BASICS AND ACCOMPANIMENTS - Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours - Alanna Taylor-Tobin

Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours - Alanna Taylor-Tobin (2016)


Sauces and toppings can take a dessert from good to amazing. Here are a few favorites that are a snap to make at home, as well as some DIY guidelines for turning out thick crème fraîche, potent vanilla extract and perfectly browned butter. Caramel is demystified with a few easy techniques that thwart crystallization. Making ice cream at home is as simple as churning a basic stirred custard in an ice cream maker; frozen yogurt is even simpler. And you’ll never accidentally overwhip cream again with one simple trick. Read on!


Brown butter, called beurre noisette in French for its hazelnut-like flavor, is simply butter that’s been cooked until the milk solids caramelize. I like to add vanilla bean to the mix; as it cooks, it gives off the intoxicating aroma of baking cookies, and it adds incredible depth of flavor to anything you put it in. The first time I browned butter, I burned butter. So here’s a bit of instruction to keep that from happening to you. Each recipe will have its own quantities, so none are given here.

Butter (see individual recipes)

Vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped (see individual recipes)

Place the butter and vanilla pod and scrapings in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place the pan over medium-low heat and cook, swirling occasionally, to melt the butter. Continue cooking the butter. After 3-5 minutes, the butter will foam up, turn golden and smell nutty, with brown flecks mingling with black vanilla bean seeds on the bottom of the pan. It may be hard to see the color of the butter beneath the foam and in the pan, so if you’re unsure, spoon a little of the butter into a white, heatproof bowl; it should be golden in color and the milk solids on the bottom of the pan should be chestnut brown from caramelization, with black specks from the vanilla bean. The butter should smell so delicious that you could eat your own arm from hunger. At this point, remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the butter into a heatproof measuring cup to stop the cooking. When ready to use, remove the vanilla bean and discard. Brown butter can be cooled and refrigerated airtight for up to a week or two.

NOTE: If you don’t have vanilla beans on hand, leave the vanilla out of the browning butter and add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for every bean called for to the batter or dough with other liquid ingredients.


I pity the fool who utters the phrase “plain vanilla” in my presence. Vanilla is truly one of the more exotic flavorings that we have access to. It takes months to grow a single seedpod from the tropical vanilla orchid, and each pod must be harvested by hand and undergo a lengthy curing process. Vanilla beans are costly when purchased in single form at most grocers, but they can be ordered in bulk for a vastly lower price. (See Sources, I save the pods to stick in a jar of alcohol (inexpensive brandy is my favorite) to make an ongoing batch of vanilla extract. I’m not very scientific about it, but I wanted to share my method here.

Inexpensive neutral-tasting alcohol (such as brandy, vodka or rum)

Vanilla beans

Put some booze in a bottle or canning jar; I usually use a 1-quart (1-L) jar as I go through a lot of beans, but you may wish to start smaller if you have only a few beans. Split a few vanilla beans lengthwise and add them to the jar to get this party started. When you end up with a stray vanilla pod, or one that you’ve steeped in a custard or brown butter, rinse it, let it dry and add it to the jar. Keep doing this, adding more booze to cover the beans if you need, and storing the jar in a dark place, such as a cupboard, for several months. Give it a shake occasionally when you think of it. When the liquid turns a dark brown after a few months, it’s ready to use. Strain some of the liquid off and place it in a small bottle to use in your baking. Top off the jar with more booze. Continue this process indefinitely. After a few years, your beans will be spent of their flavor and you’ll want to start the process over, decanting the extract and discarding the spent beans, to make room for fresh beans.

NOTE: If you have vanilla beans that have become dry and hard, here’s a tip I learned recently: pour an inch (2.5 cm) of inexpensive alcohol into a jar tall enough to house the beans. Add the beans to the jar and seal. After several days, the beans will absorb the liquid and plump up again, and any alcohol left in the bottom can be used as vanilla extract.


Crème fraîche may sound fancy, but it’s actually stupid-easy to make at home. This is technically mock crème fraîche, as real crème fraîche uses a more complicated culturing process, but this works just the same when baked into recipes, whipped with cream or spooned over warm biscuits or rustic fruit desserts.


1 cup (235 ml) heavy cream

1 tbsp (14 g) fresh buttermilk (or crème fraîche)

Stir together the cream and buttermilk in a jar to combine well, cover, and leave in a warm place (such as on top of the refrigerator) for 12-24 hours. The cultures in the buttermilk will go to work on the cream to thicken it. Give the mixture a shake or stir 2-3 times as it sits to discourage a hard layer of cream from forming on the top. After 12-24 hours the mixture should be slightly thicker and have a pleasant sour smell. Give it a final stir and chill until cold, 2 hours and up to 1 week. It will thicken further as it cools.


