Gluten-free desserts are trending on pastry menus. Here’s how chefs across the country are incorporating this dietary restriction into their grand finales.
If there’s one part of a meal that should be consumed with reckless abandon, it’s dessert. But with food allergies like gluten becoming more prevalent, club and resort pastry chefs are faced with the challenge of modifying ingredients without sacrificing flavor.
One Smart Cookie
At Monroe Golf Club in Pittsford, N.Y., Pastry Chef Eileen Trenkler has been preparing gluten-free desserts for nearly three years. Before serving as the assistant pastry chef at The Country Club of Rochester (N.Y.), she honed her skills at eight facilities within Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, N.Y. “Each outlet had a different concept, so I was able to apply my gluten-free knowledge to a whole range of restaurants—from BBQ to a high-end steak house to a buffet and more,” she says.
While Trenkler has offered dietary-restrictive options on both her a la carte and buffet menus, she has noticed a recent uptick in gluten-free requests. “In the last year, I have seen a huge influx in members asking for more options to eat at the club and at home,” she says. “More and more, I see less and less of my gluten-free options being left over from buffets, too.”
In fact, the buffet menu is where Trenkler has been able to experiment and implement more gluten-free options. These range from naturally gluten-free items, such as French macarons and flourless chocolate cake, to modified recipes like her mudslide cookies. She adapts recipes as needed, serving them standard on her buffet menu, or a la carte as a warmed cookie topped with house-made malted milk vanilla bean ice cream and salted caramel sauce.
Trenkler’s greatest challenge is maintaining a texture consistent with the original product. To achieve this result, she relies on cookbooks that focus on combining potato, rice and nut flours. One of Trenkler’s personal favorites is Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America by Chef Richard J. Coppedge, Jr., CMB. “He taught the specialty baking course while I was attending the CIA, where we learned exactly how to cater to allergies,” she says.
Today, Trenkler continues to expand her repertoire by creating delicacies that conceal their gluten-free identities. “My goal is to make my gluten-free items enjoyable for everyone, and to leave the member not even knowing the difference,” she says. “The last thing a chef wants to do is to give a sub-par product, just to adjust for an allergy.”
Rising to the Occasion
At Addison Reserve Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla., Executive Pastry Chef Dana Iannelli has been meeting the recent demand for gluten-free desserts head-on. “I hadn’t prepared many gluten-free desserts before working at Addison Reserve,” she admits. “The desserts that I did prepare were naturally gluten-free…French macarons, dacquoise, flourless chocolate torte and crème brûlée. I wasn’t making them out of necessity or request.”
But in recent years that has changed. More members are reporting gluten-allergies and sensitivities. There are also more members avoiding gluten as a diet strategy, so Iannelli is being more proactive about including gluten-free options in her a la carte menus.
To meet the higher demand, Iannelli recently added several varieties of gluten-free cookies to the menu and gluten-free pies to her Thanksgiving menu.
Iannelli’s biggest hurdle has been showing members that swapping out ingredients does not mean compromising taste. “People assume that gluten-free equals inedible and low-calorie, and is basically not a yummy dessert,” she says. But by creating signage that details the ingredients, members are able to see for themselves and decide which gluten-free options are to their liking.
Such efforts have not gone unnoticed at Addison Reserve, with members now placing custom orders for gluten-free desserts on a consistent basis. One guest, Iannelli says, now takes her gluten-free banana bread home to her daughter whenever she travels. “Other members are surprised by how many things can be made gluten-free,” she adds.
Going gluten-free has been a work in progress for Executive Pastry Chef Shannon Yelmini ever since she began working at the Kiawah Island (S.C.) Golf Resort six years ago. “Seeing the diversity of clientele on the island has opened my eyes to the various requests that guests can have,” she says. “The gluten-free lifestyle was just gaining popularity as I was finishing culinary school, so I learned much of it on the job by working with and accommodating guests who had dietary restrictions, but who still wanted to indulge in dessert and breads.”
Approximately four years ago, Yelmini made a concerted effort to provide gluten-free dessert options. With an increasing number of servers sharing diners’ requests, she and her staff began experimenting with starches and other substitutions to create desserts that maintained their flavor, minus the gluten.
For a la carte, Yelmini concentrates on incorporating naturally gluten-free ingredients and also using recipes with gluten-free flour. “Dishes such as panna cottas, ice creams, mousses and fruits are all already gluten-free and great to integrate into dessert menus,” she notes.
She applies this same philosophy when developing banquet menus, offering gluten-free options with the expectation that someone will have a restricted diet. Yelmini’s macarons are a prime example of a gluten-free cookie that can also be made nut-free if necessary. “Utilizing the same elements from a la carte desserts into buffet and banquet options is not only great for the client, but also allows us to cross-utilize product, to keep menus gluten-free across the board,” she notes.
Guests that have been treated to Yelmini’s culinary creations have responded with appreciation for being able to order dessert without having to ask for substitutions. “Everyone should be able to end an amazing meal with a sweet bite,” she says. C+RC