Friday, August 21, 2015

Housekeeping


I’m finally back online, after the road trip south and settling in. We stopped in Chicago on our way back (because the Engineer’s cousin generously offered us his downtown apartment for two nights), and I have to say, I loved that city. It’s probably my new favorite big city, even though we only had a day to visit it. We wanted to take a river tour to look at the architecture, but it turned out that there are no discounts for children, and tour organizers do not recommend bringing children under 12 years of age anyway, so we’ll have to do this when the Little Prince is older. Instead, we walked south from the Chicago River along Michigan Avenue, where we got the must-see look at Millennium Park and the skyline. I loved seeing Cloud Gate, no matter how overrated the locals think it is! We also enjoyed the Crown Fountain and Lurie Gardens.

We took a quick look at the Rookery, which also gave us an opportunity to walk under the tracks of the L train (which we recognized from scenes of the latest Batman trilogy), then we decided to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever visited. We followed the directions for the essential “What to See in an Hour” tour (brochures are in the lobby), though it should be said that the visit took us about 3 hours and that we could easily have spent the whole day there. I can’t even tell you how many famous works of art are housed there, and since we hadn’t really researched it beforehand, we were pleasantly surprised at several points in the visit. To name a handful of artists you might know: El Greco, Seurat, Monet, Degas, Chagall, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock, Rodin, and the list goes on and on. Plus, a beautiful seated Buddha sculpture from the 12th century! A word of warning: if you rely on elevators instead of stairs (let’s say you have a stroller or a wheelchair, for example), you’ll get lost several times. The place is almost a labyrinth, where you have to take two different elevators just to move one floor up or down and end up in the right spot (whereas the staircases looked very straightforward). We stopped for lunch at the Museum Café, which was spacious, family-friendly, had super helpful staff and, most importantly, delicious food. Tickets are $25 (free for children) and are well worth the price!


In other news, I went through old pictures in my “Blog” folder and found these two of Murcia Curado cheese, and I realized I haven’t mentioned it yet. The Engineer and I first found it at Central Market (which has a great cheese selection), and it was a goat cheese that was aged and, therefore, less likely to contain lactose. I can report back that not only can I digest it very well, but it is delicious to boot! It turns out it doesn’t taste much like goat milk; it has a pleasant salty taste and a nice firmness. Actually, I would say that parts of it are slightly crumbly, but other parts hold together well and are almost creamy. As far as I can tell, it’s cut from a piece of Naked Goat, of which you can read a review here. We now make a point to get a piece on the few times a year that we go to Central Market.


Have you heard of maple pearls? They’re also referred to as maple caviar, because they are roughly the same size and shape as fish eggs, but in this case, the gelatin skin contains diluted maple syrup. There’s also a savory version with maple vinegar, but I haven’t tried it. I bought a 50-gram jar of it, but I couldn’t figure out how to use it. I ended up looking online for inspiration, and surprisingly, most of what I could find was recipes for the pearls themselves, not recipes using the pearls. Some were too involved for me (such as candied apple ice cream rolled in fried panko crumbs and candied bacon, served with coffee ganache, maple pearls and apple chips), some had no instructions whatsoever and would have required adaptation to be lactose-free (like raspberry crème fraîche crêpes with maple pearls and chocolate bucatini), and some simply weren’t what I had in mind (say, bacon-wrapped acorn squash with balsamic caviar and maple sphere). In the end, I took the easy way out and served them with tapioca pudding and raspberries, which really let me taste the pearls properly. I very much like them, but I wouldn’t buy them again unless I have a specific use in mind!


You might remember a Kickstarter I shared last fall, for Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef’s flour. I funded it, it was successful, and you can buy the all-purpose flour mix here. It’s free of the 8 major allergens, gum-free, and certified kosher. At $6.95 for 20 ounces, it’s obviously more expensive than making your own mix, but then again it’s more convenient (it saves on pantry space, and if you have other food restrictions, you may have trouble finding the right flours to mix on your own anyway). Until it is available in stores, you’ll have to pay shipping, though some individuals have bought it by the case (!) to save on that, too. The Engineer had asked me to make the blueberry muffins that were pictured on the Kickstarter page, so that’s what I did with most of the box. I can’t give out the recipe, because it was only for Kickstarter backers, but I can show you these pictures so you can see how good they were! As a matter of fact, by the time I made these, the Engineer had forgotten they used GF flour (Kickstarter projects always run late, right?), so I only reminded him after we had eaten a few. It’s really awesome flour.


