Tuesday 17 May 2011

Sponge cake, to celebrate.

Celebrate what, exactly? Living gluten-free, of course! Knowing you are gluten-intolerant means knowing you can care for yourself by following a gluten-free diet - and that's definitely a cause for celebration. Hopefully increasing awareness will help the many people with undiagnosed celiac disease find, and celebrate, health as well. As you might already know, May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. At the beginning of the month, a few ambitious and talented bakers took this opportunity to create the world's largest gluten-free cake. Seriously, it's enormous. It wasn't just for yummy-ness and fun, though. In addition to pointing out that 1 in 133 people have celiac disease, this cake also had an even bigger purpose (pun absolutely intended): bringing attention to the fact that the FDA received an assignment to define gluten-free labelling standards...four years ago. That's right: there are currently no enforceable standards stating what "gluten-free" really means in this country. The European Union, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand all have standards, which means that a product must be tested and proven  safe in order to be labelled GF. In the US, on the other hand, there are still a lot of common misconceptions - for instance, people thinking it's OK to say something made with spelt flour is gluten-free. Um, no. Gluten-free is also not the same thing as dairy-free, or vegan, or (*cringe*) fat-free. Yes, I have run into all of those examples personally, absurd as they may sound...I was once sold an allegedly "gluten-free" cupcake at a coffeeshop, which  turned out to be very gluten-full - at least it was vegan, though, right?! (...That was sarcasm, in case you couldn't tell.) Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens more often than you would want to know. You can help to stop it from happening again, though - sign the petition or even write your own letter to let the FDA know just how many people need proper gluten-free labelling! 

Oh, and in the meantime, have some cake. 

This is a light, fluffy, incredibly soft sponge cake. If it weren't for the fact that I made it myself, I honestly wouldn't have believed it's gluten-free. It doesn't take too long to whip up, either, as long as you have a mixer. This is an Italian sponge cake, as opposed to French spongecake or Génoise, because the egg whites are beaten separately from the yolks, and no fat is added other than what comes from the yolks. You can decorate it however you wish - here, I have done some decorative work with a simple buttercream, but the first time I made this cake I used a boiled or "7-minute" meringue-like icing, to which I added a little heavy cream and a spoonful or two of butter so it tasted a little more like frosting and a little less like marshmallow fluff. It was very tasty, just kind of blobby - if you don't care about doing any fancy piping, though, I highly recommend it (there are recipes all over the internet, as well as many variations in the Joy of Cooking).

Italian Sponge Cake with Apricot-Amaretto Glaze

You will need:
- a scale, preferably digital
- a mixer with whisk attachment
- 3 bowls (2 large/medium, 1 small)
- 4-6 ramekins/crème brûlée dishes, if you want miniature layer cakes like the one in my picture OR a 9-inch springform pan, if you just want one flat cake OR 8-10 cupcake papers
- baking parchment, unless using cupcake papers
Simple touches of buttercream complement the apricot glaze nicely. 
(Plus, it looks pretty.) 

- a small sieve or strainer (optional, but it helps)


25 g tapioca starch
15 g millet flour
10 g chestnut flour
8 g white rice flour
1/8 tsp Pomona's pure citrus pectin
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
100 g sugar, divided

Several spoonfuls apricot jam, mixed with a splash of amaretto or 1/4 tsp almond extract+water to thin to syrupy consistency
1/8 tsp extra almond extract (optional)

Mix flours, pectin, and salt in the small bowl, and set aside. Weigh 50 g sugar into each of the other two bowls. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in one of these bowls and the yolks in the other. If you would like a bit of flavouring in the cake, add the 1/8 tsp almond extract to the yolk bowl. Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF, and line your pan or crème brûlée dishes with parchment.

With the whisk attachment on your mixer, whip the egg white-sugar mixture until very stiff (this may take a while, even with a mixer)! Set aside, and whip the egg yolk-sugar mixture until it is thick and creamy pale yellow. Now, gently fold the yolk mixture into the whites. Then, tip 1/3 of the flour into the sieve or strainer, and shake it over the bowl so you have a light dusting of flour on the egg foam. Fold in very gently, and repeat this twice more to incorporate the remaining 2/3 of the flour. This prevents any lumps, which is important because you have to treat the batter delicately. Very carefully spoon the batter into your prepared crème brûlée dishes, pan, or cupcake papers - do not press out the air bubbles - and place in the oven. Immediately lower temperature to 175ºC/350ºF. If you are using a large pan, bake ~ 30 minutes; ramekins and cupcakes need less time, about 18-25 minutes depending on size. Cool completely in the pan.

Once the cakes have cooled, gently remove from pans and peel off parchment. Level them and slice into layers if you wish (not recommended for cupcakes, but if you used crème brûlée dishes, you can make some very cute miniature layer cakes). Now spoon the apricot-amaretto syrup over the top of each cake to glaze (and between layers, if applicable). Decorate as desired - you can frost them, pipe buttercream embellishments, or simply serve them with some lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Have you ever seen food falsely labelled gluten-free? Are you doing anything special this month to raise awareness of celiac disease? Share your stories in the comments!

P.S. - I'm working on some extra-special projects for future yeast bread baking lessons - stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Reeeaaly pretty cake. I'm going to try it soon. Thank you!