Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Gluten-Free Desserts Review : Shabtai Gourmet, Take 2

Just over two years ago, I compiled a review of the various gluten-free dessert products from Shabtai Gourmet, (aka, Cinderella Sweets Ltd.), of Woodmere New York. You can read my original detailed opinions at that link (here on my blog).

New and Improved
I am now performing a followup review of some of their gluten-free desserts since they have addressed some of my initial concerns regarding the use of partially hydrogenated palm oil in their products in the past... they have since removed those partially hydrogenated oils. Thank you Shabtai Gourmet!

The Review Process
As with the original review, I told the people at Shabtai that they should expect me to be quite forthright in the presentation of my taste-testing findings, since I am quite discerning in regards to gluten-free desserts, especially having written a book on Gourmet Gluten-Free Desserts (Recipes). My wife and I compare all other gluten-free desserts to those from our own book, which we feel set the bar for what is possible with GF cookies, cakes, and other desserts. We compare taste and texture to our own desserts, which have already compared favorably to "real" (non-GF) desserts. So, how do the Shabtai Gourmet / Cinderella Sweets products compare? Let's take a look on a product-by-product basis...

Florentine Lace Cookies
I rather enjoyed these gluten-free cookies! They are SWEET - very sweet - as they are essentially a carmelized-sugar (think something like a toffee / Heath-Bar) recipe at their core, with a coating of chocolate over them. They are not quite as crispy as toffee, as there is a bit of chewiness to them, but also a crispness, which makes for a quite enjoyable texture all in all. I really like the flavor imparted by the carmelized sugars, and the chocolate complemented it quite nicely. It is a rather simplistic "cookie", but it hits the mark with me. The only down side, which is hardly worth mentioning, is that the layers of chocolate and carmelized-sugar separated and/or had more than one cookie sticking to each other. But, overall, these make for a nice treat.

Swiss Chocolate Roll
The picture may not capture the scale of this thing: it is fairly large, and will definitely feed quiet a few people -- though I did not measure it, it is perhaps 4" thick. The last time I reviewed the Shabtai gluten-free products, there was a variation on this theme called a Seven Layer Gluten-Free Devils Food Cake that we rather enjoyed. This version is as good or better. The rolled layers of cake and creme-filling make for a giant Ho-Ho or such, and I can nearly guarantee this dessert will be a hit with children on a gluten-free diet. The rolled layers of creme keep the chocolate cake nice and moist throughout and the taste and texture is pleasing. Like the other desserts, it no longer contains the partially hydrogenated oils. We finished this cake/roll off over the period of a few days, and it remained consistently enjoyable for the duration.

Meltaway Cookies/Bars

These Gluten-Free Meltaway cookies/bars, are still rather good (like the first time we reviewed them). The one thing we did notice was that they are definitely best at room temperature (as compared to right out of the fridge), as the room-temp warmth helps bring out the cinnamon, nuts, and chocolate flavors that were otherwise a bit lost in the taste of basic starches and oils. They have a decent overall texture and taste, and are OK for a commercial gluten-free cookie, though I have to say I much prefer my homemade cookies and bars over these -- there is no comparison -- but, for quick access to a cookie, these will work fine.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I found these gluten-free cookies to be more enjoyable than the aforementioned meltaway variety, and thought that they are perhaps best likened to a gluten-free Chips-Ahoy (tm) or similar packaged commercial chocolate-chip cookie -- again, I can almost guarantee that kids are going to like these (adults too, most likely). They lack some of the texture that the gluten-containing commercial variety has, but they are pretty decent little cookies that we had not problem finishing off over a few days time - I actually found it rather easy to eat 8 or 10 at a time! The texture is just a bit powdery, but still crunchy enough to be plenty enjoyable. The nut meal in the recipe is definitely what gives these cookies a needed boost - I think that without it, they would fall into the very-basic GF cookie category. And, the loads of mini-chocolate chips on top also finish the product off nicely for both taste and texture, and help overcome any other shortcomings. These are a solid 7-8/10 rating. You can bake better ones at home if you have the time, but these cookies make a compelling case for bypassing the home-baking effort at least part of the time.

In Summary
I am so glad that Shabtai removed the hydrogenated oils from their formulas. Shabtai markets these desserts as Kosher / parve, Gluten-Free, Lactose Free, Casein Free, Dairy-Free, and Soy Free(they are labeled as such). This free of most mainstream allergens approach perhaps leads to whey I still find their recipes (ingredients) rather basic, and many of their products rely on a similar core blend of starches, palm fruit shortening, and so forth... but, when you remove gluten, dairy, and so on from recipes, there are only so many options available for large-scale baking perhaps.

I did not get around to fully reviewing a few of the other Shabtai items - like the Raspberry Roll (we reviewed last time) which was still quite nice (my wife's favorite out of the bunch), and the Honey Cake which also had a unique and pleasing honey taste. The only dessert varieties I did not care much for this time were the Lady Fingers (still just powder in my opinion) and the Brownie Bites (overly sweet - overwhelmed the chocolate flavor; and I did not care for the thicker, but not necessarily chewy, texture). Perhaps opinion and taste preferences are going to vary, I am sure.

Regardless, for commercial gluten-free desserts, they hold their own in the market. I am not sure how widely available they are throughout the USA, but I have seen them in the refrigerated section at various gluten-free diet and specialty-diet stores. The Shabtai Gourmet / Cinderella Sweets gluten-free desserts mimic many commercial desserts (gluten-containing) rather well, and they should be a hit with children especially.