Monday, September 21, 2009

Baking Gluten Free in Greece

I get a kick grocery shopping while traveling. Especially in foreign countries. Everyday food products seem different in some exotic way. On my recent trip to Greece, I decided to bake for a family celebration. Gluten free, of course. When I arrived in Limnos, several relatives and friends asked me to make them delicious cookies like the ones I made last time I visited. That was two years ago. And they still remember?! Amazing. Frankly, this became an entertainment challenge factor to bake gluten free in Greece using only local products. So I decided to make peanut butter and jelly cookies to satiate their need for cookies and a special almond sponge roll cake with rich filling for the party. I made two items that I have made so often, I can recall the recipe off the top of my mind and I knew I could adjust based on availability of ingredients.

For the cookies, peanut butter and jelly cookies were the obvious choice - so comforting and familiar. Since I knew the cookies had to survive a rugged journey on rough Greek island roads, I figured sandwich style would travel the best; I used a straw for the hole on the top cookie. And I made the small, appealing to pick up and nibble for a tiny treat hanging out at the beach house. I used my usual recipe posted here. The only ingredients that differed significantly from what I get in the USA was the peanut butter and brown sugar. The only peanut butter available at the Greek groceries was Unilever's Calvé peanut butter which did not have any sugar in it. It was only roasted peanuts and salt with specks of skin apparent, ground just as creamy as the stuff we get here in the States. The brown sugar was the main differential. It was more like a turbinado sugar, large crystalline sugar that did not dissolve in the batter. The finished cookie was the Euro version of my PB&J cookie: more natural, not as sweet, and a bit of crunch to it from the brown sugar. Definitely a hit with the Greeks and our Berliner visitor, too.

For the cake, I used the recipe here, using milk instead of the coconut milk. This recipe proved to be a bit more challenging in finding almond flour, the best grade eggs, and heavy whipping cream for the filling. We went to multiple grocery stores, bakeries, and nut specialty stores to find almond flour. Everyone responded the same way to the effect of: there is only wheat flour, no other find of flour - that is crazy talk. I decided to make my own almond flour at my cousins house. I bought delicious raw Greek almonds. Blanched them, removed the peels, dried them in a low heat in the oven, and ground them in a mini processor with sugar to a fine meal. Surprisingly, cornstarch was easy to find as corn flour. Eggs proved to be a challenge based on the storage conditions. Greeks store fresh eggs at room temperature and degrade in quality very quickly. It resulted in not quite the spongy cake I am used to. The bottom turned out more thick, almost like a marzipan. It was delicious, just not what I intended. For the filling, I envisioned a decadent coffee caramel whipped cream. I bought the 30% heavy cream, only to find it would not whip. Okay. Back to a basic butter cream frosting using butter, powdered sugar, and Nescafe. Perfect.

Try it. Experiment with different ingredients. Get off the recipe a bit. You will adapt, learn, and have fun with it. Maybe you will create a new masterpiece for all to enjoy.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure