Friday, March 2, 2012

Something puffy in Cuenca, Ecuador

This post is about Baked Cheese Puffs. If you are trying to eat a wheat-free lifestyle, here is a recipe for a delicious gluten free bread that freezes well, is versatile to use as breakfast, appetizer, lunch, dinner, or snack.

I serve these to guests who are not gluten free and they never guess it is not made with wheat until they see me eat one!

Because this blog is about Cuenca, where I live at 8300 ft altitude in the Andes mountains of Ecuador, I am presenting this as a recipe for high altitude baking with a note at the bottom telling how to adapt the recipe to "normal altitudes" sea level to about 4000 feet alt. And for those who want a wheat recipe there are suggestions but not tested by me.

I'm not a nutritionist  - just a good practical cook.  This recipe has good protein, varied fiber, no sugar but is still kinda high in cholesterol and fat as so many gluten free recipes are.

This "puff" was a great success.

These are a bit of work and take a long time to bake but they are worth it. If you have teenagers, these will disappear at lightning speed. You can make them ahead and store in freezer for at least a couple of weeks.  They hold well in the refrigerator for a few days. Try them out!

Cuenca GF Baked Cheese Puffs
Ingredients                                T=Tablespoon, tsp=teaspoon
                                                   c= cup     1/2 c=1/2 cup
4 Tablespoons butter
4 T shortening (I used grape seed oil instead)
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup Pamela's gluten free baking mix  
  or  1/2 cup  brown rice flour, 1/4 c potato starch, 1/4 c tapioca starch
1/2 cup almond flour (I do not use blanched almonds but you may - either is fine)
1/2 tsp xantham gum
1/2 tsp guar gum (you  may use all xantham gum but guar gum will make the texture better)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
pinch of fresh ground pepper or 1 tsp your favorite seasoning such as Italian seasoning, smoked paprika or chili powder or your choice

4 eggs at room temp
1 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar cheese grated Today in Cuenca, I doubled the recipe and used 1 cup grated cheddar, 1 cup "taco cheese" from Super Maxi, 1 cup cubed queso fresca=3 cups cheese for the doubled recipe. It made 4 cookie sheets of puffs so I packaged small batches in small zip lock bags and put them in the freezer. When I can think of nothing  gf for lunch, I can pull one or two out and have with whatever I have on-hand: tuna, a fried egg, steamed veggies, etc.

1.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Boil butter and water in a medium sized saucepan on medium heat, reduce to low.
3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flours, gums and pepper.
4.  Reduce the water and butter mixture to low heat.
6. Now add the entire flour mixture and VERY quickly stir with  a wooden spoon until a dough ball forms (or all is well stirred together to make a gooey dough).
7.  Now preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
8. Scrape the dough into your mixer bowl.  Allow the dough to cool somewhat - this step may take 10 min or more. Test dough temp before continuing.  If you do not allow the dough to cool, when you mix in the eggs, they will cook into little rubbery bits.
9. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix with flat paddle tool or dough hook in electric mixer. If you have a KitchenAid, mix on 4. On other mixers, use medium speed and mix until creamy or the texture of very thick soup.
10. Add cheese, mixing in the same fashion.
11. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart.
12. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F. Lower heat to 350 degrees F and continue to bake for another 40-50 min until puffy and a medium golden brown.  Test one puff by cutting into it to be sure it is baked all the way through. There should be no raw dough in the middle.

Lower Altitude cooking? If you live at a lower altitude, try these changes:
reduce flour by 1/4 cup
reduce water by 1/4 cup
reduce total baking time to 30-40 minutes.

NOTE: ovens vary greatly in temperature. Using an oven thermometer is a great way to assure you are baking at the desired temp. You can alter the baking time if your oven temp is off.

To make this with wheat flour, eliminate the gums and reduce liquid by 1/3 cup. Use all wheat flour.  NOT gluten free!

In Cuenca, today I doubled the recipe and used 1 cup light cheddar, 1 cup "taco cheese" from Super Maxi, 1 cup queso fresco (a cheese common in South America) because that is what was in the refrig.  The puffs came out golden brown, delicate and delicious. I believe the grape seed oil lends a wonderful lightness to the result.

