One of the biggest hurdles for many people to overcome when they receive a Coeliac diagnosis for themselves or a family member is getting their head around how to adjust to baking with gluten free flour. Wheat flour behaves in predictable (and predictably desirable) ways when baked. It has qualities that non-wheat flours of whatever description (and there are many) simply do not possess. This can lead to outcomes that are both hilarious and tragic if one tries to simply cook a known recipe with a non-wheat flour in place of normal flour.
I could write you an epic screed on my early adventures with the pitfalls of gluten free baking - the cakes that didn't rise, the biscuits that tasted funny, the muffins that were hard as rocks. Yes, I know the gluten free flour mix packets all say that they bake just like regular flour, but here's a top tip, from me to you - THEY DON'T. They're getting better all the time, and some of them do a great job in some kinds of recipes in particular, but wheat flour they just ain't, and there's no two ways about it.
I have found that, as I've grown more experienced with it all, I have been able to adapt some of my old favourite baking recipes to gluten free. (My vanilla cupcake, shortbread, gingerbread and banana muffin recipes are cases in point). Other old reliables, such as date loaf, carrot cake and banana bread, just did not seem to want to work for me.
So when I was asked by Coeliac Australia to road-test a couple of recipes in their recipe book, I put my hand up to try out the banana bread recipe, in hopes that I might finally regain this once-much-loved treat. Upon receipt of the book and a basket of ingredients, I set to work to make it.
Here is the recipe (from p85 of the cookbook), reproduced with permission:
1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 cup mashed banana
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
A few drops vanilla essence
2 cups gluten free self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
1/2 teaspoon g free baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 175C (I used 165C as my oven is super hot)
2. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl
3. Beat in eggs. Blend in mashed banana, lemon juice & sugar.
4. Re-sift flour with bicarb soda, baking powder & salt.
5. Gradually add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternatively with sour cream, beating well after each addition.
6. Stir in nuts. Pour into 9 x 5 inch loaf tin.
7. Bake until tester comes out clean (45 mins or so). Cool in pan for 10 mins.
8. Turn out onto wire rack to finish cooling.
9. Let cool completely before slicing.
For a variation, you can substitute raspberries for the walnuts.
The first time I made the recipe, 3 year old C was helping, we were in a hurry, and I was knee-deep in contracting work, so had to keep racing from kitchen to computer to deal with emerging issues. Possibly as a result of this, I made two pretty dumb blunders:
- I put the bread in a flexible bakeware pan to cook, whereupon it promptly oozed and spread and became not so much bread-shaped as blob-shaped;
- I forgot to add the walnuts altogether. D'oh!
I also have to be honest - I didn't re-sift the flour, I just mixed the soda and baking powder in, and it was completely fine. (I am too impatient to sift, usually :-)
Despite my errors and my laziness, this first cut of the banana bread came out delicious - soft, cakey, sweet and perfect both by itself or toasted and with a little butter. C, my 8 year old, A, my husband G and I all loved it, and it lasted exactly one day before it was all gone.
The second time I made it, the circumstances were a little more conducive to not stuffing it up. My work was completed, I was cooking with C's company rather than direct assistance (other than her favourite job in all the world - mashing the bananas) and I wasn't under any great time pressure. I'd decided to make the banana bread as dessert for a meal that we were having a guest to (the main dish was roast chicken, which is quite heavy, so I didn't want anything over-rich for afters).
This time, I used a proper hard pan - hurray! And I remembered to add the walnuts. I still didn't double-sift though, as I am not made of spare time :-)
With the walnuts in, and in a hard pan, the banana bread came out nicely shaped and a rich golden colour. It smelled divine too.
I completely disregarded the instruction to wait until it was fully cooled before slicing, and carved it up still warm, dabbing a wedge of butter on each piece.
And was it good?
It was better than good; it was the nicest banana bread I've ever had (and G, who still eats the normal kind, agreed). The crunch of the walnuts just added that certain je ne sais quoi that lifted it to the next level. (Lesson learned - Don't leave out the nuts!) G and I finished it off the following morning for breakfast, lightly toasted and smeared with butter.
So if you're baking for a Coeliac - or are one! - consider this as an option. Apparently it freezes really well, although I wouldn't know, as it didn't last above a day in my house.
It's a definite winner around here, and it's going on my regular baking schedule for lunchbox treats, morning tea contributions and weekend breakfasts.
Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of Coeliac Australia's cookbook, and a basket containing all the ingredients for two recipes, by Porter Novelli on behalf of Coeliac Australia, with the understanding that I would trial two recipes during Coeliac Awareness Week. No payment was offered nor accepted for this process, and all views (and cooking mishaps!) are entirely my own.
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