HMC: Harvest Noir and Gluten Free Baking

This year’s Home Made Challenge really snuck up on us, and then then the next thing I knew, we were sitting in the rain with 1500 other adventurers in front of Ottawa City Hall glamorously dressed in black from head to toe, trying to keep dry by holding up an umbrella with one hand and trying to eat with the other.

What a wonderful way to end a month of eating-in – by bringing our dining table outdoors and celebrating the harvest!  Quoted as the second largest pop-up picnic in North America (the largest being in Montreal as Diner en Blanc), Harvest Noir has become the social event of the year! And it’s only two years old!

This year, we celebrated the end of Home Made Challenge, pot-luck style with two other intrepid adventurers.  The four of us pooled our culinary chops and came up with a decent meal, served on real dinnerware with a white tablecloth.

We started with two appetizers – freshly harvested peppers from Meredith’s farm, stuffed with rice and eggs, and Matt’s sweet potatoes roasted with honey.  Then followed by M. Crouton’s slow cooked meat stew (which smelled delicious, and I hear tell tasted delicious) served with an amazingly aromatic spiced rice that is comparable to Indian biryani.  He was kind enough to make a similar vegetarian side stew for me, with stewed cherry tomatoes and textured vegetable protein.  Yum!

To finish off, a gluten-free carrot cake that I am proud of.  Meredith, with a habitual dislike of icing on cake declared this one delicious!  Our table neighbours saw the cake and asked to try some, with rave reviews too!  If I wasn’t wearing a boned velvet dress I would have eaten two slices.  (Who’s to say that I didn’t after I got home that night?)

Prior to taking the plunge on gluten-free baking, I consulted many sources on the internet.  Gluten-free (GF) baking seemed so complicated, with its own set of rules which called for much more precision than I’m used to.  However, all of my fears were allayed by two sources of inspiration: The Art of Gluten Free Baking, and M. Crouton’s sister, Amélie.  Between consulting Jeanne via her blog and frantic texting with Amélie, I was able to cobble together something amazing that I would definitely repeat.

Because things turned out so well, I feel compelled to share the following resources and tips with you, so that whenever the opportunity arises to bake GF, you can, with confidence!

1. Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour Mix

Jeanne of The Art of Gluten Free Baking is a baker, mother, farmer, and soon to be cookbook writer.  She chronicles her voyage to develop the best GF all purpose flour mix on her blog (linked above).  The carrot cake that I made used this mix, and nobody could tell that it was GF.  The texture and taste was indistinguishable from regular wheat flour, the mix was straightforward with only five ingredients that are easy to find in Ottawa.  Everything you need you can get from either Herb and Spice or Market Organics, except for sweet rice flour (Mochiko) which can be purchased from Grace Ottawa, an ethnic grocer smack dab in the middle of Centretown on Bank St.

2. Tips from Amélie

Amélie says, gluten free desserts are different than regular gluten desserts.  Each step must be followed step by step, and even though the batter seems wet do not add more flour, because gluten-free desserts are always wetter.

When I was mixing the batter, I became worried that the cake would come out rock hard.  It was gummy and tough, not at all like regular cake batter which is supposed to be soft and pourable.  Apparently, according to Amélie, that’s because of the xanthan gum in the flour mix which is essential to gluten-free baking.  Xanthan gum is actually a gluten replacer, it adds the much needed elasticity in soft pastries.  Phew!

I was relieved and pleased when the cake came out of the oven with a spring when I pressed down on it, the way cake is supposed to!  Huzzah!

3. Gluten-free carrot cake from Gluten Free Goddess

Finally, linked above is the recipe that I used for the carrot cake.  The Gluten Free Goddess uses GF pancake mix in her batter, which doesn’t really work when you do not have access to the specific mix.  I used Jeanne’s flour mix instead of the suggested pancake mix, cup for cup, and added 2 tsp each of baking soda and baking powder.  This recipe made two 8-inch layers (about 1.5 inches thick)!

In my icing, because I was constructing a layer cake, I used one and a half blocks of cream cheese, 2 cups of powdered sugar, juice of half a lemon, and 3 tablespoons butter.


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