Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bakers Dozen Meeting: Gluten Free Doesn't Mean Taste Free

A large gathering of the Bakers Dozen members and guests gathered last week at the Foreign Cinema Restaurant in San Francisco to hear two experts speak on a very timely topic -- gluten-free and allergy-friendly baking.

Professional food writer Jackie Mallorca and nutritionist and writer Bonnie Presti spoke to the group about celiac disease, gluten intolerance and dairy, soy and egg intolerance and how as bakers, we are well positioned to use our exacting skills to service this growing market.

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune digestive disease that basically means the body attacks itself every time a person with celiac diseases consumes gluten -- the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to malnourishment as well as other diseases such as cancer.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, one in 133 Americans has celiac disease. The disease doesn't discriminate; it affects all races, genders and ages.

Unlike celiac disease, food intolerance doesn't involve the immune system. So while not dangerous, food intolerances can make you just as miserable.

While celiac disease and food intolerances are not new, awareness has been growing over the last decade with 500,000 new celiac diagnoses expected to occur in the next five years (also according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness).

The Fancy Food Show held in San Francisco in January called gluten-free foods one of the top food trends of 2010.

So gluten-free has gone mainstream. There is no cure for gluten intolerance but completely eliminating gluten from the diet can reverse the damage done to the digestive system.

And according to Jackie Mallorca, the solution lies in the kitchen.

As a professional food writer, Mallorca had authored or co-authored many cookbooks including one on French patisserie and another on bread baking.

So she said it came as quite a shock when she discovered she was a food writer with celiac disease. She said, "As I had absolutely no intention of giving up good food, I acquired a lot of funny flours and set to work."

Now she feels having celiac has given her a built-in alarm system for avoiding junk food because gluten-free foods are typically fresh and minimally processed.

Mallorca noted that gluten-free foods, especially baked goods, may have once been for the "counter-culture" or "the hippies" but the good news is that many gluten--free products are now available in grocery stores.

But, she insists, the best place to prepare gluten-free foods is still in your own kitchen.

She began with the food she feels we all identify with and craves the most, our daily bread.

She related her humorous efforts in trying to create bread without gluten that met her exacting taste standards only to end up with bread that was dry, crumbling and inedible.

She said, "My first effort at bread baking resulted in a loaf that was smaller when it came out of the oven than when it went in!"

She persevered and Mallorca has now written two cookbooks on this topic: The Wheat Free Cook and her latest, Gluten-Free Italian. More information about Mallorca can be found on her website, glutenfreeexpert

If Mallorca presented the reserved, sophisticated face of the gluten-free movement, then writer and nutritionist Bonnie Presti is the movement's cheerleader.

Dynamic and energetic, Presti has made it her life's mission to help others with food allergies and gluten intolerance by developing nutritional programs to meet their goals.

"Having celiac disease or other food intolerances is like a repetitive stress injury to your body," said Presti.

Presti was diagnosed with celiac disease and intolerance to soy, eggs, dairy as well as other foods.

As did Mallorca, instead of feeling sorry for herself, she got to work developing recipes. She returned to school to earn her certification as a nutritional educator.

These days Bonnie can be found working with patients in her office in Sunnyvale to develop individualized nutrition programs as well as lending her nutritional expertise to schools and corporations.

One of Presti's greatest joys is to take favorite recipes and make them gluten-free like her family's favorite snickerdoodle recipe or her mother's recipe for honey cake.

But in a comment that had many of us in the room laughing out loud, she said she has given up trying to make an angel food cake egg free!

She has just released the second edition of her cookbook, Allergy-Friendly Cooking. More information about Presti can be found at her website, thesensitivediner

Both Presti and Mallorca fielded numerous questions from the audience. A reoccurring question was the cost of the various speciality flours used in gluten-free baking.

While acknowledging that gluten-free baking was expensive, both Mallorca and Presti encouraged the bakers to considered gluten-free baking as a growing market for our products and services.

Kara Lind, owner of Kara's Cupcakes, agreed that gluten-free is a growing market for her cupcake business. She noted that as a result, she has decided not to charge a higher price for her gluten-free cupcakes.

Another frequently asked question concerned how to keep gluten-free products fresh. Both speakers agreed that gluten-free products were best consumed the day they were baked and went stale faster if stored in the refrigerator. Presti did note though that gluten-free foods not containing eggs would keep fresh a few days longer in the refrigerator.

As bakers, we all have a bit of the chemist in us. Gluten-free baking gives us another opportunity to tinker with our recipes and perhaps to bring some sweetness back to someones life that thought they had to give up baked goodies.

In the next few weeks I will be writing about my own adventures in gluten-free baking.

Until then, here is a recipe Rum-Raisin Genoa Cake from Jackie Mallorca's Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook. She gave me permission to share it here. They taste amazing.

Rum-Raisin Genoa Cake
Serves 8

1/3 cup (2 ounces) raisins

2 tablespoons dark rum

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for pan, softened

3/4 cup sugar

3 large eggs (room temp)

1 cup (4 ounces) almond meal (room temp)

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) potato starch

Confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides of an 8-inch square cake pan with butter, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter that as well.

Combine the raisins and rum in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the liquid almost evaporates. Remove from the heat and let the raisins cool to lukewarm.

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla and salt. Blend the almond meal with the potato starch and beat in. Fold in rum-soaked raisins.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, until risen and golden-brown and an inserted toothpick emerges clean. Place the pan on a wire rack and let the cake cool for ten minutes. Unmold, peel off the parchment paper, and let the cake cool completely, right side up.

When ready to serve, cut into 16 bars, but do not separate.

Dust with confectioners' sugar and then transfer the bars to a plate.

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