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December 01, 2009

Niçoise Olive, saffron, dried cherry, olive oil

It's been a little over a year since my celiac diagnosis, and, generally, when I cook at home, I just avoid foods with gluten or foods that require me to figure out work-arounds or substitutes. However, there are times when I crave something from "the good old days" and have to figure out how to make it sans gluten. Sometimes, I nail it on the first try and it's fantastic, and other times, I blow it bigtime and the final product ends up being such a cockup that it's inedible, unbakeable, or just plain wrong and bad.

This dish is the first time I was stuck somewhere in the middle. The shortbread wasn't terrible, but there was a texture thing that just didn't sit right with me. I didn't fully expect it to look like the one in the photo or taste like I know shortbread tastes. It was kinda grainy, almost sandy -- but like fine, wet sand, not the dry, blows-in-your-eyes stuff. And sandy not in a totally bad way, if that's even possible to fathom. I just wanted it to be better. To be right. So, I'll include the steps for how I made it gluten-free and if any of you experts out there know how you'd tweak it, please, hit it in the comments.

But let's start with the first thing you have to do when making this dish, and that's dehydrate some Niçoise olives in the dehydrator at 150 degreesF for 24 hours.  I love the way my house smelled during that time.



Sorry for the blurry shots.  I thought I'd saved the good ones and trashed the bad ones.  Whoopsie.

Have I ever told you about how much I hated olives?  FOR YEARS.  Until I was in my early 30s, I believe.  I couldn't stand the smell, loathed the taste, and just thought they were like little black and green turds getting in the way of good food.  I was fine with tapenade, but whole olives skeeved me out.  I know.  There's no explaining it.  I'm weird.  Their flavor was just too concentrated, and I was squicked out by gnawing them then leaving the pits in a little bowl off to the side.  The Lovey Howell in me looked down my nose at myself and huffed that it was simply appalling behavior.

Then, one night, I was having dinner with a group of friends and there was a particularly handsome and funny guy at the table with us.  We were drinking martinis, and I'd left the olives in the glass because I hated them.  He asked how I could possibly leave the best part of the martini behind (and inside my head I was all, "Um, I drank the gin, which is the best part, am I right?), but because he was cute and I am a girl, I said something like, "I was just getting to those!"  And I ate them.  Just popped them in my mouth and hoped for the best.  Maybe it's because the gin and vermouth mellowed the olive flavor a bit, but I loved them.  From that point on, I've been eating olives with abandon (and not just in martinis) and really liking them.  So thanks a lot, cute guy, for getting me over one of my long-held food loathings.  



MAN, and just like when I wrote about peanut butter in an earlier post and got a craving for it, I just now went downstairs and pulled some Mantequilla olives (cured with fennel) out of the fridge and will probably OD on them as I write the rest of this post.  Mmmmmm-mmmmmm.....

Okay, now where were we.  Ah, yes.... dehydrated Niçoise olives.

I spread 'em all out on a few trays, dried them over 24 hours, then put the dried olives with some olive oil into the blender and blended away...



I strained it through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl (then into a squeeze bottle) and set it aside until it was time to plate.


The next thing I made was the olive oil jam.  And, sad but true, when I saw Michael Jackson's "This Is It" a few weekends ago (which featured these awesome hydraulic below-stage speedy, toaster-like lifts I want to install in my house), in my head I sang along with "Jam" using the lyrics, "olive oil, olive oil JAM."  No more onion jam singing. It's all about the olive oil... olive oil JAM.

Check out my def precision in measuring the Trimoline (100g) and glucose (100g):


Damn, I'm good.

While I brought those two things to a boil, I cracked five eggs and saved the yolks for the next step:


I tempered the yolks with the glucose mixture, pouring it all in ever so slowly, then put the glucose-Trimoline-yolk combo into the food processor with kosher salt.


I mixed and mixed and processed and processed, while drizzling in olive oil from above through the feed tube:


After letting it sit there for 30 seconds while I turned on the camera again, the emulsion started to break (see how the oil is separating from the rest?).


I kept it in the processor bowl while I refrigerated it before plating, knowing I'd probably have to blend it again before using it in the final preparation.

The next thing I did was grind these lovely freeze-dried cherries in my spice grinder:



Then, it was on to the shortbread.  To make it gluten-free, I took out the 360g of all-purpose flour the book called for and subbed in 180g rice flour, 160g sorghum flour, and 20g cornstarch.

In my food processor, I combined that flour mixture, along with the almond flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt, and mixed it briefly until everything had combined.  Then, I added the butter in little cubes and the olive oil, and processed it some more until it became crumbly:


I put the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and baked it in a 325-degree oven for 20 minutes. 


I let the golden-brown crumbles cool to room temperature (took about 30 minutes) then put them back into the food processor (I did it in two batches) and processed it until it was -- and the book says this -- "a sandy paste."


So yeah, it looks like wet sand, which explains maybe why it tasted like wet sand when it was done?  I put the sandy paste onto a sheet of parchment, topped it with another sheet of parchment, and gently rolled it out until it was 1/8" thick.


