* No, seriously.
[No Gluten, Get Happy: The easiest way to bake gluten-free is with no flour at all! How about Happy Hemp Two-Bite Brownies?]
Welcome to Day Nine of the blog event from Diane over at The Whole Gang, 30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living! The objective of this event is to show you all how easy it can be to eat gluten-free. And today, I’m going to talk about baking.
Whew! I think my hair just got a new ‘do after the breeze that whooshed by as hoards of you ran for the exits! For those of you still here, grab a cup of tea, have a seat, and settle in as I explain why, after a lifetime of baking with wheat, I’ve come to love gluten-free baking even more.
In a nutshell, here are my five top tips to create amazing baked goods–all without stress, anxiety, or trauma (and of course, no gluten!).
[My first time using sweet rice flour (also called glutenous rice flour: Red Bean Pastry Cookies. You can, too! ]
1. Something New: Gluten Free
When I first learned that I’d have to adopt a gluten-free diet (as part of the anti-candida regime I’m following), I was more upset about having to give up baking than having to give up gluten per se. As someone who’d been baking since I was about six, I simply couldn’t imagine a life without delicious baked treats!
In Stage 2 of the diet, as soon as I was able to start incorporating flours back into my recipes, I pulled out one of my favorite recipes (I think it was a carrot loaf), and baked it up using brown rice flour in place of the all-purpose wheat. Hmmm. . . .can you say, “brick”? Or how about, “Crumbly, totally tasteless brick” at that!
It wasn’t until I realized that baking gluten-free is an entirely new endeavor that I finally began to learn about–and appreciate–gluten-free baking on its own merits. If I moved to Florida from here in Toronto (and believe me, deep in February, I’ve often thought about it), I wouldn’t expect to wear the same winter clothes over there, now, would I? Or if I started dating a new guy (no worries, HH, this is for illustration purposes only), I’d never expect him to have the same taste in wine, like the same music, or dance the same way as the previous beau, either. So why should gluten-free baking work exactly the same as glutenous baking? Once I “got” that reality, the rest was easy.
[Rustic, savory “Cheese” Filled Olive and Onion Quick Bread–a great vehicle for robust gluten-free flours]
2. Rely on the Experts
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel (or wheel of foccacia, either, for that matter). Whenever I begin a new enterprise, I first check out what the authorities in that field have done before me. I rely on their wisdom and experience to get me started. In the case of gluten-free baking, I began by using all-purpose mixes that would allow me to substitute one-for-one instead of wheat flour, and baked up several batches of my favorite sweets that way first. By using tried-and-true flour mixes, I knew that my baked goods would work and would give me a feel for what goes into an all-purpose gluten free flour mix.
What’s in an all-purpose mix? Well, to answer that question you’ll need to consider a bit more about glutenous versus gluten-free flour. Here are some key points:
i. Gluten-free flour has no gluten (duh).
Gluten is the protein in wheat that acts as “glue” to bind together the baked goods. It provides texture and holds things together. Without it, baked goods crumble and break apart like dried-out sandcastles on the beach. By combining different gluten-free flours in one mix, you help to alleviate that effect. (Another trick is to add a binder that replaces the gluten–see number 3, below).
ii. Wheat flour comes in only a few varieties, but varieties of gluten-free flour are almost endless.
In fact, this is one of the reasons I love baking gluten-free: most of us grow up used to the neutral, bland flavor of wheat in baked goods. Gluten free flours, on the other hand, are often derived from other grains that confer their own distinct taste. Amaranth and quinoa offer a sturdy, almost mineral flavor; buckwheat is earthy and nutty; teff resembles a combination of carob and cocoa; rice is mild and delicate; and so on. In addition, there are loads of non-grain gluten free flours; major categories are starches (cornstarch, tapioca, arrowroot, potato starch, etc.); bean and legume-based (chickpea, garfava, bean, soy, etc.); and nut based (coconut, almond meal, hazelnut, etc.). For a fairly comprehensive list of gluten-free grains, starches and flours, check this post.
iii. The best gluten-free baking uses a combination of flours. I know that some of you out there will disagree on this point, and certainly there are some gluten-free recipes that use only a single flour (often millet, sorghum, oat or almond, in my experience). But since gluten-free flours are so different from wheat and each is unique, I find that my best baking projects combine different flours depending on my mood, the recipe and the kind of result I seek.
For instance, muffins or quickbreads work better with more hearty flours such as quinoa, amaranth, or sorghum; light and delicate results follow when you use a greater percentage of starchy flours or mild-flavored grains like rice or millet; and sandy, chewy cookies seem to work best with a combination of all three main types of flours (grain, bean, starch). As you experiment in the kitchen and learn more about the types of flours, you’ll discover which flavors and textures you like best in your own baking.
But no one wants to waste ingredients while they’re learning, right? So for those who are just beginning, I’d recommend the following all-purpose mixes I’ve tried from some of my fellow gluten-free bloggers:
Maggie’s Bean Free Blend: I used this for a pie crust and it was fantastic–light, flaky, delicate.
