A tale of two cakes

Recently I attended a party. You might imagine from the post’s title that it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, etc…but actually, it was a pretty darned good gluten-free time all around, heavy on the wisdom and light on the foolishness.

The party in question was in celebration of my sister’s graduation and, secondarily, my twenty-fourth birthday. At such occasions where just one gluten-free eater is present, said eater might count him or herself lucky to have a quarantined corner of gluten-free snacks, or to be allowed to bring his or her own food. At this occasion, though, the hosts—my parents—went all out creating an entirely gluten-free spread, complete with TWO cakes.

Cutting the Cakes

No, not one gluten-y graduation cake for Althea and a separate gluten-free birthday cake for me, but two gluten-free layer cakes made from King Arthur Flour gluten-free yellow cake mixes (and KAF cake enhancer). Since we didn’t do a taste test of one cake with the enhancer and one without, I don’t know how critical this ingredient was, but I can tell you that both cakes tasted and felt just like they should: like cake.

They were both vanilla, one with buttercream and M&Ms, and one with a cornstarch-based pudding filling and a dark chocolate ganache: a classic Boston Cream Pie gone oh-so-gluten-free. Just what I wanted! (My cake looks like it’s about to tip over in the photo, but I assure you that I cut the entire thing without the top sliding off—a feat that I undertook in grave doubt at my ability to achieve.)

We also tried the King Arthur Flour gluten-free cookie mix. Although we added lots and lots of chocolate chips, the consensus was these weren’t quite as impressive as the cakes. They were best right out of the oven, which is when I tried them, but I’ve been informed that as they cooled they became a bit crumbly and that they had an odd aftertaste. I’ve noticed an aftertaste in many gluten-free desserts I’ve tried and, after struggling to pinpoint its origin, I now blame the tapioca starch, which a gluten-free cookbook author I work with told me can have a metallic taste, depending on its source. Have you noticed a metallic aftertaste in your GF goodies? Do you blame the tapioca?

KAF Cookies

I started with dessert because it’s always the most important thing, but let’s pause for a moment to discuss the second most important thing: avoiding cross-contamination. My parents don’t have a gluten-free kitchen, but they did go to great lengths to make food that was safe for their invalid offspring:

  • They wiped down every surface and took all of the silverware out of the cutlery drawer and washed everything, tray included.
  • They bought new mixing and serving bowls, spoons, spatulas, knives and cutting boards, measuring cups, and more.
  • They used disposable foil cake pans and killed thousands of parchment-paper trees covering everything else (the cakes were served on the usual cake stands, but with a layer of parchment paper, just in case).
  • Everything on the buffet was gluten-free, from the appetizers to the main course to the desserts, and they asked guests not to bring food. This meant I could pick at the buffet like a normal person, rather than worrying about contaminated serving spoons or crumby hands.
  • They explained cross-contamination concerns to many of my family members who weren’t yet aware I had celiac, which was a load off my shoulders. Once in a while, believe it or not, I don’t want to talk about gluten.

My mom has been insisting that when I write this post, I be absolutely ruthless in laying bare all of the things they didn’t do right, but to be honest, I don’t have much to complain about. To appease her, though, here is the run-down:

  • Beer was served, but there’s not a high risk of cross-contamination with that, since it tends to go straight from bottle to gullet.
  • A couple of guests did bring food, but nothing that used gluten ingredients (though I still avoided it in case of cross-contamination).
  • We realized we’d forgotten to get new cooling racks when it came time to take out the cookies, but we made do by setting them on parchment paper over the racks (maybe this contributed to the cookies’ crumbliness).
  • Mom suggested I make a plate of food for myself in advance, just in case, so I’d feel extra comfortable, even though everything would be gluten-free. I didn’t, because I wanted to feel normal. But I probably would have felt even more comfortable if I’d taken her advice. Turns out, Mom does know best.
  • Mom feels guilty for having eaten Twizzlers after the party. But as much as I’ve never cared for Twizzlers myself and never shall now, I know what they mean to her and would never want to take them away from her.

All in all, the party planning gets an A from me.

Along with dessert, we had an array of intriguing gluten-free chips and crackers (Boulder Canyon hummus & sesame chips, Eat Your Vegetables sea salt chips, Wild Riceworks crisps, and tortilla chips), dips and cheese, and a beautiful spread of gluten-free salads, including one brown rice and wild rice salad which was, I think, the first wild rice–based salad I’ve ever really liked.

It was a tasty springtime spread full of great fruits & veggies, nuts, beans, and grains, and many of the guests were surprised to learn such a varied menu could be entirely gluten-free. Mom’s qualms aside, it was a fun, delicious, and—dare I say it—educational gluten-free party.

As for which cake was best? M&Ms are fine, but obviously it was my favorite, the Boston Cream.

