If you're like us, you most look forward to the sweets at the end of a meal. Dessert makes everything better, even if it's just a small treat to pick you up in the middle of a rough day. And what sweet treat are we most crazy for, you ask? Cupcakes. Ah, the power of this sinful dessert is unmistakable, even amongst those of us not blessed (or cursed!) with a natural sweet tooth.
The question is, how do you combine a love for cupcakes with a gluten-free lifestyle? As more and more people are becoming aware of the growing gluten-free trend, more and more options are being offered in the world of baking. We got the chance to sit down and chat with Saskatoon native Jean, global foodie, gluten-free baking expert and the owner of Prairie Girl Cupcakes. This self-starter has made her passion for cupcakes into a lifestyle that spreads joy to the lucky people of Toronto and creates a buzzing happiness that only a sugar high can provide.
Her journey into the world of gluten-free baking arose in an unexpected way. During a period of recipe development, her husband began to feel what very closely mimicked the dreaded symptoms of a wheat sensitivity.
"He was having really bad abdominal issues whenever he ate anything with wheat. So we just decided to try removing gluten from his diet and it cleared it up immediately."
Because the process of testing for gluten sensitivity is quite painful (think in terms of carb overload), Jean and her family simply decided to start living a more gluten-conscious lifestyle, decreasing amounts of wheat for family meals in general and eradicating it from her husband's diet entirely.
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"We don't really care if he's gluten intolerant, though I'm sure he is, we just care that he physically feels okay."
And with that sentiment, the ball began rolling."I would have never developed the recipes because I am either celiac myself or know anyone else who is. With that said, since creating the recipes and introducing them into the bakery, we've found that there are 2 subsets of customers. There are those who have medical issues and are, of course, unable to eat the wheat found in typical baked goods and cupcakes.
There is also the trend of eating 'wheat-free'. People who have read books like Wheat Belly and have looked into the idea of cutting wheat out of their diet are also interested in the cupcakes because they are portrayed as being better for you because of the use of alternative ingredients, a portrayal that isn't always accurate, so pay close attention to the nutritional information as you would in any other treat you were buying.
What's Jean's take on this phenomenon?
"To be honest, I think this is a trend. Years ago fat was bad, and then carbs were considered the worst, and so on. You know there's always something coming in terms of food and health crazes."
Not for nothing, going gluten-free can take a serious toll on the piggy bank. Apart from the more expensive ingredients that come in smaller quantities, the preparation itself is labour-intensive in terms of careful preparation. Care must be taken to ensure no cross contamination happens. It's the little things, from using separate utensils to displaying in specific drawers and shelves ,that make all the difference. For all of this, Prairie Girl has become one of the most trusted resources of celiac-friendly goodness for even the most gluten sensitive in the GTA.
"Gluten creates a stretch in the pastry. That's why when it's absent, the texture and consistency feel hard and heavy. There are a couple of naturally produced gums that mimic that pull in baking. Using small amounts of those is great for replacing the gluten without compromising the lighter, fluffy texture."
In terms of other ingredients, Jean maintains that quality and richness should never be compromised.
"We use pure vegetable oil, real butter, quality eggs, and we never use shortening. These things add the same amount of decadency, the same ingredients you would just use in any good baking. We don't take that away just because its gluten free."
Jean and her fabulous pastry team create a different gluten-free cupcake weekly and do special orders of any sized gluten free flavor when advance notice is given. What's her favorite? The red velvet, of course! "The texture of gluten free baking lends itself to that type of cupcake consistency and makes it moist and light."
Did you hear that? Yes, it was a collective stomach rumble from all reading this article. For further cravings, visit their website (prairiegirlbakery.com) for special limited edition weekly flavours. This week's are Chocolate Neapolitan and Chocolate Flake, swoon!
Prairie Girl Bakery is located at 18 King street East and (most recently!) 150 Bloor street West. Check them out for a sweet treat. After all, life is short. So have your cupcake, and eat it too!
Check PrairieGirl out on Twitter! www.twitter.com/prairiegirlbake