Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gluten-Free Desserts Review : Shabtai Gourmet


Shabtai Gourmet, or should I call it Cinderella Sweets Ltd., (since they apparently go by both names) of Woodmere New York, recently contacted me to see if I would review their various gluten-free desserts. I told them up-front that they should carefully consider that request, since I am quite discerning in regards to gluten-free desserts, especially having written a book on Gourmet Gluten-Free Desserts (Recipes). I let them know I compare all other gluten-free desserts to those from my own book, which I feel are the best and as good or better than even many gluten-containing ones.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, Shabtai Gourmet / Cinderella Sweets still decided to ship me some desserts to review and compare to my own. Shabtai markets these desserts as Kosher / parve, Gluten-Free, Lactose Free, Casein Free, Dairy-Free, and Soy Free (they are labeled as such). And, their director of sales, Andrew Itzkowitz, tells me they have seen strong demand for gluten-free kosher desserts, even though these desserts are anything but "healthy". Their desserts seem to mimic many commercial desserts (gluten-containing) with their inclusion of oils (sometimes partially hydrogenated type), sugar, and eggs. But, then again, it is dessert we are talking about here, and oil, sugar and eggs are ubiquitous ingredients in many wonderful desserts!

The Gluten-Free Dessert Reviews

I will start with this one pound Seven Layer Gluten-Free Devils Food Cake. This dessert is quite nice (the layers alternate between a vanilla flavored creme filling and chocolate devils food cake, with the whole thing being coated with a fine layer of chocolate). This was one of the top couple items I had a chance to review, and I found that although it apparently shares the same devils food cake that the chocolate-covered cupcake things (see Ring Tings, below) used, this was much better, since the layering best preserved the overall moisture content and consistency and mouth-presence.

It reminds me of a giant Hostess brand Ho-Ho (tm) or similar commercial devils-food and creme cake type dessert or snack product. If you liked those types of snacks / treats / desserts, you will love this product. It's made from Whole Eggs, sugar, potato starch, partially hydrogenated palm oil, cocoa, cottonseed oil, tapioca starch, flavorings, and salt. There's 8 servings in a whole "log" like this, with each serving coming in at 220 calories (of which 100 are fat), with 18grams of sugar... and, no surprise with all those eggs: there's 75mg (i.e., 25% DV) cholesterol in a serving too. But, you are probably not interested in this for "health" reasons (aside from it fitting into your Celiac Disease / gluten-free diet). I had something similar a regional gluten-free bakery tried to create, and it was no where near as good as this. So, Shabtai gets a thumbs-up for this product, in the context that I am comparing to Ho-Ho's.

"Ring Tings" are essentially Shabtai's attempt at a Hostess (brand) cupcake or similar product. But, I found the cake to be dry / powdery. They use a whipped sugar and oil center for the cupcake's "creme filling". The devils food / chocolate cake (which, per the label is "moist chocolate cake with vanilla creme filling") is not exactly moist. It's the presence of the "creme" filling that makes the cake portion feel "moist" in the 7-layer version (which I reviewed above, and didn't mind), but with that filling only being in a single blob in the middle of this cupcake, these cupcakes don't have the same, likable texture as when the filling is evenly distributed in layers.

Bottom line: that "creme filling" is what is making up for a not so stellar cake, and this dependency becomes apparent in this creation. The cake formula could really be improved upon. So, Shabtai Gourmet, I can offer you one suggestion that will certainly improve your cakes quickly: buy my book and learn how to bake great gluten-free cakes - I guarantee the book (and, for your business, it is a valid expense and tax-deduction too... what more can you ask for?)

I would definitely suggest altering the flour composition, and upping the percentage of cocoa in the recipe, in order to get more chocolate flavor, and less powdery texture. When it comes to chocolate cake, Cocoa can be your friend (especially in gluten-free recipes and baking where added fiber/texture from cocoa is a huge plus).

This is their 12 ounce gluten-free raspberry roll, which is actually quite nice. (my picture was not the best - real life colors are better. The picture at start of this blog is the raspberry role in it's package) The liberal application of raspberry filling throughout the rolls of yellow cake make for a sweet, moist, very much unmistakably raspberry experience. The coconut on the surface was a nice touch too, and it all worked very well together.

