"Warm crusty bread, freshly baked scones, giant cheesy pizzas and thick-crusted pies - hurrah for glutinous grub! But whereas most people can easily grab some gluten on the go, how and where do coeliacs get their fix? Is there such thing as good, gluten-free food? Jen from the Good Food Team discovered there can be if you bake it yourself...
I've had a few close calls with a gluten free lifestyle. As an infant, I was misdiagnosed with coeliac disease. Luckily, before I wrongly spent a lifetime avoiding wheat, my well-meaning dad snuck me (then five years old) a doughnut on a day out. I had no reaction, and so he had to wrestle with the decision of whether or not to tell my mum!
Years later, we narrowed my husband's horrific bouts of IBS down to his higher-than-normal consumption of bread. The automatic conclusion was gluten intolerance, so we thought we'd have to deal with a special diet for the rest of his life. Turns out he was just allergic to the cocktail of preservatives and enzymes pumped into mass produced factory bread - so I began baking all our own bread, with no nasty side effects!
We've been living a gluten-fuelled existence ever since. Until this week, when Doves Farm sent us a box full of gluten free flour and other baking treats to try out for our gluten free recipes section. As much as I love baking, I'm totally unfamiliar with the intricacies of gluten free cooking, so was well up for this challenge!
It didn't take long to notice the difference between normal wheat flour and gluten free flour. The dough had no elasticity whatsoever, felt a bit slimy, and was the consistency of cement mix. On the bright side, there's no kneading required!
The buckwheat soda bread was shaped into a lump on a tray, and baked for 75 minutes. The brown gluten free loaf was dropped into a tin, and baked for 55 minutes. Both looked great when they came out of the oven!
But inside the loaves was another story. There was no disguising the fact that these were gluten free loaves.... by the lack of.... gluten! Gluten free bread is inevitably crumbly and cakey inside. The taste of the brown loaf was pleasant, but the buckwheat was quite bitter and gummy for my liking.
Next up was gluten free pancakes for Shrove Tuesday. Seeing as the ratio of flour to liquid is much lower in this recipe, I had much higher hopes for it. The batter (using plain white gluten free flour) was identical to regular pancake mixture, and there was absolutely no difference in look, feel or taste in the final outcome. We indulged in pancakes with lemon and sugar for lunch, not missing the gluten at all!
For dinner, we tried the recipe for gluten free mushroom flan. This gave me the opportunity to try out gluten free pastry, which I was the most curious about. Using some fresh mushrooms from our veg box, the tart was really quick and easy to put together.
Gluten free shortcrust pastry is made exactly the same way as normal pastry, but with gluten free plain flour. After mixing the dough, the texture felt no different. However, after letting the dough rest, it was clear that the lack of gluten meant it wasn't going to roll out as easily as traditional pastry!
After a few attempts to roll the pastry out, I ended up just spreading it out in the dish with my fingers. After baking for an hour, the cooked pastry was extremely crumbly - a bit like a cheesecake base - and fell apart when cut out of the dish. For those limited to a gluten free diet, you'll be pleased to know the taste is just as buttery and satisfying as regular pastry - however the crumbly texture would make it difficult to serve at a dinner party.
Experiments like these should always end on a sweet note. My final bake of the day was gluten free carrot cake. Jam-packed full of juicy raisins and tangy citrus peel, this cake stays moist and light, despite the gluten free self-raising flour. It's recipes like this that make baking for the coeliac sufferer a breeze.
We've come a long way since my days as a phony coeliac disease-suffering toddler. Dove's gluten free flours are made from a mixture of rice, potato and tapioca flours, plus ingredients like xanthan gum and sugar beet fibre to improve the flavour and texture. The supermarket shelves are filled with gluten free alternatives, and it's easy to find recipes and information online from the UK Coeliac Society.
Whether you suffer from a medical intolerance to gluten, or are following the likes of Chelsea Clinton and Gwyneth Paltrow in the latest diet to the stars, a gluten free lifestyle can be challenging. Always check labels before buying products in the supermarket, and get into the habit of baking your own gluten free food - that way you can be sure of everything that goes into it!