While I was in Montreal, I also bought chocolates from two places I hadn’t tried yet: Suite 88 and Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois. In both cases, I bought bite-sized square chocolates, so I compared metaphorical apples to apples. Those from Suite 88 looked more impressive (read: colorful), and they came in six flavors (caramel, espresso, praline, Florentine, fleur de sel and maple) instead of four (fleur de sel caramel, gianduja, extra-virgin and maple). However, the ones from Geneviève Grandbois were both more flavorful and more nuanced, especially the maple one. (I feel obligated to say that, for a reason that completely escapes me, the Engineer disliked the Suite 88 chocolates so much that he only ate 2 halves and forfeited the rest.) I preferred the Geneviève Grandbois chocolates, and it turns out they were also a bit cheaper (it worked out to $2.54 per square at Suite 88 v. $2.38 at Geneviève Grandbois, in Canadian dollars). Plus, the latter were shipped in insulated packaging, which is very much appreciated if you can’t make it to the brick-and-mortar stores.



I also tried the Balsamico brownie from Juliette et Chocolat. It’s an interesting flavor combination: bittersweet chocolate with raspberries and a balsamic vinegar reduction. It totally worked, though! I also found it interesting that those brownies contain rice flour instead of wheat, which gives them a very gooey texture that feels both more decadent and less filling. Servings are small, though, and they vanish quickly.


Finally, I’d like to give a quick report on Amelio’s, my favorite pizza place in Montreal. Unbeknownst to me, it had closed earlier this year after filing for bankruptcy. I’m actually glad I didn’t hear about it then, because there would have been tears. However, it reopened with a new name, Amelia’s, as it is now headed by the original co-owner’s daughter. I’m glad to report that the white pizza is just as good as it always was! (And just to be clear, it isn’t lactose-free, but it’s SO worth the Lactaid.) It’s still my favorite pizza ever.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Soupe au parmesan

Le mois dernier, j’ai fait une soupe au parmesan. Pour être bien franche, c’était plutôt une soupe d’hiver, dans le sens où je verrai bien ça pour Noël. Réconfortant comme ça, ça ne se peut pas. C’est la recette d’un restaurant parisien, L’Ami Jean, que j’ai trouvée ici. La version que je vous donne ci-dessous est avec les quantités réduites de moitié, parce qu’on en a eu pour les fins pis pour les fous! Il fallait à l’origine 2 litres (!) de crème, et je n’en avais mis que (!) 1,5 litres parce que mon plus gros chaudron était plein – je garde ce ratio ci-dessous également. Je vous le dis, cette soupe était bonne à s’en rouler par terre, et je pense même insister pour en faire un chaudron la prochaine fois que je passe Noël au Québec…

1 oignon, haché
2 c. à soupe de beurre non sale (ou de la margarine végétalienne)
100 g. (4 oz.) de parmesan, tranché (75 g. + 25 g.)
2 tasses de bouillon de poulet
2 tasses de lait sans lactose
3 tasses de crème sans lactose
50 g. (1/3 tasse) de bacon, haché finement
10 brins de ciboulette, hachés finement
1 petite échalote, hachée aussi finement que possible
2 poignées de petits croûtons (faire frire du pain de campagne dans l’huile d’olive)
sel et poivre, au goût

Faire fondre le beurre dans un grand chaudron, y ajouter l’oignon et faire suer à feu doux pendant 10 minutes. Ajouter 75 g. de parmesan tranché, le bouillon de poulet, le lait et la crème. Mijoter à feu doux pendant 45 minutes.

Pendant ce temps, faire frire le bacon dans une poêle. Mettre de côté.

Quand la soupe est presque prête, ajouter le reste du parmesan et mijoter encore 10 minutes. Mélanger au robot (j’ai pris mon mélangeur plongeant). Assaisonner de sel et de poivre et réchauffer au besoin.

Répartir le bacon, la ciboulette, l’échalote et les croûtons dans les bols. Verser de la soupe dans chaque bol et servir aussitôt.

