As a licensed caterer, I created many different menus for my clients, including some truly tempting desserts. Some of the things I prepared were swirled sesame loaves, fruit galettes, rooibos tea cookies, carrot cake with candied pears, and lemon bars sprinkled with ground rosemary. Some had an international accent: baklava in unusual flavors (mango/Turkish apricot, white chocolate/raspberry), koulourakia, and 5 leches cake. I truly enjoy variety.
All of these baking sessions came to a grinding halt with the onset of the COVID pandemic. Requests for catered events dwindled to nothing as people stopped getting together for events. I started staring at the ceiling and sky for inspiration on how to do what so many small businesses were doing: pivoting to a new focus.
Around that time, another development occurred. My son was diagnosed with Celiac disease. This was my first exposure to the world of gluten-free eating. He told me about navigating food aisles in search of "safe" food. It was a strange world of having to consider all but raw foods suspect until he could learn what gluten and cross-contamination meant and recognize them when he saw them. His continuing disappointment was failing to find good-tasting baked desserts. Most of them (whether store-bought or made from a mix) were dense, crumbly, and rather flavorless. As a baker of many years experience, I decided to make it my mission to create gluten-free desserts that were the opposite: tender and light crumb, textures that held together, and, above all, yummy. How difficult could that be?
Well, my exploratory journey into the world of gluten-free foods showed that I was obviously clueless on this subject. I started at the beginning as all good researchers do. However, learning the chemistry of gluten and how it creates such misery in some human bodies only cracked open the door to understanding this other food universe. I started looking at food labels. I wasn't surprised to find gluten in bread, pastas, beers, and cookies but in soy sauce? self-basting poultry? I started looking at non-food items and found gluten in lipstick, vitamins, nutritional supplements, some dental products, and even prescription medicines. It seemed to be everywhere!!!
I regrouped for my exploration of baking ingredients, even as I began to fear what I would uncover. I was dumb-struck by the extensive presence of gluten or potential cross-contamination in so many baking ingredients. Some were obvious (wheat, rye, barley). Others were definitely not: some candies, food colorings, meringue powder, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. The list started to grow. If I was unsure about an ingredient, I contacted manufacturers directly.
I then tackled the different gluten-free baking flours (and there are many!). I spent many hours reading, combining, rereading, baking, tasting, and...trashing. After much trial and error, I finally arrived at a combination of baking ingredients that produced tender, light, moist, and yummy confections. I fulfilled my promise to my son.