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Hot Topics: Sweet treats, no wheat

Jill L. Reed • Oct 15, 2013 at 2:35 PM

Sweet treats, no wheat

By Jill L. Reed

The Orange County Register


When it comes time to throw a party, friends know they can count on me to offer up a dish. Or two.

So when a friend was hosting a birthday brunch, of course I asked what I could bring.

“Well …,” the hostess said with some hesitation. “We could use some sweets, but they need to be gluten-free.”


I have never been tasked to make something gluten-free. Some things I make just happen to be made that way, but they are not usually desserts or sweets.

When I bake, I almost always reach for that trusty canister of all-purpose flour, just like mom used to do.

But the birthday girl and her mother adhere to gluten-free diets. So wheat was out and my hunt for some gluten-free treats was on.

After speaking to the guest of honor, I knew I was not going to attempt a giant cake in my first gluten free go-around.

It turns out she is not much of a traditional cake fan, anyway.

What a relief for me, since making big fancy cakes is not my forte. I am more comfortable with cookies and bars and little tidbits of treats.

Once I had consulted with the hostess and the guest of honor about the whole menu, I was off to look for some recipes.

I already had a book with some possibilities: “The Gluten-Free Cookbook: Delicious Breakfasts, Lunches, Kids’ Parties & Sweets” from Sterling Epicure ($25) had a picture of a chocolate tart on the cover that I knew I would not make for this party. But it was enough to draw me into the book.

I was looking for tartlets or maybe cookies, but a sort of candy called Blueberry Bubble Bark piqued my curiosity. I liked the idea of something that was not baked.

I wanted more options, so I headed to the bookstore. As I browsed the shelves, my eye instantly went to a book called “Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle” by Kyra Bussanich (Ten Speed Press, $18.99). It turns out the book was brand new, having been released just that morning.

The picture on the cover of a lemon pound cake jumped out at me. The yellow of the cake, with a glaze drizzled over the top, was too hard to resist. I had to at least flip through the pages to see the other treats promised by the book’s title.

First I went to the page with the lemon pound cake. Reading the ingredient list, I took a deep breath. Potato starch. Tapioca starch. Rice flour.

“It’s OK,” I told myself. “It’s just a lemon loaf. Easy peasy.”

Jumping around the book in no real order, I landed on several more recipes I knew I at least wanted to offer as ideas for the dessert menu. I was also making mental notes about things I wanted to try after the party, stuff for us at home.

I bought the book and headed home to plot and plan and make lists. And to figure out where to buy millet flour.

Finding gluten-free baking supplies is not difficult. I planned to hit up Sprouts or Mother’s Market or Whole Foods when it came time to shop, and I was easily able to get everything I needed.

I chose several recipes, intending to make some things to sample before settling on three of them for the final menu.

That Blueberry Bubble Bark from “The Gluten-Free Cookbook” was so easy, with the only cooking being to melt some white chocolate. It was a nice little candy to present in dishes around the party in case people wanted a sweet nibble. The white chocolate served as a binder that held together pistachios and gluten-free rice cereal along with sweet and chewy coconut and dried blueberries.

And while my friend was not a fan of fancy cakes, she was interested in the Lemon Pound Cake from “Sweet Cravings” after I sent her a picture of the book cover. The sampling of this was successful, with all of us agreeing that the bright, lemony flavor was the perfect fit for brunch.

Since I wanted to give her a variety of things to try, I also offered up Ginger Molasses Cookies and Peanut Butter Truffle Crispy Rice Bars, both from “Sweet Cravings.” I wanted to have the choices narrowed down to two things, but it seemed impossible after tasting everything.

There was no way we could not have the chewy goodness of those bars. The crispy rice bars of childhood are easy enough to make gluten-free with rice cereal. Just make sure to get the box that is specifically labeled as such.

Add a layer of creamy peanut butter and top it all with chocolate and it’s sort of like a homemade version of the delicious Whatchamacallit candy bar. But with more of my favorite part, the crispy layer.

Now that I was up to three dishes for the party, I was reluctant to let my friends taste the Ginger Molasses Cookies. I was afraid they would want them, as well, creating more work for me. But since they were already made, we tried them. And we loved them.

Molasses adds a deep, rich base of flavor that is the perfect complement to the spice of ginger, cloves and cinnamon.

Lucky for me, we all agreed that three treats would be perfect. So I was off the hook for those cookies, though I already had plans to make them again for any fall or holiday parties.

