Gluten Free Baking
Tim Hayward, who runs Fitzbillies bakery in Cambridge, used to get 'pretty angry' when people came in his shop demanding anything gluten-free. Fitzbillies is famous for its traditional British cakes – notably the world's stickiest Chelsea buns. Sometimes, Hayward tells me, he made 'the rather cheap gag that going into a bakery and asking for gluten-free options was like going to a butcher's for vegetarian stuff'.
Gluten-free baking can seem like a contradiction in terms. Gluten – protein in wheat – is what helps cakes stick together and loaves rise and hold their shape. The food scientist Harold McGee explains that gluten is both 'plastic and elastic'. Or as Emma Goss-Custard writes in Honeybuns(Pavilion, £14.99), a delightful new gluten-free baking book, gluten provides both 'stretch and glue'.
The rise of coeliac disease has created a huge demand for baking without gluten. It's been estimated that as many as one per cent of the population now cannot tolerate gluten, and the symptoms, left undiagnosed, are debilitating: exhaustion, stomach pain, loss of appetite. 'There is no pill we can take', writes Shauna James Ahern on her heartwarming American website glutenfreegirl.com, 'no surgery we can endure and, in fact, no cure other than living on an entirely gluten-free diet.' Hence the explosion of gluten-free (GF) baking books and websites.
There are two schools of thought on GF baking. The first is that it's best to make only things that were never meant to contain gluten. Usually, this involves nuts or polenta. A buttery pear and polenta cake or a damp flourless almond and orange cake turn the absence of gluten into a virtue.Honeybuns includes 'pistachio pitstops', made from nothing but ground pistachios, honey and sugar. For those of us who only bake GF for the odd visit from a GF friend or because we like the damp texture of nutty cakes, such purism would be fine.
But if I were coeliac myself, I think I'd soon tire of nuts and yearn for something a little more like a normal cake or biscuit. This is where the specialist flours and substitutes come in. Goss-Custard is a fan of sorghum for its fluffiness and ground flaxseed for its oily sweetness, but these are not exactly everyday storecupboard items. She also makes clever use of custard powder as a flour substitute in a delicious recipe for homemade custard cream
By Bee Wilson The telegraph