Thursday, February 10, 2011

Have your cake and eat it too!


One of the things I mourned when I both had to give up eggs in my baking, and later went gluten-free, was the convenience of cake mixes. Although I am an avid from scratch baker as well, I enjoyed using the cake mixes as a "jumping off point" for recipes, such as my favorite, the iconic Tunnel of Fudge Cake. Similarly Anne Byrn author of the "Cake Mix Doctor" series made a career out of "doctoring" store bought mixes to make beautiful Bundts, magnificent muffins and creative cookies. She has now tackled the gluten-free market with her latest book, "The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free". I can honestly say if I recommend one gluten-free baking book, it would be this one. Although dairy-free substitutes are provided for each recipe, they are not egg-less. But, ones own experimentation can be done with various egg substitutes.

Although normally from scratch baking is cheaper than using store bought mixes, it is not necessarily the case with gluten-free baking. Most recipes call for a blend of flours, sometimes as many as five (or more), each one may cost 5-7 times that of all-purpose wheat flour. Plus there is xanthan gum which can cost $13 a packet. And if you bake infrequently, these items will go bad over time (I store mine in the freezer to help prolong their freshness). Since Betty Crocker unveiled her line of gluten-free mixes, including cakes, cookies and brownies, the cost of gluten-free baking has gone down significantly. The Betty Crocker mixes are less than $4 (in my supermarket), and taste great. I particularly like the brownie mix, the texture and flavor are great. Although there are more and more gluten-free bakeries cropping up, most of us have to buy frozen or bake our own gluten-free cakes and cupcakes. So, the convenience found in these mixes is a boon to us. Anne Byrn puts a spin on the store bought mixes by adding ingredients to create such treats as Seven Layer Brownies, Snickerdoodle Cake and Lemon Bundt. She even gives step by step instructions for creating a gluten-free wedding cake! The cookbook is uncomplicated and yields great results. With just a few additions, Ms. Byrn shows you how you can elevate the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Along these lines, my friend Shuli recently threw a gala third birthday party for her son. Shuli's brother was diagnosed with Celiac disease as an adult, and she makes a great effort to accommodate his dietary needs. Catering the entire party on her own, she wanted to make the dishes as quick and easy to prepare as she could. She decided to make a spread of bagels, providing Udi's brand for her brother, flavored cream cheeses, hard cheeses, smoked salmon and salads (including a Caesar with gluten-free croutons and a rice noodle pasta salad). In this way, the gluten-free guest could enjoy all the dishes along with everyone else. For dessert, Shuli made a dessert bar that was entirely gluten-free! For this she gets the Gluten Free Maven's "Hostess with the Mostest Award" for 2011. Since she isn't cooking gluten-free on a daily basis, and did not wish to complicate things with buying a half dozen different flours she would use only once, Shuli decided to stick with mixes and store bought baked goods, which she "doctored". Being that the party was on Super Bowl Sunday, and her son was born the day our home team won the Super Bowl, she decided to make football shaped brownies. She used the Betty Crocker Brownie mix which she frosted with Duncan Hines Whipped Chocolate Frosting (gluten-free and dairy-free). Then, she cut out the shapes with a football cookie cutter (Shuli told me you could also bend a tin can into a football shape if you don't have a cookie cutter). Putting white frosting in a zip-top plastic bag, she snipped one corner and added the lacing to the footballs. The result was a big hit! She also made a decorated cake, individual trifles (see pic. above) using crumbled cake and decorating store-bought black and white cookies to look like a little boy's face. Adding a tray of fruit kebabs made her gluten-free dessert bar a spectacular looking and tasting success!

While we unfortunately don't all attend so many gluten friendly parties as this, we can still take along a dessert or dish to add to the festivities, and be enjoyed by all---gluten-free or otherwise.

The author recommends using Betty Crocker or Gluten Free Pantry brand mixes.

Chocolate Cloud Cookies
from The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free by Anne Byrn, p.p. 266-7

1 package (15 ounces) chocolate gluten-free cake mix
2 Tablespoons chocolate instant pudding mix
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter or vegetable shortening, melted
1 large egg
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Set aside 2 ungreased baking sheets.

2. Place the cake mix, pudding mix, melted butter, and egg in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients nearly come together in a ball, 45 seconds. Place the confectioners' sugar in a shallow bowl. With your hands form the cookie dough into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball of dough in the confectioners' sugar and arrange 12 balls on each baking sheet 2 to 3 inches apart.

3. Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake the cookies until they are puffed up , firm around the edges, but still slightly soft in the center, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool for 5 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely, 15 minutes longer. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Store the cookies in a cookie jar or tin at room temperature for up to a week. Freeze the cookies, wrapped in aluminum foil or in a resealable plastic bag, for one month. Let the cookies thaw on the kitchen counter overnight before serving.

Optional: Fold in 1/2 cup of miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips into the cookie dough before rolling into balls.

Yield: 3 1/2 dozen

This Caesar salad has a dairy-free dressing, and can be made egg-free by substituting a soy based mayonnaise substitute, such as Nayonaise.

Shuli's 1-2-3 Caesar Salad

2 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tablespoon olive or canola oil
5 Tablespoons white or cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise or Nayonaise
salt and pepper, to taste

3 slices Udi's bread
non-stick cooking spray
salt, to taste
1 Tablespoon garlic powder (more or less to taste)

1 head romaine lettuce, washed patted dry and torn into pieces

1. In a small bowl, stir together dressing ingredients until well combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Lay bread on a cookie sheet. Spray both sides generously with cooking spray. Sprinkle both sides lightly with salt and generously with garlic powder. Bake at 350 until browned. Cut into cubes when cooled.

3. Place lettuce in a large salad bowl. Pour dressing over lettuce, and toss until well coated. Sprinkle with croutons. Serve.

Serves: 6-8