Monday, December 7, 2009

Mandarin Orange Upside-Down Cake

I’ve gotten used to cooking for a certain set of food allergies and issues within my normal circle of friends. No milk, eggs, nuts, seafood, sesame seeds, raw tomatoes, or raw peaches, and some of the adults in the group have some other food preference issues we work around. After ten years, it’s become second nature to cook around those restrictions.

Friday night, I got to explore a completely different set of restrictions, and it was a stretch, but it was also fun.

I was getting together with five other friends for dinner at one’s house. We usually eat at restaurants, which lets everyone order their own food with their own particular restrictions. This time, it was a potluck. Here were my new parameters: No gluten, dairy, chocolate, nuts, fruit (except for citrus – lemons, limes, grapefruit, or orange are okay), and as little refined sugar as possible.

Being the adventurous (and masochistic) type, I volunteered for dessert. I considered dessert ideas for several days, making a phone call or email here and there to double-check problem foods. Finally, I hit on making a pineapple upside-down cake, except without the pineapple (a problem food), and using mandarin oranges instead. Never mind that I’ve never made a pineapple upside-down cake before, never cooked gluten-free, and didn’t know if mandarin oranges would work instead of pineapple. See what I mean by masochistic?

Because I’m completely unfamiliar with gluten-free baking and I didn’t have time to do a lot of experimenting with gluten-free flours (I’ll get around to it someday, but not this week!), I went looking for a Cherrybrook Kitchen gluten-free yellow cake mix. The stores I usually haunt didn’t have it, but I discovered a new Betty Crocker gluten-free yellow cake mix! I was surprised and delighted to discover a mainstream brand is finally joining the fight against food allergies/diseases!

The cake turned out beautifully, although it took about twice as long to bake as the instructions said. Here’s what I did:

Put 4 T of melted dairy-free margarine in the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Sprinkle with ½ c. brown sugar. Drain a can of mandarin orange slices, reserving the liquid, then arrange the slices in a round pattern on the bottom of the pan.

Next, make the cake batter according to the box’s recipe, although I substituted the reserved liquid from the oranges for the water that the recipe called for, and I replaced half of the gluten-free vanilla extract with orange extract, and I added the zest from half an orange. (Okay, I know, I’m one of those people who always have to mess with recipes. I’m sorry.)

Pour the batter over the oranges, and bake at 350 for … hmm… it was probably close to an hour, even though the instructions had said about 30 minutes. About half-way through, the top of the cake was starting to look way too brown, so I covered the outer edge of it with a long strip of foil, like you do on pies to keep the crust from getting too brown. When a toothpick finally came clean in the center of the cake, I removed it from the oven and let it cool for about ten minutes. Then I turned it out onto a cutting board, and it was perfect!

Frankly, I was shocked.

Although I like to experiment with baking, I throw away a LOT of disasters. A LOT. Like two-thirds of everything I try. I was so convinced that this would flop, I actually had also bought some dairy-free Italian Ice from my neighborhood Zeppe’s (great place, very aware of allergies!) and baked some gluten-free cookies from a Cherrybrook Kitchen mix.

So I ended up with not just one dessert, but three. I took them all, and they were all a hit, even with the non-allergic women, who couldn’t believe the cake and cookies were gluten-free.

Wow. I don’t know what I did to deserve such good luck on my first gluten-free baking adventure. Of course, given my baking karma, that probably ensured that the next ten things I try will fail in horribly creative ways. But that’s okay. The one friend with the most restrictions was thrilled to actually get to eat a dessert at a party, so that made it worth the worry.

It seems like it should work well with a regular cake mix, too, so I’m going to give it another try this weekend, using a nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free mix with regular flour. If you try it, let me know.

Here’s to more adventures in baking!


The Scherbel Family said...

I'm torn on the Betty Crocker GF mixes. On one hand, its nice to see mainstream embracing gf. On the other hand, I hope it doesn't put the smaller companies that have stuck with us out of business. I'm glad your cake turned out well. It sounds yummy. I plan to steal the idea for a party I'm headed to next week.

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

Did your cake turn out well? I made it again this weekend with a Cherrybrook Kitchen yellow cake mix -- not the gluten-free variety, just the nut-, milk-, and egg-free variety. It turned out well, but it was a little denser. Just the difference in cake mixes. I'll try it again sometime from scratch instead of using a mix. That should be interesting, too. Let me know how yours turned out!

The Scherbel Family said...

Mine turned out great! I used the Betty Crocker mix and even my super picky fil liked it.

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

I'm so glad it turned out! I made it again with a Cherrybrook Kitchen mix (not the gluten-free version, just the nut-, milk-, and egg-free version), and it was a little more dense, but still very tasty. So I think this is a keeper in my family! So glad you liked it, too.