Friday, March 30, 2012

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Graham Cracker Recipe

Yummy Graham Crackers and Milk

I love to bake. Cookies. Cakes. Pies. Obscure desserts that no one had ever heard of except French pastry chefs. The more challenging the better. In high school, if ever there was an event where I could make a multi-layer dark chocolate truffle cake coated in ganache, I was there, cake in hand, ready to push a giant slice on anyone who would try it.
I love baking so much that for my 19th birthday I decided I, and I alone, would make a three course meal for twelve people. No small feat considering I wanted it to be challenging and gourmet. I made Parmesan bowls filled with a pear and honey salad, balsamic chicken with broccoli and rice, and a faux cheese burger with a strawberry milkshake and mango steak fries. (The bun was two homemade donuts, with white chocolate for the cheese, a brownie for the burger, and raspberry puree for the ketchup). Dinner, while delicious, was by no means prompt, and by the end of the night, I was exhausted.
As I got older I continued baking and learning new things. I've had several friends with severe allergies or dietary restrictions, not that those stopped me from trying to make them delicious desserts. Dairy free cheesecake or coconut creme brulee anyone? Sure, sometimes I completely and totally bombed, but others were a success, and I always learned from my mistakes.
However, out of all of my friends and loved ones with allergies, my little nephew takes the cake, or in his case, the dairy-free gluten-free soy-free cake. Yes, three allergies. I've found that it's fairly easy to adapt a recipe when dealing with only one allergy, but the more allergies you have the harder it becomes.
So, one day hearing that he loves graham crackers, but can't eat them due to his allergies, I decided to try my hand at making some gluten-free dairy-free graham crackers. The vegan butter we use is made with soy, but he doesn't have a reaction to it like he does with soy milk.
I started out by trying a gluten-free graham cracker recipe that I found online. Now, here is a good point to interject that there are a lot of good gluten-free recipes online. I helped do a gluten-free bridal shower a year or so ago, and all the gluten-free bread recipes I made I got off of blogs. They all turned out great, and everyone, even the people who didn't normally eat gluten-free, loved them. The graham cracker recipe, however, was not one of the good ones. It tasted like cardboard sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Keep in mind that I followed the recipe exactly; I hadn't even tried taking out the dairy yet.
To be honest, I should have known. My fabulous baker friend who has her own gluten-free bakery in Seattle (website here) told me that many online gluten-free graham cracker recipes weren't up to par. She told me she had to experiment a lot to get her graham cracker recipe just right, and said in no uncertain terms that she would never share her recipe, because she had spent too much time perfecting it.
Thus, being someone who enjoyed a baking challenge, I decided I would make my own gluten-free graham cracker recipe. I browsed through the book “Gluten-Free Baking Classics,” by Annalise G. Roberts (details here), a wonderful book on gluten-free baking.
I thought about the texture and taste of a graham cracker. It is, despite its name, a cookie with the texture of a pie crust, so I started there. I mixed two of Mrs. Robert's recipes, the pie crust and the shortbread cookie.
It was alright.
My husband complained that it wasn't nearly sweet enough and the texture wasn't flaky at all.
On my second adaptation, I added honey and molasses on my baker friend's recommendation. They were a hit! Everyone in my family liked them, and my nephew couldn't stop asking for them.
However, I still wasn't done perfecting my recipe. I made it a third time, this time making the crackers a little bit thicker, they are a little on the cakey side for graham crackers, but everyone agreed that thicker was better.
So, if you are like my nephew, and in need of a gluten-free, dairy-free graham cracker recipe, here is one for your pleasure. Let me know what you think.

  • 18 tablespoons of vegan butter (you can use regular butter if you're not allergic to dairy)
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups brown rice flour, minus 1 tablespoon
  • ½ cup and 2 tablespoons potato starch, this is not the same as potato flour
  • ¼ cup and 1 tablespoon tapioca flour
  • 6 tablespoons sweet sourgum flour
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons xanthum gum
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • cinnamon sugar for the top of the crackers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  1. In a bowl, mix sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, honey, and molasses together. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, mix brown rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, sweet sourgum flour, cinnamon, baking powder, xanthum gum, and salt together. 

  3. With a fork, potato masher, or food processor mix the butter into the flour mixture, 6 tablespoons at a time, until all the butter is incorporated. 

  4. Add the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until well combined.

  5. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  6. With a rubber spatula, spread the batter over two greased cookie sheets so that the dough is about a ¼ of an inch thick. It will be sticky and hard to get completely smooth, I know. Don't worry about it. It will be delicious all the same, even if it isn't perfectly level on top.

