Thursday, April 25, 2013

Recipe Testing for America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated

Hi, everyone!

I sometimes get to be a recipe tester for America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated. Recently they asked whether I would like to test gluten-free recipes for an upcoming cookbook, so I said sure. I have no gluten problems, but I think it is a good idea to know how to cook/bake for someone with food sensitivities. Also, I think the goal here is to come up with a gluten-free product that is pleasing to people without sensitivities, too, so everyone can enjoy it.

One of the issues with gluten-free flours is that they tend to make a crumbly baked good that just falls apart, so bakers need to enhance the flour with a tiny amount of xanthan gum, a substance produced by bacterial fermentation and used in foods as a gelling agent and thickener. (Other natural thickeners are guar gum, agar, and carageenan. Now when you see those on your food labels you know what they do!)

This week I received a test recipe for gluten-free coffee cake. I cannot share the recipe per my agreement with ATK/CI, but I can share my comments and photos.

Baking gluten-free is a different process from regular baking, mostly in how and when the ingredients are mixed. The flour I used is Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Baking Flour and contains garbanzo flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, sorghum flour, and fava flour. It has a slightly different smell from wheat flour. I also used Bob's Red Mill Xanthan Gum. Everything else was "normal" -- eggs, butter, vanilla (although the recipe called for a LOT of vanilla, maybe to enhance/mask the flavor?), etc.

When I mixed the batter it smelled remarkably different from typical wheat flour batters. I am a raw batter taster, so I gave it a try. The taste was a bit funky -- sort of metallic and bitter, and I was really worried that the resulting coffee cake would taste terrible. Thankfully, the aroma of the baking cake was quite good, so my fears were allayed somewhat.

The cake turned out beautifully -- the consistency was perfect, nice and spongy and springy, not crumbly whatsoever. As you can see, the recipe called for a simple confectioner's sugar/milk glaze and then a pecan streusel topping (admittedly my favorite part!). As for the taste, well, I can definitely tell there is SOMETHING different, but it is not unpleasant. And, frankly, I think if I didn't know it was gluten-free, I probably wouldn't perceive the difference.

I generally don't eat sweets, but my husband enjoys them so he is my official sweets tester and he will be eating the rest of this coffee cake!
 The center of the cake has a pretty swirl made by mixing a bit of the batter with spices and vanilla and swirling it in with a butter knife.
Ciao for now!

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