Monday, February 4, 2013

Gluten Free Cake Attempt #1

We're sure we aren't the only ones to notice that more and more folks and friends are requiring a gluten free diet recently. It's not something that we've be advised to take on or that we have any interest in trying but as we tend to bake for friends and family, this dietary restriction has been hindering our ability to bring joy and treats to a wider group of taste testers. We've augmented simple recipes to cut out gluten. Cheesecakes are an easy one because you just have to use gluten free graham crackers and we tell you, it tastes the same. It's no big deal, there is no compromise there. But, when it comes to more traditionally gluten based recipes, we've been chickens and shied away.
Now, we have a good friend Jamira who is getting married. She is a super sweet girl and we can't be more excited for her. She has been working out the details for her big day and has hit a snag when it comes to the major tradition of cutting and sharing the cake with her groom: she can't eat gluten. It has been decided that the venue will provide the guests with a "normal" cake while she and her groom will share a gluten free version that she will have to acquire. That's where we come in. 
Jamira has known us long enough to know that we care about what we bake and how it tastes. She has also tasted some of the treats that skipped the gluten necessity. She asked if we might be willing to attempt something like this and Sara showed her the picture below of a cake that we made for a dear friend's milestone birthday.  

We are willing to take on the challenge and pressure of baking for such an important event when the person is so important to us and we feel that we can fulfill a need. This is one of those cases. We don't bake for money, we bake because we love it. This time, it took a lot of research too.

There are a lot of different mixes and flour combinations out there to mimic the flavor and texture of traditional wheat flour. The reviews and comments around the web led us to believe that it all comes down to personal preference. Some people like bean flour substitutes, some people hate them...with a passion. There are myriad combinations of rice flours and others that you can buy and mix. That seemed a bit overwhelming for our first attempt. We decided to try out the King Arthur Gluten Free Flour mix and chocolate cake recipe on their website. It got a lot of good reviews and seemed appropriate for what we were attempting.

We found most of what we needed at Whole Foods. They have a big Gluten Free section and that's where we bought the King Arthur mix. It was about $11 for this much flour. Not so impressive but let's see what it can do.

Another major ingredient is Xanthan Gum. It's not major in that a lot is used. It's just major in that it's what is needed for the gluten texture. It's a very very fine powder but it packs an important punch. The only thing that we didn't find at Whole Foods that we were hoping to, was the King Arthur "Cake Enhancer" product. We don't know if it would do much good, but it was suggested and we'd like to try it.

We split the batter into two pans to make a layer cake. It looks and feels a little dense when done.

You can see by how the crumbs came off, there is some "cakieness" to it but it is not at all fluffy.

Then we went with our go-to frosting. It's a white chocolate french buttercream and it's our favorite!


When it all came together it looked like a cake, it smelled like a cake, it tasted like a cake...errr ding dong. We think that it must be a cake. Jamira was really happy with the taste test. She had not one, but two giant pieces. We'd be happier if it had a fluffier texture. It may be the inexperience and naiveté about gluten free goods talking but we're gonna try it again and see what we get. Next time, we might try the cake enhancer. We've also heard really great things about Pamela's Pancake and Baking Mix. 

Till next time...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 in Review

Here we are at the end of 2010 and the end of 2010: A Bake Odyssey? We don’t think so! We aren’t ready to let the learning end. We’ve had a lot of fun with this baking expedition. We don’t know anyone who bakes every week as a hobby and we agree that it is kind of a lot. It was a challenge that we are happy to have taken on.
We started this blog as a way to keep us honest and to have someone to report to. It turns out we’ve had thousands of people to report to. We didn’t think that would happen. We’ve reached people in all fifty states and over seventy countries.

Our most popular post by far was the Glee cupcakes and we are happy that so many people have enjoyed looking at and making their own. We’ve fulfilled requests for over 80 of you who wanted to make the label. That’s been a really fun part of this. We loved hearing the stories of Moms making these for their daughters, friends making them for each other, and even a bakery in Arizona making them for a children’s hospital. It’s been great to hear about all that kindness going around and we’re happy to have been a part of it.

Our favorite post has been the cupcakes for Briana's baby shower. They were applesauce spice cake with brown sugar frosting. They tasted really great and the trees on top came out pretty cute too.
We want to thank everyone for your comments, suggestions and support. We hope you’ve enjoyed this experience with us.
This isn’t the end for us for sure. There is still more we’d like to do but we just can’t see continuing with the same frequency. We will forever be in love with this baking hobby and will share any new recipes and ideas that we come across. 