  7. Cover the top of the cookie with cinnamon sugar.
  8. Bake for 20-30 minutes
  9. Let cool completely, before cutting into squares.
  10. Enjoy. 
Note: on the Graham crackers shown, I made them a little too thick. If you do this, don't fret, they are great for making cheesecake crust, but a little bit more difficult for making s'mores.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How to Scare and Annoy Your Partner

I am, in many ways, a paranoid person.
It's not that I don't trust people; I do. I intrinsically want to trust most people I meet. However, I have my reasons for being skeptical and paranoid. I have a husband who is a computer geek, and thus we frequent many computer/security conferences. I have been a volunteer at several domestic violence shelters all over the country, and have heard countless stories about stalking, abuse, and the like.
Thus, when my husband told me that our locks on our apartment looked different, my heart fell to the pit of my stomach.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
My eyes squinted and my gaze darted from one side to the other. “Really?”
I let this information sink into my brain, while he explained what exactly looked different and how. My husband is, by many accounts, a statistical anomaly—really, he is. His guesses on multiple choice questions are statistically more accurate than chance. Not only that, but he is also very observant. Not Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Homes observant, but he could tell you every continuity error in the show as you watch it, complain each time a wall moves when the slightest weight is put on it, and detail every car that he saw in the show. Therefore, when my husband says that the locks on our apartment look different, I tend to believe him.
CC-BY-2.0 Fat Les (bellaphon) from London, UK (Flickr) 
“Okay.” I say, still processing this new information.
“It was probably the management company, and they just forgot to inform us.”
“Well, it could be that someone broke into our place and damaged the lock so they replaced it.”
“Seems like a lot of work not to mention expense if someone is breaking in.”
“Well, if they did that, it wouldn't be a typical break in. Whoever would do that wouldn't want their presence to be known to us. In addition,” he offers, “they could have decoded the lock to make a duplicate of our key so that they could enter our place any time they want.”
“Okay...why? Pin and tumbler locks are easy to pick, not to mention, it takes all of two seconds to bump open a regular lock. Why go to all that hassle of replacing a lock?”
Remember, security conferences.
My husband shrugs. “Yes, but it may look less suspicious if they had a key than if they sat there picking a lock every time they wanted in.”
Needless to say, this conversation took up the remainder of our lunch together. We discussed all the possibilities, one of them being that my husband was simply wrong, but this argument didn't get much support from him. In our list of possibilities, the most likely was that the management company had changed the locks, and simply forgotten to inform us. Therefore, it was my responsibility, upon arriving home, to check in with them. If they hadn't changed the locks, I would inquire about getting new locks put in, the cost, and how soon it could be done. 
If the management company said they didn't change the locks, then I was to check to see if a false lock was put in. A false lock, as it was explained to me, is a lock that had pins specifically cut so that any key inserted would open the door. This would be evidence that our apartment had been broken into.
Finally, I was to check to see if anything was amiss.
We finish eating lunch, and I practically ran out of the restaurant to check in with the management company, who, of course, had done nothing to our locks. I told them about my husband's suspicions, and asked how much it would cost to get a new lock put in.
The woman at the desk was polite, and she kindly told me that she needed to get back to me.
Which left me to check my house.
I have nightmares about being alone in my house with an intruder.
The thought has kept me up at night before.
I have absolutely no idea how to act. Do I get a knife from the kitchen? No. Most weapons used by the victim are turned against him/her, and I didn't exactly feel like being knifed.
Do I sneak around?
Sounds like a good way of surprising whoever is in your house and getting shot.
I have, on one occasion, called the police on the suspicion that there was someone in my house. It was the most humiliating thing. The police showed up, my underwear and other dirty clothes lying on the floor, and not an intruder in sight.
I too, looked at the lock. My husband's suspicion gained credence when I noticed how new and shiny it looked compared to all the other locks of the house. Many of our locks have some scratch here or there, but not this one. It looked polished and new.
I quietly (and calmly) searched my house. I went through all of my things, checking my jewelry, my books, my knives, my clothing, everything was in its proper place. Nothing had been moved.
I was a little bit relieved, as I tried to convince myself that my husband is just being hyper-paranoid.
Two tense hours pass for me in the apartment, as I analyze every sound that I heard, every creak, every car passing by. I was more than just a little relieved when I needed to leave for class.
I came home from class to find my husband with a screwdriver and flashlight.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Checking for bugs,” he whispers in my ear after a kiss.
We are crazy. We're crazy people. We have gone over the deep end. I know it. We, while interesting and unique, are not that interesting! We are on no government watch list, that I know of, we have not recently threatened any political leader, or joined any radical groups. This is insane!
Still, I told myself, better safe than sorry.
My husband continues his search, and ends the evening by talking with his friend who is a physical security expert.
I go to bed, half of my mind made up that we are mad, the other half, thinking every move I make is being watched.
It was difficult to fall asleep, to say the least.
I wake up the next morning to a text from my husband.
“I was wrong. Lock looks different in low light. We're good.”
I roll over, putting my face in my pillow, and remind myself that a little bit of chaos keeps life interesting.
At least this way I will have a good story.