Wednesday, July 21, 2010

King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Brownies

Bring up the topic of gluten-free foods in any group, and you're sure to get a variety of responses. I've heard everything from, "It's a fad. It will pass, just like Atkins," to "Gluten is bad for you. People shouldn't eat it." As usual, the truth lies somewhere between those two sentiments.

Gluten isn't bad for everyone, but it is very bad for some people. If you don't have gluten issues, then it's no more harmful than anything else you eat. But if you have celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities, avoiding gluten is important.

As with all allergies and sensitivities, there are varying degrees of symptoms. Some people are fine with small amounts of gluten, while others can't even have a trace of it before they have a reaction. That's why gluten-free boxed mixes are made and packaged in facilities that are free of all gluten products. It's not just a different packaging line, but an entirely different facility.

So gluten-free definitely isn't a fad. It may seem like it's the latest "new thing" but that's because it has only recently begun being diagnosed. Meanwhile, manufacturers are coming up with new gluten-free products for this whole new category of consumer, so you're seeing these products more often in stores. Of course, there are some people who misunderstand what gluten is, and jump on the gluten-free bandwagon even though they have no medical reason to do so.

If you've read anything I've written before, you must realize that I don't have gluten issues. But that doesn't mean I'm not interested in trying a few gluten-free products. And if that product happens to be a gluten-free brownie mix, it's even more appealing.

Although I'm not fond of mixes in general, gluten-free baking mixes make a lot of sense. Some of the individual ingredients can be expensive, and gluten-free friends have told me that a lot of the gluten-free ready-made products aren't all that good. So, a baking mix fills that void. It's easy enough for someone who doesn't want a full-scale baking adventure, and fresher than something that's been sitting on a store shelf waiting for the right consumer to come along.

The gluten-free brownie mix from King Arthur Flour is as simple as any other mix. The additional ingredients are melted butter, water, and eggs, which are mixed with the brownie mix and then spread into a greased baking pan.

I cheated and used a baking spray. If I needed to stay entirely gluten-free, I couldn't have used the spray I have, since it has flour in it. But I wasn't making this for a gluten-free friend, I was making it for the fun of it. So I used the baking spray.

One slight problem I had with the instructions on the box was the lack of high altitude instructions. Often those instructions require adding a bit of flour, but obviously that wouldn't work with this recipe.

When baking up here at about a mile high, baked goods sometimes to rise too much, so I opted for a larger pan. The recipe called for an 8-inch square pan, so I used a 9-inch pan. The brownies seemed awfully thin in the pan, but I figured that was better than cleaning brownie goo off the bottom of my oven.

The brownies rose more at the sides of the pan than in the center, but that was fine. The result was a dense fudgy brownie in the center and chewy edges. Taste-wise, these were winners. Nice chocolate flavor, no weird flavors or textures. I doubt anyone would recognize them as a gluten-free product if they weren't told.

If I happen to make these again, I think I'd give them a try in the 8-inch pan and see how they fare. And maybe add some nuts, if I'm not baking for someone with a nut allegy.

While I'm still not on the gluten-free or box mix bandwagon, if I had a gluten-free friend coming to visit, I wouldn't hesitate to make these. Heck, if I wanted brownies from a box mix, I wouldn't mind making these just for me. They really are that good.