Yesterday was my dad’s 67th birthday. My mom has been pampering him with birthday cards and sweet little gifts all month long, but last night was my chance to make a meal and a dessert just for him: beef tips with mushroom gravy over pasta, and chocolate macaroon cake, by request. The situation was somewhat complicated by Nolan’s new gluten-free, casein-free diet, however. My parents have both been extremely accommodating with all the changes, but I didn’t want my dad to feel deprived in any way for his birthday and suggested just working in an additional variant for Nolan, like a small batch of brown rice pasta for his beef and some GFCF chocolate cupcakes. In the end, however, my dad said he wanted the whole family to be able to eat the same meal, and I hope I was able to put together some food that made everyones’ tummies happy.
Dinner, as I mentioned, was sirloin beef tips in a sherry-mushroom gravy over homemade egg noodles. I kept the beef dairy-free until the very end, and set aside some pieces for Nolan before adding a splash of cream for the rest of us.
The pasta was sort of improvised and turned out okay: I started with a base of equal parts brown rice flour, tapioca starch and quinoa flour with just a little garbanzo bean flour, beat in a whole egg and an extra white I wanted to use up, then added a bit of olive oil and a couple spoonfuls of cornstarch until the dough seemed to reach a workable texture. It crumbled a bit when I first started putting it through the roller, but flattening the pieces of dough between my palms first seemed to help that issue. I left it a bit on the thick side because I was concerned about it disintegrating in the water, cut it into wide noodles by hand, and let it dry quite a bit before cooking. The resulting noodles held up well in the water and tasted alright but a little strange (to my gluten-loving palate) when plain. They broke up quite a bit when I tried to toss them with some clarified butter (I realize after the fact that I forgot to put in some gelatin as a substitute for gums), but under a ladleful of beef and gravy, they tasted like ordinary noodles and didn’t need to be so visually appealing. Nolan actually ate quite a few, along with some beef and a plateful of raw broccoli. 🙂
Dessert is the most important part of any birthday dinner, though—am I right? My dad usually requests a spice cake for his birthday, but this year, his thought process started with a German chocolate cake and led to a chocolate macaroon cake from one of his favorite cookbooks, involving a tunnel-style coconut layer in the center of the cake batter. I am not yet confident enough with gluten-free baking to attempt that kind of trick in a converted recipe, so I suggested either making a little batch of GFCF chocolate cupcakes just for Nolan in addition to the real cake, or else a layered macaroon torte from Smitten Kitchen that happened to be dairy-free and made with almond meal. As you can see, we chose the latter.
I did adapt the recipe somewhat. It originated on Bon Appetit with a firm chocolate “frosting” and orange compote, but I preferred the idea of ganache and coconut to magnify its relationship to coconut macaroons. I followed the cake recipe as directed at Smitten Kitchen, with my cakes done at 23 minutes; she suggests reversing the sheet trays halfway through baking, but for our oven, switching them top to bottom would have been more helpful since the bottom tray got a little dark underneath. The ganache was a 70% dark chocolate Scharffen Berger baking bar chopped and melted with most of a can of coconut milk; it behaved identically to its cream-based cousin and did not taste noticeably of coconut. The Scharffen Berger chocolate is not only dairy-free, but specifies non-GMO soy lecithin, which made me very happy. Finally, I made a small batch of dairy-free coconut frosting a la German chocolate cake, using almond milk, coconut sugar and clarified butter; I omitted the pecans and garnished the top of the cake with candied almonds instead.
This dessert was totally decadent and delicious, not to mention impressive looking. We all inhaled our slices in no time flat, birthday boy included, and there were absolutely no regrets about the lack of grains or dairy. It was moist and gooey and rich, and to me somehow reminiscent of a Samoa cookie turned cake. Definitely worth making again and again, regardless of dietary necessity!
Coconut-Almond Macaroon Torte
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 1/2 C (10.5 ounces or 300 grams) slivered almonds (or an equivalent weight of almond meal)
1 C (196 grams) plus 3 T sugar
2 large pinches kosher salt
2 tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 large egg whites
10 oz thick coconut milk
9.7 oz 70% dark chocolate, chopped
1/3 C non-dairy milk, such as almond or coconut
1/3 coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
1 large egg yolk
2 T clarified butter
1 C or more shredded unsweetened coconut, or as needed to make a thick frosting
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of unrefined salt
Chopped or sliced almonds, optional
Make macaroons: Position an oven rack in the top and lower third of oven and preheat oven to 325°F. Draw two 12 x 4-inch rectangles, spacing 2 inches apart on a piece of parchment paper, then two more of the same size on a second sheet. In total, you’ll use 2 sheets of parchment paper and draw 4 rectangles. Turn each sheet of parchment over (so your ink or pencil lines don’t seep into the macaroon).
Place almonds, 1 cup sugar and coarse salt in a food processor (if you use an equivalent weight of almond meal, just mix the ingredients in a bowl) with vanilla bean seeds if using, and blend until finely ground.
Using a mixer, beat egg whites in large, dry bowl with clean beaters or whisk until soft peaks form. Drizzle in vanilla extract if using, then slowly add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar. Beat until stiff but not dry. Fold nut mixture into egg whites. Spread 1/4 of macaroon batter evenly within each rectangle, filling completely.
Bake macaroon layers until golden and almost firm to the touch in the center, reversing sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through — baking may take as little as 23 minutes total, although the original recipe says it can take up to 40. Cool macaroons on their sheets on a cooling rack.
Make ganache: Chop chocolate and place in a bowl; bring coconut milk just up to a simmer on the stove or in the microwave and pour over the chopped chocolate. Allow to sit for several minutes untouched, then stir until smooth; allow to cool slightly if necessary to thicken.
Make coconut frosting: Stir together almond (or coconut) milk, coconut sugar (or brown sugar), egg yolk and salt in small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, stirring constantly; stir in clarified butter until melted and evenly mixed together. Remove from heat and add vanilla, coconut and almonds (if using). Cool slightly until thickened, but use while warm.
Assemble torte: If needed due to spreading, carefully trim your macaroon layers back to their intended rectangular sizes. Place one macaroon layer on a long platter, slipping sheets of waxed paper under the edges to help keep your platter clean. Spread ganache evenly over, and top with another macaroon layer. Spread more ganache evenly over, then gently spread 1/2 of coconut frosting over this. Repeat this process one more time with remaining layers, covering the top macaroon layer with extra ganache so that it drips lusciously over all the edges before covering with the remaining coconut frosting and a last decorative drizzle of ganache. Sprinkle with almonds.
Do ahead: Can be made one to two days ahead. Cover with foil tent. Store at room temperature.