Lisa Stander-Horel is the first to admit that had intolerance to gluten not entered her life, she’d be making the Rosh Hashanah honey cake, apple cakes and other sweet desserts just like her mother and grandmother made before her.
“I come from a long line of Eastern European bakers,” she said. “And when they came here at the turn of the century, they brought all their recipes, but not written down. It was a little of this and a little of that.”
It’s hard enough to translate a traditional family recipe from spoken to written word, but imagine the challenges of making it gluten-free.
But just in time for the High Holy Days, Stander-Horel has done just that. She’s taken her family recipes, made them all gluten-free, and with the help of her husband, Tim Horel, has published “Nosh on This: Gluten-Free Baking from a Jewish-American Kitchen.” The Santa Clara couple have kept a blog (www.glutenfreecanteen.com) for several years.
When Stander-Horel recalls being in the kitchen with her mother, one image stands out: her own flour-dusted red shoes. Her mother passed away when she was a child, and as an adult, Stander-Horel made it her life’s work to re-create her family recipes.
Meanwhile, Tim Horel — who is of Irish and English descent but believes he has some Jewish blood from long ago — suffered numerous broken bones as a child, and into adulthood. When he tripped over a shoelace and broke both of his elbows, though, his family began to think it was more than just general klutziness. It took doctors 10 years to diagnose that his brittle bones were caused by celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. Even a small amount of gluten, the protein found in wheat, can cause swelling and discomfort, or much worse.
Stander-Horel pledged to make their home gluten-free, and once she did, she realized that she, too, had an intolerance to gluten.
“It was a complete surprise to me,” she said. “I thought I may be lactose-intolerant, but not this. But once I stopped eating gluten, my migraines disappeared and rashes cleared up. I just felt better.”
Stander-Horel said celiac to gluten-intolerance is a spectrum, and anywhere from 6 to 10 percent of Americans fall somewhere on it, which translates into approximately 20 million Americans.
Others are turning toward a gluten-free diet as well, added Horel, “which is great for us, because it helps bring more gluten-free things to market.”
As Stander-Horel learned the hard way, there’s a lot more to gluten-free baking than substituting a gluten-free flour mix in one of your favorite recipes.
“All flours absorb fats and liquids differently,” she explained. “While the ratio of flour to fat to liquid remains the same, gluten-free flours tend to absorb those things differently, so too much fat or liquid could leak out or it could be mushy. You have to experiment with the recipes until you come up with the correct ratios.”
Rather than use commercial gluten-free flour mixes, the couple have come up with their own formula, which they use for almost every recipe in the book.
The couple also require that bakers weigh their ingredients rather than measure the way Americans typically do it.
“All flours, gluten-free or otherwise, will end up weighing something different from one another based on things like grain size, weather, how the bag of flour has settled, whether one scoops or dips the cup into the flour and a million other small things,” Stander-Horel said. “Each time you use a cup measure to make a recipe, the outcome will be different from the last time. But if you weigh the flour each time (130 grams per cup) to the measurement specified in the recipe, the outcome will always be the same.”
She applies the same precise measurement to other ingredients, too. “If you pour oil or honey into a measuring cup and then turn that into the mixing bowl, you lose a small amount of the ingredient, which can vary each time you repeat the recipe, making the outcome different from the time before.”
Their book, due for release on Monday, Aug. 26, features 100 recipes, some with introductory tidbits about Jewish holidays and tradition.
The couple say the highest praise is when they serve their desserts or breads to people who aren’t gluten-free and still get compliments.
“We’ve all heard, ‘That’s good for gluten-free,’ ” said Horel, whose day job is at Oracle. “If we hear that, it’s not good enough. Our stuff is created so that everyone will be happy.”
Indeed, there are many drool-worthy recipes in ”Nosh on This” — including Just Fig Tart, Apple Upside-Down Cake with Honey Pomegranate Syrup, and Baked Honey Bites — all perfect for Rosh Hashanah.
The Horels hope that with this book, gluten-free folks and their loved ones can go back to enjoying all the treats they used to enjoy, plus add some new ones.
“Once you get used to gluten-free baking,” said Stander-Horel, “it becomes just baking.”
Nosh on this: Baked Honey Bites
Baking time: 15-20 minutes
Nosh AP GF flour:
80 grams superfine brown rice flour
40 grams superfine white rice flour
40 grams tapioca flour
Nosh gluten-free flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbs. sugar
75 grams | 5 Tbs. cold unsalted butter
245 grams | 1 cup whole milk
240 grams | 4 extra-large eggs
100 grams | 5 Tbs. honey, blackberry sage preferred
60 grams | 1⁄2 cup nuts (pecans, walnuts or almonds), toasted and roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Prepare a piping bag with a 1⁄2-inch tip or have ready a
In a small bowl, mix the flour with the salt and sugar. In a deep saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the milk and bring to a low simmer. With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture all at once. The dough will almost immediately form a ball. Turn down the heat to the lowest setting and push the dough around as well as you can with the spoon for 2 minutes. Mostly you will be slapping the dough ball around the bottom of the pan, but keep going. At the 2-minute point, transfer the dough ball to a bowl.
Using an electric mixer on medium-low speed, mix the eggs into the dough, one at a time. Make sure each egg is fully worked into the dough before adding the next. At first, the egg will look like it is just slimy and sticking to the outside of the dough, but once it is incorporated, the dough gathers a little color and will become more yellow as the other eggs are mixed in. Make sure that last egg is really well incorporated. Using a spatula, fold the dough to make sure the egg is mixed in really well.
Place the dough in the piping bag. Pipe teaspoon-size domes onto the parchment, leaving about 1/2 inch in between each dome. They will look ridiculously small, but they expand like crazy. Keep going. You will get a lot on each sheet. Alternatively, hand scoop the mixture to form teaspoon-size domes.
Using your fingertips, sprinkle a few drops of cold water over the choux before placing the pan in the oven. Don’t open the oven door at all during the baking because you risk the puffs falling flat. After 10 minutes, turn down the temperature to 350. Give them another 5-10 minutes; when they look puffed up and toasty brown, remove them from the oven. Transfer the puffs to a rack to cool completely.
Once the puffs are cool, set the rack over a baking sheet to catch drips. Warm the honey in the microwave on high for 30 seconds or on the stove top over low heat for just a few minutes. Drizzle the honey over the puffs. Drop the toasted chopped nuts on top while the honey is still warm, so they adhere. Wait for the honey to set, then enjoy.
Lisa Stander-Horel and Tim Horel will be at the Sukkot Harvest Festival, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael.
“Nosh on This: Gluten-Free Baking from a Jewish-American Kitchen” (288 pages, The Experiment Publishing, $19.95)