Cream whipped with a splash of vanilla and a touch of sugar is traditionally called crème chantilly (pronounced shan-tee-yee) and its flavor is as smooth and classy as the name. When you’re not eating it on spoons straight from the bowl, use whipped cream on any room temperature fruit dessert (pie, tart, cobbler, crisp, etc.) or fancy up breakfast by serving it alongside scones or peach oven pancake. I’ve included a couple of favorite variations, below. If you can find a locally produced, nonhomogenized cream, this will taste extra sweet and delicious. Make sure your cream contains 35-40 percent fat; any heavy cream, whipping cream or heavy whipping cream should do. See here for a dairy-free version made with coconut cream.

NOTE: If you accidentally whip your cream too far and it begins to thicken and seize toward becoming butter, never fear—all is not lost. You can rescue it by gently folding in additional heavy cream until the mixture becomes smooth again. Start with 2 tablespoons (30 ml) and add more as needed.


1 cup (235 ml) cold heavy cream, whipping cream or heavy whipping cream (with a fat content of at least 35%)

2 tsp (10 g) organic granulated cane sugar, to taste

½ tsp vanilla extract (or seeds from ½ vanilla bean, added at the beginning)

Place the cream (and vanilla seeds, if using) in a large, chilled bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip on medium speed (with the stand mixer or with a balloon whisk, handheld blender or old-fashioned non-electric egg beater) until the cream mounds softly. Sprinkle in the sugar and vanilla extract (if using) and continue whipping until the cream holds soft peaks, meaning that when you lift the beater out of the cream and turn it upside down, the peak of cream will flop over. Keep the cream cold until using; it will separate as it sits and may need to be re-whipped if chilled for longer than an hour or two.



The warm flavors of maple and whiskey make this well-suited to fall desserts such as pumpkin pie and pecan tart.

Omit the sugar, using 1 tablespoon (15 ml) maple syrup or maple sugar instead. Omit the vanilla and add 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) bourbon or GF whiskey (such as Queen Jennie).


This denser, tangier whipped cream makes a fabulous accompaniment to most any fruit dessert.

Use ½ cup (120 ml) Crème Fraîche (or sour cream, or whole-milk Greek yogurt or skyr) in place of ½ cup (120 ml) of the cream and proceed with the recipe.


This thick whipped cream holds its shape well for up to several hours in the refrigerator and is a great do-ahead option. I especially like the vanilla bean seeds here.

Use ½ cup (120 ml) mascarpone in place of ½ cup (120 ml) of the cream and proceed with the recipe, using the vanilla seeds if you’ve got them and a tiny pinch of fine sea salt.


Once you have an ice cream maker, ice cream is surprisingly easy to make. A few tools will help ensure a smooth custard: a heavy-bottomed saucepan will distribute the heat evenly as the custard cooks, a heatproof spatula will help you scrape the sides of the pot and an instant-read thermometer will ensure that the eggs reach a safe temperature. This ice cream pairs well with just about everything, from fruit pies to brownie sundaes. And don’t miss the variations.


1¼ cups (300 ml) whole milk

½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

½ cup (100 g) organic granulated cane sugar

⅛ tsp fine sea salt

1¼ cups (300 ml) cold, heavy cream

4 large egg yolks


✵ Save the egg whites for making Chestnut Plum Financiers or Vanilla Chiffon Cake. They will keep, refrigerated airtight, for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to several months.

✵ For a richer ice cream, use 1 cup (235 ml) milk and 1½ cups (355 ml) heavy cream, or 1½ cups (355 ml) half-and-half and 1 cup (235 ml) heavy cream.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk with the vanilla bean and scrapings, sugar and salt until steaming and small bubbles appear around the sides of the pan, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar and prevent the milk from scorching. Remove from the heat, cover and steep for 30-60 minutes to infuse with the vanilla.

Pour the heavy cream into a quart-sized (1 L) container, such as a mason jar, and set aside. If you have an instant-read thermometer, have it handy.

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl set on a damp towel to stabilize it. Reheat the milk until hot and steamy. Whisking constantly with one hand, pour the hot dairy very slowly into the yolks. This is called tempering, and prevents the yolks from scrambling. Pour the mixture back into the pot and set the pot over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof silicone spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot, until the custard just begins to “stick” (or form a thickened film) on the bottom of the pot (you may have to tilt the pan to see it), or registers 170°F (76°C) on an instant-read thermometer, 5-10 minutes.

Immediately pour the custard into the container of cold cream, stir to combine, and chill for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight. For a quicker chill, pour the ice cream into a metal bowl and place over an ice water bath, stirring until the base is cold.

Place the ice cream base in the freezer for 30 minutes to get it really cold, stirring once or twice (this way the ice cream will take less time to churn, resulting in a denser, creamier ice cream). Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, then pour into your ice cream maker and process as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Mine takes about 20 minutes to churn.

