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Friday, May 15, 2015

Culinary School - Session 110: Gluten Free Desserts and Tea

Culinary School: Session 110 (05.13.15)

Gluten Free Desserts and Tea

At least they weren't ALL bad...

... but when they were bad, they were awful!

A side by side test - there's no better way to compare two products to determine the good, the bad... and the ugly. On the tasting plate: Buttermilk Biscuits, Genoise Cake, Peanut Butter Cookies and Chocolate Cupcakes. You'll just have to trust my subjective opinion on taste, but I think the photos below speak for themselves.

But first off, what is Gluten? Well, here is what Gluten isn't... 
  • Gluten is not something that suddenly appeared in our food supply in the last five years
  • Gluten is not some GMO additive being mixed into processed foods by Big Business and Global Pharma
  • Gluten is not some modified sugar or even a carbohydrate that will make you fat
  • Gluten is not a "toxin" (whatever those are)

Gluten is a mixture of two proteins found primary in wheat, barley and rye products. Gluten is what gives elasticity and structure to baked goods. Remember all of those warnings not to over-work the dough in recipes that use wheat flour? Too much mixing develops too much Gluten. But without Gluten, it is difficult (but not impossible) to create baked goods with a strong structure, good rise and bready chew.

Some people (an extremely small percent of the population) have a legitimate allergy to Gluten which can result in painful reactions when Gluten is consumed. The rest of the population has hopped on the bandwagon, looking for their next pseudo-science fix ever since Atkins fell out of vogue (although there's always Paleo!).

Over the last five years, Gluten-free products have flooded to market. In many ways, this is extremely unfortunate. First, the myths about Gluten just grow and grow. Plain and simple, if someone is not allergic to Gluten, there's no reason to avoid it. 

But if that's true, why do some many people report that they feel better when they "go Gluten-free"? Well, they're probably paying attention to what they are eating for a change, replacing processed foods loaded with legitimately questionable ingredients with healthier alternatives for once. Who isn't going to feel better after eating an apple versus a box of donuts?

How do they do it?

The key to successful Gluten-free foods is developing recipes that adequately mimic the functional characteristics of Gluten. Combinations of flours (e.g. rice), starches (e.g. corn, potato and tapioca) and gums (e.g. guar and xanthan) are commonly used. The results vary greatly.

Gluten-free doughs tend to be wetter and stickier, which is good to know before you mix your first batch of Gluten-free cookies and worry that something has gone horribly wrong! The final products tend to have a dense, sticky and arguably spongy (some would say rubbery) texture. For certain products such as Biscuits, this is not a good thing. You just can't mimic the flaky perfection of a traditional Buttermilk Biscuit. And yet, the recipes we tried for Gluten-free Peanut Butter Cookies and Chocolate Cupcakes were arguably better than the original. 

In the end, when it comes to Gluten-free desserts, there are already so many delicious options that are inherently Gluten-free, replacing them with barely-passable, modified recipes seems unnecessary.

And a spot of tea...

As a civilized way to end the evening, all of the Gluten-free products were washed down with a Tea tasting. My reaction in two words: "Needs Coffee!"

- Ingredients Running Tally -

Ingredients used to date (05.13.15):
  • Flour: 26,025g
  • Eggs: 18,050g (361x)
  • Sugar: 38,680g
  • Butter: 18,550g
  • Milk/Cream: 19,795g
  • Chocolate: 9,330g (since 01.12.15)

    - The Recipes -



    The Original:

    The perfect biscuit: light, flaky and tender. You can't beat simplicity done well.

    The Gluten-Free:

    As a proxy for the original, these Biscuits failed miserably. No one can deny that they do not look anything like the original. And the texture was not at all flaky; rather, it was spongy. That said, they still had a rich, buttery flavor. And straight from the oven, they would not be a bad bread for a breakfast sandwich ... but they are not biscuits.


    Genoise Cake

    The Original:

    The traditional Genoise Cake is so bad, why would you want to make a Gluten-free version? That was the joke of the evening. But maybe anything is good when covered in enough Buttercream.

    The Gluten-Free: 

    The Gluten-free version contains Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Xanthan Gum and Egg White Powder. This version didn't rise nearly as well as the traditional recipe (no surprise there). But when cut, the two cakes had remarkably similar looking textures. I personally found that they tasted almost exactly the same as well (i.e. dry). However, the Gluten-free version had an off-putting odor, I believe thanks to the Egg White Powder.


    Peanut Butter Cookies

    The Original:

    These classics were exactly what you would expect from a good Peanut Butter Cookies, and yet...

    The Gluten-Free:

    ... the Gluten-free cookies were actually butter. The crackled exterior was more visually appealing. But more importantly, they simply tasted better, having a stronger, deeper Peanut Butter flavor. That's a point for team Gluten-free.


    Chocolate Cupcakes

    The Original:

    Everyone clamored for this recipe when I posted photos months ago. Rightly so. It's a really good cupcake. 

    The Gluten-Free:

    ... and yet again, I think the Gluten-free version triumphed this round. Unlike with the Peanut Butter Cookies, I cannot give the Gluten-free version any points for superior appearance. In fact, these are visually very unattractive, particularly in a direct side-by-side with the original. But the recipe, which contains a significant quantity of Black Bean Puree (?!?), resulted in a richer cake.

    Next - Session 111: Dietary Restrictions and Coffee

    Previous - Session 109: Deconstructed Plating 2 - Carrot Cake, Black Forest Cake, Lemon Chiffon Cake and Tart Tatin 

    Take a look at the full syllabus

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