Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Grain and Dairy Free Chestnut Flour Brownies


I feel spectacularly lucky to be living in Europe with my family.  The opportunities to experience the cultures and explore the history of this continent are the stuff of dreams for most people.  And we get to live that dream.  I spend a lot of time trying to photograph and document all of our travels and even the moments that have become commonplace for us because of living here.  My goal is to have a physical reminder of all the things we have seen and done so that my children will be able to hold onto the memories that they have made here.  I'm pretty confident that my oldest will be able to remember some of the highlights on his own, but at 6 years old Wyatt probably will only be able to retrieve bits and pieces if he's lucky.  And the baby has no idea that she isn't actually European, so photos of her in the incredible places she's been will be like looking at some other person's life when she flips through them in a few years.



To me, it's those memories that are the most important to take away with us from this adventure.  Much more so than any souvenir that will be stuck on a shelf or broken within days of buying it.  They will build my kids into the adults that they will be one day (sooner than I am ready for!).  I know for sure that mine have influenced my personality in so many ways.  We didn't take fancy vacations, we just didn't have the money for that.  So the memories that influenced me the most are of the times I spent in the kitchen with my mom and grandmother.  My skills are only so good because of the experiences that I was allowed to have alongside those two women.  To say that my most influential memories are all about food is an understatement.  In fact, even what I can recall from the few vacations that we did take is food.  Salty, delicious Virginia ham and Death by Chocolate in Colonial Williamsburg, anyone?  Or maybe catching crabs and eating pizza and boardwalk fries at the Jersey shore?


Recently, my mom has been struggling with some health issues and has been forced to reevaluate the way that she eats as a result.  She hasn't been able to eat many of the wonderful foods that she and my grandmother taught me how to make as a child.  I can't imagine how difficult it must be to have the memories of the pastries, cakes, and breads that she knows so well and not be able to eat any of them.  When we visited back home just last week we had a big family gathering.  After making cakes, cream puffs, breads and lemon bars for days, my mom had to just sit by and watch everyone else eat them.  As the guests started to leave and only close family was left lingering and chatting she asked me to make these for her.  Just a little pleasure in a moment when there were so many things she had to stay away from.  It was, of course, the least I could do for the woman who's lessons made me the person that I am.  I had been tinkering with a recipe that includes none of the things she has to stay away from but is still the comfort food she longs for.  I'm thrilled that by the end of that evening, I was able to present these brownies to her and hopefully, create another one of those memories that stays with you for a lifetime.


Grain and Dairy Free Chestnut Flour Brownies
Makes 12 brownies.  Adapted from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.
For the printable recipe, click here.

I found chestnut flour in a natural food store recently and decided to give it a try.  It's so different from the other nut flours I've used before.  Unlike the grainy texture of almond or hazelnut flour, chestnut flour is silky and really feels like wheat flour.  It's a bit on the expensive side, but in this recipe a little goes a long way.  One bag will last quite a while if you care for it (like other nut flours, it stays the freshest when stored in the freezer).  In this recipe it really does well and helps give the brownie structure without imparting an overly nutty flavor.  The other new ingredient for me was coconut oil.  Admittedly, I cannot stand coconut.  So I was definitely hesitant to give it a go, but there really is no other good substitute for butter in a recipe like this except maybe vegetable oil.  I have to say that the coconut oil ended up doing a good job.  And while there was a slight aroma of coconut, I was happy that I couldn't taste it at all in the finished brownie.  Success.

5 tbs coconut oil
1 1/3 cups (8 oz) 60% cocao semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cups cane sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup chestnut flour, sifted

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the coconut oil.  Once the coconut oil is melted stir in the chocolate chips and remove from the heat.  Stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture and then add the vanilla and eggs.  Stir until all are well combined.  Then add the chestnut flour and stir vigorously.  The batter will appear slightly curdled at first.  Keep stirring and you will see and almost magical transformation into a thick, smooth batter.  Pour the finished batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the top appears to have dulled in shine just a little bit and the center is just barely set.  Cool completely and then cut into 12 squares.  The brownies will keep for a couple of days stored in an airtight container.