We recently got a new loan officer assigned to our branch. I frequently bring baked goods to the branch to share (so we don’t eat them all at home), and offer them to whoever is around. Several times, I've offered him things that I’ve baked, but he declined. At first I just thought that he was being health-conscious and more disciplined than I am. =) But then at one point I saw him eating a candy bar and drinking soda, and wondered. Finally, one day when I asked him if he wanted something, he said, “You know I can’t eat wheat, right?” Um, no, I didn’t, or I wouldn’t have kept offering him things that he couldn’t eat!
So that led me to thinking about what sort of things I could make that he would be able to eat. He did clarify for me that it’s gluten that he can’t have, not just wheat (which I pretty much figured). I had an employee a number of years back with the same dietary restrictions. I usually make cakes for people’s birthdays, and for her I ended up making my favorite cheesecake, which doesn’t have any flour in it. Instead of a cookie crust, I made a brown sugar/pecan crust. It worked out quite well. But much as I love that cheesecake recipe, I needed to expand my gluten-free repertoire.
Fortunately, there are lots of great resources out there these days for gluten-free recipes. One great website is Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef. Another place that I looked was the King Arthur Flour website. King Arthur recently introduced a line of gluten-free mixes, including a gluten-free multipurpose flour that you can use in your own recipes. I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic HEB grocery store to shop in that carries quite a few King Arthur products (including their new unbleached cake flour blend, but that’s another post). Even so, I was pretty surprised to find that they’re already carrying a whole bunch of the new GF products, including the flour! It is a little on the expensive side, but worth it to me, since I’m just starting out with GF baking and it’s easier than buying and mixing an assortment of other flours and starches. (And HEB has great prices, so it costs a bit less than on the KAF website and I don't have to pay shipping.) The one thing I didn’t find at my local grocery store was xanthan gum--I had to go to elsewhere for that. It can also be a bit pricey at first, but it’ll last me quite a while since most recipes only use a little at a time. Xanthan gum is important because without gluten, you need something to hold things together.
I decided to start simple for my first attempt. In a blog post back in May, Shauna (the above-mentioned Gluten-Free Girl) mentioned that the recipes in David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert are generally very easy to convert to gluten-free. Conveniently, one of the recipes he included in the book is a slight variation on my favorite brownie recipe. The brownies don't have much flour to begin with, so I figured it would be easy to substitute the gluten-free stuff. That was the only change I made, and I didn't bother adding any xanthan gum since I was using such a small amount of gluten-free flour. I don't usually put nuts in my brownies, but I did add some pecans to these. I used El Rey 70% chocolate (which is what I usually use for the Essence of Chocolate recipe) and I baked the brownies for 25 minutes.
The verdict? Not surprisingly, the brownies were a big hit with all who tried them, including the intended recipient. I definitely prefer mine without nuts, though. And I realized after tasting these brownies that the original recipe includes salt, which this one did not. I definitely think the salt should be added. Also, the DL recipe is baked in a 9" square pan, while the recipe I usually make uses an 8" pan. I like the thicker texture of the brownies baked in the smaller pan. This was definitely a worthwhile experiment, but next time I'll do the flour substitution in the recipe I usually make.
You can find the Ready for Dessert recipe (with wheat flour) on Leite's Culinaria. I'll definitely be making more recipes from this cookbook (already have, in fact). And there will be more gluten-free baking, both adaptations and recipes designed to be gluten-free. At some point, I do want to try other gluten-free flours, not just the premixed blends. While I'm glad that I don't have to avoid gluten myself, I like being able to make things that all of the people I know can enjoy. Coming soon, my variation on a gluten-free scone recipe from King Arthur. =)