It is casein free, soy free, lactose free, and zero trans fat - in addition to being gluten-free and safe for a Celiac diet. It contains eggs, sugar, potato starch, raspberry, oil coconut, and a few minor ingredients. The eggs are definitely making a big difference here, with their being enough to really bind the cake together and keep it moist. It's perhaps a bit more like a pound-cake recipe.

Both I and my wife enjoyed this one. I couldn't eat much of it at once due to how sweet it was, but the flavor and texture were pleasing. I'd say for a commercial packaged gluten-free dessert, this one is a winner if the flavor combination of raspberry and coconut sound good to you.


The only thing harder than photographing dark foods (like chocolate) and making it look nice is photographing a chocolate brownie in a aluminum tray like this :) Hopefully, you get the idea what the Shabtai Gourmet Gluten-Free Brownie looks like.

It's hard to go wrong with a dense chocolate brownie recipe like this. I am always into chocolate brownies, and this chewier, denser type is usually a favorite of mine. But, I must say, once again I have advise Shabtai to work on their formula - I'd increase the cocoa percentage (drop the potato starch down as an offset) and give this gluten-free brownie more chocolate flavor (something I consider rather important in a chocolate brownie). As it is now, the flavor is just "OK". I didn't mind it, and it has a somewhat typical commercial brownie taste and good chewy texture and is decent for gluten-free foods, but it could certainly be improved upon.

I guess it depends what the goal of this product is. If the goal is to be middle of the road, somewhat generic, commercial baked-goods brownie, it meets the objective. If the goal is to really stand out, it can use some work. Either way, it's OK now and I'm sure many would find it enjoyable, especially for a pre-made gluten-free dessert.


These cookies, called Gluten-Free Meltaway Crumbs, were actually pretty good. I'd give them a 7/10 rating, which is quite respectable for commercial cookies. They have a nice crunchy, solid feel with good overall texture on the palate, with a decent flavor combination with a noticeable and enjoyable presence of chocolate, pecans, and cinnamon.

Once again, these are marketed as gluten-free desserts which are also lactose-free, cassein-free, soy-free, and dairy-free. I think these cookies are good enough that if you put them out on a cookie tray at a party for the general public, they wouldn't have any reason to suspect they were gluten-free cookies. Instead, they'd assume you purchased them at your local grocery store's bakery or such. With the only common allergens remaining being nuts and eggs, this cookie should be a good option for many.


The gluten-free lady fingers (4 ounce box) - also lactose-free, casein-free, and soy-free - consist of just potato starch, sugar, eggs, natural flavor, and salt. They have a definite lemon flavor, and are super-light crispy things, much like what you may expect from a meringue cookie.

They will crumble into powder. There's just not much there for consistency beyond a light, crispy thing. I don't have much to compare these too, and they just aren't my kind of cookie. The flavor is fine (lemon), but it's not something I would normally eat. Maybe they are meant to be used to create some sort of layered-creations from. Either way, they were just "OK" for me.

Conclusion; and, Shabtai Gourmet Contact Information
In general, I feel you can certainly bake better gluten-free desserts yourself than you can purchase pre-made from Shatai Gourmet. But, I can also appreciate the fact that it is not always possible to allocate the time you need to do gluten-free baking yourself, and that a pre-made gluten-free dessert option may be all you can fit into your life.

If you like the taste of commercial / mainstream products like Hostess (brand) cakes, and perhaps a Keebler (brand) chocolate-chip cookie, or similar things, I think the Shabtai / Cinderella Sweet brand gluten-free desserts will most likely be a hit with you.

Their products are not something I would directly compare to homemade cakes and cookies, regardless of whether I was comparing gluten-free products or "regular" wheat/gluten-containing products to homemade. I think they fill a niche, and they will do fine in the market as such. Their products will probably be a hit with children - especially any kids that have been recently diagnosed with Coeliac / Celiac Disease and have had to give up snacks like Ho-Ho's.

