Why are gluten free cakes and slices so dense?

Have you ever wondered why cafe style gluten free cakes and slices are so dense ? You'd think that by removing gluten and the stickiness factor, gluten free cakes and slices would be light and crumbly. And they will be, depending on what flour and thickener is used. I've found that commercially made cakes and slices (the ones you find in the glass cabinet at your local cafe) are made by a select few commercial kitchens. Those commercial kitchens often do not specialise in gluten free goodies and therefore tend to over-estimate the amount of sugar and thickener needed for gluten free cakes and slices to taste good.

Firstly, many prefer to use almond meal or almond flour as a flour substitute. The benefits of using almond meal or flour are that it is high in protein, low in carbohydrates and low in sugar (when additional sugar is not added into the mix!) Plus if used correctly, it can be moist compared with other flours.

But the disadvantages of using almond meal or flour include that it is dense and filling. Remember that almond meal or flour is just ground up almonds and it takes a lot of almonds to make a cup of flour! Almonds are filling enough in their whole form! Also usually more eggs are required when baking with almond meal or flour to provide more structure - so if you're allergic to eggs this will not be the flour for you! Another downside is that almonds are high in fat and therefore calories.

Secondly, the amount of thickener used will really affect the taste of the gluten free cake or slice. Guar gum or Xanthan Gum are generally recommended to be included when baking gluten free. But the quantity of gum needs to be varied, depending on what is being baked. For cakes, it is just one teaspoon per cup of gluten free flour; for slices just half a teaspoon per cup of gluten free flour. I don't think these rules are always followed in commercial kitchens, which makes for a sticky mess! Plus the cake or slice can be affected by the gum you decide to use. In my experience, too much xanthan gum can cause an almost slimy texture; whereas too much guar gum means your baking takes on an earthy taste.

So what can be done? Sadly, unless there is enough demand for change, I think commercial bakers could be a lost cause. Hence the whinge! But if you're a keen baker yourself and are sick of being disappointed with the dense cakes and slices for sale - make your own, preferably using a gluten free blend of flour (more on this to come!) If you're anything like me, the thought of another gluten free orange and almond cake at a cafe is enough to make you resort to baking!

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