Petits poudings au Nutella

Alors, vous pensiez que je vous avais abandonnés, hein? Mais non, pas du tout, mais c’est qu’on a fait une semaine de route pour rentrer au Texas, puis le temps de se replacer et de défaire les valises, eh bien… C’est ça que ça donne. Vous comprendrez que j’ai bien des billets en cours que j’ai l’intention de compléter d’ici une semaine, mais j’ai pensé commencer avec un pouding au Nutella. Parce que oui, j’ai profité de mon séjour au Québec pour faire des recettes avec de la crème sans lactose, dont deux avaient aussi du Nutella… Génial, non?

Tout d’abord, on s’entend que le Nutella, ce n’est pas sans lactose à strictement parler. Il y a quand même du lait écrémé là-dedans. Personnellement, par contre, je n’ai pas eu de réaction physiologique négative avec le Nutella, alors soit le lactose est peu concentré, soit on ne mange pas assez de Nutella dans une portion pour en ressentir des effets… Quand même, si vous voulez une pâte chocolatée sans produits laitiers, allez ici – il y a même moyen d’en faire sans noix. Si vous voulez d’autres marques, lisez ce billet sur The Kitchn pour voir les résultats de leur dégustation à l’aveugle. Et je pense que ce serait aussi très bon avec quelque chose comme la tartinade au caramel et sel de Jif, qui contient également des noisettes et du chocolat, mais avec un goût plus nuancé que le Nutella.

Avant de faire le pouding au chocolat, j’ai fait un pouding au pain où, en fait, le pain est remplacé par des croissants tartinés de Nutella. Un vrai délice! Alors, il fallait de la crème sans lactose, mais je pense que c’est le genre de recette où on peut facilement remplacer par du lait de coco (je me fie sur mon pouding au pain au lait de coco pour vous dire ça). Pas photogénique, mais vraiment excellent! Après la pouding au chocolat, pour finir le pot, j’ai fait un petit gâteau micro-ondes au Nutella, le genre qui se fait dans une tasse, puis je me suis rappelé qu’en fait, ce n’est pas si bon que ça, les gâteaux micro-ondes.

Enfin, la pièce de résistance : la recette de ce pouding au Nutella vient du blogue A Cup of Jo, mais elle a été créée à l’origine par Ashley Rodriguez de Not Without Salt. C’était censé faire de 4 à 6 portions, et puis oui, c’était le cas, mais nous avons trouvé les portions vraiment petites. Je n’avais pas de ramequins dans ma cuisine d’été, alors j’ai servi le pouding dans… des verres à Nutella, quoi d’autre. On a tous adoré (surtout le Petit Prince, qui demande depuis ce temps-là du « pou-ning »), mais on a vite fini nos 5 portions – sans se chicaner pour la dernière, heureusement. J’ai pensé vous dire que vous pouviez faire ça avec du lait de coco au lieu de la crème et vous donner la recette comme ça, mais vous conviendrez que les photos n’étaient pas géniales. Et puis, est-ce que ça marcherait vraiment avec du lait de coco?

Alors voilà, je me suis sacrifiée pour vous (de rien!) et j’ai essayé. Une fois rentrée au Texas, j’ai doublé la recette et essayé avec le lait de coco. Je n’avais même plus assez de fécule de maïs, alors j’ai pris de la fécule d’arrowroot. Succès! La consistance est parfaite, le goût est toujours aussi bon, le Petit Prince est toujours aussi enthousiaste. L’Ingénieur adore ça lui aussi : il dit que non seulement c’est délicieux, mais qu’un pouding au chocolat a besoin d’une bonne peau sur le dessus et que celle-ci, elle est parfaite. (Personnellement, j’aime moins la peau habituellement, mais celle-ci ne me dérange pas. Pour éviter la formation d’une peau, vous pouvez couvrir la surface d’une pellicule plastique.) La recette ci-dessous donne 8 grosses portions (j’avais 6 petits bols de trois louchées chacun, et 3 ramequins de 2 louchées, mais j’aurais pu en tirer un 4e ramequin si j’avais vraiment voulu – je vous laisse deviner qui a mangé lesquels). Vous pourriez utiliser un lait végétal si vous le voulez, comme ça il y aurait moyen d’en faire une version végétalienne.

