Gluten Free Baking: my first attempts

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about the gluten-free lifestyle into which I was thrust 4 1/2 months ago. On the whole I have adjusted reasonably well and I know there are far worse things one could suffer, but there are definitely times when it is a big inconvenience. I notice it most when out of my normal routines, for example, using service stations on the motorway. The rest of the family grab a quick burger or sandwich but I’ll spend ages walking up and down aisles, scrutinising microscopic labels with my fading eyesight. I’ll end up with a bean or fish salad or a bag of fruit and nuts – and then will be hungry again within an hour or so.

Gluten-free products are also really expensive. Bread is probably the worst offender. A loaf of GF sliced brown bread will be around £3 and it will be about 2/3 the size of a “normal” loaf, with a massively long list of ingredients and additives. To add insult to injury, most GF loaves fall apart in your mouth and taste of dust. They are only tolerable when toasted or heaped high with so much topping that the cardboardyness is disguised.  Of the loaves I’ve tried, the only ones I’d return to are the “Genius” range and Marks and Spencer’s GF Bloomer – but still I find them barely edible.

I know there’s a big range of GF products nowadays, compared with in the past, and I also know that new products are being developed all the time: the market is growing. Still, I can’t afford to hang around waiting for someone to improve on the current offerings. I’ve always enjoyed baking so I need to get started making my own GF products. Unfortunately, it’s been a busy few months and I haven’t really had time to devote myself to the cause. Instead, I’ve just dabbled a bit here and there. Nevertheless, the initial results are promising. First, let’s talk about cake.

A few months ago, my friend Caralyn bought me a great recipe book called Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache. Most of the recipes are GF and have the added bonus of being healthy as they are made with grated or pureed vegetables, rice flour and almonds instead of flour and butter. This might sound utterly revolting but I assure you they’re delicious and incredibly light. So far I have made carrot cake, coffee and walnut cake and (my favourite) these little lemon cupcakes made with grated courgette:

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This lemon drizzle cake was made with a vegetable I usually loathe and detest. Swede. (shudder). It tasted lovely.

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If vegetable-based cakes aren’t your thing, there are plenty of “ordinary” cake recipes that just happen to be GF. This chocolate roulade was just made with chocolate, sugar and eggs. And, of course, double cream.

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So, it didn’t take long for me to feel happy about GF cakes. Bread, however, was another story.

I thought it would be so easy. I bought some Dove’s Farm flour and GF yeast and used the recipe on the back of the packet. It called for ingredients I wouldn’t usually put in bread (eggs and lots of olive oil) but it looked like bread dough and behaved like bread dough. It rose nicely and when it finally came out of the oven, I could hardly wait to sample it.

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It looked so appetising…

It was disgusting – like eating a pile of grey ash. I persevered and had two slices but in the end it disappeared into the bin. Yes, it was that bad. I wouldn’t inflict it on anyone or anything.

Many weeks passed. I was busy and there was no time for researching alternatives. I pretty much stopped eating bread as there was just no point. Then, a work colleague showed me a magazine article about a website called Deliciously Ella. I had a look. The recipes looked fanatically puritanical (i.e. vegan, gluten free, no refined sugar, no dairy) which I found off-putting. Still, there was a bread recipe and it seemed that lots of people were endorsing it. The recipe called for ingredients I’d barely heard of but perhaps it was worth a go. My first task was to buy brown rice flour, a large amount of pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and psyllium husk powder. I did some googling and researched the cheapest suppliers. Within days, strange packages started arriving at the door. The kitchen began to look like an apothecary’s shop but at last I had what I needed.

One by one I added the ingredients to my mixing bowl as follows (clockwise, from the top): whole pumpkin seeds, ground pumpkin seeds, brown rice flour, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and psyllium husk powder, all encircling a mound of ground almonds. To this, I added salt and water and thus a brown/grey sludge was formed. It looked a bit grim so I threw a few GF oats on top.

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The magic ingredients

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brown/grey sludge

According to Ella, this was supposed to rest for an hour to firm up but my sludge was already pretty firm so I baked it straightaway. The end result looked unpromising. It was a greeny, almost-purply grey colour. Yet it actually tasted really good: almost chewy. Chewiness is not a quality usually associated with GF bread. I could eat this bread on its own, toasted or untoasted. Result! I don’t think it was a particularly cheap loaf of bread (perhaps I will enlist Paul’s help to work out the cost per slice). Still, it was an edible loaf of bread, packed with good things. For that, I was thankful.

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Now that I’ve got started, I hope to spend many more productive hours in the kitchen. After all, the nights are drawing in and the air is cooling. Autumn is around the corner and baking will warm the house as well as filling it with good smells. Friends have been sending me recipes over recent months so there are plenty more things to try. I will write another update soon.

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