4th Quarterly Challenge

For our last quarterly challenge, we really did challenge ourselves. It seems that it was so hard and w were so busy that we were quite lacking in the photo department. We'll tell you about it anyway. We decided to keep with the season and make gingerbread houses. We each made one but instead of also doing a collaborative effort, we opened the competition up to friends that were coming to the Christmas party. We had 2 takers: our friend Jerome built a house from scratch and Larry built a train from a kit. Both entries were very much appreciated but only one’s architect was cursing us, and the gingerbread format during construction.
We too were hating all things gingerbread in designing and building too. We researched and found a lot of great ideas and suggestions but as we were trying to implement some original ideas, we emerged with a very trying gingerbread experience.
Sara learned about rolling the dough evenly. Her walls came out a bit thick and uneven. This made the gift of rolling pin bands for Christmas all the more appreciated, if not ironic. The implementation of stained glass windows in her church also didn’t go according to plan. 

She used the same process as the sugar cookies that we made but these candies did not stay solid. We don’t know if it was because she used butterscotch candies or if the gingerbread somehow absorbed and transferred moisture to the candy, but it turned sticky and did not work. We considered putting a sign in front of the church soliciting donations for renovation.
I learned about flying buttresses and support walls and beams. I tried to make a train station, but found that the length of the structure could not be supported by only four walls. This was discovered the morning of the party when my gingerbread train station looked more like the Viking’s Metrodome.

Dad tried to fix it as we went about our other preparations but the walls broke too and he was looking at what he thought was a catastrophe. In the waning hours before the party, I cut off the broken pieces, shortened the structure and made a small house out of what was left. It was simple, not what I had planned, but it was done.
Jerome also had trouble with his house. The slope of the roof was pretty intense and one side slid off even though he applied a lot of frosting to glue it into place. He painted his house with chocolate and had snow and a lot of cute touches.
So, the winner of our last quarterly challenge is neither Erin nor Sara, but Jerome. Congrats and thanks for participating. We all agree that it will take a lot of convincing to get any of us to try making a gingerbread house again.

Lessons learned: Simpler is better when it comes to making a gingerbread house. Worry about the decorations and details after you have a standing structure.

12/19 Cranberry Cake

The weather this week has been pretty awful. It could have been our fault because we’ve been baking up a storm. We decided to finish off the year with a bang. In addition to our last quarterly challenge, we threw a party to celebrate the completion of our first year of baking and to celebrate the holidays.
We made fudge and pumpkin cheesecakes, hello dolly bars and spiced wine. This post though will be about the treat we were most excited about; the cranberry obsession cake.
Sara found this recipe online from Sunset magazine and was drooling and sharing it with me immediately. I must admit that I thought it could taste better if it were a raspberry cake but I agreed with Sara that cranberries were more Christmas-y.
The cake part came first and it was a perfect end to the year using our polished skills at separating egg whites. The recipe calls for 7 of them!
The cranberry filling was made next and it was truly delicious. I was really getting excited about this cake then.

The frosting was next and I’m again surprised at how good homemade frosting can taste. This is a new process that we hadn’t tried before. We used the rest of the egg whites in the carton (5 for those who weren’t paying attention) and cook them up with some sugar and a pinch of salt. This then gets beaten into a sort of meringue. 

Then a whole pound of butter and 12 oz of white chocolate get mixed in. We love this frosting.

We even made this cake again for Christmas dinner. The tartness of the cranberries is a great combination for the sweetness of the cake and frosting. It was really fantastic.

Lessons learned: In making this cake twice, we learned that some cherry preserves are better than others. We prefer… Also, we did not use the liqueur on the cake and felt it came out just fine. It wasn’t lacking anything.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blondies 12/12

This post is very late because of the holidays. We've been so busy but here it is.
This week, we were gearing up for some major baking. We bought everything we needed to make gingerbread houses, cranberry cake, pumpkin cheesecakes, fudge and more because we were having a big party the next week.
We didn't want to get too crazy this week. We wanted to do something easy. We looked through the pantry to see what we had and we had everything we needed to make brownies. We've done brownies before though, so we went with a recipe that omits the chocolate, ups the brown sugar and you've got blondies. The recipe says you can put nuts, butterscotch chips or chocolate chips in there too but we went with dried cranberries because they're healthier, but also out of curiosity to see how they'd taste.
The recipe is found here at Simply Recipes. It's a great blog and I'm really surprised we haven't used it very much.

This may be one of the easiest if not the easiest recipe we've ever done.  Everything was mixed together.