6 c. à soupe de fécule de maïs (ou d’arrowroot)
2/3 tasse cacao (idéalement de qualité)
½ c. à thé de sel casher
4 tasses de lait sans lactose
1 tasse de crème sans lactose ou de lait de coco
1 ½ tasse de Nutella (voir plus haut)
4 c. à soupe de margarine végétalienne, coupée en morceaux
2 c. à thé de vanille

Mélanger la fécule de maïs, le cacao et le sel dans un bol de taille moyenne.

Faire chauffer le lait et la crème dans une casserole à feu moyen jusqu’à ce le mélange frémisse. Verser la moitié du lait dans le mélange de cacao en fouettant, puis remettre le tout dans la casserole et bien mélanger. Faire bouillir doucement jusqu’à ce que le mélange commence à épaissir.

Retirer du feu et ajouter le Nutella, la margarine et la vanille. Bien mélanger pour obtenir une consistance homogène (vous pouvez passer le mélange au tamis si vous voulez, mais je ne l’ai pas fait). Mettre dans des ramequins ou des bols et réfrigérer pendant au moins 3 heures. Servir avec un peu de crème fouettée sans lactose si désiré.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Caramelized Garlic, Spinach and Cheddar Tart



Bon Appétit calls this a tart, but I’ve been referring to it as a quiche. It takes some advance preparation, because you have to make your own crème fraiche by putting 1 cup of lactose-free cream and 1 tablespoon of lactose-free plain yogurt (or Greek yogurt) in a jar, shaking it and leaving it at room temperature for 24 hours, or until it thickens. It’s not complicated at all, but you do need to plan ahead. I managed to make the dough by hand, without a food processor, so don’t let a lack of equipment stop you! Since I don’t have a good pie dish here, I ended up using a 9-inch springform pan, to make sure I had enough depth for the filling – perhaps using two tin pie plates would have been an option as well. With a good stoneware pie plate, I would have had enough room and enough dough left over to make a decorative braided border, but this was delicious nonetheless. Actually, the first night I had it, I thought it was the best quiche I’d ever eaten, but the leftovers weren’t as good for some reason (maybe I should have warmed them up in the oven). The Engineer liked it, but thought that the cloves of garlic should be chopped instead of whole. I think that would defeat the purpose a bit, because they’re what makes the dish, but I can understand that he doesn’t like biting into them. I suppose if you wanted, you could chop them (or even purée them) before adding them to the filling, and it would still retain the caramelized flavor. Either way, this was a make-again dish, hearty and delicious and with plenty of leftovers!

enough pie dough for 2 plates (home-made or store-bought; I made this one)
5 large eggs
3 heads of garlic, cloves peeled
kosher salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper
6 oz. lactose-free sharp white cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
¾ cup lactose-free crème fraiche (see above)
¾ cup lactose-free cream

Place a rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 350 °F. Roll out 1 disk of dough on a lightly floured surface to a 14” round. Transfer to a 9”-diameter pie dish. Lift up edge and let dough slump down into dish. Trim, leaving about 1” overhang. Fold overhang under. Freeze 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll out second disk of dough on a lightly floured surface until about ⅛” thick. Cut into ¼”-thick strips. Transfer to a parchment–lined baking sheet. If dough is soft, chill until just pliable. Working with 3 strips at a time, braid dough, returning braids to baking sheet as you go. Chill until just pliable.

Beat 1 egg in a small bowl. Brush edge of dough in dish and bottom sides of braids with egg. Arrange braids along edge, trimming and gently pressing sections together as you go. Freeze 15 minutes.

Line dough with parchment paper or foil, leaving some overhang. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until crust is dry around edge, 25–30 minutes. Remove parchment and weights and brush entire crust with egg. Bake until crust is dry and set, 10–15 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, blanch garlic in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes; drain. Wipe saucepan dry and heat oil in pan over medium-high. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until cloves start to turn golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add vinegar and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until garlic is tender, 10–12 minutes. Add maple syrup, rosemary, and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is syrupy and coats garlic, about 5 minutes.

