Tuesday August 31, 2010
Matchy Matchy Matcha
Recently, I had to make a lot of chocolate cake. Not a double batch or a bakin’ up a storm sort of “lot,” but the kind of lot that comes from attempting time and again to make cake worth eating without using flour, egg yolks, butter or milk. I can make a tasty cake without butter or eggs or flour, but take away all three? Like spinning straw into gold.
So I mean it. A lot. Of cake. Tiny sized batches scaled to just a fraction of the whole but still, a world of cake had to get made before I could get something from nothing.
Rosco got wind of Cake-fest and called to see if we should take the opportunity to do some kind of shoot for BraveTart. So we blocked out an hour later that afternoon for an impromptu session. Without much forethought or planning, I had to get one of the cakes dressed and ready.
I decided to make matcha buttercream for the photo shoot cake because A) it would have a nice mossy green color and B) matcha is dark chocolate’s best friend after peanut butter.
(Mostly off topic: I know matcha is commonly referred to as “green tea” in English, but that’s super misleading even if it’s superficially true. It’s a squares and rectangles issue. All matcha is green tea, but not all green tea is matcha, savvy? I say this not because I’m a language purist or because I speak Japanese, but because I’ve seen too many people try and make “green tea” desserts using bagged green tea or even loose leaf sencha. Ain’t gonna work kids. )
Anyway. As I tried to figure out how to decorate the cake, I recalled a vaguely retro-inspired dress I’d purchased after watching too much Mad Men. I brought the dress out of my closet and hung it from my pot rack in the kitchen as I worked, inspired by the geometric design.
Before I packed up the car, I called Rosco.
“So, the cake, right? I kind of made it to match this dress I have—”
I went to the photo shoot with the most matchy matchy accessory of all time.
I’ve noticed there exists a certain subset of persons employed in the restaurant biz who seem to take it as a personal affront when someone mentions a dietary restriction. They can’t have their style cramped by an allergy, intolerance, or religious requirement and refuse outright to try and accommodate. Others comply grudgingly (lame fruit bowl as the vegan dessert, anyone?) or ineptly (serving gross but compliant items), or even recklessly (“Haha, scoop these peanuts out and voilà! Nut free!”).
Of course any chef worth his or her salt will either create an amazing dish to comply or answer honestly that for whatever reason it can’t be done. In some cases, it’s better to not accommodate at all rather than risk cross contamination and having to say, “Oh, wow, so that’s what a shellfish allergy looks like in action!”
A few years ago, while trying to get to the bottom of some mysterious bouts of pain and suffering, I had the misfortune of receiving a pork allergy diagnosis from my doctor. John and I eat a largely vegetarian diet, maybe enjoying meat a few times a month at best, so kicking pork out of the kitchen didn’t take much effort. (Well. Giving my dad the prosciutto an Italian friend sent to me took considerable effort.)
But avoiding it in restaurants has proved nigh impossible; pork in all its iterations remains the fatback-bone of many cuisines. I think the kitchen often interprets my pork-free request as a personal preference and not an honest to God allergy. I mean, who has a pork allergy? So even after I explain I really, really, really can’t have pork, I’m assured I can go ahead and order the beans (braised with streak o’ lean), the chicken tamales (made with lard), the mashed potatoes (sloshed with red eye gravy), or pasta with Bolognese (which began as pancetta and onion dancing in a pan).
I’ve spent many a night curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, cursing everyone involved.
The allergic person can quite possibly not overstate the frustrations of dining out and the helpless feeling of realizing it’s too late. The offending item has been consumed. The inevitable approaches.
At any rate, compared to the myriad food allergies in this world, having a pork allergy amounts to virtually no allergy at all. I can’t imagine life with celiac disease, a nut allergy, genuine lactose intolerance, or even my own mother’s obscure allergy to strawberries. How can one go on without these treasures of life?
Which brings us back to why I felt so darned compelled to bake one million cakes to find one fit for someone plagued by a host of restrictions.
A friend had contacted me to see about arranging for a gluten free, egg yolk free, dairy free cake for a party. Having also been a former employer, she knew my passion for including copious amounts of gluten, egg yolks, and dairy in every dessert. The somewhat sheepish tone of her texts seemed to be apologizing for even asking.
Before my experiences with the pork allergy, I probably wouldn’t have tried. But knowing how hard it is just to get a stupid dumpling without a trace of pork? I couldn’t imagine what kind of hoops this person had to jump through to get a cookie, much less an actual cake in Lexington, Kentucky. So I said yes.
Now, truth be told, the person in question had a specific problem with egg yolks and cow’s milk, leaving egg whites and goat milk/butter on the table, and thus making my job much easier. The ultimate problem came down to simply finding a good balance of gluten free flours for the cake.
Hence the endless cake baking.
I think a lot of restaurant types have a sort of “Wow, this is really good for a whatever-free thingadodger!” mentality when it comes to formulating recipes for dietary restrictions, but I can’t play that game. If it’s not good enough to serve to everyone, it’s not good enough.
By the time I figured out the cake formula I’d use for the party, a million rejects had piled up in the trash. When I made the final batch, John may or may not have walked into the kitchen to find me dancing in circles and singing, “My name is Rumpelstiltskin!”
Such fairy tale levels of tasty aside, I’m half afraid to tag the chocolate cake and (goat’s butter) matcha buttercream recipes as gluten, egg yolk, and (cow’s) dairy-free else people without food allergies will hesitate to try them.
Do you find gluten free or whatever-free recipes carry a certain stigma? Is this indicative of an overall level of mediocrity in recipes for the restricted diet, or just a misrepresentation of the reality? Do people on a restricted diet have a greater willingness to accept levels of deliciocity below normal foodie tolerance? Will anyone try these recipes?
