a gluten-free thanksgiving

 There's a flurry of the best kind of activity beginning to happen around here. Lists are being written and revised. Books and magazines have been pulled from their shelves and left open to pages of inspiration. Emails and text messages between relatives are occurring with greater frequency. All thoughts and conversations are inevitably looping back to one consistent topic: Food.

It is the season of Thanksgiving, and we are in our element. For people who love food and everything that comes with it, Thanksgiving is an incredible holiday. Not simply because food plays a large role on that day - Christmas, July 4th, Labor Day, these holidays also come with culinary traditions. No, the extraordinary thing about Thanksgiving is that it is the one day each year when we are encouraged - expected, really - to make food the primary reason for our celebration. To devote an entire day to a mammoth meal of the best possible dishes we can come up with, and to gather our family close to share it with us? This is a gourmand's dream. And when the day comes steeped in history and tradition and deep gratitude, the simple act of coming together at the table begins to border on the profound.

However, there can be complications, issues that disrupt the festive mood. I'm not talking about Aunt Nancy who's still mad at Cousin Harold for that insensitive comment back in September, or the children who simply can not make it through the day without arguments and tears, or the disgruntled teen who is relegated to the kid's table for yet another year. These are problems every family deals with, and there is nothing I can say that will help solve them.

What I'm talking about gets at the very heart of the Thanksgiving spirit and table: inclusiveness, sharing and feeling welcome. It is difficult to feel fully included in the celebration of Thanksgiving if much of the meal - both the literal and figurative central theme of the day - is off-limits to you. Unfortunately, for those with celiac this is often the case.

Gravy, thickened with roux. Stuffing, made from cubed bread or gluten-full cornbread. Dinner rolls. Casseroles with bread crumb toppings. Salads tossed with croutons. Platters of crackers, to be paired with cheese or savory spreads. A parade of pies. So many common Thanksgiving foods traditionally contain gluten! It can be so disheartening as a celiac to sit down to a meal like this, knowing that, in contrast to the surrounding cornucopia, your plate will be meager. Plain turkey, boiled peas, mashed potatoes. I know. I've done it before. It hardly feels like a 'real' Thanksgiving when you can't take part in the abundance all around you!

It doesn't have to be this way. Having to eat gluten-free should not preclude a person from experiencing the joys of Thanksgiving. All it takes is a little extra forethought and planning. Which, given that this holiday is focused on thinking about food anyway, shouldn't be too much to ask. Especially when the reward is knowing that everyone at the table will feel welcome and included, and will eat safely and happily, with love and gratitude. Wonderful things to give thanks for, I'd say.

This idea of using food to make people feel included has been on my mind a lot lately. With Wylie's surgery last week, we've been traveling a lot and eating away from home much more than normal. And I've come to appreciate all over again how hard it can be to eat well when you don't have complete control over your food. It's discouraging, and more than once I finished a meal feeling unsatisfied, and still hungry. Someone actually offhandedly said to me, "Oh, you celiacs always manage to find something to eat." Um, yes, this is true. As a segment of the population, we are generally not a starving group. But oh my goodness. To go through life in a gluten-full world, just managing to find something here and there to eat that won't make you sick? That is a demoralizing way to live, for sure. No one should have to settle for that; we all deserve better.

Josh and I have been talking lately about the things that restaurants can do to be more accommodating and welcoming to the growing gluten-free population. I've shared with him my sense of relief and the overwhelming appreciation and excitement I feel when I eat out at an establishment that not only has gluten-free items on the menu, but has a knowledgeable staff that is gracious and helpful when I mention my dietary restriction. It's in stark opposition to the sinking feeling of dread I get when I realize I am not at a celiac-friendly restaurant - disheartening feelings that I'm sure no restaurateur wishes to cause his or her customers! Things are better, for sure, than they were a decade ago. But there's still lots of room for improvement.

Which is why, I say, it's so important to work to make everyone feel included in the meal when, rather than anonymous customers, it's your own dear friends and family that you're feeding. When you can sit across the table from them, and watch them eat with gusto rather than trepidation, and see their obvious appreciation of your efforts, and know that you are contributing to their good health and joy. At Thanksgiving especially, this should be something we strive for. To people for whom ingredients are not a constant concern, going out of one's way to make gluten-free food may seem unimportant and headache-inducing. As someone who obsessively reads labels and asks questions wherever she goes, however, I can assure you that when it happens, it feels like a precious gift, an act of compassion not to be taken lightly.

This Thanksgiving, it's easier than ever to create a gluten-free meal everyone will love. A tremendous group of food bloggers has answered Shauna's challenge to make Thanksgiving gluten-free. All across the web you will find recipe upon recipe of time-tested, family-favorite Thanksgiving foods, now made gluten-free. All created with the intention of making the Thanksgiving meal inclusive and delicious for as many people as possible. It's an incredible effort, and I encourage you to go over to the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef site to see the complete list.