When the ice cream is finished churning, scrape it into a container. Press a piece of parchment paper directly onto the surface (this will discourage crystals from forming), cover tightly and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.

Homemade ice cream is best within the first week of being made, but will keep for a month or two in the freezer.



Omit the vanilla bean and make the custard as directed, straining it directly into the cold heavy cream. Stir in 2 tablespoons (30 g) peeled, very finely grated fresh ginger (grated on a microplane grater or the smallest holes of a box grater to a fine pulp). Chill the ice cream base, don’t re-strain and proceed with the recipe.


Omit the vanilla bean, heating the milk, sugar and salt with 1 teaspoon ground cardamom. No need to steep the mixture. Proceed with the recipe.


Omit the vanilla bean. Make the custard as directed and strain it into a heatproof bowl set over an ice water bath, stirring until cold. Omit the cream and stir 1¼ cups (300 ml) Crème Fraîche into the cold ice cream. Chill until cold, then proceed with the recipe.


I grew up in the ‘80s, when frozen yogurt was touted as a healthier alternative to ice cream, and my family and I would frequent the many shops throughout L.A. for cups brimming with soft serve and all the toppings I could pile on. In reality, the frozen dessert in question was probably no healthier than real ice cream, and it was likely packed with sugar and preservatives, gums and stabilizers to keep it soft. This version, on the other hand, uses a combination of Greek yogurt and heavy cream to make it naturally rich and delicious. Just enough sugar balances the acidity in the tangy yogurt, and if you add a touch of alcohol, it gives the yogurt a slightly softer freeze. Enjoy this atop any warm fruit dessert or pie as a more refreshing and simpler alternative to ice cream. Or layer it with streusel and roasted berries for a thoroughly addictive dessert (see here).


1 cup (235 ml) heavy cream

½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

½ cup (100 g) organic granulated cane sugar Pinch of fine sea salt

2 cups (475 ml) plain, whole milk Greek yogurt (such as Straus Family Creamery)

2 tbsp (30 ml) GF whiskey or vodka (optional, for a softer freeze)

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the heavy cream, vanilla pod and scrapings, sugar and salt and heat until hot and steamy, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cover and let steep for 20-60 minutes to infuse. Place the yogurt in a medium-sized bowl and whisk smooth.

Strain the cream into the yogurt, whisking to combine. Whisk in the whiskey. Chill until cold, 1 hour or up to 2 days. Churn the frozen yogurt according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then scrape into a container, cover and chill until firm, at least 2 hours and up to several weeks.


Organic granulated cane sugar, with its larger crystals, is more prone to crystallization than regular granulated sugar, thus a bit more care is needed to keep it liquid to make this silky smooth caramel sauce. Essentially, sugar crystals are prone to peer pressure, and the presence of just one sugar crystal can cause all the other dissolved sugar particles, necessary for making a liquid sauce, to snap into crystalline structure and turn your smooth caramel into a pot of sludge simply because all the cool crystals are doing it. So just say no to crystallization. Here are some tips I’ve picked up from various sources over the years, particularly Cook’s Illustrated.

✵ Adding a bit of an invert sugar, such as corn syrup or honey, helps prevent crystallization.

✵ Placing water in the pan first, then adding the sugar to the center without letting any crystals get on the sides, helps moisten the sugar crystals and keep them from re-crystallizing.

✵ Leaving the lid on the pan for the first few minutes will wash away any wayward crystals.

✵ As always when making caramel, refrain from disturbing the pan too much during cooking, tilting it gently if it begins to caramelize unevenly.

✵ Worst case scenario, if your sauce does turn into a pot of sludge, you can sometimes dump a bunch of water in there and begin the dissolving process again; it will just take time for the water to cook off.

MAKES 1¼ CUPS (300 ML)

¾ cup (180 ml) heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

¼ cup (60 ml) water

2 tbsp (30 ml) organic corn syrup (or honey)

1 cup (205 g) organic granulated cane sugar

2 tbsp (28 g) unsalted butter, in a few pieces

½ tsp flaky salt, such as Maldon, or more to taste



Omit the vanilla bean and use black smoked salt in place of the Maldon salt, adding it to taste.


Omit the vanilla bean. Add 2-4 tablespoons (30-60 ml), to taste, bourbon, scotch, brandy or dark rum to the sauce along with the flaky salt. (Make sure your spirits are GF if you or your caramel eaters are sensitive to trace amounts of gluten.)

Pour the cream into a small saucepan, add the vanilla pod and seeds, and heat over medium heat until hot and steamy, swirling the pan occasionally. Cover and let steep while you get on with the recipe.

