A Greater Boston native, I'm a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. I'm co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), art director of Art New England magazine, senior contributor for The Arts Fuse, and am the Boston area dance critic for the international Fjord Review. I recently completed a one-year term as co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Council, and am regularly hired as an arts advocate to speak at events ranging from legislative assemblies at the State House to entrepreneurial panels for students at Mount Holyoke College. This blog serves as a behind-the-scenes peek into the life and journal of an interdisciplinary artist. Learn more at merliguerra.com or luminariumdance.org, and thank you for reading my thoughts on setting the visual and performing arts into motion.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gluten Free, FODMAP Friendly, Maple Almond Cake (with Fig)

This year marked yet another first, as Sean and I geared up to host Thanksgiving. With many of the same guests attending as Easter, we were once again faced with the challenge of creating a gluten free, FODMAP friendly meal. This limitation led to moments of frustration (naturally), some impromptu creativity, and (surprisingly) a good laugh—especially when our midnight tastings of Sean's ginger carrot soup revealed that the plain, pared down recipe came out twice as good as its more complex counterpart taking up the remainder of our fridge! Still, soup aside, it proved to be a bit of a challenge.

For dessert, I set my sights on a maple nut cake. FODMAP makes this tricky, as you can't be too heavy on nut meal, and certain nuts need to be rationed per serving. Luckily, with a mixture of almond flour and coconut flour, we were good to go.

My first attempt proved disastrous. After being warned of the things that can happen when baking gluten free, I pulled out of the oven a test case in everything that could possibly go wrong: The sides rose, the center sank, it crumbled at a glance, yet still managed to greet me with a pasty consistency despite extra time in the oven. The flavor was decent, but trying to remove the "cake" from the pan had me scooping it with a spoon like ice cream. This was not the recipe for me.

After hours of seemingly hopeless research later, I came across a recipe that proffered a similar taste with more eggs to glue it all together. A huge thank you goes to Bob's Red Mill for supplying the Almond Meal/Flour and cake recipe. *One note, for my cake, I chose to tweak it from almond cake to maple almond cake. Following their recipe, I simply skipped the step of adding 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, and instead added 1/2 teaspoon maple extract. The resulting flavor was a delicious blend of maple, almond, and a hint of coconut. Incredible, even on its own! (You can find their recipe, and my tweaked version at the end of this entry.)

For my cake, I chose to split the batter evenly and pour it into two 6" round pans. I cooked the two cakes for 40 minutes, checking them at the 35 minute mark, and ultimately having the toothpick come out smoothly at 40.

After allowing both to cool overnight, I carefully removed them from the pans, sliced off the top of the one of the cakes (to allow for better stacking), then applied a hearty layer of fig jam from the local farm stand.

For those who are short on time, I can completely relate. Grabbing a can of gluten free vanilla icing, I simply added maple extract to taste, then coated the two cakes to give it that extra hint of maple.

For a final step, I chose to mix a healthy helping of sliced almonds and walnuts in a bowl with a dollop of maple syrup and a sprinkling of brown sugar and sea salt: Layer them across a tin foil-covered sheet and bake them at 375 degrees—in just 10 minutes you'll have a crispy, sugary tray of toasted nuts, perfect as a garnish for this scrumptious cake!

And here it is! The final masterpiece. It sat well in the stomach of our FODMAP guest, and one week later it's still just as moist and crumble-free as it was on day one. All-in-all, a gluten free success!

Gluten Free, FODMAP Friendly, Maple Almond Cake (with Fig) Recipe
Prep time: 25 minutes
Bake Time: 40 minutes
Serves 8-10 guests

This recipe is a tweaked version of the Bob's Red Mill "Magically Moist Almond Cake," and creates two delicious 6" cakes, stacked together with fig filling, coated in vanilla maple icing, and topped with sugared nuts.

What you'll need...

For the cakes:
  • Two 6" cake pans (ideally spring cake pans)
  • 3/4 cup unsalted sweet cream butter (soft)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract
  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
For the frosting:
  • 1 can vanilla or buttercream frosting
  • Maple extract to taste 
For the nuts:
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • A dollop of maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • A sprinkling of sea salt (to taste)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and coat the insides of two 6" cake pans with olive oil spray (or whatever method you prefer).

2. Cream the sugar and butter as best as humanly possible. Add in the eggs and beat by hand until blended. Add the milk and extracts and stir until fully mixed.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the almond flour, coconut flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually stir it into the wet mixture and beat until creamy.

4. Evenly divide the cake batter between your two pans. Pop in the oven for 35-40 minutes. For me, I checked it at the 35-minute mark with a toothpick and decided it needed the full 40. When ready, the toothpick should come out clean. (Adjust the time based on your own oven's tendencies and how large a cake you're making. Since my dish was only 6" wide, I had to cook it much longer than the original 8" recipe on the Bob's Red Mill website.)

5. Allow the cake to fully cool. Carefully remove them from the pans, then slice off the top of one of the cakes to even it out for stacking. Apply the fig jam to this cake, then place the other on top and apply gentle pressure.

6. Add maple extract (to taste) to the vanilla frosting, stir it in evenly, then coat the entire cake.

7. Turn the oven up to 375°F. Toss walnuts and almonds into a bowl. Drizzle maple syrup, brown sugar, and sea salt into the bowl, then mix. Line a try with tin foil and spread the nuts out. Cook for only 10 minutes, then promptly remove to avoid burning.

8. Allow the nuts to cool, then break them apart, garnish the cake and serve!