Tasty brownies can be gluten-free




Cake Mix Doctor's Cake Mix

Anne Byrn, aka The Cake Mix Doctor, sells her own line of cake mixes with no artificial ingredients. This month, they are being made available at Harris Teeter stores. The mixes come in two flavors — Deep, Dark Chocolate and Old-Fashioned Yellow Cake, and cost about $5.99 each.

Most people know Anne Byrn as the Cake Mix Doctor, but her last two cookbooks offered recipes for those who cannot eat cake.

Byrn, former food editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has ventured into gluten-free cooking.

While promoting her latest cookbook, "Unbelievably Gluten-Free," Byrn sat down to talk about what led her to tackle this topic and what surprised her most about these gluten-free recipes.

Gluten-free diets used to be only for a small percentage of the population - those with celiac disease who cannot eat gluten, a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains. The proteins damage their small intestines, making them unable to absorb nutrients, which can lead to autoimmune disorders and an increased risk for certain cancers.

Now gluten-free diets are everywhere. They are popular among followers of the Paleo diet, are recommended for children with ADHD, and have even been adopted by those convinced that abstaining from gluten improves their mental focus.

Byrn, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., explained that her cookbook fans started asking for gluten-free versions of her doctored cake mix recipes in 2006. Often, the pleas came from a mother trying to make a birthday cake for a child on a gluten-free diet. When Byrn pitched the idea of a gluten-free cake cookbook to her publisher, her editor said the company was not interested.

A couple of years later when Betty Crocker came out with a gluten-free cake mix, Byrn persuaded the publisher.

Her first book, "The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free," came out in 2010. While on tour with that book, Byrn asked her fans what other gluten-free recipes they were seeking. She soon had a list: pie crust, gumbo, chicken pot pie, angel food cake and more.

"That's how this book came about — all the recipes people requested while I was on book tour," Byrn said.

Instead of using flour or other ingredients that contain gluten, Byrn's recipes call for gluten-free products, including pasta, cake mixes and Bisquick. Her baked goods use a variety of substitutes for wheat flour, including rice and sorghum flour in her angel food cake and cornstarch in her brownies. With gluten-free baking, she learned that acidic ingredients help tenderize the rice flour that is the basis of so many recipes. So her recipes often call for lemon juice or buttermilk and an extra egg to create more structure.

Best of all, when Byrn was writing these cookbooks, she lost a few stubborn pounds around her middle.

"I think there's definitely a connection," she said.

Gluten-Free Saucepan Brownies

Yield: 16 small brownies

For the best flavor, use the best cocoa powder you have. I bake with Hershey's day-to-day, but when I want more flavor I use Ghirardelli cocoa. For a dairy-free version, use margarine instead of butter and 1/2 cup carob chips in place of semisweet chocolate chips. From "Unbelievably Gluten-Free!" by Anne Byrn (Workman, 2012).

Vegetable oil spray, for misting the baking pan

1/4 cup cornstarch, plus cornstarch for dusting the baking pan

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Place rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist an 8-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil spray, then dust it with cornstarch. Set the baking pan aside.Place butter in a medium-size saucepan over low heat and stir until melted. Add cocoa powder and stir until thickened and smooth, about 15 to 20 seconds. Remove pan from heat and stir in brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla until smooth. Break the eggs in the pan and stir to combine well. Add the 1/4 cup cornstarch and the salt and stir until the batter is smooth. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and place the pan in the oven. Bake the brownies until the edges are firm, the top is shiny, and the center is just set, 25 to 30 minutes. If you like your brownies gooey, bake them for 25 minutes, and if you like them more chewy, bake them for 30 minutes.

Remove the baking pan from the oven and let the brownies cool for 1 hour before slicing them into 1-inch squares, if desired. Store the brownies, covered with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, at room temperature for up to 5 days.