war, a bad car accident, a home fire, a job loss, and some thefts. There are a lot of plot setbacks but they’re not inventions. They are based on the actual facts of their lives. I was anxious to see what happens after they sail for France on the S.S. America bound for the port of Le Havre and have Julia’s first truly FRENCH meal in Rouen at La Couronne, which is still there.
They had Oysters Portugaise and Sole Meunière with French Salad and turned it all around for Julia McWilliams, now Child, who, in turn, turned it around for a lot of us. I was excited to learn what happened next.
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