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Craftsy Writer
Sunday
Oct122014

What is Gluten, Anyway? 

I've got a question for you. What the heck is gluten?

We've all heard about gluten, or perhaps more accurately, we've heard the phrase gluten-free. We've heard people talk about how they can't (or won't) eat it. We've seen cookies and crackers and bread marketed as being devoid of gluten.

But what is gluten, exactly, and why do people avoid it?

Ooh, Gluten Free Baking mix!

Here's what I know about gluten. It is largely based on my occasional reading of In Touch Weekly:

  • it has something to do with white flour (which is apparently evil, although I'm not sure if this is purely because of gluten)
  • if foods do not have gluten, it is ok for them to cost several dollars more
  • avoiding gluten is very trendy right now. People who avoid gluten can basically be divided into three camps: people who have a severe reaction to it, people who have an intolerance to it, and people who have eating disorders.  

Of course, this is not actual knowledge based on fact. I mean, how many times has that periodical lied about Jen's baby bump and Brangelina's breakup? 

Nope: In Touch Weekly is not the source for gluten information. Let's get down some facts not supplied by pop culture periodicals...

Gluten

Dictionary definition: gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (varieties of which include durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, kamut, etc) , rye, barley and triticale.

Photo via Professional Pasta Magazine (really)

Where does the funny name come from? According to Dictionary.com, the origin is such:

 1630s, "any sticky substance," from Middle French gluten (16c.) or directly from Latin gluten "glue" (see glue (n.)). Used 16c.-19c. for the part of animal tissue now called fibrin; used since 1803 of the nitrogenous part of the flour of wheat or other grain; hence glutamic acid (1871), a common amino acid, and its salt, glutamate.

What it does in food: Gluten does what its name sounds like: acts as "glue" that holds food together. It helps doughs maintain elasticity and a good "chew". While most people instantly think "flour" when they think of gluten, this is not quite accurate. It's not just baked goods or bread that contain gluten--it can be used in a number of different products to add thickness, texture, or bulk. 

This is what makes baking particularly maddening when gluten is taken out of the equation. To get the same texture, taste, and bulk which wheat based flour lends to baked goods, you can't just rely on one type of gluten-free flour. Different mixes are required to meet each of the criteria. If you want more guidance on that, check out this post on Craftsy. You'll also probably enjoy checking out the blogs of my buddies both online and in real life, Gluten-Free Girl and The Art of Gluten-Free Baking to learn more about gluten-free baking. 

Primary sources of gluten in your everyday diet: 

Wheat, barley, and rye. This triple threat of gluten-containing goodness constitutes a major part of many foods, including but not limited to: bread, cereals, baked goods, pasta, soup, sauces, food coloring, and beer. Gluten can be found in unexpected sources, too, such as soups or sauces that you wouldn't even think of containing flour. However, many of them do contain traces of gluten-containing matter, which gives them structure and thickness. This is why people who need to adhere to a gluten-free diet are forever scanning food labels. 

Why would people avoid gluten?

If you have celiac disease, you kind of need to. According to WebMD,

Experts estimate that about 1% of Americans have celiac disease. The condition, caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten, can damage the lining of the small intestine. That, in turn, can prevent important nutrients from being absorbed. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, anemia, bone pain, and a severe skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.

Aside from that, though, some people simply feel better when they avoid gluten. It doesn't cause a death threat, but it can cause discomfort. Others perceive it to be a healthier way to be, or a way to lose weight. 

As WebMD further says, 

Gluten itself doesn’t offer special nutritional benefits. But the many whole grains that contain gluten do. They’re rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber. Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of all carbohydrates in the diet come from whole grain products.

Whew! If you feel like you'd like more GF info, check out these posts I did for Craftsy:

 

 

What are your thoughts on gluten?

Saturday
Oct112014

Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Toffee and Almond Fudge Cookie Cups

CakeSpy Note: OMG! It's getting to be that time of year again. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Since I so deeply loved attending the 45th Bake-Off as well as the 46th Bake-Off, I thought I would get you excited the 47th one early by sharing all of the sweet recipes in the running. I will focus on sweets! You can follow them by clicking the bakeoff tag below to see the recipes posted so far (as well as recipes from previous Bake-Off events). 

Forget coffee: these cups are filled with toffee! And fudge and almond, all nestled in sugar cookie cups. This fantastical recipe was dreamed up by Amy Andrews of Macomb, Michigan. Her cup runneth over with luck: this recipe is a finalist at the Bake-Off this year! 

Good luck!

