Monday, December 10, 2012

adventures in gluten-free


I mentioned yesterday that I recently ventured into the land of gluten-free baking...and I have to admit, I did so with some trepidation.  A couple of blogs that I read sometimes feature gluten-free recipes with daunting lists of ingredients - things like xanthan gum and tapioca starch - and, even though I'm slowly becoming more interested in stepping out of my baking comfort zone, this was sounding more and more like a journey best left untaken.  Except I have a colleague who, in managing a chronic health condition, follows a gluten-free diet, and every time I take baked goods to the office, I feel a deep pang of guilt that she can't partake. 

So in planning my dessert contribution to last Thursday's office holiday dinner, I decided to go on that journey after all. (It also helped that I found this pre-mixed gluten-free all-purpose flour. It wasn't cheap, but for a one-time baking effort, it was wi$er to buy this than to make my own.)


Gluten-free baking aside, this was actually an interesting recipe to work with.  I not only had to separate the eggs (during which, I took a moment of brief pride in how perfectly that egg yolk fit into the shell)...


...but I also had to do a serious amount of whisking for the egg whites.  For reasons I don't claim to understand, the desired "stiff peaks" indicated in the recipe never formed - either time that I made this recipe...and trust me, it wasn't for lack of trying.  I definitely had sore wrists the next day!

In fact, the recipe as a whole felt pretty complex - some by my own doing (such as needing to make the all-purpose flour into self-rising flour), some not (such as the four different bowls required for all the mixing).


But the end result of my test bake earlier last week turned out decently.  I was worried the batter wouldn't have cooked thoroughly, or would be gummy or (eek) hard.  In reality, it was none of those things.  A little grittier, with a flavor less prevalent and clear than I would have liked...but edible, nonetheless.


The cream cheese frosting that I spread on top helped, as well.  (This was the plate I prepared for my unknowing guinea pigs - and by guinea pigs, I mean student staff whom I asked to give me their culinary comments.)  They immediately recognized that something was a little different about the texture, yet they gave their approval to the flavor and overall taste.


So, when it came time to bake the actual batch, I was ready - with a little bit of help from this super-useful post that offers suggestions such as substituting brown sugar for the white (which I did in the batter itself, but not the whisked egg whites), the way to make all-purpose flour self-rising (as mentioned above), or the importance of removing baked goods from the pan as quickly as possible.  I also increased the amount of chai tea powder, to see if I could create a stronger flavor.


Ultimately, they turned out nicely.  Next time, I might try brewing chai instead of relying on the powdered mix, but really, Karina's hints made a significant difference, as the batter turned out a little moister, and the flavor was a little more present.  Most importantly, my colleague liked them.

But I learned one very important lesson in this experience. When trying out a new baking method - be it gluten-free, vegan or something else entirely - using only one variable at a time might be worthwhile.  That could be trying proven products in a new recipe, or trying gluten-free flour in a tried-and-true recipe, either of which allow for a stronger sense of comparison and quality.  Otherwise, you wind up like me, trying a new baking method with a new recipe, and crossing my fingers that the cupcakes taste alright, but not really knowing for sure how they're supposed to taste in the first place.

Because when you're trying to prepare a dessert for almost two dozen people, the possibility of messing up dessert just doesn't sound like fun.

Where I am: home
What I'm reading: the newest issue of Entertainment Weekly

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