It's no coincidence that Shauna is the force behind this virtual event. She and her husband, Danny (aka the Chef) are in the midst of promoting their new cookbook titled, appropriately, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef - A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes. I've already told you how much I love the book. But I may have neglected to mention how strongly a feeling of inclusion runs through it. It's not merely a collection of gluten-free recipes. It's a book that sets out to teach anyone - gluten-free or not - essential techniques of cooking. It's a book of delicious, inventive recipes that everyone will love, that just also happen to be gluten-free. It's a book that encourages the reader to make food for the people they love, to share meals with friends and family, and to welcome everyone to the table, every day. In short, this book embodies everything I love about Thanksgiving. If you have any gluten-free people in your life, and what I have written here has resonated with you, you need to own this book. Actually, I'm betting you'd love this book even if you don't know anyone who needs to eat gluten-free. Simply loving good food is enough of a prerequisite.

My contribution to Shauna's Thanksgiving baking challenge is an addictive gingerbread cake. I've always loved the intoxicating flavors of gingerbread, but my childhood memories of it are of a dry, pale brown cake. Looking back, I realize that I always had gingerbread that was Not Enough. Not enough molasses, not enough fat, not enough ginger. The recipe I'm giving you solves all those problems, and then some. It is a rich, dark cake, studded with pieces of crystallized ginger, a cake so moist it glistens. It's so easy to make, you'll find yourself reaching for the recipe long after the holiday season has past.

You could make just the cake, dust it with powered sugar, and have a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving dessert offerings. Or you could do what I do: gild the lily twice over, in this case with a spiced brown sugar caramel sauce and a bourbon Bavarian cream. It takes a great cake and makes it phenomenal. It's well worth the extra effort, which, as you'll see, really isn't that much at all. But in the spirit of making everyone feel special this Thanksgiving, every little effort counts.

So here's to Thanksgiving, and all the eating and sharing and gratitude that can fit into one day. Welcome to the table.

If you feel you need even more inspiration as you plan your menu, here are a some other good bets to grace your table:
Roasted Squash Soup
Vegetable Soup
Best-Ever Gluten-Free Pie Crust
Apple Rosette Tart
Simply Perfect Apple Pie
Spiced Persimmon Tart

Gingerbread Cake with Vanilla-Bourbon Bavarian Cream and Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Caramel
serves 8-12

Gingerbread Cake
1 1/4 cups (170 grams) Tara's all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
1/2 cup (72 grams) Tara's gluten-free pastry flour mix
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly-ground cloves
1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) dark molasses
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (54 grams) packed light brown sugar
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) safflower or canola oil
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) boiling water
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350┬║. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, line with parchment, and butter the parchment.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, xanthan and guar gums, spices, salt, and pepper. In another bowl, whisk together the molasses, sugars, and oil. Whisk the liquid mixture into the flour mixture until smooth.

In a small bowl, stir together the baking soda and boiling water. Whisk this into the batter.

Add the eggs to the batter, whisking until smooth, then stir in the chopped crystallized ginger.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling. Cake may be made up to three days in advance. Wrap airtight and store at room temperature.

To serve, dust cake with powdered sugar, and serve with drizzle of Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Caramel and a dollop of Vanilla-Bourbon Bavarian Cream (recipes follow).

Vanilla-Bourbon Bavarian Cream
This Bavarian cream is looser than a traditional one. It has a consistency closer to whipped cream than to Jell-O, which makes it perfect to pair with cake. For a non-alcoholic version, simply omit the bourbon and increase the cold water to 2 Tbsp.
2 tsp cold water
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp high-quality bourbon, chilled
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2 Tbsp (43 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) whole milk
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) heavy cream

Have ready a medium-sized bowl with a fine mesh strainer set over it, and an ice water bath.

Combine the water and bourbon in a small bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin over it to soften. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick.

In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine the milk and vanilla bean seeds and bring to a boil. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and bring back to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 minute, continuing to whisk.

Pour the custard through the strainer set over a bowl, whisk in the softened gelatin, and set the bowl in the ice water bath to cool.

In a clean bowl, whip the heavy cream until it just holds soft peaks. Gently fold into the cold, but not yet set, custard. Chill for a minimum of 2 hours.

Bavarian cream can be made up to three days in advance. Keep chilled.

Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Caramel
1 cup (217 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp + 3 Tbsp cold water, divided
1 Tbsp cold unsalted butter

In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and 2 Tbsp water. Whisk to combine.

Set pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Boil for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, and quickly whisk in 3 Tbsp cold water and butter. (Be careful - the caramel will sputter and steam, so stand back!) Pour caramel into heat-proof jar, cool to room temperature, and cover. Caramel can be made in advance and stored at room temperature for up to a week.


