Some thoughts on Free From baking
When I was at Brick Lane Market I had a lot of requests for vegan products. So many that I actually felt worried and confused. Had the world gone vegan and I missed it? Turns out, my space in the Vintage market had previously been occupied by the talented vegan baker, Ms Cupcake. There were all sorts of online vegan directories pointing people to my spot and I was there offering them the most buttery, buttermilky, eggy Southern cakes on the planet. The vegan customers were the ones who were genuinely confused.
So I started to make a few vegan cakes. Brownies, muffins, a great fig cake…and I learned a bunch of stuff. I’ll impart the baking learning through the recipes on this blog in future and links to some of the great vegan blogs out there. But there was one lesson of another kind about choices which has proved to be a defining moment for me as a baker.
I have always been a brownie fanatic and the brownies on my stall were getting a lot of traction. People were coming back just for those. I had developed a salted caramel brownie that, two years later, was awarded 2 stars by the Great Taste judges. I naturally (or so I thought) turned my attention to creating a delicious vegan version. The reality is that I wasn’t as happy with it as I was with its buttery sister. A young friend was helping me on the stall and one day I took a long break and came back to find that the salted caramel brownies were untouched and the vegan brownies had sold out. Long story short, the products weren’t very clearly tagged and my friend had sold the vegan version to everyone in search of my legendary brownies. Ego explosion. Tears. Shouting. Completely inappropriate blaming of friend who, talk about confusion, had been so thrilled at the sales she had racked up in my absence.
What was I doing? Was I making vegan cakes (and at this stage gluten-free was also being introduced) to satisfy requests but with a completely different standard in place? Should my display be marked “the good stuff” on one side and the “compromised” on the other? My friend suggested better labels and she was right. Not least for considerations of allergens. But after I calmed down and she forgave me, we agreed that the only real solution to this was for me to never, ever, put anything on sale that I wouldn’t be 100% able to stand behind to any customer. It might not be to their taste, but I need to love what I make and the sales will flow from there. Or not. But in any case, I will be able to live myself.
So I constantly remind myself that everything needs to work on its own terms. This means that you are unlikely to find a dairy-free cheesecake on my menu. The vegan brownie has only just this week made a comeback to my stall after 3 years’ absence. It is now a different beast and can very proudly sit alongside all the others (recipe coming soon). All of my brownies are gluten-free because I discovered that rice flour + butter + chocolate is a softer and more delicious combination than a version with wheat flour. A brownie is not a cake, it is a gooey thing and the less flour the better, in any case. Carrot cake does not need cow’s milk, butter or eggs to be amazing so I only sell a vegan one. I have also learned that if I am not sure about a product, instead of selling it or binning it, I introduce it on the stall as a free taster and get valuable feedback. I may now be smart enough to know that you don’t mess around with your own quality threshold, but I need other people to tell me when I am too close to something or being unduly critical.
One Free From product that seems a fitting start to the New Year is The Skinny: my fruity, GF, wholefood, refined sugar-free muffin. It doesn’t matter how much I try, when I am attempting to eat less refined sugar and wheat, breakfast remains a big stumbling block. I want something bready or cakey and delicious. I despair at the taste, the calorie-count and the ingredients of the skinny muffins I see out there on the market. So I confess I developed this product for myself. But when I took its picture and put it on Instagram, it got considerably more attention than anything I had ever done before. Looks like I am not in the minority.
A truly skinny and delicious gluten & sugar-free muffin
Makes 12 Muffins
150 grams oat flour
150 grams sweet sorghum flour
75 grams tapioca flour
1 teaspoon konjac*
1 tbsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
275 grams pure maple syrup or 200 grams date syrup
250 grams 0% fat Greek yoghurt (or use a plain Soya yoghurt to make dairy-free version)
1 tsp vanilla extract
125 ml cold-pressed rapeseed oil
150 grams fresh berries
3 medium bananas
*I tend to use this these days instead of xanthum gum in gluten-free baking. It is a great thickener and high in fiber. A ground root or tuber, this has been used in Asian cooking for centuries…a little goes a long way. I bought mine on Amazon.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (180 C for fan-assisted). Line a 12 muffin tray with muffin cases.
In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients by whisking them together: 3 flours, konjac, baking powder, salt. Make an indent in the middle and add the wet ingredients: eggs, syrup, yoghurt, oil, vanilla. Mix it all together by hand with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth batter. Gently add the fruit and fold through.
Using an ice cream scoop, fill the cases evenly. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, then turn the temperature down to 180 degrees C and bake for a further 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Variations: You can add nuts or seeds, top with GF rolled oats, mix in unsweetened applesauce, orange zest, cinnamon. The list is endless as long as you stick to the GF/no sugar rule and keep an eye on the fat content. Speaking of fat, one day I forgot the oil and it still worked, if you want an even skinnier skinny muffin.
Copyright 2016 Elizabeth Draper All rights reserved