I slid the sheet-covered dough onto a baking sheet and into the refrigerator for an hour.  When it had firmed up and completely cooled, I cut 1x3"-ish rectangles and moved them to a separate tray and put 'em back in the fridge for another 30 minutes.



Here's the part where it all kind of goes to hell.  So, after the little shortbread jobbies had been in the fridge, I brought them back out and piped the olive oil jam onto a few of them and topped each with another shortbread piece.


Um, I don't think it was supposed to look or act like that.

I was supposed to use a heat gun to flash the cookies and seal in the jam, but this happened before I could even finish doing 2 or 3 of them.  Just started oozing out and makin' me look the fool.  And, since I didn't have a heat gun (not like it would've mattered at that point, anyway) I threw them back in the oven (which I'd accidentally left on all that time, duh) for five minutes, but it didn't make a bit of difference.  I even tried sealing one of them with my creme brulee torch, but ended up setting the parchment paper on fire (see upper left corner of photo above).  So, I just cleaned them up as best I could and began plating.

First on the spoon (since these are, ideally, one-bite numbers) went a small blob of olive oil jam -- since most of it oozed out from the shortbread, I thought I'd put a little on the spoon.  Then, I topped it with the shortbread pieces.  Atop each one of those went a blob of Niçoise olive puree, a pinch of ground dried cherries, and a few saffron threads:



Was it awful?  No, not at all.  It was actually a little too sweet for me.  I think I was expecting a more savory shortbread (not sure why I thought that, but I did), but it wasn't terrible.  It was more a texture thing than anything.  It was like gummy sand.  Sort of left a bit of a film on the roof of your mouth.  I loved the way the Niçoise puree and the cherry and saffron played into it -- it definitely had some depth of flavor with all that.  But I wanted it to be more than what it was.  I think it had something to do with de-glutenizing it, but I'm also disappointed that the olive oil jam was as runny as it was.  And, I wish it had been more olive-y.

Harumph.... ya win some, and ya not-really-lose-but-wish-ya-coulda-done-better-at-some.

Up Next: Pork Belly, pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, polenta

Resources: Olives from Whole Foods; Monini olive oil; eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; Trimoline and glucose from L'Epicerie; David's kosher salt; Bob's Red Mill flours; Domino confectioners' sugar; 365 butter; Just Cherries freeze-dried cherries; saffron from TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: Friendly Fires; Friendly Fires.  I was in a squidgy mood a week or so ago and desperately needed some new music suggestions.  I threw a call for help out on my Twitter feed, and got so many great suggestions -- thank you so much!!  Friendly Fires was the suggestion of "tomdarch," so thanks, kind sir.  This album was great to cook to, and to answer email to, and to do the dishes to, and to generally bebop and fadawdle around the house to.

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hmmm, instead of cornstarch, use tapioca flour next time, I find that gives a drier feel. And maybe a millet or amaranth flour instead of the sorghum. I know rice flour tends to hang on to moisture longer, so you might need to bake longer, at a lower temp. Also, alternative flours tend to be sweeter than wheat flour, which may play into why it tasted sweeter than you expected.

Have you double-checked the glucose to make sure it isn't wheat-based? I have no idea on Trimoline, but know glucose can be an issue.

They still look very pretty.

I once tried making a shortbread crust with some sorghum flour in it-- not only did it not hold together at all, but it tasted more like the wet, coarse sand on the beach and wasn't even remotely good. I would try getting rid of that, and maybe substitute with tapioca or maybe just add more almond flour instead. Also, even though it is gluten-free, I find that sometimes kneading the dough a little and letting it rest can help create a more cohesive, less crumbly texture.

You could try xanthan gum, guar gum or arrowroot to help improve the texture and avoid the wet sand thing? They apparently serve as binding agents/gluten replacements so should help the mouthfeel?
I've yet to try them in any of my baking as I've been playing with various premixed gf flours so I can't vouch for how well they will work but have seen the gums in particular mentioned in a lot of the gf recipes I've seen.

The end result looks superb, it seems to me it was worth the time and the experience. Great work!

So I've been thinking of purchasing some soy lecithin. How difficult is it to work with? As someone who has used it in the home do you think it could take my food to another level? I know it's cheap but is it worth it?

Bradley: It's very easy to work with. Just depends how you want to use it. Buy some (since it's not expensive) and experiment a bit. See what you like.

I'd suggest trying 1 part tapioca flour to 1 part smooth rice flour or potato starch to 1 part corn starch. Be sure to make sure your rice flour is smooth, where I am, the only smooth one is cheap bags of Chinese or Japanese rice flour. To test if it's smooth, pinch the bag and rub a thin amount of the flour, or taste a small amount. (Millet is sweet but has a darker color, and sometimes is not ground smoothly enough.)

Also, for dryness, try measuring your flour mix, and only adding what's needed to hold the mixture together. Sometimes your flours can make a mixture more 'dry' than they would if using wheat. I wouldn't try xanthum gum, since you shouldn't need it. If you want to, I'd use only a pinch. The average batch of chocolate chip cookies needs only 1/4 tsp of xanthum gum.

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