Americans have become fascinated with all things gluten-free. After all, adopting a gluten-free diet is the newest fast-track to good health, right?
Well, sort of.
Astoundingly, most people don't understand what gluten is, where it comes from, or what makes it the current nutritional villain. As in many cases, the answer is simple. Gluten is the protein found inside the wheat seed. Gluten is what gives elasticity to bread products, enabling the dough to have structure, capture air cells, and rise. A few people in the human population are allergic to this protein, causing everything from diarrhea and inflammation, to headaches and rashes. Although this allergy is certainly not fatal, it can produce debilitating conditions, and make life unnecessarily miserable for those afflicted. These people should avoid wheat based products. This does not include oats, or corn, as long as those grains are grown and packaged in conditions that are clear of wheat products.
The vast majority of the population does not suffer from this allergy, known as Celiac Disease. Marketers have latched onto this gluten-free buzzword, however and slap a "GF" label on nearly anything, including coffee, candy and meat - non of which contains any gluten to begin with- merely to boost sales. Modern diet gurus have also shanghaied the idea of healthy living through a GF lifestyle, gathering legions of followers hoping to slim down or improve their numbers for the next visit to their doctor's office.
Wheat does contain carbohydrates and sugar, which can lead to weight gain and other long-term negative health effects. So by adopting a voluntary GF lifestyle, a person can take control of their intake of these components. There is, however, a dark side to commercially - or artisanally- made GF products. As with anything else, when you take out a traditional ingredient in a recipe, you must replace it with something else. Its a balance. Many GF products contain more sugar, fat, starches and gums than would normally be present in a traditional baked good or wheat-containing item. Without gluten, there is nothing to hold the structure together.
I have found that by using fruit and vegetable purees, I am able to cut much of the fat, sugar and starch out of my baked goods. Some of this requires trial and error, but generally, you can count on a 30-40% fat/sugar replacement factor. Recently, I experimented with a brownie recipe that emerged as a clear winner, and is the newest darling of my recipe box. I happen to loathe sweet potatoes, so the fact that this came out so well is a minor miracle to me. I'm glad I tested the idea; it gives me a new way to get the uber-healthy tuber into my diet! Try new ideas for yourself and see what you learn; you have nothing to lose!
Sweet Potato Brownies
5 sweet potatoes, peeled, boiled, pureed and cooled
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 TBSP vanilla
2 cups cocoa powder
1 1/3 cup GF Cup 4 Cup flour, or standard All Purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325. Mix together the potatoes, eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla until well combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the cocoa, flour, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. If using standard flour, do not overmix, or the gluten present will toughen the final product. Traditional AP flour batters should only be stirred until everything is completely incorporated. If you choose to use a GF flour, there is no danger of overmixing, so you may stir to your heart's content.
Spread the batter into a 9x13 or larger sheet pan. This batter will not rise much, and the top will set as you spread it, so be sure to smooth it to your liking; it will stay that way! Bake for 20-30 minutes or until set and a skewer comes out clean. Let cool and enjoy!