CONTACTING THEM: When I spoke to them, they did not yet have a dedicated web-site, but instead provide the following contact information if you'd like to find out more about pricing, ordering, shipping, product-availability, and so on:

Email Address: glutenfreebakery [at] gmail.com
OR
ShabtaiGourmet [at] yahoo.com
Phone: (516) 374-7976 or toll-free at 1-800-SHABTAI
Address: 874 Lakeside Drive, Woodmere, NY 11598

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Gluten-Free Sale: Envirokidz Cereals - super cheap!


Talk about an extreme bargain on gluten-free cereal, I just ran into one of the best deals ever. I found this three-pack of Envirokidz gluten-free cereal which includes their Gorrilla Munch, Panda Puffs, and Koala Crisp (that I would respectively compare to mainstream brands of Original Cap'n Crunch, Captain Crunch Peanut-Butter, and Cocoa Pebbles respectively).

The pack contained three full-size / normal-size boxes of Envirokids gluten-free cereal (e.g., the Koalo Crisp cereal box was 11.5 ounce size), and you perhaps will not believe the price: $2.99! YES, $2.99 for all three boxes! Where did I find it? BJ's Wholesale Club of all places. We were walking around the store picking up some items for our holiday baking, and there in the middle of an aisle was a big pile of these multi-packs. At first I didn't pay much attention, until I saw the sign over them which said $2.99. I though, "surely that can't be for the three pack", but I quickly confirmed it upon checkout.

I am used to a single box of the gluten-free Koala Crisp being $2.49 at Trader Joe's and $2.49 at Whole Foods (that was their sale price when I looked yesterday). I have actually seen a box as high as $4.00 at my local small gluten-free store. I like the Koala Crisp quite a bit, and the Panda Puffs nice on occasion too. I can't recall if I tried the Gorilla Munch before, but I figured if I didn't like them, I could just donate them to a food shelter. Heck, it was like buying one box and getting two free.

Actually, since I only regularly eat the Koala ones, and they are nearly the same price that I would otherwise pay, I plan to go back and buy a trunk-full of these super sale-price Envirokids and give a pile of cereal (any I don't plan to consume myself) to a food bank. Why not? In fact, I presume I can write-off 2/3 of the purchase-price as a tax-deductible donation if I give 2/3 of the cereals away. That'll help some people out and give me some nice year-end charitable giving write-offs, and make the cereal even more of a bargain!

I don't know if you have a BJ Wholesale Club near you, but it you do, I hope you find these cereals at the same bargain price. I have no idea if this deal is going to last or not, so I suggest getting them while they are available and/or on sale like this.

I have to wonder if Nature's Path Foods (the manufacturer of Envirokidz brand cereals) just had a big pile of inventory to clear out in a hurry. Gluten-free is certainly a growing trend, and not just among Celiac Disease sufferers from what I have noticed, but it doesn't seem quite "main stream" enough to attract the attention of a wholesale club yet, unless there was a particular reason to sell the product.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gluten-Free Baking with Celeriac


What is it?
Celeriac, or "celery root": highly recommended addition to your gluten-free diet! I don't know where this food was my entire life, but I now know I missed out for many years. We only recently discovered Celeriac while on vacation in England, and have since found it here in the United States after looking around a bit. Turns out it is much more popular in Europe than in the Western hemisphere, which is too bad, since this is a gluten-free food that is simply excellent!

Where to find Celeriac here in the States
Look for the Celeriac in the fresh produce section of a grocer that carries substantial fresh vegetable variety, and from what I have seen in grocers near us, most will sell Celeriac by the pound (vs. piece). So far, Whole Foods Market has been the cheapest at $2.49/pound (Giant Eagle wanted $3.49/pound by comparison). It still may sound pricey compared to a potato, but Celeriac has several advantages I'll discuss here, and I must consider how $2.49/pound is less expensive than many certified gluten-free flours and such even cost.

What does it tastes like?
Think "potato" but with a pleasing celery or celery-seed flavor accent. It is a root vegetable, and like a potato, it can be eaten baked, mashed, boiled, you name it. I find the taste pleasant and mild, but noticeable enough to add additional character to soups and other dishes.

