Entry 42: What Are Glutens Anyway?

Hello Koala fans!

A few weeks ago, two wonderful friends of mine asked if I’d like to stay with them for a couple of days (Hi Zel! Hi Nash!). We’ve known each other for about two years or so, playing World of WarCraft together. As always, I decided to put together something vaguely cakelike for them. I picked out all the ingredients, settled on a recipe well ahead of time and even managed to take photos for the blog. About two days before I was due to head up on the train, we talk online just to straighten out a few details like train times, bits I need to bring with me…

“Oh, you made cake for us? Really looking forward to it! 😀 ……it’s gluten-free, right?”

Uh oh.

Like most people, I’m vaguely aware of gluten-free stuff but no idea what’s actually involved with it or what I need to avoid. There was a slight, yet adorable, delay in looking up gluten-free recipes on the internet.

My niece receiving her first experience of youth-corrupting video games

My niece receiving her first experience of youth-corrupting video games.

My search proved rather more useful than I planned. I found a good website on gluten-free diets and it even had recipes for gluten-free cakes too. One of them looked like it might work:

https://www.coeliac.org.uk/gluten-free-diet-and-lifestyle/cooking-and-baking/gluten-free-cake-making/

I chose to go with the chocolate cake recipe. I also tried to enlighten the Koalas about coeliac disease and gluten fibres but I think I just ended up making them confused.

"Is this a gluten?"

“Is this a gluten?”

No, that’s the zergling I ordered off eBay. Glutens are a type of protein found in cereals such as wheat and rye. They cause an allergic reaction in people with coeliac disease, leading to stomach pains and other intestinal unpleasantness. Zerglings are creatures in StarCraft that rip through solid steel and eat people.

"Fascinating. I'm going to run away now."

“Fascinating. I’m going to run away now.”

While the Koala was setting a new world record for the 100 metre sprint, I assembled the ingredients to work on Zel and Nash’s cake.

"...*pant* *wheeze* ...I think I lost him..."

“…*pant* *wheeze* …I think I lost him…”

Eagle eyed readers may notice an extra ingredient in that photo – ground almonds. As I was reading up on gluten-free cakes, I often found comments that they were very dry compared to standard sponges. Mixing in a small amount of ground almonds can help to restore some of the missing moisture that comes from using gluten-free flour. Another hazard is that gluten helps to give a sponge cake form – as a cake rises, the gluten fibres start to form in the cake, trapping air and helping to make the cake firm. It can be helpful to use a little extra baking powder, even with self raising gluten-free flour, just for the extra security.

Sugar and butter. Gluten-free doesn't necessarily mean "slimming".

Sugar and butter. Gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean “slimming”.

The gluten-free flours is interesting stuff. Despite being made from things like maize, tapioca and potatoes (!), it’s identical to work with as normal flour. I imagine that’s one of the things that scares people off about specialist baking like gluten-free or nut allergies; that they will find themselves in completely unfamiliar territory. Reassuring though it was to work with, whether it would actually *taste* like a normal sponge cake was still a cause for concern.

"Hang on, let me see if I can unjam the whisk from here!"

“Hang on, let me see if I can unjam the whisk from here!”

So far, it was coming together reasonably well, although the recipe did call for the drier ingredients to be mixed together first and the eggs last:

"Nope, no glutens in here. Or zerglings."

“Nope, no glutens in here. Or zerglings.”

The cake also took roughly the same length of time to bake as a standard one. After tipping out onto the rack to cool, I set about whipping together the icing to go on the top-

"Now, I know this looks bad, but it totally wasn't us..."

“Now, I know this looks bad, but it totally wasn’t us…”

And so *another* 40 minutes later, I finished *another* gluten-free sponge and decorated it.

The finished cake.

The finished cake.

This entry has a good and bad ending, regrettably. Unfortunately, the day after the cake was made, I came down with the flu and wasn’t in a condition to anywhere, let alone on a several hour train journey to see my friends. However, the cake was every bit as good as my other sponge cakes and tasted absolutely fine. So hopefully, when I head up to see my friends soon, I’ll be able to make them a gluten-free cake with confidence. ^_^

One response to “Entry 42: What Are Glutens Anyway?

  1. Wow, that cake looks awesome! Sorry to hear about your flu.

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