Meanwhile, pour the water into a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the corn syrup, then carefully pour the sugar into the center of the pan. If any sugar crystals stick to the sides of the pan, brush them down into the water with moistened fingers. Cover the pot with a lid and, without disturbing the pan, cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes (the steam will wash down any wayward sugar crystals). Remove the lid and continue to boil, without stirring, until the mixture turns a deep amber, gently tilting the pan to encourage even caramelization and brushing down the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush if you see any pesky sugar crystals forming on them. This will take only a few minutes; watch the pot carefully toward the end, and reduce the heat to low if you’re nervous.

When the mixture turns a dark amber (if the mixture is bubbly, you may need to place a drop of caramel on a white, heatproof plate to check), immediately swirl in the butter, then gently and slowly whisk in the cream. Return the pot to low heat and whisk gently to dissolve any hardened caramel that may be hanging out on the bottom or corners of the pan. Strain the caramel into a heatproof bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cooled and thickened slightly. (You can rinse and dry the vanilla bean and add it to Vanilla Extract Stir in the flaky salt, crushing any extra-large bits between your fingers and adding more if you feel the sauce needs it.

Store the caramel in an airtight jar. It will keep at room temperature for up to 1 day, or chilled for up to 1 month.


This thick, jammy compote is made rosy from red rhubarb and deep burgundy blood orange juice. Garden-grown rhubarb isn’t quite as rosy-hued as the forced stalks grown in hothouses that grace the pages of cookbooks and foodie magazines. It’s hard to find the latter here in California, but I’ve learned a few tricks over the years to get a prettier puree from field-grown stalks. First, look for the reddest stalks you can find and use only the reddest parts of the stalk, closer to the root end. Second, don’t peel the rhubarb, as some recipes instruct; it isn’t necessary and only removes the pretty pigment we’re after. Third, add something bright to the preserves. Blood orange juice is my favorite addition, as it doesn’t change the texture or overpower the flavor of the rhubarb, but it does enhance its color. Blood oranges are waning just as rhubarb is beginning its season, but you can squirrel some away in the fridge and have this pretty preserve all through spring. Alternatively, use regular orange zest and juice in its place. You can leave it chunky or puree it smooth (see variation below). Either way, wrap these preserves up in Vanilla Chiffon Cake and spread with Whipped Crème Fraîche for a Rosy Rhubarb Roulade Cake, or enjoy it on toast, biscuits or yogurt.


1 cup (205 g) organic granulated cane sugar Finely grated zest from 1 medium-sized blood orange

Strained juice from 1 medium-sized blood orange (about 4 tbsp [60 ml])

½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

2 lb (900 g) rhubarb, trimmed, sliced into ½-inch (1.3-cm) pieces (about 10 medium-sized stalks, 5 cups)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, orange zest and juice, and vanilla pod and scrapings. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Cook until thick and syrupy, 5 minutes, then dump in the rhubarb. Cook, stirring frequently with a long-handled spoon as the mixture will splutter, until the mixture has broken down into a thick, glossy jam that holds its shape, 15-20 minutes, lowering the heat as needed to maintain a rolling simmer. Remove from the heat and let cool, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a jar, cover and chill for up to 1 week. You can leave the vanilla pod in to continue flavoring the preserve, but remove it when you’re ready to use.


Remove the vanilla bean and puree the preserves in a food processor until silky smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.


It took me a while to warm to kumquats. I remember being handed one as a kid and told, “You can eat the whole thing, peel and all—they’re sweet!” I then got a mouthful of heinously tart, bitter fruit, and I steered clear of the little buggers ever since. But my good friend Amelia is a kumquat fiend, and it was she who convinced me to give them another shot. Simmering the slices briefly in a syrup of sugar, water, honey and vanilla bean means that a bitter, tart mouthful is the last thing you’ll get when you bite into one.

It takes a bit of effort to slice and seed the kumquats for this recipe, but doing so will preserve them for up to 2 months in the refrigerator. Use these to make dainty Fromage Blanc Tartlets with Honeyed Kumquats, chop them up into a cream cheese frosting to serve atop Vanilla Bean Cupcakes or serve them over yogurt and sprinkled with granola for breakfast.


8 oz (225 g) kumquats (2 cups)

½ cup (100 g) organic granulated cane sugar

½ cup (120 ml) water

¼ cup (60 ml) mild honey

½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

Trim the ends off the kumquats and slice them ⅛-inch (3-mm) thick, removing the seeds as you go. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, honey and vanilla pod and scrapings. Bring to a boil over medium heat, swirling occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Add the sliced kumquats, and shuffle the pan to submerge them; there will barely be enough liquid to cover them at this point. Return the mixture to a simmer, simmer for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat, cover the pan and let the mixture steep for 15 minutes. Strain the kumquats, reserving their syrup, and place the fruit in a heatproof bowl or jar. Return the syrup to the pot and simmer over medium heat, swirling frequently, until it bubbles thickly and measures about ½ cup (120 ml), 10-15 minutes. Pour the syrup over the drained kumquats, and chill until cold. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.