Every once in a while, I am reminded that baking is my destiny. In May it was teaching a cooking class in my grandparents' former house in Brooklyn, in the very kitchen where my grandmother first taught me to bake. This month it is a week that began with taping a dessert competition show in New York City (details to follow when they can be released) and ended with baking 200 gluten-free cupcakes for the Gluten-Free Food Expo in Washington, DC.
I started my pastry career adapting fancy dairy French desserts into dairy-free desserts that I, as a kosher girl, could not eat immediately after a meat meal. I found that I liked the challenge and I was really good at it. People simply cannot believe my desserts are dairy-free.
After I moved back to the United States from Switzerland, I began developing sugar-free desserts for my father who, after 10 years of being a diabetic, is still mourning his loss of Entenmann's cakes. It became clear that the same skill set that I used to convert dairy to dairy-free was easily employed to create sugar-free desserts. When I started writing The Kosher Baker over 6 years ago, I decided that if I was going to write a book for the Jewish community, then it had to have desserts for EVERYONE in the community. Consequently, I included sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan dessert recipes.
I truly believe that every person deserves a delicious dessert no matter what special diet they are on. Every adult and child is entitled to a tasty birthday cake. No dinner guest should sit at a table eating fruit while the other guests enjoy a gooey, chocolate confection.
As a kosher person, I know what it feels like not to be able to eat everything you want when you want it. People who live with special diets, whether for health or medical reasons, religious strictures or personal choice, just want a little tenderness and a lot of r-e-s-p-e-c-t. I have learned from the gluten-free girl herself, Shauna Ahern, the extent to which cross-contamination at restaurants can cause many days of severe physical pain. Parents of kids with allergies just want to keep their children safe. I have strived to create desserts for the allergy set that anyone at your table would be happy to share too.
Many months ago, I decided that my second book would cover Passover desserts. The book will have some completely gluten-free desserts and an icon marking the desserts that are nut-free. When my friend with celiac, Andrea Neusner, called to ask me to do cake decorating at the Gluten-Free Expo in DC, she reminded me that I had given her a gluten-free cupcake recipe years ago. It is Passover-friendly as well.
The day of the Expo was the first day for my summer intern, Shawn Eliav, who is proving to be a talented and able assistant and baker. That day we spent four hours baking furiously, but then again, I had been zooming around a TV kitchen set two days earlier and am a really fast baker. I only aspire to zip around as fast as my grandmother did in the kitchen at the age of 88.
I didn't think I had the energy to do any baking two days after the competition, but I remembered that I am happiest in the kitchen, especially baking for people with challenges. At the Expo, adults and kids came to my table to decorate their own cupcakes. When I was practicing law, I never got one smile as big as any of the smiles I saw after people stuffed their self-decorated cupcakes into their mouths.
As a pastry chef, I get to use my skills to help people who have been deprived and thereby spread joy in the world. I will continue to use every platform available to spread my message that everyone has a dessert with their name on it.
Gluten-Free Vanilla & Almond Cupcakes
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup, plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup potato starch
3/4 cup ground almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place 12 paper muffin cups into a muffin tin. Place the yolks into a medium bowl. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla and almond extracts and beat on high speed for 2 minutes. Add the potato starch and ground almonds and mix in. Set aside. Place the whites into a large bowl and beat on high speed until stiff. Turn the speed to low and add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Turn the speed back up to high and beat another minute.
Use a silicone spatula to fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture. Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool on a rack. May be frozen for up to three months.
Quick Gluten-Free Icing
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine (or butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons almond milk (soy milk ok too if not
using during Passover, or regular milk)
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the shortening and margarine together. Add the vanilla and beat to mix in. Add the confectioner's sugar, one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the milk and beat at high speed for two minutes or until fluffy. Add desired colors. Store covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.