My wife first had Celeriac in mashed form in the UK, and really liked it. I like it baked with a bit of olive oil on it (as pictured below), or I quite often top it with some pasta sauce or homemade gluten-free pesto sauce, a bit of my favorite ground cheese, or many other flavorful topping options.

I'll post a simple gluten-free recipe to get you started with Celeriac in the future - a recipe I really like that is also super easy to prepare; which, is just plain old baked Celeriac like I pictured here. Basically we just chop up the cleaned and trimmed root and bake the pieces on a cookie sheet with some olive oil. I would suggest just experimenting with recipes you use potatoes in already. E.g., if you like Potato soup, Celeriac soup may be a simple alteration. And, mashed potatoes are rather simple to replace with mashed Celeriac.

As for their physical characteristics, the root portion (that you eat) tends to be about 4 to 6 inches in diameter - the one pictured (above) was something like 5 inches across. They have a very mottled texture where smaller roots have been trimmed off already - and you trim this thing down to look more like a trimmed potato when you are ready to bake it. The leafy green tops are, as perhaps you can make out in the picture, look quite similar to those on the tips of traditional Celery stalks.

(Celeriac picture: cubed and baked / roasted)


Why eat it? Tasty and Healthy!
Beyond its wonderful flavor and versatility, it makes for an incredibly healthful gluten-free diet food (or, addition to any diet, gluten-free or otherwise)! Celeriac is a low-calorie, low gylcemic-index / glycemic-load food (meaning, great option for diabetics or those with hyperglycemia concerns).

A quick comparison to potatoes can be made, since I look at Celeriac as a more healthful potato substitute (also consider Turnips / Rutabagas - these too offer much reduced calorie and glycemic-index options).

A side-by-side nutritional comparison of some gluten-free and Celiac-Disease-Safe (potato and potato-like) vegetable options appears below to round out this Gluten-Free Blog posting. Check out the dietary statistics, and see how Celeriac (and turnips or rutabagas) can be a great alternative to consider if blood-sugar control, diabetes, calorie restriction / reduction / control, a general weight-loss diet, or other concerns are part of your life:

  Celeriac Turnips Red Potatoes Baked Potato
Calories: 42 28 70 100
Fat (g): 0 0 0 0

Total Carbs (g)

9

6

16

21

++Fiber (g): 2 2 2 2
++Sugars (g): 1 4 1 1

Protein (g)

1

1

2

3

Vitamin-C (%): 13 35 14 16

Iron (%)

4

2

4

6

Calcium (%): 4 3 1 1

Potassium (%)

8

5

13

15

Est. Glycemic Load

4

2

7

9

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Gluten-Free Whey Protein : Miracle GF Baking Ingredient



I just released a new Gluten-Free Chocolate Coconut Brownie Cookie Recipe that features whey protein isolate as an ingredient. As such, I have simultaneously posted this blog on using whey protein in your gluten-free diet and Celiac-safe baking strategy.


Using whey protein in gluten-free baking has some serious potential, as I have been busy experimenting and researching how to use this ingredient as a fantastic gluten-alternative in the pursuit of perfect gluten-free foods. After experimenting with it for a few weeks in various recipes, I am nearly ready to declare whey protein the gluten-free baking miracle ingredient, as I am getting some absolutely incredible results with this protein in recipes ranging from pancakes to cookies and more (playing with breads and pastries next - and, I can't wait to see what my wife and I come up with!)

A Quick Science-Lesson Explanation for why I tried Whey Protein
Whey protein got my interest because I needed a safe baking ingredient alternative that could potentially replace the gluten-proteins in my foods (gluten that is obviously missing now that I have to bake without it). The gluten in "normal" foods (foods with wheat, rye, barley grains and flours and compounds derived thereof) is a mixture of water-insoluble proteins (particularly gliadin and glutenin) that lend elasticity to dough and chewiness / resiliency to finished bake-goods.