Toffee and Almond Fudge Cookie Cups

  • Prep Time: 25 Min
  • Total Time: 1 Hr 15 Min
  • Makes: 48 cookie cups

Ingredients

  • 2 packages Pillsbury Ready to Bake  refrigerated sugar cookies
  • 1/4 cup milk chocolate toffee bits (from 8-oz bag)
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup creamy Almond Butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, finely chopped
  • 1 can (6.5 oz) whipped cream topping (in aerosol can)

Procedure

  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 48 nonstick mini muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Place 1 cookie dough round in each muffin cup. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the toffee bits evenly over cookie dough rounds. Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Loosen with tip of knife; carefully remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in 1-quart heavy saucepan, heat sweetened condensed milk and almond butter over medium heat 5 to 6 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Cool 2 minutes. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon condensed milk mixture into each cookie cup.
  4. In small bowl, mix remaining 2 tablespoons toffee bits and the almonds. To serve, top each cup with about 1 tablespoon whipped cream topping and about 1/4 teaspoon almond mixture.
Saturday
Oct112014

Free Drawing and Illustration E-Guides on Craftsy

Have you ever thought "I'd love to learn how to draw and paint JUST LIKE CAKESPY"...?

I'll take that as a yes.

Well, if so, you're in luck, because Craftsy has just debuted two very cool new E-guides on illustration and art which prominently feature my work. Did I mention they are free?

Click here for the "Botanical Illustrations" E-guide

Click here for the "Illustration Basics for Beginners" E-guide

Enjoy!

Saturday
Oct112014

Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Cinnamon Roll-Pear Bread Pudding

CakeSpy Note: OMG! It's getting to be that time of year again. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Since I so deeply loved attending the 45th Bake-Off as well as the 46th Bake-Off, I thought I would get you excited the 47th one early by sharing all of the sweet recipes in the running. I will focus on sweets! You can follow them by clicking the bakeoff tag below to see the recipes posted so far (as well as recipes from previous Bake-Off events). 

What a fantastic pear-ing! Cinnamon rolls are a fantastic medium for baking bread pudding, but have you ever tried it with a ripe, juicy pear?

Elizabeth Albert of Highland Park, Illinois, did just that and it's put her in the running to win a million dollars at the Bake-Off, so perhaps it's something you should try (how about this weekend?).

Cinnamon Roll-Pear Bread Pudding

  • Prep Time: 15 Min
  • Total Time: 1 Hr 45 Min
  • Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 can Pillsbury refrigerated cinnamon rolls with icing (8 rolls)
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 firm ripe pears (1 lb), peeled, thinly sliced

Procedure

  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Grease bottom and side of 8-inch round cake pan with 1 teaspoon of the butter. Bake cinnamon rolls in pan as directed on can; reserve icing. Cool 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Grease bottom and sides of 9-inch square pan with 1 teaspoon of the butter.
  2. Meanwhile in medium bowl, beat sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 cup water, the eggs, vanilla and nutmeg with whisk until well blended.
  3. With serrated knife, cut each cinnamon roll in half, forming 2 layers. Place layers, cut sides up, in bottom of square pan, overlapping as necessary. Drop remaining butter by 1/4 teaspoons over rolls. Pour half of the egg mixture evenly over rolls and butter; layer pear slices over rolls. Pour remaining egg mixture over pears.
  4. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until edges are golden brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes. Top each serving with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the reserved icing.
Saturday
Oct112014

Mini to Maxi: Cakes, That is

Photo: CraftsyEver wondered how to take a mini cake design to a full-scale cake production? This post is full of inspiration for how small cakes can inform and inspire your cake decorating. Full post here!

Friday
Oct102014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Apple cider doughnuts. Tis the season! (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Here it is, world: the official Cronut recipe, from Dominique Ansel (Good Morning America)

Chocolate-peppermint birthday cake. You'll want to eat this thing. (Naptime Chef)

Dessert-ify your nails! (ModCloth--thanks Pam!)

What's an Asian Pear? Find out, and also score a recipe for Asian pear bread. (Ninja Baking)

Strawberry and cream cake. SERIOUSLY. (Shauna Sever)

Hooray for tres leches! Here's a beautiful recipe. (WannaB Gourmet)

Yums: apple crostada! (The Cultural Dish)

Tips for using fresh flowers in cake decorating (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Food ingredient marketing? I had fun poking around this site. (Food Ingredient Marketing)

Tips for drawing clothing on your characters in illustration (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Lovely and proper Scottish shortbread (Food52)

I'm sorry, are you still baking your brownies in a pan? Try 'em in a pumpkin! (The Perfect Brownie)

Magical princess cupcakes. (CakeSpy archives)

Wok and Roll: tips for making perfect stir-fry (not sweet, I know, but I wrote the article for Craftsy!)