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20 thoughts on “A tale of two cakes

  1. This post made me delightfully hungry! I’m glad you had such a tasty, and safe, gluten free spread at this celebration! 🙂

  2. Vicky says:

    Happy Birthday!! How awesome to be able to pick just exactly what you want without having to pick first and then not be able to go back to the table in case someone has contaminated something! Gosh I know this feeling.

    The cakes look fantastic! Looks like you had a great time!

  3. Happy Birthday and woohoo on zero cross contamination!

  4. Laurie C says:

    There was one half slice of one cake left over the next day, while the many leftover cookies never got touched. I finally tossed them, but it’s possible they lost some crunch because we didn’t dry them on a rack. That doesn’t explain the aftertaste, though! 😉

    • Molly says:

      That’s a bummer! You know, they might have been better refreshed in the microwave or oven (I’ve read that tip). Though, again, that probably wouldn’t do away with the aftertaste.

      Nice post on your blog about the party! Sorry it was so much extra work for you! Best mom ever. 🙂

  5. What a wonderful family you have! Cheers to its success.

  6. Mary Kate says:

    What an awesome party!

    So far as I can tell, the metallic taste is often the xanthan gum. But then, I don’t taste it in some recipes? I don’t know. My coworkers all ate the KAF cookies with no complaint, and none of them are gluten-free. But they are only “okay,” not “awesome.”

    Now I want cake.

    • Molly says:

      Xanthan gum might be the culprit. I know a lot of people avoid it entirely. I still have an unopened package of it that I bought back in March. I guess I was overly ambitious thinking I’d jump right into from-scratch GF baking!

      • Mary Kate says:

        I did, but I was a long-term baker before, probably close to 20 years of experience. And I still completely and totally screwed up SO. MANY. THINGS. Mostly, now, I’m a good recipe follower, but not all the GF baking recipes out there are very good.

  7. Happy birthday Molly! You have an such awesome family and your mom rocks (twizzlers and all, ha). I love how you allow her that G indulgence. Those cakes look fantastic and I love the idea of a Boston cream layer cake. I think my husband would love that for Father’s Day (and me too!)

    As for the metallic taste, it could be tapioca, but also very likely is xanthan gum. My husband is V sensitive to it, me only slightly, but it can be weird, which is why some people prefer baking w/o the “gums” but that unfort means many mixes are out. I think some mixes have more than others though, so don’t spend all your bday cash on GF flours 🙂
    -Dana

    • Molly says:

      Ooh, I hope you do make it for Father’s Day! It was really good. It’s my dad’s favorite cake, too.

      I keep having to restrain myself from bulk-buying GF baking mixes, etc., on Amazon that I haven’t taste-tested yet…it does hurt to shell out the cost for a single bag at the grocery store though!

  8. joyweesemoll says:

    I use tapioca starch instead of cornstarch. Mostly because I had an Asian recipe that called for it. And, then, once I had it around, it seemed like one less thing with corn in it so I might as well use it. I’ve never noticed a metallic aftertaste related to using it.

    Happy birthday!

  9. norma says:

    sounds like everyone had a delicious time.

  10. Happy Birthday! That’s so cool your family did all gf for you.

    This week I hosted my daughter’s 3rd birthday party and everything was gf. I didn’t make a big show of it to the guests and no one seemed to notice. Mostly the kids had fruit pieces, veg sticks and cheese which are all gf anyway obviously, but they also had cocktail sausages, chocolate biscuits, pink wafer biscuits, and ‘chips’ all gluten-free products. They all knew the cake I made was gf, but no one asked about the other stuff and there was nothing leftover at the end. None the wiser they were! 😀

    I think the gums do sometimes leave a weird taste, and I try not to bake with them (and therefore use less pre-made mixes than I might) but I think stronger flavours, like chocolate and coffee, can cover that up. I do still eat them in bought products though because avoiding them completely is very tricky indeed.

  11. It is so sweet to see all the effort they went through to make it a safe party! Sounds like they did a very good job!
    We happened to visit my family in CA last year over my birthday and they surprised me by ordering a gluten-free cake from a dedicated gf bakery. I was so touched!
    As far as the chocolate chip cookies go – I feel like they are the holy grail of gluten-free baking. Seriously. It has been easy to adapt all of the other types of cookies, no problem. I’m on about attempt number 25 on my chocolate chip cookies, seriously. I’m getting very close though!

  12. […] first place because she was born in the springtime. However, her King Arthur Flour GF birthday cake (like mine!) is pretty […]

  13. […] The question then became, what do I do? Although I’ve read all the advice in the world, it seems, I’ve yet to experience this situation. Most of my friends throw parties at bars, where it’s far less awkward not to eat anything, or at home, where dinner is rarely on the menu. And my sister’s graduation weekend featured a catering staff that at least made an effort to accommodate me and a birthday/graduation party for which my parents made everything gluten-free. […]

  14. […] because, for one thing, it’s not my first family get-together since celiac disease (this was), or my first holiday season with “dietary issues.” For a couple, I’ve been […]

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