Kitchen Nightmares: Leavening & Grit

After more than 40 batches of failed vanilla gluten free cakes (before hitting a home run), I wanted to pass along some lessons learned in the arena of gluten free baking. Maybe my many failed attempts can help shed some light in your kitchen adventures. Oh and for the many bloggers out there that claimed they found the perfect gluten free cake recipe after only fourteen attempts…I call bull. That is equivalent to the Stepford Wife that claims she just rolls out of bed looking that way. (*rolls eyes*). 

Since there is such a plethora of knowledge to share from my many failed attempts, I have to split this blog series up into parts. So here is Part One….

GRITTY VS. GUMMY 

STARCH & GRAIN RATIOS

In this pain staking journey within the test kitchen, I came to find out the “whys” to certain gluten free baking problems such as gummyness, density, dryness, and gritty or pasty filled textures. Have no fear…I may have a solution to your woes:

GUMMY: Oh child. The amount of gummy cakes that I chewed up and spit out into my trash can. Daily, my trash would express its distaste for the poundage I would throw away by the means of collapsed trash bags within the canister. You would hear the crinkling of the slowly falling bag every day around 3pm. So why does this happen? It is either too much xantham gum (we don’t use that here at Love & Cake) or it is too much starch to grain ratio. As I was figuring out and perfecting my own special blend of flours, I realized that too much starch equalled to gummy inedible messes. Go on the other end of that spectrum, and you have our next issue…

CHALKY, PASTY, GRITTY, NASTY CRAP!

Believe me when I say that I tested SO many gritty, pasty, and overall rough feeling cupcakes that my tongue was sore for one full week. No really! The tastebuds on my tongue were suffering an unwanted exfoliation repeatedly resulting in sore taste buds. I could barely eat my regular meals. So why are we running into this problem? Two possible reasons: Your grains or rice flours to starch ratio is way too high OR you do not have enough liquid to absorb. Usually the latter will give a tell tale sign of being powdery feeling on the tongue and bottom lip when biting into a cupcake and initially chewing it. There has to be a harmonious marriage between your starches and your grain flours.  If your cakes are not necessarily gummy (when you chew it around in your mouth it begins to feel like a slimy gummy science experiment) or grainy (ranging from gritty to a slight toothpaste feel within the mouth), then you must be dealing with a rubbery chew like texture. Something between rubber and old gum. 

A CHEW LIKE NO OTHER…

I always like a good chewing gum. Bubblicious, Big League, and even Trident ranks in the top three of my favorites, but my cakes….no. When I conquered the grit and the gummy, I fell onto the lap of overly chewy. I hate or loathe overly chewy. You sit there chewing and chewing like a horse in a pasture does grazing the grass. Your cheek muscles start to ache and you soon find yourself burning more calories chewing then you have consuming the darn thing! So what could possibly be causing your cakes to act like a thick wad of chewing gum? Check the type of flour you are using. Tapioca and Sweet White Rice are known for causing this to happen when they are overly used. Chewy and gummy have different qualities. Chewy is usually associated with a denser and hockey puck like weight of a cake versus gummy can happen in a light and airy cupcake. Gummy usually rears its ugly head once you start to chew the cake a bit. Its down right nasty. Once you conquer perfecting your flour to starch ratios then we start getting into the additional ingredients that can cause problems…

THE STORY OF THE LEAVENING AGENTS

IMMEDIATE SINKAGE

You have the oven light on, you are anxiously watching your little babies start to grow around the edges but….the center looks like it hasn’t gotten the memo. There is no rise, it just starts to form a black hole of bakery nothingness. Sinking further and further into the deep abyss. What could be the problem? 

Too much liquid…

If your cupcakes immediately start to sink in the middle, you could have too much liquid.  The liquid is weighing down the batter not allowing the leavening to do its magic. Lessen the liquid little by little. You know you went too far if you start to see a point top with cracks.

Too high of a temperature…

Another reason could be oven temp. I recently (twice) found this out the hard way when I blew my thermostat in my oven from over baking. The oven temp spiked and when it did, those centers immediately and violently sank. 

Overfilling of liners…

If you overfill your cupcake liner, the leavening will do its job and raise the batter but then it won’t have any support beams on the outside (aka the liner) to hold it up and therefore it will pour over the edges slightly and collapse in the center.

PUFF, PUFF, SINK!

You see these beautiful domed cupcakes. They are magnificent. Round, beautiful pillowy tops. Then….you start to see it. The dreadful sinking start to happen ever so slightly. You watch in horror as the sinking becomes worse and worse and then BOOM! the whole center has fallen. After you cry out in agonizing pain from the utter let down that occurred, you start to wonder why…

Too much leavening…

If you use too much baking soda or baking powder, it will rise gorgeously in the oven and then deflate dramatically soon after. Try lessening your leavening and restart. 

Too high of a temperature…

This can also be a culprit, just depends on the temperature. The higher the temperature, the more it will immediately sink. If the temperature is slightly higher than what the recipe calls for, you may get the beautiful rise only to watch it fall like the Persian Empire. 

Ya beat it to death…

For those not egg free, I have heard rumors and stories that if you beat the eggs too much, it can cause unnecessary air bubbles in your batter. Once in the oven, those air bubbles could become your demise. 

 

 

TRAINING BRA

You remember those God awful training bras when you were in middle school (boys you would remember them by the pointed top halves of your crushes). They were these weird pointy things that didn’t look natural in any way. Well, if you find yourself remembering the nostalgic times of your preteen years while looking at your cupcakes, you may have too much leavening in your batter. I have noticed that baking soda tends to give this result more than baking powder. So if you need to lessen a leavening agent, look at baking soda first.

No need for the training bra?

Then you have the opposite problem that many girls unfortunately had to go through and that is…flat tops. Sad, moundless cupcake tops. Sure, they look great once you put frosting on top, but if your cakes are not rising, guess what happens to the texture of your cake? Yep boys and girls…you get dense. Flat tops can happen because of one of two reasons (or both): Too low of an oven temperature or not enough leavening. Up your leavening by 1/4 tsp increments (if small batch of cake batter then 1/8 tsp increments). That should fix the issue of the flat topped cake.  

TO BE CONTINUED….

Stay tuned for part two when we attack moisture retention and the liquids that help!

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