Scatter cheese over crust; top with spinach. Whisk crème fraîche, cream, and remaining eggs in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Pour over spinach. Add garlic with any syrup. Bake until custard is set and golden brown in spots, 35–40 minutes (mine took a whopping 70 minutes, but it was deeper than a regular pie). Let cool on a wire rack.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Apple Honey Challah



This recipe, from The Kitchn, was created for Rosh Hashanah, what with the apples and honey and all. I made it in June because it seemed like a good side dish any time of the year, though I concede it would be more suited to early fall. The kitchen – and the whole apartment, actually – smelled fantastic, like a really good bakery. And the bread was absolutely delicious! The recipe makes two loaves, so I froze one, and it held up very well. I’ll be making this one again!

1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1/3 cup + 1 tsp. granulated sugar, divided
1 ¼ cups warm water (about 110 °F)
5 cups all-purpose white flour, plus more for kneading
2 tsp. salt
½ cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
4 large eggs, divided
¼ cup honey
2/3 cup apple butter, divided
1 small apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped, divided

Stir together the yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and the water in a medium bowl. Let sit until foaming, 5 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

Add the vegetable oil, 3 of the eggs, and the honey to the yeast mixture and whisk to combine. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the wet mixture. Gently stir until the dough begins to form, then turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead well, adding more flour a little at a time as necessary, until a supple dough forms, 10 to 12 minutes. (Expect to add about 1/3 to ½ cup of flour while kneading, depending on humidity.)

Rub about 1 teaspoon of oil around the bottom of a large bowl, add the dough and turn to coat; cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let sit in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Grease two 9-inch round cake pans; set aside. Gently punch down the dough and divide in half. Working with 1 piece of the dough (and keeping the other covered so it does not dry out), roll it into a large rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Spread 1/3 cup of the apple butter evenly over the top, and sprinkle with half of the chopped apple.

Starting at one of the long ends, tightly roll the dough in on itself, like a jelly roll. Pinch the ends to seal and gently stretch into a 24-inch rope; coil rope into a circle and place into one of the prepared pans. Repeat process with second piece of dough, remaining 1/3 cup of apple butter, and remaining apple.
Whisk the remaining 1 egg in a small bowl and brush the challahs with one coat of egg wash. (Put remaining egg wash in the fridge.) Let rise for another 30 minutes. Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375 °F.

Uncover the challah and brush with a second coat of egg wash. Bake until deeply browned and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. (An instant read thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf should register 195 °F – for my loaves, this only took 30 minutes, and they were already a little browner than I would have wanted.) Remove from oven and let sit 15 minutes. Carefully remove from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Blueberry Cornmeal Custard

I made a few different types of oatmeal for breakfast over the past month. There was oatmeal brûlée with brown buttered pears and cinnamon ginger cream, which was good, but not as good as it sounds.


I also made baked maple oatmeal, which was great served with a bit of cream. Much plainer than the previous dish, but somehow more satisfying.


My favorite so far, though, wasn’t really oatmeal, though it did contain oatmeal flour. It’s this blueberry cornmeal custard adapted from Whole Grain Mornings, by Megan Gordon (apparently, it called for huckleberries in its original version). I bought that book very recently, but I haven’t had the time to look through it yet, because I left it in Texas – I look forward to perusing it this fall. This dish really hit the spot, though: it’s like a cross between sweet cornbread and custard, and with the berries, it’s just perfect for breakfast. My favorite part was definitely the custardy center, and I can’t think of another dish I make that gives the same satisfying, warm, gooey goodness in the center.

I adapted the ingredients a bit to make it lactose-free, though I took advantage of being in Quebec so that I could use lactose-free cream. I do think, however, that you could substitute coconut milk in this case and end up with roughly the same effect. I don’t have a food processor here, so I bought oatmeal flour instead of pulverizing rolled oatmeal, but the author suggests substituting something like whole wheat, barley or spelt flour. I also had to be resourceful because I don’t have a good pie dish in my summer kitchen, so I used an 8”x8” pan instead. It worked out just fine, but if you do that, do remember to cut pieces in the same way you would cut a pie (instead of a pan of brownies), because the center of the dish really is the best part, so it’s important that each piece has a little bit of it.