My objective (in the constant pursuit of gluten-free diet perfection) is to simulate, as best as possible, the effect of gluten in foods while not using any. Since gluten is nothing more than a complex protein, I figured a great substitute would be a complex globular protein like Whey Protein. And, I knew I had found what I was looking for when I tried some plain Whey Protein powder - I just put a teaspoon of it in my mouth (nearly flavorless by the way), and noticed how it quickly turned into a chewing-gum like substance as the proteins developed with just the water in my mouth. Plus, whey protein is easily digestible, so it should be well tolerated by many people.

Types of Whey Protein on the Market
When discussing Whey Protein, there are different types available. You will see all sorts of products on the market labeled as Whey Protein and Whey Protein Concentrates, and then there are some that are Whey Protein Isolates. Isolates are processed to remove the fat, and lactose — they are 90%+ protein by weight, and this is what I settled on for my baking strategy (Isolate). Speaking of protein, an ounce of this product has 25-grams of protein (i.e., half the published government "Daily Value" requirement) with only 105 total calories and nearly zero fat/cholesterol.

The first thing you need to do is ensure you find a brand that is definitely gluten-free, and this can be difficult, as most of the commercial Whey Protein products you will find in grocery stores (like Target, CVS, etc) as well as "health stores" (like GNC) have gluten-containing ingredients and flavoring in them. In addition, many of the whey protein products I saw sold at retail were rather expensive. I looked over countless products until finding some good "safe" gluten free varieties to try out, and even longer before I found one at what I considered a reasonable price.

The Whey Protein Isolate I chose to Use
At first I wondered if the addition of gums (guar gum, xanthan gum, etc) in some brands of Whey Protein was making any substantial contribution to the overall texture and consistency of the finished baked-goods I was creating. I wanted a product that would allow for others to duplicate the results I get, knowing exactly what was and what was not of significance in impacting the texture and consistency of the baked items.

So, I searched until I found a completely pure Whey Protein Isolate in a brand called Now Sports Whey Protein Isolate (pictured above). And, as you'll find on their product page, the product:

"Contains no: sugar, salt, starch, yeast, wheat, gluten, corn, egg or preservatives.", and for those interested, they also say:
"Voted 2005 Whole Foods Magazine “Best Sports Supplement” (I guess that is a "plus").
There are definitely no added gums in this product either, and no added flavorings or sweeteners. The only additional ingredient (less than 1%), is some soy lecithin, which is a natural emulsifier and should not even be an issue for anyone worried about soy allergies - since lecithin does not contain any of the soy proteins.

Having removed gums and thickeners from the equation, I could experiment knowing that whatever results I obtained were completely attributable to the addition of Whey Protein and not due to other "trace" ingredients.




What it looks like (a Powder)
I included the picture above so you could get a quick feel for what the whey protein isolate powder looks like. It is just an off-white light powder. I just sprinkled a little on a very dark-red plate for that picture.


Where to get the Gluten-Free Whey Protein
Now Sports has a "where to buy" finder tool on their site (to locate retailers in your area - since they don't seem to sell direct on their website), but I decided to go searching the web for the best deal I could find. I located it at a place called Outlet Nutrition, which had the large and economical 5 pound tubs of Now Sports Whey Protein Isolate for only $35.97 (price at the time). The order went smoothly, and the product was delivered quickly and packaged wonderfully (boxed with plenty of bubble-wrap - a "must have" when anyone ships with UPS!).

To give you a feel for how much gluten-free baking you can do with 5 pounds of this stuff: the container calls a "serving size" one scoop, which is 28 grams (i.e., essentially one ounce of whey protein concentrate). Thus, there are basically 80 servings in 5 pounds. I have determined that their "scoop" is approximately 3/8th Cup (i.e., 6 Tablespoons). As such, a tub of this protein will go a long way -- we only used 1/4 cup in a whole batch of cookies for example, and I use just a Tablespoon or two in my pancakes.

Baking / Recipe Results
The results in my baking experiments have been fantastic. It took a bit of time to get the proportions right, and adjust my bake times, liquid content proportions, fiber proportion, and other ingredients, but the end result is quite encouraging.

One of my long-time pursuits has been what I'll call "Gluten-Free pancake perfection". I love pancakes, and I always have. I mean, gee... the name says it all "pan CAKES" :) A cake has to 1) rise substantially, and 2) have nice resiliency and texture.

