The Trials and Tribulations of Gluten Free Baking

Dear Gluten Free friends, let me first start by apologizing for life. In the lottery of “easy things,” your body pushed all your poker chips into the center of the table and then tried to win with the 2 of clubs. It was a terrible bluff, life took all your gluten money and now you’re stuck with cardboard “bread”, bland sweets, and missing out on all of the most delicious things in the baking world. Or so you may think.

But it’s simply not true. Gluten Free (GF) life doesn’t have to be miserable and, if you’re a customer of The Meeting Place, you know that I’ve made it my personal mission to make the GF life surprisingly tasty! Every single sandwich on our menu is also available on a scrumptious flatbread. Our gluten free brownies? Fudgy and chocolatey and, for an extra treat, to die for with a shot of espresso poured over the top. Gluten Free scones? We have them. They’re fluffy and perfect with your morning coffee. Lemon bars, coffee cake, honey granola bars...the list goes on and on. 

But Amanda, if The Meeting Place has all this delicious Gluten Free stuff, then why name the blog entry The Trials and Tribulations of Gluten Free Baking? Because gluten free baking is hard. It doesn’t make any sense. And, if you ask my coworkers, they’ll probably tell you the bakery turns into a war zone on gluten free days. Yes, gluten free days. One very important aspect of baking gluten free is total gluten sanitation. If a rogue bit of flour gets into a GF blondie, the whole batch is a goner. So the bakery is on flour lockdown as long as we’re working on those items. And that’s just the safety part. We haven’t even talked about the mental gymnastics involved in creating a gluten free recipe.

Research. My best friend and my arch nemesis. Why? Because every single ingredient has to be thoroughly investigated for gluten. Is it a “well sometimes it’s GF and sometimes it’s not” ingredient? Then there’s more research to find the right brands and be sure those are the ones we order. 

Then there’s chemistry homework. Homework as an adult?! I thought this ended after college. Let’s use GF scones for example. Part of what makes scones so delicious is their texture (or “crumb” for the baking inclined) and that is achieved through the magic of gluten. Without that, I have to find the exact combination of rice flour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum and a few other ingredients to replicate that process. It’s enough to make most bakers give up and leave you with bland and cardboard. But hey, no man left behind.

And then, there’s the actual baking. As it turns out, items without the all important gluten are much more finicky in the oven. Like an avocado, they will turn from “not quite ready” to “ruined forever!” in the blink of an eye. So developing a new GF recipe involves a lot of babysitting the oven and a little intuition to know when the right moment comes. I will underbake or overbake whatever I’m trying to make a minimum of 3 times before I find the sweet spot. So goes the life of a baker. But once you find it? A chorus of cherubs sing as a majestic light shines. And that’s the recipe that stays and the one that you, my gluten free friend, find waiting for you in your gift box or in the cafe.

Gluten free baking is challenging, but not impossible. It is certainly not for anyone lacking the will of the warrior and, at times, it will make you question if you’ve ever known how to bake anything in your life. Is it worth all this work? Absolutely.. We all deserve something that makes our taste buds smile. Come see us - we’ve got something for everyone.

Amanda Gesler

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