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter or vegan margarine, plus more for greasing the pan
¾ cup (75 g) oat flour
1 cup (160 g) medium-grind cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup (45 g) natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups lactose-free whole milk
2 Tbsp. white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups (300 g) fresh or frozen huckleberries or blueberries
¾ cup lactose-free cream
maple syrup, for serving (I like medium or amber)

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Butter a deep-dish 10-inch pie pan (or an 8-inch square dish – see note above). Place the buttered dish in the oven to warm while you make the batter.

In a small dish, melt the butter in the microwave on medium-high heat, careful not to let it splatter (about 45 seconds). Pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, in medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

Add the eggs to the butter and wish to combine. Add the sugar, salt, milk, buttermilk, vinegar, lemon zest and vanilla and stir well. Whisking constantly, add the flour mixture slowly and stir until the batter is smooth.

Remove the heated pan from the oven and set on a baking sheet for easy transport to and from the oven. Spoon the berries into the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Pour the batter on top of the berries. Then ever so slowly, pour the cream right into the center of the batter. Don’t stir. Carefully slide the pan into the oven, taking care not to jostle.

Bake until golden brown on top, 50-65 minutes (the baking time is subject to temperature and humidity – you are looking for the top to be golden brown and the center to be dry to the touch but still ever-so-jiggly if you lightly jostle the pan). Cool for at least 15 minutes to allow the custard to firm up before slicing.

Serve warm, with a generous drizzle of maple syrup. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days, but do rewarm them before serving! (I froze some leftover pieces, and thawed them in the refrigerator overnight before warming them at breakfast.)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

On VermontFest 2015 and egg substitutes

My friends and I recently had our annual summer get-together, which was in Vermont this year, so it felt like going back to our roots. Like some parts of Quebec, Vermont has beautiful scenery, with lush green hills and mountains in the distance, and lakes and rivers to boot. We spent a morning at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Burlington. I highly recommend it if you have kids, though it was incredibly crowded when we were there (probably because it was rainy and everyone decided to spend the day indoors like us). We also made a quick outing to Boston Post Dairy Farm, where I tasted some delicious aged goat cheese called Eleven Brothers – lactose-free as far as I can tell.

We did a cookie taste-off this year again, but with a twist. Since our friends’ daughter is severely allergic to eggs, we had decided to test a few vegan recipes. But there are tons of egg substitutes out there and I, for one, didn’t know which one is best in a cookie recipe. I’d heard about flax seeds and chia seeds, corn starch (and for cakes and the like there’s yogurt, peanut butter, bananas, avocados or applesauce), plus harder-to-get ingredients like agar-agar or soy protein, in addition to commercial egg replacer. What to choose? So Jen had the brilliant idea of making variations of the 36-hour cookie (our returning champion two years in a row): one batch with eggs, and three vegan batches with three different egg substitutes. All other ingredients were exactly the same, and for the record, the butter substitute was Earth Balance soy-free margarine sticks and the chocolate was Callebaut’s dark chocolate discs. The cookies went directly from the freezer to the oven for 12 minutes at 350 °F and were sprinkled with Maldon sea salt. The substitutes we chose were aquafaba, flaxseed meal, and Ener-G brand egg replacer (which is basically a mix of potato starch, tapioca starch and leavening). In the picture, from left to right, you can see the prepared Ener-G, the aquafaba and the prepared flaxseed meal.

If you’ve never heard of aquafaba, let me catch you up: the word is Latin(ish) for bean water, and it’s the liquid from a can of chickpeas (people also call it chickpea brine or chickpea juice). I first heard about this last spring in what seemed at the time like a magic trick: apparently, this liquid can be whipped and behaves just like egg whites (and this discovery is credited to French chef Joël Roessel). This means you can make vegan meringues, people! I had been meaning to try that, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. The foam has a tendency to separate if it is left raw, but apparently, if you mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of water and microwave it for 40 seconds, then mix that into the aquafaba along with the sugar, it acts as a stabilizer. (I’ll report back when I try it.) You can read more about it here (that first link has a meringue recipe) and here. As you can imagine, this makes it a good ingredient for people with egg allergies as well as vegans, but it also allows for things like chocolate mousse for pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system, for example. There are so many possibilities! In the case of these cookies, we used 3 tablespoons of aquafaba (not whipped, just straight from the can) per egg, so 6 tablespoons total.