With a successful tasting done and with some gluten-free dessert making under my belt, my nervousness is gone. And my pantry is stocked with more than just that all-purpose flour.

I am ready to party, without the wheat.




Yield: 20-24 bars, depending on how they are cut

— Crispy rice layer:

¼ cup butter

10 ounces marshmallows

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

8 cups gluten-free crispy rice cereal

— Peanut butter layer:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 cup creamy peanut butter

½ cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

— Chocolate layer:

2 cups dark chocolate

¼ cup butter


1. Spray an 8-by-11-inch baking pan with gluten-free cooking spray or lightly coat with butter. Set aside.

2. For crispy rice layer, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter browns, 3-5 minutes. Add the marshmallows and vanilla and stir continuously until marshmallows are melted. Remove from heat and stir in the cereal. Pour entire contents into the prepared backing pan. Wet or oil hands and pat cereal down so it is level and compact. Freeze for 15 minutes to cool and set.

3. For peanut butter layer, use a mixer to combine confectioner’s sugar, peanut butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Spread evenly over the top of the prepared crispy rice layer. Freeze 30 to 60 minutes, or until peanut butter layer is firm to the touch.

4. For chocolate layer, melt chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl on medium heat, checking and stirring every 30 seconds until combined and smooth. Working quickly, spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the peanut butter layer. Freeze 15 to 30 minutes to set chocolate and make it easier to cut into bars.

5. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Source: Adapted from “Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle,” by Kyra Bussanich



Yield: 16 slices

2 ¾ cups granulated sugar

1 cup butter, room temperature

¼ cup lemon zest

6 large eggs

1 cup potato starch

1 cup tapioca starch

1 cup rice flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon xanthan gum

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup sour cream

½ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

— For glaze:

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 1-pound loaf pans with gluten-free cooking spray, or lightly coat with butter. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the sugar into one of the pans and tilt the pan to all angles to coat the bottom and sides with sugar. Pour the loose sugar into the second pan and repeat the process. Discard any excess sugar.

2. Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add 2 ½ cups sugar and the lemon zest, and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and blend thoroughly, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the starches, rice flour, baking soda, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt.

4. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and blend on low speed. Mix in the sour cream and then add half of the remaining dry ingredients. Combine well. Add the lemon juice and the remaining dry ingredients, stirring by hand just to blend.

5. Divide batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pans. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-40 minutes.

6. Cool cakes in the pans for about an hour and then invert the cakes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

7. To make the glaze, whisk together confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth and thick. Pour the glaze over the top of the cakes. Let rest about an hour. Slice and serve.

Source: Adapted from “Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle,” by Kyra Bussanich



Yield: 4 dozen cookies

1 ½ cups butter

3 cups granulated sugar

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 cup molasses

4 eggs

2 cups sweet white rice flour

2 cups tapioca starch

2 cups potato starch

1 ½ cups millet flour

½ cup cornstarch

1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons xanthan gum

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon plus

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 ½ teaspoons cloves


1. With a mixer, cream the butter, 2 cups of the granulated sugar, the brown sugar and the molasses on high speed until very light and fluffy, about 5-7 minutes.

2. Add the eggs, one at a time, and blend thoroughly, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. In a large bowl, combine flours, starches, cornstarch, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in three additions, mixing on low speed after each addition. Chill until cool and firm, about an hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Scoop the dough into about 1-inch scoops and roll in the remaining cup of granulated sugar. Place the dough balls on the baking sheets 3 inches apart. Bake until set to the touch and lightly golden brown, 12-15 minutes. If using multiple baking sheets at once, bake for 6 minutes, then rotate and continue baking until the cookies are done.

Source: Adapted from “Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle,” by Kyra Bussanich



Yield: About ½ pound

¾ ounce gluten-free crispy rice cereal

½ cup shredded coconut

½ cup dried blueberries

¼ cup unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon sea salt

6 ounces white chocolate


1. Coat a standard, non-stick loaf pan with gluten-free cooking spray, and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine cereal, coconut, blueberries, pistachios and salt.

3. Melt white chocolate in microwave according to package instructions then add the nut and fruit mixture, stirring to combine.

4. Spoon mixture evenly into prepared pan, pressing gently into the bottom of the pan.

5. Refrigerate until set, about an hour.

6. To remove, invert pan onto a prep board and gently push the bottom of the pan to dislodge the bark. Cut into slices or break into chunks to serve.

Source: Adapted from “The Gluten-Free Cookbook” from Sterling Epicure


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