The pancakes I have been making lately are huge - I use the full surface of a 10-inch round cast-iron griddle (a favorite pan) - and with the whey protein isolate the results are amazing and meet my criteria for great cakes too. I have created pancakes that are 10" in diameter and a full inch thick, plus with enough sponginess / elasticity that I can grab an edge and shake the pancake without any chance of it crumbling or ripping apart. The interior of the pancakes are well developed and bread/cake-like. It's just wonderful (and even amazing - given that there is no gluten involved).

Those Chocolate Coconut Gluten-Free Cookies I mentioned earlier are also an example of what the whey protein can be used for. Although the whey was used rather sparingly in the cookies, it definitely helped with the binding and texture.

I have found that, in general, when using this Whey Protein Isolate in my gluten-free recipes, I need to play around to get the proportions right. Too much, and you may get something a bit too rubbery. It seems to require more liquid in recipes too (not too surprising, as this powder readily absorbs liquid when mixed). Also, the protein works best when combined with the right amount of fibrous ingredients (I have found pumpkin to be a nice fiber-rich source to use, and there are many other options).

In fact, one of the first gluten-free whey protein products I experimented (which worked as a "miracle additive" in my pancakes too) was this brand of Biochem Fitness "Raw Foods & Whey" (vanilla flavor - packet pictured below) which includes 3 grams of fiber per ounce by using a combination of Fig, Buckwheat, Millet, Pumpkin, Red Bean, Brown Rice, and Burdock Root in the product. It was quite nice. I got that at Whole Foods Market, and though it was a bit expensive (about $2.00/ounce), it goes a long way (one packet lasted through 4 pan-sized super-pancakes) I'd surely use it again, especially because it removed some of the guesswork regarding what other fiber-containing ingredients I would add.



I will be posting some other gluten-free recipes using whey-protein in the future, so stay tuned. This additive / ingredient could be quite useful in your gluten-free diet.

UPDATE 1 - PRODUCT SOURCE AND PRICE (Oct-2008):
Since I first wrote this, the original place I purchased the NOW brand isolated whey protein from raised their price considerably. I suggest shopping around.

I found it on Amazon.com for $35.97 per 5# tub, and reasonable shipping.




UPDATE 2 - PRODUCT SOURCE AND PRICE (May-2011):
I have written an UPDATE BLOG ENTRY about gluten-free whey-protein and its current price (link);  in summary, it is now up to approximately $53.00 (delivered) for a 5# container of isolated whey protein by Now (brand).  See that link to my recent blog for more details and link to seller's website.


UPDATE 3 - PRODUCT SOURCE AND PRICE (Jan-2017):
I again updated my BLOG ENTRY about gluten-free whey-protein and its current price (link);  in summary, the new price is $66.00 (delivered) for a 5# container of isolated whey protein by Now (brand).  See that link to my recent blog for more details and link to seller's website.


Gluten-Free Recipe: Chocolate Coconut Brownie Cookies


Another original gluten-free recipe from Laura: Gluten-Free Chocolate Coconut Brownie Cookies (hyperlink to recipe). These cookies are what I would best describe as a hybrid cookie / brownie. They are perhaps what a Chocolate and Coconut "Haystack" would be if it was turned into a cookie. One way or the other, they are delicious and pack plenty of flavor along with a pleasing cookie or cake-type brownie texture.

These cookies arise from some experimentation with gluten-free recipes and baking with gluten-free whey protein isolate. As such, today's gluten-free recipe is being released in tandem with another blog posting here about Gluten-Free Whey Protein in Recipes / Baking, where I discuss in much more detail why we used some whey protein in these cookies and how you can find certified gluten-free whey protein isolate if you are interested (it's lactose free by the way).

I also plan to feature more whey-protein-containing recipes in the future, since this really is an incredible gluten-free baking ingredient/additive that can be used to mimic gluten on some level - perhaps even being a full gluten-replacement ingredient in some recipes from my experience. In the meantime, enjoy these wonderful gluten-free cookies just in time for the Christmas holiday baking season. They are bound to be a hit.