"A perfect glass-of-milk kind of snacking cake."
Many would argue that gluten-free is the new cholesterol-free, fat-free, or carb-free. That is to say, it's the latest diet trend. Maybe gluten-free products are currently having their glitter moment, but there is no denying the facts: as many as three million Americans have celiac disease, and the number of gluten-intolerant people is even greater—about one in 133. That means they cannot comfortably digest gluten, the main protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.
Can you imagine a life without pasta? Or warm crusty bread? Cereal? Fortunately you don't have to. Right now, markets are stocked with gluten-free versions of many favorite foods, including waffles, pizza, and even beer.
Out of all the companies that specialize in gluten-free products, Bob's Red Mill is perhaps the best-known and most praised. Erin McKenna, owner of Babycakes, a gluten-free bakery in New York City, and author of the Babycakes cookbook, says Bob's gluten-free all-purpose flour is so good she would "collapse in a tear-drenched tantrum if they ever stopped making it."
While I may not be gluten-intolerant, I am curious.
I decided to try Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake Mix ($9.58 for four packages). Gluten-free or not, vanilla cake mixes always remind me of little kid's birthday parties—the kind that end with a huge rectangular sheet cake stuck with pastel pink and blue candles. For this reason, I decided to bake the mix in a 9x13-inch pan (the package also has instructions for baking loaf cakes or round cakes).
Three eggs, 1/2 cup oil, and 1/2 cup room-temperature water later my batter was ready. I'm not going to lie—it wasn't at all like regular cake batter. It had a gummy, glue-like consistency and smelled faintly of another childhood staple: Play-Doh.
But it was a lovely butter yellow color and spread evenly in the pan. Half an hour later it emerged golden and warm. The cake was domed in the middle and the sides pulled away from the pan slightly, revealing tempting crusty edges.
I showered my cake with confectioners' sugar and cut it into thick squares. No fork was necessary—this was clearly a finger food kind of dessert. While I couldn't detect any authentic vanilla flavor, the cake was pleasingly buttery and not too sweet—a bit like cornbread, really.
What it lacked in over-the-top taste it certainly made up for in texture. If I hadn't known better, I never would have guessed the cake was flour-free. It was incredibly light with a slightly moist and sticky consistency. Each bite stuck to the roof of my mouth for just a second before disintegrating into crumbs—a perfect glass-of-milk kind of snacking cake.
I would strongly recommend this mix for anyone with a gluten intolerance, particularly children. Nobody should be denied their birthday sheet cake fix!
Fun fact: Last month, Matthew Cox of Bob's Red Mill, which sells cake mixes such as this one in addition to oats, grits, and many other whole grains, won the Golden Spurtle competition in Scotland. He became the first American to take the world's top porridge-making prize!
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