A lot of people assume that gluten free bakes can only ever be poor imitations of their wheaty cousins. Dry, heavy and even “dusty”: all words I’ve heard used to describe disappointing gluten free experiences, but I’m here to put your minds at rest. Gluten free bakes can be equally delicious, moist and flavoursome as bakes made with wheat flour, and often even more so.
Due to recent changes in agricultural practices to ensure faster production, the amount of gluten found in crops has increased and has had a direct impact on the increasing numbers of people affected by gluten-related digestive issues.
Being gluten free no longer requires a trip to the chemist’s or health food store to buy specialist breads, biscuits and cakes and is no longer observed only by those affected with the autoimmune disorder, coeliac disease. Gluten free is fast becoming a way of life for many of us, either personally or when catering for friends and family. Wheat intolerance can cause huge discomfort and lethargy and should not be seen as faddy or fussy. GF followers deserve to be taken seriously and they deserve to eat delicious food.
I do not personally follow a strict gluten free lifestyle and wheat is still very much a part of my diet. But I live with a gluten dodger and a consequence of that has been that I eat less and less wheat and have worked very hard to create a full gluten free repertoire that ensures he doesn’t have to miss out on his favourite foods, and neither do I. When he first gave up gluten, I realised many of my failsafe and much loved bakes were already wheat free because I was already a big devotee to the wonder that is torte.
Tortes are cakes made without wheat flour, most often with nut flours (finely ground nuts) and are deliciously close textured and decadent - as perfect for a posh pudding as with a short black coffee in the afternoon. If you order a cake while out, be sure to ask if the torte on the menu is actually gluten free, as it should be. There are many cakes masquerading as tortes out there, which contain wheat flour, and should be avoided.
Some cakes are what I call “naturally” gluten free, in as far as they are not recipes that have been adapted to replace wheat, because they didn’t require wheat to begin with. Some of my favourite cakes, aside from rich chocolate tortes, are citrus spiked polenta cakes. Polenta is naturally gluten free as it is corn rather than wheat based. Moist, moreish and tangy, you won’t find a “dusty” crumb in sight with a slice of this.
With other cakes, I have adapted recipes to replace gluten. Although a simple all-in-one sponge will be fine if you substitute wheat flour for a ready mixed gluten free alternative, I personally often prefer the flavour of simple rice flour, sometimes cut with ground almonds for extra moisture.
GF bakes that use aerated eggs as the main or sole raising agent are pretty much undetectable as gluten free. I have tested this on unsuspecting cake eaters and have yet to find someone who could tell they were eating a gluten free bake. Methods which require more eggs often use less flour than a standard sponge cake too, which may play a part in making their GF credentials less perceptible, even to the biggest fans of gluten. Jocande biscuit, génoise and chiffon cake are all excellent and tasty examples of the aeration method, which is particularly successful in gluten free baking.
To get you started, here’s my recipe for lemon chiffon cake which, as well as being gluten free, also happens to be dairy free too. I’m convinced this light, moist cake will be able to convert even the most hardened gluten lover into having a rethink. Gluten free really doesn’t have to be boring.
Whatever you do, don’t be scared or cynical of gluten free baking. Just crank up your oven and get stuck in.