A side-by-side baking experiment in which I compared the taste and bake of gluten free flour against regular flour in cupcakes.
What a difference your choice of flour makes to a bake!
After all of the time consuming GBBO bakes, I decided the other day to make something delicious and simple. What’s more simple than a regular cupcake. Nothing fancy, just a straight forward Victoria sponge topped with a cream cheese frosting. Delicious! However, having an unopened bag of gluten free flour in the cupboard, I decided to undertake a little experiment!
My old school science teacher will be chuckling to himself now! Angela doing an experiment! I’m the first to admit that I’m not scientifically minded. At secondary school during an end of year science test, our slightly eccentric teacher left the lab allowing us science ‘thickies’ to get our books out from our bags! (Tut-tut!) Even after that cheating, I still didn’t managed to get 60%! Needless to say, I didn’t choose physics or chemistry in my options! Now, Mr E understands science, he’ll often try to help me understand the warping of space time (what!) and will explain quantum mechanics to me, for instance! My head hurts just thinking about it.
Yet, the more I read about baking, the more I realise it’s quite a science in itself. From getting the ratios correct to the oven temperature. I guess it wasn’t called ‘Domestic Science’ for no reason.
So what was my experiment? Well, having learnt a little about gluten free flour during the GBBO ‘Free From’ week I decided to have a play conduct an experiment to see if there is any difference in the look and eat of a Victoria cupcake made with gluten free flour in comparison to a regular flour.
Gluten, as we know, is the protein in flour and different flours contain different levels of gluten. When we make bread, for instance, we use a ‘Bread Flour’ which has a higher gluten content because it is this which creates the structure of the loaf once it has been kneaded. When we make a sponge, we use a flour with a slightly lower gluten content such as Self Raising Flour or a Plain Flour with an additional raising agent and fold it gently into the batter. During a little reading I did during the GBBO Free From week, I realised that the gluten in the flour could make sponges tough and heavy if it was over worked when folded into the beaten batter.
I made a regular batch of Victoria Sponge in my usual way. I creamed the butter and sugar together, and then added the eggs gradually. At this point I divided the mixture into two bowls (it was weighed to ensure they were both identical). I then folded plain flour with baking powder into one bowl and into the other bowl I folded in the gluten free flour with gluten free baking powder. So the only difference between the two batches was the flour. I then weighed the mixture into cupcake cases (a different design for each variety), to ensure consistency throughout. The cakes were then baked for the same time duration, being rotated in the oven two-thirds of the way through.
And the result? To start with, the gluten free flour seemed a little finer when I weighed it out. The batter made with this flour tasted slightly ‘odd’ on my pallet when I licked the bowl out (admit it, we all do it), most probably because the flour is made with grains I don’t usually use. I wasn’t overly surprised by these two points, but I was surprised by the fact that there was a marked difference in the rise of the two batters. As you can tell from the images, the cupcakes made from the gluten free flour rose far less than those made with the regular flour; they were flatter where as the others were domed. The flatter gluten free cupcakes though, made it far easier to attempt to pipe an icing on. The upper crust of the cakes also differed. Those made from the gluten free flour was soft compared to a crispier top of their counterpart.
And the eat? Five people, other than myself, ‘volunteered’ their services in testing the cupcakes. Only I knew which cupcake was which, so my taste testers sampled them blind, so to speak. Three of the five preferred the gluten free cupcake, stating that it was simply a better sponge. Our retired chef neighbour even thought it was a Genoise sponge rather than Victoria as it tasted so much lighter. My other two tasters preferred the cakes made with the usual flour, one stating that they tasted ‘normal’. As for myself, well I too preferred the gluten free sponge, though looking at them following the bake I was anticipating my verdict to be the other way around. There wasn’t a vast difference between the two, but it was noticeable. And although I picked out an ‘odd’ taste in the raw batter I couldn’t taste that after the bake. I found the ‘crumb’ to be finer too and in general an all round better eat. So of six cupcake tasters (including myself), four preferred those made with the gluten free flour.
Ok, so it wasn’t a massive experiment. I only had a handful of tasters and the results weren’t a white wash in favour of one specific flour, however it was very interesting how the two flours worked in the same batter. I shall certainly use the gluten free flour again, (though not all of the time as it is a little more expensive) quite possibly in my Mum’s forthcoming birthday cake, especially as she was one of those who preferred the that version.
So let’s get to it and bake!
Victoria Sponge Cupcakes with a Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting Yum
Yield: 10 muffin size cupcakes
Time: hands on time 20 minutes; plus 20 minutes bake time; cooling time
Freezable: Yes, undecorated
You will need:
Wooden Spoon or Electric Hand Held Beater
Spatula or large Metal Spoon
Muffin size Paper Cases
Muffin Baking Tray
Piping Bag (optional)
Star Piping Nozzle (optional)
For the sponge mixture
170g Unsalted Butter, softened
70g Golden Caster Sugar
100g Caster Sugar
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
170g Plain Flour or Gluten Free Plain Flour
1.5 tsp (level) Baking Powder (I used Dr Oetker’s in both batches as it is Gluten Free)
2 – 3 tbsp milk
For the Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
120g Unsalted Butter, softened
240g Icing Sugar
120g Cream Cheese, full fat (chilled)
3 dessert spoons good quality Strawberry Jam
How to make them:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 190c / Fan 170c / Gas 5. Place the muffin cases into the muffin tray.
2. Make the sponge. Place the softened butter and sugar into a good sized bowl and beat together with a wooden spoon or electric beaters until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture. Using a spatula or large metal spoon fold this in gently. If the batter seems a little dry, add a some milk and gently mix to combine.
3. Fill the muffin cases. Using a teaspoon, fill the cases with the batter mixture. You’re aiming for them to be half to two-thirds full.
4. Bake. Place the muffin tray in the centre of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. You may need to rotate the tray after 15 minutes of baking. Once baked, remove from the oven and place on a cooling tray.
5. Make the frosting. Place the butter into a good sized bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or hand held electric beaters to ensure it is nice and soft. Sieve the icing sugar into the butter. Mix this into the butter (I’d recommend doing this slowly with a spoon to start with to prevent an icing sugar dust cloud forming!) Once incorporated, use a beater to thoroughly mix for about a minute. Add the chilled cream cheese and beat together well for a further 2-3 minutes, though do avoid over beating as it can become too soft. Place the jam in a small bowl and stir it around to soften it. Add the jam to the frosting and mix together. If the frosting has become too soft, place the mixture into the fridge to firm up.
6. Decorate the cupcakes. Either fill the icing bag (fitted with a nozzle if desired) with the frosting and pipe over the top of the cupcakes. OR, use a dessert spoon to place a quantity of the frosting onto the top of the bun and smooth it out with the back of the spoon.