Andreae Prozesky is a gluten for punishment.
Go ahead: ask me something about gluten. ‘Cause I can tell ya. And if I can’t tell ya, I can find out and tell ya next week.
For the last few months I’ve been reading books about gluten-free cooking, scouring the web for gluten-free recipes, and lurking in the far corner of the Bulk Barn, where the freaky flours live. My last bag of all-purpose flour languishes on the shelf, crowded out by flours made from rice, buckwheat, chickpeas, quinoa, tapioca, potatoes, and corn. I actually own a bag of xanthan gum, and I dip into it almost every day.
Oh—and I make brownies out of black beans.
Well, way back in December I figured out that gluten wasn’t agreeing with my darling daughter’s constitution one bit. You want to talk about mood swings? Try living with a five-year-old who sulks and stomps like a black-nail-polish-wearing, Smiths-t-shirt-sporting teenager who’s just realized, too late, that she really did want to go to the grad after all. Yeah, it was that bad. After some desperate consultation with the internet and my nutritionist, I felt that wheat and its gluten-y brethren might be the problem. We cut the gluten out of the kiddo’s diet on the first of December, and by December third her moods were like those of your average (okay, moderately melodramatic) kindergartener. Even at Christmas. Go figure.
Gluten, if you’re unfamiliar, is a protein present in large amounts in wheat, and in smaller amounts in spelt, kamut, rye, and barley, and which sometimes contaminates processed oats. For most people, it’s either fully digestible or only mildly annoying, causing a bit of bloating, some sinus congestion, or a headache. If I overdo it on the baked goods and sandwiches, for example, I get a stuffy head something fierce. The same thing happens, I’m afraid to say, after about half a beer. Which, I guess, makes me and wheat frienemies: we can hang out, but every now and then she’ll totally turn on me.
But for people with more acute sensitivities or intolerances, gluten can cause digestive misery, migraines, skin and hair conditions, and mood imbalances. For people with celiac disease, which is actually an autoimmune disorder, the body’s reaction to gluten prevents the body from absorbing nutrients the way it should. This, in turn, can result in any number of awful problems, including depression, fatigue, anemia, gastric agony of all description, miscarriage and infertility, dermatitis, and an all-over feeling of intense and unyielding bleh.
The good news is that, for most people with gluten issues, there’s no medication required: all you have to do is eliminate gluten from your diet.
The bad news is, it’s is a lot easier said than done. You see, every flippin’ thing in the grocery store, and at almost every restaurant, has some form of wheat or gluten in it. If you don’t believe me, do a quick ingredient scan next time you’re out shopping. Tomato soup, vegetable stock, yogurt, hot dogs, meatless burger patties, seasoned chicken breast strips: any one of them can be a gluten disaster waiting to happen. So you’ve got to be awfully careful. Do your research, spend some quality time in the health-food section, and work up the nerve to ask a lot of questions when you eat out.
If you happen to like a baking challenge, and if you cook everything from scratch anyway, well, this makes it kind of fun. You get to think of yourself as a bit of a mad scientist. Nothing in the world behaves like wheat, which is why it’s so popular, so you can’t just replace wheat flour with some other flour. You’ve got to get experimental. My bread recipe uses ground pumpkin seeds, almond flour, corn flour, tapioca flour, oats, and eggs (and xanthan gum!) And it works. Too cool, what? You also have to apply every bit of baking knowledge you have. If non-wheat flours make cupcakes dry, you have to compensate with something moistifying, like buttermilk, or applesauce, or both. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, and you have to accept that you’ll end up tossing out some very expensive ingredients that you’ve baked into inedible bricks.
But the results are well worth it in the end.
Intriguingly enough, the recipes I’m using these days really are the best I’ve ever had. My buttermilk-applesauce chocolate cupcake recipe blows all my previous chocolate cupcake recipes away. My buckwheat-rice waffles rule. My quinoa-teff peanut butter bars are causing serious addictions issues around the Food Nerd Laboratories.
And the black bean brownies? Oh merciful heavens. Even if you eat white flour by the scoopful without any trouble at all, you really should try these. Fudgy, sludgy, dense, and black. Just in time for Valentine’s day. Now there’s nothing to stop you from bestowing some gluten-free love upon the world. Dig it.
Fudgy sludgy (gluten free) brownies
(makes one 8”x 8” pan)
To make the black bean purée, drain and rinse one 19 oz tin of black beans, then whizz them in the blender with a little water until they reach a good, smooth consistency. One tin will yield a little more than a cup of purée, which may mean that you have to make two batches of brownies. There are worse things.
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cocoa powder (splurge on the best you can find)
1 cup dark brown sugar or ½ cup brown sugar and ½ cup muscovado sugar
½ cup black bean purée
2 tablespoons instant coffee
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup chopped pecans, or ¼ cup mini white chocolate chips (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line your pan with parchment paper so that there’s some overhang on two sides; this way you’ll be able to lift the brownies out of the pan.
2. Melt butter and add to cocoa; stir until smooth.
3. Beat eggs and sugar until light. Mix in bean purée, cocoa mixture, instant coffee, and salt until well combined.
4. Stir in pecans or chocolate chips, if using.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth top and bake about 35 minutes, or until top is dry and centre is set. Let cool in pan on a rack. When completely cool, lift brownie slab out by the parchment paper overhang and cut into pieces.
If you want to make these in the ever-popular two-bite style, grease a mini-muffin tin, fill cups ¾ full, and bake about 15 minutes. Cool completely before tipping out of the pan.
Send your questions, comments, and gluten-free suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org