17 comments and counting
Sep 14, 2010 · 8:56 PM
First off, I am not a “cyber-stalker”. I saw the link to your blog on your mom’s FB page. With that out of the way, let me say that as the mom of a child very allergic to eggs, milk, nuts and beef (rather odd one, like pork), I give you a resounding THANK YOU for attempting this. I have tried many a recipe over the years and they all stink. We have pretty much resorted to soy ice cream sandwiches for birthdays. If that makes you sad, dear Bravetart, would you consider creating a chocolate cake recipe that a 7 year old boy would enjoy without eggs, milk, butter and nuts??
All the best,
Lee Ann (Emmons) Fogle
ps. Love the blog!
Sep 15, 2010 · 2:54 AM
This kind of cyber stalking I can take! Thanks for stopping by and checking out the blog Lee Ann! I will see what I can do about a cake that would meet your little one’s restrictions- that’s quite a lot to deal with!
I will be the first to admit that eggs are my crutch, but I have some ideas, and I’ll run them through the kitchen a million times and see what comes out. I will keep you posted on my progress. I do have a bunch of great vegan ice cream recipes, at least, so maybe some safe items will start appearing here for you in the not too distant future.
Nov 18, 2010 · 12:33 PM
A pork allergy? I have actually heard of a turkey allergy, but never a pork allergy. In that case, I guess saying you are Kosher isn’t good enough. Yikes!
Yes, stigma…it used to be, What is gluten-free?! I want to try that! Now, since more and more people understand the concept it is, Oh, that’s gluten-free? Okay. And then they steer clear of it But that would not happen with your lovely spotty cake…I’d like to order one cake, and one dress, please. I adore them both!
· CinnamonQuill/GlutenFreeFeed.com · www.cinnamonquill.com
Nov 18, 2010 · 2:08 PM
Yes, the pork allergy is a totally cruel stroke, as I already know the sweet, sweet taste of bacon.
Gluten free does take a bad rap, but it doesn’t have to be that way as you know. I hope slowly GF becomes just incidental, and so long as a recipe looks good, people will try it whether they’re GF or not. I’m glad you like my matchy matchy combo!
Feb 24, 2011 · 10:01 PM
Must have been a fun photo shoot. Great work.
· Mark · lowcarbgrub.com/
Feb 25, 2011 · 10:07 AM
I HAVE THAT SAME DRESS! Banana Republic, right? I remember getting it on sale, and I wore it around the holidays one year b/c of the festive green. Hope you’re getting good use out of yours!
· All Seasons Cuisine · allseasonscuisine.com
Feb 25, 2011 · 10:12 AM
@Mark, we did have fun with the shoot, but I am the most awkward person in the world in front of a camera, so poor Rosco had a hard time getting me to cooperate.
@Allseasons, You got it on sale?!?!? So jealous. I paid full price. Ha ha. I bought it to wear to a wedding. I do stinkin’ love that dress though! So cute and a little retro feeling.
Apr 04, 2012 · 5:19 AM
I have had a most amazing time exploring your blog over the last few weeks, and I cannot explain to you how excited I am to have just stumbled across this recipe!! My partner is lactose and gluten free (although he can have it to a certain point before he gets sick – namely he can put up with it to eat my macarons) but his mum, sister and one of my closest friends are all serious ‘vomit ‘til they’re blue in the face’ types when it comes to dairy and gluten. Poor kids. I love to bake for people and having been lucky enough to grow out of my 500 allergies in my teens, I sympathize with their problems! I also take it quite personally I can’t bake for these people so close to me so they can enjoy the delicous-ness that is freshly made cake, since normal gluten free recipes seem to simply replace the flour with more eggs and butter! I’m going to bake this for my friend as a surprise when we head round there in a few weeks… I can hardly wait! Thank you
Apr 11, 2012 · 8:56 PM
@junglegirl, you are so, so welcome. And you will never believe, but my mother is allergic to strawberries too! Like instant-anaphylactic-shock severe. She would be so comforted to know your mom, they could have a strawberry support group.
May 21, 2012 · 10:14 AM
I would say that its a pretty large subset of chefs/cooks who don’t see food allergies (or choices such as vegetarianism) as a challenge but rather an inconvenience to be given as little thought as possible. Its very frustrating! We definitely give all the vegans a fruit plate (slightly better than a bowl- we make it look nice, but is still just fruit!), and we have very little in the way of gluten-free offerings. I want everyone to be able to eat something delicious, but as an underling in the kitchen, I don’t have much say about it. Its something I definitely want to work on!
May 21, 2012 · 10:59 PM
@Jade, It’s so frustrating to be held back by the others in the kitchen. I know the feeling! I used to be able to offer gluten free desserts, but we’ve installed a wood burning pizza oven next to my dessert station and unfortunately due to cross contamination, I can’t offer GF desserts anymore.
Dec 04, 2012 · 12:41 PM
hey, stella! my best friend is sensitive to gluten, allergic to dairy/milk, AND eggs! have you found any substitute for the egg whites? =/
also, what are your thoughts on expired matcha? (i wasn’t able to use it fast enough, and my little can expired in 2011 or 2010) Does anything bad happen, or do ya think I could just use more of it to make up for any lost potency? thanks! i hope your laptop gets fixed soon!
· megan · whyisfoodsogood.blogspot.com
Dec 05, 2012 · 9:14 AM
Hi Megan! Ugh, yes, I’m hunting and pecking replies on my phone right now, argh!! I’m sorry to say I’ve got no egg white answers or you, though. Old matcha will have lost a good deal of its punch and anti oxidant properties, so you may have to adjust the amount to taste to get a good flavor.