A client recently asked me to prepare a tray for a Christmas Party she would be attending. My head started filling with images of cute little finger sandwiches, cheese and cracker trays and platters of Christmas cookies. Then she dropped the bomb. Some of the party guests are on Gluten Free diets. I wasn’t sure if their diet was by choice or a medical necessity. It didn’t matter. I knew I needed to make everything gluten free just in case the guests suffered from Celiac Disease.
Anytime you go on a diet, there are certain foods that you have to give up or at least cut back on. For most of us, this is a choice. For those with Celiac Disease, it’s not a choice. It’s a must.
When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body. Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet. People living gluten-free must avoid foods with wheat, rye and barley, such as bread and beer. Ingesting small amounts of gluten, like crumbs from a cutting board or toaster, can trigger small intestine damage.
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I could have made the typical fruit and vegetable tray with a good variety of dips and my client would have been content, but this is a Christmas Party! It needed to be something special. Something everyone would love and not something only a person on a special diet would choose. I decided to prepare a dessert tray that would rival something purchased at a pastry shop.
I went online and started looking up gluten free dessert. I admit some looked very good. However, when I started reading the recipes and saw the list of ingredients, you’d have to have an unlimited food budget to purchase all of the different sorts of flours and leavening agents called for. Plus, I had never tasted pastries made with gluten free flour. How was it going to taste? How long would it keep? Would everything have to be made the day of the party or could some items be prepared in advance and frozen or refrigerated?
I knew my only option was to make everything in advance and taste it to see if it met with my approval. Boy! It’s a good thing too because some of the recipes I tried weren’t fit to feed your worst enemy! Most of the cookie and pastry recipes tasted flat and had a grainy texture like fine sand in your mouth. Others crumbled so easily, it would be difficult to arrange them on a tray and have them arrive in one piece.
The final decision was to run the shortbread cookies I had baked through the food processor add more butter and some powdered sugar and use them as a crust of Pecan Bars.
I did find a recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Tarts that is out of this world delicious! However, the original recipe was flawed or contained a misprint. I had to make 3 batches before (A) I found the right amount of batter to put in the shells so that it didn’t overflow all over my oven floor and cause so much black smoke it looked as if the house was on fire. (B) Was so thin it didn’t raise enough to fill the shell and burned too easily. Just like Goldie Locks, the third batch was just right. Thin enough to not overpower the filling and strong enough that it didn’t crumble as soon as you took a bite. In fact, the flavor was so good, I decided to make another batch of the pastry and crumble it into base for the Lemon Cheesecake with Blueberry-Honey topping.
Mini Chocolate Raspberry Tarts
¾ cup Natural Café gluten free rice flour baking mix
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon gluten free baking powder
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1 stick butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup seedless raspberry jam or fruit spread
¼ cup heavy cream
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
Gluten free butter flavor cooking spray
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Place mini paper baking cups in mini muffin cups and spray with cooking spray. In small bowl, stir together flour blend, salt and baking powder; set aside.
2. In 2-quart saucepan, heat sugar, 1 cup chocolate chips and 1/2 cup butter over low heat, stirring frequently, just until melted. Cool 10 minutes. Beat in eggs and vanilla with spoon. Stir in flour blend mixture. Pipe mixture into prepared muffin cups filling no more than 1/3 full.
3. Bake 11 to 13 minutes or until tops of tarts appear dry. Cool in pans 5 minutes; Poke the top of each cup with finger to cause an indentation and allow to cool completely, about 30 minutes.
4. Fill each hole with 1/2 teaspoon preserves.
5. In 1-quart heavy saucepan, heat cream to simmering over medium heat; remove from heat. Stir in 3/4 cup chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons butter. Let stand 2 minutes. Beat with whisk until melted and smooth. Pipe over tarts. Place fresh raspberry on each. Makes about 30