PLATTSBURGH - Though Gluten-Free Baking Week will be celebrated beginning this Sunday, for many, it's a lifestyle that gets attention year-round.
Those living with celiac disease - an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine - experience serious immune system reactions to gluten, a type of protein that is found in many types of grains.
Carol McLean, owner of both Irises Caf and Wine Bar and DeLish by Irises Cupcake Bakeshop and Gourmet Deli, said she's noticed an increase in the number of people suffering from celiac disease for several years. McLean was approached by a representative from the celiac support group at CVPH Medical Center about providing a gluten-free menu seven years ago, and has seen a steady increase in the number of patrons ordering gluten-free selections.
"She approached us because we make our food fresh, from scratch, so she thought it was something we could easily adapt to," said McLean. "We used to have a separate menu for gluten-free items and now we just incorporate them into our main menu because there are so many items we can do gluten-free with just slight substitutions."
Adrienne Dionne, pastry chef for Delish and Irises, said she's also notice an increase in demand for gluten-free items, leading the businesses to expand their offerings with items like gluten-free chocolate cupcakes and a brownie souffle.
"Essentially, what we do, instead of using wheat flour, is replace it with white rice flour or almond flour," explained Dionne.
Unless using gluten-free baking mixes like Bob's Red Mill products, said Dionne, it's important to know how to properly substitute out regular flour.
"If you take out flour, it's a binding agent, so you have to replace it with guar gum or corn starch or something else to keep that binding together," she said.
"It is a different texture," Dionne said of items that are made gluten-free. "Sometimes it's pretty close, but you're never going to get a baguette that's made gluten-free that tastes exactly like a regular baguette. It's going to be different."
However, some items can be made naturally gluten-free, like the brownie souffle or cheesecake offered at Irises, said Dionne.
"That's already flourless," she said. "So, we don't have to replace the flour with anything, because it uses no flour whatsoever."
The same can be said for recipes people want to try at home, said Dionne. Also, more and more grocery stores have become conscious of the celiac and gluten-intolerant population and are accommodating by making more room in their aisles for gluten-free items.
"I don't bake from a box, but it's becoming so well-known now that a lot of the cake companies like Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker are making gluten-free mixes for cupcakes, cakes and brownies," said Dionne. "So, now you can go to the store and pick it up instead of having to bake from scratch every time."
"Essentially, they're doing the work for you and making it as close as possible to a recipe with flour in it," she added.
When wanting a night out on the town or a special dessert with coffee, however, McLean said she'd proud to be the only restaurant in a 50-mile radius to be registered with the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program. The program, overseen by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America, offers a list of restaurants nationwide that offer gluten-free menus.
"It's a good feeling to be able to offer this to people who are restricted with their diet," said McLean. "I've had customers tell me ours was the first time they've had French onion soup in years or our brownie souffle dessert with the caramel sauce. They're so appreciative and it makes me, as a restaurant owner, feel good that I can provide that service to people."