Award-winning cookbook author Carol Fenster has been developing gluten-free recipes for home cooks for nearly 20 years. Last month, she released her eighth book, 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes (Wiley), a collection of some of her greatest hits. For our last installment of Gluten-Free Week, we talked to Carol about ways to make gluten-free cooking easy, user-friendly, and entirely delicious (and to prove that point, she’s shared a favorite from the book: Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake).
What’s your gluten story?
I had nasal stuffiness (often leading to sinus infections), brain fog, and fatigue all my life. I was finally diagnosed with gluten intolerance over 22 years ago. Since then, I’m very healthy and follow the gluten-free diet very carefully.
Cooking gluten-free, what are some can’t-manage-without ingredients?
Xanthan gum (or guar gum) is critical to prevent falling and crumbling in baked goods. Substitutes for wheat flour are absolutely essential. For baking, I like to use a blend of flours: 1-1/2 cups sorghum flour, 1-1/2 cups potato or cornstarch, and 1 cup tapioca flour/starch to replace the wheat flour in baking. My other essential is gluten-free tamari soy sauce (San-J is a good brand).
Similarly, any simple tips or substitutions for newbies?
If you’re intimidated by baking, try the wonderful mixes on the market that simply home baking. I like Bob’s Red Mill, Pamela’s, and Gluten-Free Pantry and they’re easily found in natural food stores and some grocery stores. If you’re comfortable as a baker and scratch baking, the front part of most gluten-free cookbooks list items for stocking the gluten-free pantry. My weekly online subscription-based cookbook, www.GfreeCuisine.com further simplifies gluten-free cooking by giving you 10 main dishes/sides each week. You choose 5 and automatically get the recipes, plus an organized grocery shopping list for speedier shopping. Plus, suggestions for breads, desserts, etc. to go with the meal. It’s especially popular with younger, more tech-savvy users who have busy lives, with young families.
When you shifted your diet away from gluten, what were some totally different types of foods that you really came to love? Fruits of vegetables that stood out, perhaps?
One gravitates toward more natural foods like meat, fish, fruits/vegetables, and gluten-free grains, so I was happy to discover sorghum (also called milo) which is the world’s 5th largest cereal crop but little known in the U.S. I’ll use the whole grains for replacing the bulgur in tabbouleh or as a hot breakfast cereal. And I like sorghum flour for baking because it is higher in protein and fiber than rice flour and has a nice taste, much more similar to wheat’s flavor. I have always been a lover of fruits, but came to appreciate vegetables such as beets, eggplant, cauliflower, and kale for their nutritional qualities. I now put kale and raw beets in my morning smoothie so I get a dose of veggies first thing each morning.
Biggest health challenges cooking gluten-free?
When wheat products are omitted, it’s hard to get enough B-vitamins (because so many wheat products are fortified) so that’s why getting enough of the gluten-free grains (like amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, and teff) is so important.
Bread products do so much for satiety–what other kinds of foods help fill that role?
Anything with lots of “tooth” such as brown rice, polenta (grits), gluten-free oatmeal, hearty pasta (I like Tinkyada).
Favorite gluten-free snack?
Honey-Crisp apple with peanut butter; fruit smoothie, granola made with gluten-free rolled oats.
Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake
Says Carol: Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa, available in grocery stores, works especially well in this recipe and dissolving it in hot water enhances its flavor. This is a very dark cake—perfect for special occasions because it looks so rich and decadent.
1/2 cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups whole almonds (measure before grinding)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1⁄3 cup unsalted butter or buttery spread, such as Earth Balance, melted, or canola oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, for dusting
1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease and then line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper or wax paper. Grease again; set aside.
2. In a small bowl, dissolve the cocoa in the water; set aside. Meanwhile, grind the nuts in a food processor to a fine meal.
3. Add the sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla extract, and salt to the food processor and process 30 to 40 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl and process another 30 seconds or until mixture is thoroughly blended. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.
4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. (The cake rises as it bakes, then may fall slightly as it cools.) Cool the cake in the pan 10 minutes on a wire rack. Gently run a sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen the cake. Release pan sides; discard paper liner. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.