A gluten-free menu can be a rarity at many restaurants and bakeries, despite the number of diners requesting one, whether for medical or lifestyle reasons.
And when it is offered, the driving force behind most gluten-free options is to recreate the wheat-based equivalent using a combination of flours, gums and raising agents that, in the hands of inexperienced bakers, often produces gritty, dry pastry, sunken, dense cakes or crumbly bread with a shelf life of a few hours.
To turn that on its head, Alice Medrich’s ethos is to bake using non-wheat flours in a way that celebrates their unique flavours, to do away with the rules of ‘glutenous’ baking and to combine them with ingredients that elevate and complement them.
Chapters are dedicated to a particular flour – rice, oat, corn, buckwheat, chestnut, teff, sorghum, nut – and begin with notes on its qualities, predominant flavours and advice on complementary ingredients.
Teff flour is earthy with an aroma of spiced tea and is best used with cocoa; oat flour has a ‘toasty’ scent enhanced by brown sugar, pears, figs and dates; and cornflour goes well with butter, honey and chilli.
Some of the methods may be unfamiliar: for example, buckwheat mixes can be beaten for two minutes only, but rice flour cakes cannot be overmixed (Medrich gives precise timings). Some need to be rested before baking to allow the flour to absorb the liquid.
Other recipes subvert convention: a doughnut made with rice flour can be baked and reheated days later with no loss of quality; and a sorghum flour pecan tart lacks flavour when it comes out of the oven and should be made with several days to spare.
The recipes themselves exploit the flours’ flavour enhancers, so there is a hazelnut flour layer cake combined with dark chocolate and a blackberry preserve; a sorghum flour biscotti is served with hibiscus-scented pears; and a buckwheat flour spiced pumpkin loaf is served smeared with creamed goats’ cheese.
Medrich’s rallying cry to bake as if “wheat never existed” will surely bring a sigh of relief from diners hungry for a gluten-free choice.
Gluten-free Flavor Flours By Alice Medrich with Maya Klein Artisan, £20