Confession time. I have a
slight major addiction to cookbooks. It started in the summer of 2006, after an exhilarating six-week cooking class at the I.C.E. I was newly single, living alone in the city, and in that part of the post-divorce emotional cycle where you try to fill the moon-sized crater of sadness that used to be your heart with frenetic self-improvement.
The good news is, it worked. At the end of the six weeks I felt a bit less sad and had found a hobby that energized and inspired me. The bad news is, I had also found a hobby that energized and inspired my wallet. By the time fall rolled around, I was well on the way to being able to star on my own version of Horders. A version that would be sponsored by Williams-Sonoma, and where my friends and family would quietly wipe away tears while I fiercely clung onto my copper-cored double boiler.
The obsession with expensive pots and pans eventually subsided. More due to the limits of my galley kitchen than any rational thought or impulse control on my part. But the obsession with glossy photos of succulent roasts, perfectly browned chickens, and oozy rustic fruit tarts continues to this day.
I am particularly drawn to cookbooks dedicated to sweets and baked-goods. I have a wicked sweet tooth and love spending my Saturday mornings sifting flours and whipping butters. So when I saw this scrumptious image on the cover of the babycakes cookbook by Erin McKenna, I knew it had to be mine.
Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about the notion of vegan/gluten-free/sugar-free baking. But I figured that if I could still feed the sugar beast living inside of me, while cutting down dramatically on fats, glucose and carbs, then why the hell not give it a try. The images of the finished products and celebrity endorsements from the likes of Zoe Deschanel and Mary-Louis Parker, didn’t hurt either. What could go wrong, right?
However, before I could take my first step down this super
healthy trendy and sure-to-be delicious path, I needed to go shopping. Because no sane kitchen would ever contain the shit-load of random ingredients that are needed for vegan, gluten-free cooking. (What the hell is xantham gum???)
My first attempt was a tasty-looking lemon poppy tea cake. I say attempt because it never really finished baking. No matter how long I let is sit in the oven, the center stayed gummy. It also tasted awful. But I chalked it up to me being a gluten-free virgin, and the lemon extract required by the recipe. (I’m not a fan of most extracts, as they tend to make things taste chemically. Vanilla and almond being the exceptions.)
So I went back to the store, got some more outlandishly expensive ingredients, and tried again. Enter the ginger-peach corn muffin. Mmmmmmmmmmm, sounds good right?
Step one was to roast a boat-load of peaches tossed with agave nectar. Those turned out fine, and I would recommend agave as a great alternative to sugar. (Agave is on the low-end of the glycemia index, so it’s a good option for those with sensitivities to processed sugars.)
Then came the rest of the four thousand ingredients. Which culminated in the goopy, oddly-consisted mess below.
In the process of combining the ingredients I made, what would later turn out to be, a crucial discovery. Want to know what it is? Okay, I’ll tell you. If when you lick the spoon your batter tastes like poo, then chances are whatever you eventually take out of the oven will also taste like poo. Except now it will be warm.
After a very precise 22 minutes later — which was the maximum suggested baking time — the muffins were still wet and had the consistency of a square of Bubblicious gum on hot pavement. So I put them back in the oven, and 15 minutes later the tops had firmed up, the peaches had caramelized nicely, and the texture looked like it held the promise of a decent crumb.
But the taste. The taste… The. Taste. Was. Vile.
Nothing about these tasted like food. It was all chemical and fakiness. The mouth-feel was off. The texture was not-in-a-good-way spongy. Even the peaches tasted funny. Sooooo disappointing. And sure, maybe it was me. Maybe I missed a critical step. Maybe one of the ingredients was past its prime, or I had gotten the wrong brand. Or maybe, just maybe, GLUTEN-FREE IS BULLSHIT.
Here’s the deal. If you have to use rice milk mixed with apple-cider vinegar to approximate buttermilk, sugar-free applesauce instead of eggs, and xantham gum to…crap, I still don’t know what the hell xantham gum is supposed to do, then maybe you should just call it a night and eat a piece of fruit.
PS: I did try one more recipe. A vegan blueberry muffin, made with spelt flour. It contained no sugar, eggs or dairy and was a decent alternative to the full-fat, carb-loaded version.