I’m a baker. It’s one of my chosen forms of artistic expression. I don’t sculpt, pot, paint or draw, but for as long as I can remember, I have baked.

It all started when I tried to cook Jello by dumping it into the top half of a double boiler and sticking it in the oven. (My mother says I was three.). The lovely smell of artificial cherries wafted through the house, mingling with the scent of our Christmas tree…until it started to burn. My father was less than pleased with my first culinary effort when he came home to find my mother scouring the heat-hardened sugar from the bottom of the pan. (Frank Sinatra’s version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” still gives me the willies)

I’d like to think that my skills have improved over the years, thanks in part to the time I spent apprenticed to a Viennese pastry chef while I was in college. (That’s a really fancy way of saying I did slave labor for a friend’s hippie-stoner roommate who happened to be opening his own shop. Too bad it was in the armpit of the universe, during a recession.  Muncie Indiana in the 80’s would make today’s Detroit look like a boom town, but that’s another story.) His recommendation did help to get me a job as the baker (in a department of one) in the kitchen at a small hotel (part of an international chain). I made pâte à choux into profiteroles and éclairs with delicate swan necks with ease…until someone told me how difficult it was. They were never the same after that.

But what I’ve always been really good at is improvisation. There are some things I cook often, but usually never the same way twice – like my meatloaf.  I’m like a mad scientist in the kitchen. Every experiment, failed or otherwise, informs the next. I learned early on that one cannot make chocolate chip biscuits simply by mashing semi-sweet morsels into a can of refrigerated dough, and plopping the mess into a casserole dish (and really, why would you want to when they are so easy to make from scratch?), but I continue to find ways to make improvements on the tried and true.

All of this leads me to my latest creation, which I am so thrilled with that I just had to share.

At work one day last week, I was given a sample of a new recipe for carrot/raisin bread. It was good, but my first thought was, “I can do better”.  This thought germinated into ideas for improvements, which blossomed into an obsession. I knew I could make it healthier, but I decided to try making it gluten-free as well.

Here’s the original recipe and what I did to it:

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour, sifted   –   1 ½ c Gluten Free Baking Mix (I used Trader Joe’s prepackaged mix)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces vegetable oil – 8 oz Applesauce
8 ounces granulated sugar – ½ c Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
2 tablespoons granulated sugar – 2 TBLS organic brown sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup shredded carrot – 1 generous cup and I used organic carrots (I think they are sweeter)
6 ounces golden raisins – I used Thompson
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, combine oil, sugar, eggs, molasses and vanilla with an electric mixer. (I did it all by hand)

Add flour mixture into the other ingredients and stir until combined. Add shredded carrot, raisins and walnuts and mix well.

Pour batter into two ungreased 8-inch loaf pans. – I used one 9”and I prepared it with cooking spray – mostly because I was afraid I’d scrubbed the finish off of the pan making sure it was free of any wheat residue. I made sure everything was uncontaminated as possible. I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.

Bake for 60 minutes, or until done. (I took mine out at 55 min.) I let it cool overnight before removing it from the pan.

I give you Gluten-free/Fat Free/Reduced Sugar Carrot Raisin Tea Bread:

I’ve been dabbling in gluten-free cooking since one of my besties (and fellow blogger, C.C. Cedras) was diagnosed with Celiac disease a couple of years ago, but this was my first foray into gluten-free baking and it was a rousing success! It’s beautiful. The texture is perfect. It’s moist and it is delicious. I can taste all of the flavors with which it’s packed: the cinnamon, the applesauce, the carrot, the raisins and the molasses. One would never miss the things that aren’t in there like the gluten and the fat.

One of my favorite parts of the holidays has been making cookies and tea breads and distributing them to friends and family in brightly beribboned boxes, bags and baskets. I haven’t done any of this in the past few years for one reason or another, and I’ve been longing to start again, but only if I could include everyone. Now I’m convinced that I can. Ho, ho, ho!