It's hard to concentrate on anything when you have a freshly baked carrot cake, heady with the scent of warm cinnamon and tropical coconut, sitting in front of you. I was faced with this particular challenge a few days ago when I met with 17-year-old Amelia Green.
Sitting in the kitchen in her Westport home, the teen explained how, a little over a year ago, her father had been diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity, which left him unable to eat most of his favorite desserts. This was distressing news for Amelia, who loves to bake.
"Almost all of his favorite desserts had wheat flour in them, so I decided to experiment with different flours," the Staples High School senior said.
At first, she tried pre-mixed gluten-free flours, but was disappointed with the taste. So she tried her own combinations, mixing together ingredients like oat flour, amaranth flour and almond meal.
"I'd take a recipe from a dessert we liked and change the flour," she said. "I'd do two or three small batches and write down notes."
Over time, Green began to accumulate successful recipes and started typing them into the computer. When she found out that Amazon offered a self-publishing service, she decided to turn her creations into a book.
"Sweet Without Wheat: Great Recipes for Gluten-Free Baking" is the result of her hard work, and the book is now available online.
"It's a weird feeling to have published a book," she said. "In my English class, the teacher asked if anyone had any news and I said, `My book is available online,' so he pulled up a picture of it on the Internet. It was strange seeing a picture of myself looking down on the class."
Green often used her friends and family as taste-testers for her recipe experiments.
"My friends were very willing to be guinea pigs," she said.
Green's younger sister, Sophia, said her favorite part of the cookbook process was trying all the different foods.
"The last time she made Lava Cake, it was amazing," Sophia said. "She occasionally lets me lick the bowls."
Some recipes were easier to translate into gluten-free than others, Green said.
"Desserts like Key Lime Pie are easy because the crust is such a small part of the dessert," she said. "And carrot cake lends itself to being gluten-free because it has such texture."
Oh, yes, the aforementioned carrot cake. Because she knew I was coming, Green whipped up a few of her favorite recipes and offered to let me sample them. Not only was the carrot cake moist (often a problem with gluten-free desserts), but it was spicy and chewy and undetectably gluten-free.
The Key Lime Pie was creamy and tart, and the Apricot Amaretto Cookies were soft and complex with sweet apricots and nutty almonds.
Of all the recipes Green created, she said the tiramisu was the most difficult.
"It was really involved," she said.
Other recipes in the book include lemon squares, blueberry muffins, pancakes and even multigrain sandwich bread.
"I'm really happy I can make desserts my dad can eat," Green said.
Her father, Bill, is happy, too.
"Since I've given up gluten, I feel so much better," he said. "I do miss pizza and beer, those are the worst."
But having a variety of baked goods to choose from has made the transition to gluten-free living smoother.
"Amelia has definitely made it a lot easier," he said. "I'm a sucker for her chocolate chip cookies and carrot cake."
Patti Woods is a freelance writer. Contact her at email@example.com.
Amelia Green's "Sweet Without Wheat" is available on Amazon.com for $12.99.
Carrot Cake recipe by Amelia Green
1 cup gluten-free oat flour
1 cup Bob's All-Purpose Gluten Free Baking Flour
½-cup amaranth flour
½-cup almond meal or almond flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1½ cups vegetable oil
1½ cups finely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ cups coconut flakes
1¼ cups carrots, cooked then pureed
½-cup crushed, drained pineapple
Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.
Stir in the oil, eggs and vanilla. Fold in the walnuts, coconut, carrots and pineapple.
Pour the batter into two greased 9-inch layer cake pans.
Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Do not frost until completely cool.
To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter.
Slowly add the powdered sugar and beat until fully combined. Stir in the vanilla.
If desired, sprinkle cake with coconut flakes or powdered sugar.