When you first learn you need to eliminate gluten from your diet, it can be a shock. (What? No bread and cookies? For the rest of my life?!) You’ll most likely go through mourning and an adjustment period. Your pantry and kitchen will need a makeover, but I found that was actually the easy part. The bigger problem was the need to change my thinking. At first I thought I’d just have to swap the old white wheat flour for a gluten-free one, and that’s it – the process of baking as well as the results would be the same. Except… they weren’t. The breads and cakes were anything but the goods I remembered from our pre-gluten-free days. It took me a long time to understand that I shouldn’t expect gluten-free goods to mirror their gluten-filled counterparts, that I needed to embrace the change and see the gluten free baking as a completely new world and give it a fair chance to show me what it has to offer. And from that point things began to change and my success rate started slowly climbing up.
Authors of gluten-free cookbooks will tell you that their flour blend is the best in the world, and when you make bread according to their recipe you won’t be able to tell the difference and it will taste just like the wheat bread you remember. I’m no cookbook author (yet :-), but after five years of baking gluten-free for Mr. Photographer, I have to say I haven’t found such bread recipe yet. The gluten-free bread is simply different – usually it will be more dense, and it definitely doesn’t have the open crumb structure of an artisanal wheat bread.
The cakes, cookies, and quick breads on the other hand are not only comparable, but can be even better than the wheat varieties, precisely because they don’t contain gluten. Remember what your recipes almost always tell you? Mix the dry ingredients into the wet; stir just until combined, do not over mix. Over mixing activates the gluten, which in turn can make your baking creations tough. But with gluten-free flour you can mix all you want, because there is no gluten to activate, and your cakes will stay light and airy.
A big part of baking experience is sharing, though, and many gluten-ingesting folks won’t believe you when you tell them what I just said. In their mind, gluten-free is a synonym for “dry, crumbly, and tasteless”. When you’ll try this cake, you’ll see for yourself just how wrong they are. All the three men at my house were fighting over the last piece, regardless of their gluten-eating or gluten-avoiding status. The cake uses a combination of chocolate and almond flour, is somewhat dense, and the bi-colored light mousse provides a nice contrast. I wouldn’t think twice about serving it to a company, and I love that I wouldn’t even need to use the disclaimer “gluten-free”. I can just say I made a chocolate almond cake and then watch my guests devour it. I can guarantee they won’t have a clue they might have just eaten their first gluten-free dessert. Good baking doesn’t need disclaimers. Gluten-free or gluten-full, if it’s tasty, it just is.
Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake with Bi-Colored Chocolate Mousse
(recipe from onceuponachef.com)
- 1 ½ cups slivered almonds
- 170 g (6 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- ¾ cup sugar, divided
- 1½ sticks (170 g, 6 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 6 eggs, separated
- pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Dark Chocolate Mousse:
- 150 g (5 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 tablespoons baking cocoa
- 8 tablespoons water, divided
- 1 – 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 – 4 g powdered gelatin (1 envelope Knox gelatin equals about ¼ oz./7 g)
- 375 ml (12 oz., 1½ cups) heavy whipping cream
White Chocolate Mousse:
- 100 g (3.5 oz.) white chocolate, chopped
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 5 – 6 g powdered gelatin
- 375 ml (12 oz.., 1½ cups) heavy whipping cream
- For the cake, preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Butter and flour 9-inch (22 cm) round springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. (If baking gluten-free, be sure to use gluten-free flour or breadcrumbs for the pan.)
- Melt the chocolate by placing it in a pan over a pan with boiling water and stirring it constantly. Let cool to room temperature.
- Process the almonds with ¼ cup sugar until ground (Do not over mix, or you will end up with almond butter.) Set aside.
- Cream the butter with ¼ cup sugar until fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one by one, beating well after each addition. Beat in the chocolate and almonds and mix until combined.
- Beat the egg whites with salt and lemon juice. When soft peaks form, gradually add remaining sugar and continue beating until stiff.
- Fold about 3 tablespoons of egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, and then very gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Do not over mix.
- Transfer the batter into your baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the temp down to 325 °F (165 °C) and continue baking for additional 50 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes and then remove the sides of the pan and let cool completely. (The cake will probably crack during baking – that’s ok. It will also sink in quite a bit while it cools; just level it off when cooled completely.)
- Carefully invert the cake and remove the bottom part with the parchment paper. Wash and reassemble the cake pan, place the cooled cake in and set aside.
- To make the dark chocolate mousse, melt the chocolate over a water bath. Combine the cocoa with 6 tablespoons water until smooth and add the mixture to the melted chocolate. Let cool.
- Bloom the gelatin in 2 tablespoons water for about 15 minutes. Liquefy it over a pot of hot water; do not cook, or the gelatin won’t set. Combine the gelatin with the warm chocolate mixture, stir until smooth.
- Whip the cream with sugar until firm. Add couple of tablespoons to the cooled chocolate – gelatin mixture, fold it in gently, and then add the remaining whipped cream to create a light mousse. Spread the mousse onto the cake a and place the cake in the fridge so that the mousse will have a chance to firm up a bit while you make the white chocolate mousse.
- For the white chocolate mousse, melt the white chocolate over a water bath. Bloom the gelatin in 3 tablespoons water and liquefy it over a pot of hot water. Do not cook. Combine the gelatin with the warm white chocolate; stir until smooth.
- Whip the cream with sugar until stiff peaks form. Add couple of tablespoons of whipped cream to the white chocolate mixture to lighten it a bit, and then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream.
- Spread the white mousse over the dark chocolate mousse, which should be at least somewhat firm at this point. Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
- Decorate with cocoa powder or chocolate shavings if desired.