We put it in a greased pan. Then into the oven.

And then they were done. It's a quick and easy dessert or something simple to bring to a get together. Anyone can bake from scratch. This recipe is proof.

Lessons learned: Simple Recipes is a great site. We would use more cranberries next time and maybe even throw in some white chocolate chips. It's our new favorite combo.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stained Glass Christmas Cookies - 11/30

I(Sara) is self confessed Martha Stewart lover.  I have her Cookies and Cupcakes Books.  Since I received the Cookie one, I fell in love with the Stained Glass Cookies.

What is best about this is that you can use any sugar cookie recipe, but if you want here is hers.  Just use your favorite cookie cutters and cut out a window for the crushed candies to melt in while being baked. 

We used a square cookie cutter that we had from our Valentine's Day Cookies and some smaller Christmas cookie cutters that fit inside.  We had a stocking, a tree and two slightly different stars.

We used Jolly Ranchers to break up.  They melt smoothly and easily. We knew this from our childhood days of melting the Jolly Rancher sticks and wrapping them around a blow pop. Good stuff! We had cherry for red, blue raspberry for blue, and apple for green.
Our Dad said the red would have been better if it were cinnamon candy. We agreed then he put one red speck of candy at the top of the green Christmas tree. Guess we should have had yellow too...

In our book it said to only put the candies in the middle of the space but it works much better if you fill up the whole section.  That way it spreads out evenly and you don't have to fight the candy to get it spread out.

They came out really cute and tasty too. The candy was just thin enough to be able to bite into without a struggle. Perfect!

Lessons learned:  Sugar cookies are always good and they go well with the fruity flavors of Jolly Ranchers.  Will definitely have to apply the window effect to our gingerbread challenge.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Birthday Baking: Kristine 11/24

Erin and I are working on the same movie production and even for the same department.  We are however, on different sides of town.  There are a couple people that work in our department with dietary restrictions. Kristine, who we have known for a few years now,  does not eat dairy or gluten. She also tried to stay away from processed sugars but come on, it's her birthday!

With a lot of people developing food allergies, there are more and more tasty foods and recipes available.  We decided to go with a Gluten Free, Dairy Free Cheesecake.  Dairy free cheesecake??  Yes it can be done, with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese.  Tofutti makes all kinds of dairy free products, we personally like the Tofutti Cuties ice cream sandwiches.  We also used Dairy Free Margarine and Gluten Free Graham Crackers.

Erin complied a few recipes. The gluten free graham cracker crust recipe came from It called for the Kinnikinnick brand graham crackers. Also, 1/2 cup of butter but since butter contains dairy, we chose the Earth Balance butter substitute. This was just the beginning of unfamiliar ingredients. The crackers looked like and felt like card board. After crumbling them up though, the consistency wasn't such a big deal. The butter though was a lot of oil. There probably should have been less of it for this use.

We baked the crust like you would a normal cheese cake and it came out not as stiff as regular crust would The vegan butter was a lot more moist that a regular crust mixture.  It came out looking like a cookie though.

The filling looked exactly like regular cheese cake.  The recipe is from Vegweb. We adjusted this recipe as well since Kristine is not a vegan and we were just avoiding the dairy, we used real eggs. We added the raspberry puree like we did for the cheesecakes on Mother's Day.

It seems that this recipe was for a regular pie pan and not a springform pan because the cheesecake mixture did not get anywhere close to filling the pan. We'll double it if there's a next time.
So, it turned out that we own a cheap-o spring form pan. I believe it was purchased at Target many moons ago. A tip for baking cheesecakes is to use a water bath. We've never done this because it seems a bit excessive as we've always been happy with the way our cakes come out. We didn't do it this time and it was a good thing too as it would have destroyed the cake in our cheap-o pan that isn't liquid tight. We learned this as the excess oil leaked out of the pan and onto the bottom of our oven. Oops!

The crust ended up coming out a little bit hard, cracker like.  We are not sure if that has to do with the oils (or the leakage of it) or the lack of gluten. Kristine said she was very happy with it, so it was perfect for the occasion.

Everyone (regular foodies as well,) enjoyed the cheesecake. We were a bit surprised that everyone wanted to try it but even happier that everyone liked it. This is the only creation that Sara hasn't been able to taste because it was all gone.  

Lessons learned:  Dairy free cheesecake is pretty tasty.  We'll use a pan under all pies and treats that call for a lot of oil or fluids.  Raspberries are always a yummy addition, and double this recipe if you have a spring form pan.