  1. Ohhh, I love gingerbread! This looks moist and divine!

  2. Tara, just give me that caramel sauce and I will eat it with a spoon! This entire cake looks divine, but I will take mine with an extra helping of caramel and bavarian cream! This is truly a beautiful post! Thank you! ;)

  3. MMMMMMMMMMMMMM,..that gingerbread cake looks so tasty & appetizing too! And that caramel sauce,..yummie!!

    Many kisses & hand waves from Brussels to you!!!!

  4. Lexie - Divine is the perfect description of it!

    Kim - Thank you! I'm such a sucker for caramel - I was eating it out of the jar all day yesterday. ;)

    Sophie - Thanks! Kisses and waves right back at you!

  5. The photos are beautiful. I'm so glad everything worked out. Cheers to ginger and gluten-free treats! (ps. I have to confess that I ate the cupcake on the way home. By myself, eating chocolate and peanut butter, walking under a blue sky, and knowing that I have such a good friend only a few blocks away. Thank you!)

  6. Yay! I adore this post. It's so true. I bake because I absolutely love sharing my food with my friends. All of them, even the ones that can't eat gluten, are allergic to dairy or are vegan. I can't imagine having to sit down to a Thanksgiving table and only being limited to a few thing to eat. Sadness!

    Your gingerbread cake looks utterly divine though. I've had the EXACT same reaction you did to most gingerbreads that you have, dry and tasteless, until I started to make my own, but yours looks amazing. And I love the bavarian cream/caramel. Mouthwateringly fantastic.

  7. Tara - I read every single word you wrote with admiration and gratitude for your insightfulness and the way you so clearly articulated exactly what is in my heart and mind. Thank you for your inspiration and for continuing to help others understand that gluten free isn't a curse, it is simply something we have are challenged to deal with every day of our lives. With Shauna and Danny's help, that has become not only easy and manageable, but delightful as well.

  8. Wow. Looks divine! And I agree with Kim, extra caramel and cream, please!

  9. I've always loved gingerbread flavours, but I'm not sure if I've ever had the real thing! This looks so dreamy. Such a perfect fall dessert :).

  10. Thank you, everyone!

    Sammy - I'm so glad you had a nice walk home with your cupcake. ;) I was SO appreciative of you coming to my rescue! For that small period of time, the boys were well-behaved and I was able to feel a bit more sane. Thank you!!!

    Mr. Jackhonky - I know! It seems like Thanksgiving, of all times, should be when we try our best to make sure everyone at our table eats well, with no worries. I love knowing that you feel the same way. And I'd love to see (and taste!) your gingerbread recipe!

    I Am Gluten Free - Thank you so much. Your words mean a lot to me. You are so right - gluten-free is far from a curse, it has been a blessing in so many ways! Anything that leads to better health and happiness should never be viewed as a hindrance!

    beyondriceandtofu - Extra caramel and cream for all! And by the way, I got a kick out of your blog name. Because as much as my diet goes WAY beyond rice and tofu, that's still one of my favorite meals. :) Thanks for stopping by!

    Lauren - You, darling, NEED to have some real gingerbread! You would love it! It's so perfect to eat during the holidays. Let me know if you need even more encouraging. ;)

  11. If only I had this cake to follow dinner tonight, or at the very least the vanilla bourbon cream which I might add would be a nice addition to hot cocoa.

  12. art and lemons - Oh yes, it would be a fabulous addition to hot cocoa. Great idea, just as we're moving into cocoa season.

  13. Beautiful gingerbread cake to try, thanks so much, look forward to trying.

  14. Medifast - Thank you! I'm sure you'll love it!

  15. I love to eat baked items mostly my favorite is strawberry cake. There is a nice recipe of ginger bread cake. It sounds like so tasty then strawberry cake. I am looking forward for it.

  16. Credit Repair - Mmm, I love strawberry cake. I made one for my husband one year after hearing him rave about the one his mother made when he was young. It was great!

  17. There needs to be more gluten free recipes. Thanks for your efforts.

  18. gluten free baking - You're welcome, and you're right!

  19. I tried it and it was very delicious. I highly recommend it.

  20. Thanks for posting, these days you have to be careful when buying in the grocery, gluten free is a great way to go. Also I tend to stay away from most packaged food, especially the ones with ingredients I can hardly pronounce when i read the ingredient label.

  21. Really good recipe. Typically gluten free recipes dont taste like "normal food" to me. This was excellent.

  22. I have to say that i have a few friends that have recently developed a gluten allergy. Thanks for providing me a with a great recipe! keep them coming the fat kids are waiting for more tasty snacks.

  23. Sometimes we think that gluten free means tasteless. Pretty sure your recipe says otherwise! Pinned to my "Christmas Cravings" board.


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