“This is so much better than I was preparing myself for- it tastes like a real cookie” said a lady tearing up as she bit into a sugar cookie at my class the other night. I hear this a lot, and while it makes me happy that she’s learned she doesn’t need to resign herself to a life of boring, cardboard textured, tasteless food, her statement does make me sad.
Gluten-free reality is this: The bread is generally dry, grainy, crumbly, often very dense, and has no flavor. With a very few exceptions, it has to be toasted before using for a sandwich. Cookies tend to by dry, crumbly, and grainy. Brownies and Cakes tend to be dense, gummy or rubbery, and grainy. And, if you’re a celiac foodie with a developed palate and a passion for food, you know well “The Look” you get when you disclose that you must avoid gluten to fellow foodies or to the manager at the really nice restaurant you’re dying to experience. “The Look” that says ‘oh, so sorry…. why are you even attempting to eat here? Of course, we will accommodate you, but don’t expect our best food or our signature dish. How can the chef possibly create a work of art without flour?’
And so we settle. We condition ourselves to expect less, practice zen mantras of being satisfied with what we can enjoy, and shut out the feelings of longing when our dinner companions order bisques, sauces, tortes, tiramisus, breads, muffins, croissants, brioches, biscottis, pancakes, waffles, french toast, sandwiches, wraps, pastas, and meats cleverly browned to perfection with a dusting of flour.
I can’t tell you how sick I am of vanilla ice cream with fresh fruit, and flourless chocolate cake.
I’ve learned through a lot of trial and error in my kitchen that it doesn’t have to be that way. I could make you a french onion soup that would have you moaning in your seat-and yes- it would be gluten-free. In fact, I could make one with regular flour, and I bet you couldn’t tell the difference. All this to say that the student in my class shouldn’t have to settle for eating crappy tasting, crappy textured food. Life is too short to eat bad food.
Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I don’t expect fancy restaurants to be exclusively gluten-free. But, is it asking too much for the world’s talented culinary artists to exhibit a little imagination and challenge their culinary comfort zone every once in awhile? I refuse to choose between excellent food and gluten-free food. So I keep returning to the kitchen, challenging myself and remembering smiles like I saw the other night.
The class I taught was in preparation for the upcoming holiday season- a keenly challenging time for gluten-free people. I demonstrated the sugar cookies, the pie crust (filled with pumpkin- recipe to come in a future post), and a holiday morning favorite- breakfast bread pudding-first introduced to me by one of my Aunts. I’ve tweaked it a bit from the original. It’s exceptionally easy, and very delicious- even if it’s not Thanksgiving or Christmas morning. It’s also a recipe that screams for creativity. I’ve made it with different fruits, different cheeses, different breads, or using eggnogg instead of half and half. I encourage you to use this recipe as a base and come up with your own unique and flavorful combination of ingredients. As always- enjoy your time in the kitchen, and Happy Eating!
Gluten Free Bread Pudding- Brunch Recipe
12 slices gluten-free bread
2 8oz pkgs cream cheese or other soft cheese
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 cups blueberries or other fruit (can be fresh or frozen)
1 cup half ‘n half, or milk if you prefer a lighter pudding
12 eggs (or 1/2 egg beaters and 6 eggs)
Tear the bread into 1-2 inch pieces and set aside. Cube the cream cheese and set aside. In a separate bowl thoroughly whisk syrup, eggs, and cream.
Grease a 9×13 pan, or 2 smaller pans. Place half of the bread pieces on the bottom. Add the fruit, distributing evenly. Next, add the cream cheese, also distributing evenly. Spread the rest of the bread on top. Pour the liquid over the mixture and press down with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula. Cover with foil and place in the refrigerator overnight. The mixture needs to set up for a minimum of 4 hours.
When you are ready, bake covered at 350 for 1/2 hour, then uncover and bake an additional 1/2 hour until puffy and golden brown. If you are making this in a ceramic or glass dish, place the pudding in the oven when you turn the oven on. You may need to cook a few extra minutes, but putting the dish in a cold oven will prevent it from cracking.
** This recipe is designed for flexibility. Use whatever ingredients you have on hand, or those ingredients that make your tastebuds excited. You could use cinnamon raisin bread, different fruit, a nut/sugar combination, or even add a little bourbon or rum to your liquid mixture. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Have fun and enjoy what you create!