Can we talk about the awesomeness of this bad-ass unicorn tee? (Plasticland--thanks Ren!)

Princess Leia cupcakes. (JustJenn Recipes)

Praline bread pudding with caramel-pecan sauce. Reminds me of New Orleans, in the best way. (Bake or Break)

Book of the week: Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes From Our Kitchen. Because I have visited the bakery behind this cookbook, which is located in Los Angeles, and everything I ate was delicious. Since I don't live in Santa Monica, I would like to be able to replicate the goods on a daily basis, please.

Friday
Oct102014

Giveaway: Cupcake Royale Cupcake Mix Kit

UPDATE: THE WINNER! Giveaway has closed!

I have chosen a winner at random: Jasmine!

How does she eat a cupcake? Like so: "Oh dear! I love to rip off the top and eat them together that way."

Congratulations, Jasmine!


One of the things that I miss most about Seattle is the easy access to Cupcake Royale. This cupcake bakery, which opened just around the time I moved to Seattle, has really expanded over the years, adding location after location and then changing my entire life (for the better) when they debuted their ice cream line.

 

Over the eight years I lived in Seattle, I had a lot of good times at Cupcake Royale, from my birthday party to book signings to many a trip just to snack. 

Yes, I miss Cupcake Royale. But I no longer have to cry every day I'm away from it, because now they are offering a cupcake mix! That's right: we can all have the Seattle cupcake experience, sans rain, with Cupcake Royale baking mix! It even comes with sprinkles.

I'm so excited about this new product launch that I'm offering a giveaway of a cupcake mix kit to one lucky reader! 

How can you enter? It's easy. All you have to do is answer the below question in the comments. I'll choose a winner one week from today (10/17) and Cupcake Royale will send the mix out to whoever I choose at random. While you wait for me to choose a winner, if you feel like it, you can follow CCR on Twitter and Facebook, too (though not necessary for entry). 

OK, here we go! Here's the question to answer to enter:

How do you eat a cupcake? 

Friday
Oct102014

Tips for Creating Custom Artwork for Clients

Are you thinking about taking artistic commissions? Well, read this post before you do, because you'll learn a whole bunch of helpful stuff I only WISH I knew way back when I started doing custom artwork! Full post here.

Thursday
Oct092014

Tips for Making the Perfect Stir-Fry

Photo: CraftsyI know--this is not sweet. But you have to eat something before dessert, right? I wrote this great roundup of tips for making the perfect stir fry. Read it and EAT! Full post here.

Thursday
Oct092014

Pillsbury Bake-Off Countdown: Bacon and Date Cinnamon Roll Strata

CakeSpy Note: OMG! It's getting to be that time of year again. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is coming in November! Since I so deeply loved attending the 45th Bake-Off as well as the 46th Bake-Off, I thought I would get you excited the 47th one early by sharing all of the sweet recipes in the running. You can follow them by clicking the bakeoff tag below to see the recipes posted so far (as well as recipes from previous Bake-Off events).
 

Bacon might not make everything better, but the list of things it does improve is far longer than the list of things it doesn't. 

Still following? Good. It's time to explore a recipe which illustrates the above: Bacon and Date Cinnamon Roll Strata. This oeuvre was dreamed up by Rita Hattrup of San Rafael, California, and promises to make your next brunch extremely memorable.

Bacon and Date Cinnamon Roll Strata

  • Prep Time: 30 Min
  • Total Time: 1 Hr 45 Min
  • Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 can Pillsbury Grands! Flaky Supreme refrigerated cinnamon rolls with icing (5 rolls)
  • 1/2 lb thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 3/4 cup chopped dates (from 8-oz box)
  • 3 oz cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (from 8-oz package)
  • 3 cups milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Procedure

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Bake cinnamon rolls as directed on can; reserve icing. Remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in 10-inch skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp; drain on paper towels. Brush about 1 teaspoon bacon drippings over bottom and side of 11x7-inch (2-quart) glass baking dish.
  3. Cut cinnamon rolls into 1-inch cubes. Place half of the cinnamon roll cubes in baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the dates and half of the bacon. Top evenly with cream cheese cubes. Repeat with remaining cinnamon roll cubes, dates and bacon.
  4. In large bowl, beat milk, eggs, almond extract and reserved icing with whisk until well blended. Pour over cinnamon roll mixture. Lightly press cinnamon roll cubes into egg mixture to moisten. Let stand 20 minutes.
  5. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until center still jiggles slightly when moved and top is golden brown. Cool 10 minutes. Serve warm.
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