Monday, January 25, 2010


I've been getting braver with my gluten free baking experiments. I tried making the Joy of Cooking's banana bread recipe with GF flours instead of regular flour, just off the cuff as it were, and it wasn't a total failure! Just a semi-failure.

I've also been making pancakes with various GF flours to get a feel for them. Turns out that buckwheat is quite tasty and sorghum is possibly magical. I made entirely successful - delicious, even! - pancakes both with a buckwheat/millet/potato flour mix, and with straight sorghum flour. Sorghum might be my new favorite thing. (Of course some good, grade B maple syrup doesn't hurt either.)

But there's one thing I've been dreading, been avoiding like the plague, been doing research to see if I can do without. Xantham gum. (insert scary music)

Xantham gum and guar gum are the two things generally used to give GF baked goods a gluten-like texture. They are also, as I understand it, to blame for the gross, gummy texture of many GF goods. In fact, at a GF bakery in NJ the owner let me sample some bread made wtih the xanthan gum she normally uses and then a loaf made with a different brand of it: the second loaf was gummy and not so good. BECAUSE OF A DIFFERENT BRAND. This is why this stuff scares me. Guar gum, for no reason whatsoever, scares me less and is supposedly much cheaper to buy... but I haven't yet found it in a store. Xantham gum, on the other hand, sits right in the baking aisle in Whole Foods... and costs $12 for a bag that I think weighs a pound. Granted, a recipe generally uses only a teaspoon or so, but still. $12! For a little bitty bag of powder! I'm not generally in the habit of buying the kinds of things that carry that sort of cost-to-weight ratio. However, the majority of GF recipes I've been finding include the damn stuff, and the blogger/cooks I've started following (who seem quite knowledgable, based on lots and lots of experience) all include it in their recipes.


So this weekend I bit the bullet and bought some. ($12!!) Then I had to convince myself to use it.

Well, since store-bought GF baked products are hit-or-miss, I haven't bothered buying any pre-made cookies, cakes, or similar. It just didn't seem worth it. But for most of the last week I've been craving something starchy and sweet, warm from the oven. So I picked out two possible recipes to bake - both including xanthan gum. The one I really wanted to try was for GF monkey bread - a sweet, yeasted bread - but between getting home from the gym and leaving for work today I wasn't going to have enough time for the rising and baking, and I sure wasn't going to wait until next weekend when I'd have time to bake again. Instead I made a berry coffee cake kind of thing. (It's billed as a blueberry crumb cake, but I used the frozen mixed berries I had on hand, and was too lazy to make a proper crumb mixture so I just sprinkled brown sugar on top.)

It started smelling delicious about a half hour into the baking, and - miracle of miracles! - it tastes delicious, too!

I'm now at work with a piece of it in a plastic container and as it finishes cooling I keep taking little tastes, hunting for any hint of gummy, gluey grossness. None dectectable so far. This is good news, people. There may be some delicious baking in my future.

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