***Please write a comment if you know where I can buy grapeseed oil in Cuenca. I have not found it anywhere.***

Tonight I made a light turkey salad-avocado mix to put in the baked puffs for a light dinner. (like small sandwiches)
Oh, the green figs are just for show.  Ripe figs later this year.
Hey readers: I want to mention a bright new blog Cuenca Tech Life covering up to the minute technology topics. It is generated right here in Cuenca by Lenny Charnoff who is my husband and my entire IT department.

For readers interested in Cuenca as a destination, next week I will write about some of thecommon  little issues that come up when living here.  I LOVE Cuenca but it is not an ideal paradise of perfection.  More later...


  1. Hi Sharon,
    My husband and I are moving to Cuenca sometime July of this year. I am gluten intolerant and would like to know want kinds of GF flours are available in the stores. I was considering to bring my bread machine. Will appreciate your response, thanks,

    1. Hi Judith - if you search my blog for "gluten free" or "flour" you will find where I've written about this very topic. Yes! Bring your bread machine. I recently visited the US and brought a grain mill back (Wonder Mill-Whisper Mill was less expensive than the best - I got the Wonder Mill mainly to grind brown rice flour for baking, sauces, etc.). You can find white rice flour, corn meal and blue corn meal, quinoa is a good gf flour. Potato starch, tapioca flour and corn starch are all readily available at a "spice " store called Cadelaes - 2 locations in Cuenca.Bring vanilla beans if you like to have them - not successful yet at locating any here but I have not checked Cadelaes yet.

      Peanut butter is available here at mercado and Super Maxi alike but some expats complain about wanting specific brands or wanting a lower price on imported fav brands. More spices and flours are probably available in Quito or Guayaquil.

      If you like Teff, I'd recommend buying a lot and bringing it. There is none to be found here. I believe it is an Egyptian grain, probably not grown in SA. I like its nutty flavor if a little is added to baked goods or pancakes so I brought back 6 pounds. We paid extra to bring 2 additional suitcases each, about $280 total. In the summer, no extra luggage is allowed I believe but check with your airline. (may be different for first class).

      Also I have not been able to find arrowroot powder which is way expensive anyway. But using corn starch in place of arrowroot powder with almond flour has worked fine for me.

      BTW I definitely recommend putting notes in any suitcase with gf flour/foods saying in both English and Espanol that you are celiac or whatever and must have these foods for your health. I've had no problem bringing in a suitcase tamari sauce (none here that I've found), a few gf Thai sauces, gf grains and flours, other items in small quantities.
      Do not bring seeds or plants of any kind but probably you will have no problem with customs if you have the notes in place. 5 of our 8 bags were checked. Note to the wise, carry ons cannot be over 40 pounds for international flights. We had to check ours when we got to Miami. Yikes.

      There is just no way to get US products here that is not expensive. A postal service Correos is an option for shipping small things in, limitations are noted previously. We have found outright shipping to be incredibly prohibitive. Ferrying things back when you visit the US or elsewhere is another option. If you are sending a container, get everything on there you can because there are no weight limitations and you can bring large objects that do not fit in a suitcase. So one decides what to spend more on and what to let go of. That is a lot of the first year of living here, I suppose.

      And yet there are so many marvelous things to enjoy and new things to try so do not be discouraged.

      Hey, let me know when you get here. Good luck with the last 6 mo rush of discarding, storing and packing. And safe travels.

    2. Hi Sharon,

      Thanks so much for your detailed response, I really appreciate that. I have tried several times to reply and thank you, but somehow I have not been able to publish my reply. giving it another go.
      I am looking forward to meeting you an discuss this GF thing in more detail. I am visiting the end of Mach/beginning of April to check on our apartment. If not then, there will be plenty of time after our move.
      I am knee deep in sorting etc., hampered by two broken wrists due to an ice skating mishap :(
      Wanted to have a last go at a winter sport activity on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Maine. Oh well, two more weeks on the one wrist and four more on the other.
      Thanks again Sharon!

  2. Sharon,
    Thanks so much for that detailed response! We live in Maine and are very spoiled with all that is available to us in the GF department. From Whole Foods, specialty stores to the regular grocery stores there is an abundance of GF product to choose from.
    But I am pleased to hear what's available in Cuenca. I will definitely bring some Thai sauces, I love them too!
    The bread machine is now on the TAKE List.
    I will be in Cuenca the end of March to check up on our apartment and cannot wait to see the progress they have made.
    Then we will not be back until our move.
    Thanks again Sharon!