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GLUTEN-FREE CAKE - What does that really mean? And why do people still think it will be awful?

If someone offers you a cake and says it is gluten-free, please do not instantly turn your nose up.

When I first started Cathlene’s Cakes, I sold cakes, brownies, cookies etc. at local food fairs and I quickly learnt to not say that everything was gluten-free. The number of times I heard, ‘Gluten-free? Ugh, no thanks!’ So rude and completely deflating.

I have always been so disappointed and frustrated by commercially available gluten-free cakes. These days they’re much better than in the past but I still occasionally come across a truly awful muffin. I honestly don’t know how these companies manage it but they are perpetuating this idea that gluten-free cakes are not very nice.

There is also a tendency to group gluten-free with dairy free, egg free, vegan, low sugar etc., as if being on a gluten-free diet is a ‘healthy’ life choice. In case you’re under any illusions, people with Coeliac Disease or a gluten-intolerance do not choose to be on a gluten-free diet. Aside from dairy free, which often does go hand in hand with gluten-free, the majority of people who require a gluten-free diet, do not require any further restrictions to their diet. Obviously there are some people who have multiple dietary requirements or choices but the vast majority just can't have gluten.

A well baked gluten-free cake should contain all the base ingredients you would expect in a ‘normal’ cake, i.e. butter, sugar, eggs and flour. The main difference is obviously the flour. Most commercially available gluten-free flour blends contain a mix of rice, potato, tapioca, maize (corn) and sometimes buckwheat flour. None of these flours has a particularly strong flavour so doesn’t affect the final flavour of the cake.

The only ingredient that you won’t find in your ‘normal’ cake is something called Xanthan Gum, which goes some way towards replacing the gluten and helps to bind the cake mix together and stop it being too crumbly.

If you’re baking a gluten-free cake, just remember that it doesn’t require any strange ingredients or recipes. Any readily available gluten-free flour blend should work with your regular cake recipe. As there is no gluten in the flour, you don’t need to worry about over mixing once you’ve added the flour. This means you can whisk the mix until it’s really smooth, which I think helps with the soft texture of the baked cake.

I still don't make it obvious that all my cakes are gluten-free, as I know it will put some people off. If you require a gluten-free wedding cake, you can relax in the knowledge that your guests won't realise they've had a gluten-free cake unless you tell them. If you don't require a gluten-free cake, then you'll probably not even realise you've had a gluten-free cake.

So, the next time you’re offered a gluten-free cake, accept it willingly. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.


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