March 19, 2012

Gluten schmuten...

"Is it gluten-free?..."

With kitchen time still being partaken as a late-night, moodily-lit activity it's fair to say that the planning of any TPB-based affairs has been particularly haphazard of late. And so, in a vague attempt at gathering together some very lose ends, I'm going to pretend that it was this week's task to explore methods for baking gluten-free.

Gluten is a protein comprised of gliadin and glutelin, which together with starch forms the endosperm of grain species including wheat, barley and rye. While it is an important source of nutrition and is responsible for providing both shape and texture to everything that we bake, autoimmune reactions towards gluten can wreak dietary havoc in predisposed individuals, and result in the most unpleasant of consequences for all concerned. Requests for 'gluten-free' goods have certainly become more common of late, and while it's not clear whether this is due to a genuine increase in the prevalence of gluten intolerance, or simply a higher frequency of poorly (and probably self) diagnosed wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity, it's clear that as a baker, having a few GF options in your baking repertoire is certainly going to be handy.

Now, I'm not all that big on diets, and while I'm generally respectful of other's dietary decisions, I've realised that my problem with 'exclusion' diets comes down to a matter to perspective. Whether it be vegetarian, paleolithic or gluten-free, I'm firmly of the opinion that meals will never be great if you try an directly replace the unwanted ingredient. I would rather focus on the fabulous array of vegetables at my disposal that substitute a luscious steak with faux meat, and with so many interesting flour varieties now at our disposal, I think the same approach can be made toward baking gluten-free. Where this becomes slightly more complicated, however, is in textures. While varieties like quinoa and amaranth bring unique flavours that merely require you to adjust your tasting perception, the loss of that gluten-based elasticity makes getting light, well-risen, structurally stable treats with the requisite 'chew' a tad more difficult.

For novices like me, however, it appears that the trick is quite simply in finding the right recipe, and as two of my favourite food bloggers also happen to do a lot of gluten-free baking, it ended up being quite easy indeed.

First on the agenda were carrot and walnut cupcakes, which with a combination of amaranth, chestnut, quinoa and sorghum flours presented with both a lovely moist texture and delicious nutty flavour.

These were closely followed by some light and delicate lemon coconut teacakes, which enjoyed an interesting, grainy crunch thanks to the inclusion of rice flour and millet meal.

To be fair I thought it best not to exclude anyone, and so there were also a number of options for the dedicated gluten lovers out there, including:

and some jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, I-may-just-take-over-the-world-with-these chocolate salted caramel tarts, just for good measure.

Maybe I should have gone with the theme 'little pleasures'...

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