With the leftover liquid from the can, Jen made meringues, which I present to you here. The liquid whipped up like magic! I tasted it both raw and once baked into meringues, and I can attest that it doesn’t taste at all like chickpeas. It’s actually pretty bland, and the sugar makes the meringues sweet. I though perhaps the meringues were a bit grainier than egg meringues, and the Engineer felt the taste was slightly malty (I didn’t). One man in our group, the Legal Chef, is opposed by principle to any recipe that is not traditional (it’s not a matter of results with a recipe, just truly a matter of stubbornness on his part regarding “proper” technique and ingredients). To him, “traditional” in this context means French-style baking with lots of butter and eggs. So we had him taste the meringues without saying anything, and he called them “perfect” (his word, not mine). When we told him that they contained a special ingredient, he was sure that it was lemon juice (no, actually, we had used white vinegar). And then Jen told him about the aquafaba, and I saw the moment his mind exploded (because he actually shook first his head, then his whole body, because basically his entire belief system collapsed). He tried to backpedal by saying he was no meringue connoisseur, but his wife stepped in to say that SHE was and she loved these vegan ones. Even though I’ve seen the whole process, it’s still a bit mind-blowing to me. (Then again, once upon a time, I’m sure someone must have thought the same after looking at what happened when egg whites are whipped? I mean, whose idea was that, anyway?) For those interested in trying aquafaba, chickpeas seem to be the most commonly used bean, but I’ve heard of people using white beans, for example, so perhaps it works with legumes in general. That being said, chickpea brine whips up really white and I’d recommend that for meringues, and perhaps save the black bean brine for chocolate mousse.

As for the cookies, we labeled each batch with a letter and had people rate them on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being the best and 4 being the least-best. We only revealed the contents of each batch after they had been rated. (And to be clear, the kitchen was decontaminated after the egg batch was made, and those cookies were only baked after the allergic child was in bed; the kitchen was decontaminated again after the cookies were eaten, and there was no cross-contamination.) The cookies made with eggs were, once again, the clear winners. The Actor said they were the ones with the most flavor, and he called it a “strident” egg flavor. Those cookies were also cakier, which I love because I want my cookies chewy. My second favorite was the batch with the Ener-G egg replacer, and it came out as the overall favorite vegan version. Those cookies were most similar to the egg ones, albeit it a bit drier (though when they were freshly baked, this was in no way pronounced enough to be unpleasant). The cookies made with flaxseed meal were my least favorite, as they were flat and crisper, in addition to being darker. (We think this is because flax introduced more fat than the other substitutes.) Their taste was described as “nutty” by some. As for the Legal Chef, he declared that the flaxseed cookies were by far his favorites, and that he wouldn’t even bother rating the others because batch B was his perfect cookie. (And then we told him that they were vegan and even though he was disappointed with himself, he stuck by his choice.) In the pictures below, batch A is made with aquafaba; batch B, with flaxseed meal; batch C, with Ener-G egg replacer; and batch D, with eggs. On the plate, clockwise from top left, they are from batches A, B, D, and C respectively. (I'm including both the pictures with and without flash because even though flash is bad, lighting was worse.)

So overall, the egg cookies were voted best, the Ener-G cookies were second best, the aquafaba cookies were in third place, and the flaxseed meal cookies were a close fourth. To sum up the details without boring you with every single person’s rating, I’ll assign a point value to each rated position (1 point for 1st position, to 4 points for 4th position), so that “better” cookies have FEWER points. If I add up all the points awarded to the cookies by 10 adults (so not including Danny, who this year again declined to rate them, and not including the Legal Chef who only crowned a winner and did not rate the others), I get 15 points for the egg batch, 24 points for the Ener-G batch (they were favorites only for Anna R. and Elinore), 30 points for the aquafaba batch (they were nobody’s favorites, though), and 31 points for the flaxseed meal batch (Pascal was the only other person who rated them as his favorites, besides the Legal Chef). Also, in the interest of science, the Actor has tested it again and confirms that these cookies are better with flaky sea salt on top. So there you have it. The 36-hour cookies will be making an appearance in the next taste-off to defend their title. I’m wondering whether I should pit them against my Neiman-Marcus cookies