Amy’s Basic Flour Blend: A great all-purpose replacement for wheat flour.
And those I haven’t yet tried:
Nancy’s GF Flour Blend contains almond meal and some other light GF flours–this one’s on my “to-try” list.
(Do you know of other good all-purpose mixes that work well? If so, please leave a link or the recipe in the comments!)
You’ll also find a bunch of all-purpose flour recipes on the Celiac Sprue website.
And finally, of course there are also the prepared, packaged all purpose mixes, such as Bob’s Red Mill.
[Gluten Free Lemon-Blueberry Muffins: egg-free, dairy-free and sugar-free, too!]
3. Make It Stick.
As I mentioned above, gluten is the “glue” that helps to bind (and to a lesser extent, leaven) baked goods. As a result, the best gluten-free baking usually includes a binder meant to replace the gluten. The most common binder is eggs, but since I don’t use those, I add flax meal or other vegan egg replacers in my baking. Other binders include fruit purées, nut meals or flours, or nut butters (I tend to use nut butters more than meal; I also sometimes use seed butters, such as tahini or sunflower seed butter).
However, in recent years, most people also use xanthan gum, a powdery substance that you sift into your flours before you mix up your batter or dough, which creates results a lot like gluten in baked goods. You can also use guar gum. I’ve also seen recipes calling for agar agar (a vegan gelatin) as a binder as well, when xanthan gum isn’t used. As a general rule, most flour blends use about 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) xanthan gum per cup of flour; for more sturdy baked goods such as muffins or scones, you may need to add a wee bit more (up to 1 tsp/5 ml per cup). I always use an egg replacer plus the xanthan gum; after all, glutenous recipes contain eggs and gluten, right?
[Yes, you can still have light-as-air, cakey Whoopie Pies, gluten-free!]
4. Lighten Up.
Gluten free flours tend to produce a slightly heavier product than wheat flour (another consequence of losing that gluten!). As a result, I always add a bit more leavener to my gluten-free creations than I used to with my wheat-based baked goods. If a wheat-based recipe calls for 1 tsp (5 ml) of baking powder per cup of all-purpose flour, with my gluten-free mix, I use 1-1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) instead (plus about 1/4 tsp (1 ml) extra baking soda for heavier flours). Again, you may need to experiment a bit as you go, but that’s a good rule to start.
[How about some Chocolate Chip Cookies, just as you remember them?]
4.Go With Your Gut
Yes, pun intended: those of us who must eat gluten-free are already going with our guts, of course! But it’s also important to learn what works for you and your digestive system, then experiment until you find those ideal recipes. For me, too many starchy ingredients cause a recurrence of my candida symptoms, so as much as I love fluffy, feather-light cupcakes and cakes, I don’t bake too many of them these days. Luckily, I also love fudgy, dense chocolate brownies and cookies–and they have made several appearances on this blog since I went gluten-free.
[Hazelnut Melting Moments. . . a Divine Gluten-Free Cookie–and thank goodness that Chocolate is Gluten-Free! ]
5. Have Some Fun!
So that’s why I love gluten-free baking: it allows me to be inventive as I mix up something different each time. I can tailor the final flavor and texture to match the character of the particular baked good, whether light and airy or more substantial and dense. And I can benefit from the varied nutritional profiles of the different flours when I bake, instead of producing baked goods that all offer the same set of nutrients over and over in their flour.
Like any creative endeavor, cooking is never quite the same each time we do it; and the same is true of gluten-free baking. If you approach the task with a bit whimsy and a bit of adventureousness–like a playtime in the kitchen–you’ll find that gluten-free baking is fun, satisfying, and really easy, after all.
There will be a whole month of 30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living posts on Diane’s blog. Here’s a list of all the topics and contributors:
Friday May 6th Elana from Elana’s Pantry sharing Quick and Easy Gluten Free Cherry Vanilla Power Bars
Sunday May 8th Megan from Food Sensitivity Journal sharing Gluten Free Baking Undone: Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
Wednesday May 11th Ellen from Gluten-Free Diva sharing Travel Tips
Thursaday May 12th Kim from Cook It Allergy Free sharing Eating from your Garden for Easy Gluten-Free Living
Friday May 13th Melissa from Gluten Free For Good sharing Gluten-Free Food Rules
Saturday May 14th Brittany from Real Sustenance sharing Healthy Allergy-Free Quick Bread with easy flavor variations.
Sunday May 15th Nicola from g-free Mom sharing Kids Lunch Boxes
Monday May 16th Wendy from Celiacs in the House sharing Fast Food for Teens
Tuesday May 17th Shirley from gluten free easily sharing Your Pantry is the Key to Being GFE
Wednesday May 18th Nancy from The Sensitive Pantry sharing BBQ and Picnic tips and Recipe
Thursday May 19th Heidi from Adventures of a Gluten-Free Mom sharing tips for getting kids to eat healthy, real-food snacks!
Friday May 20th Silvana from Silvana’s Kitchen
Saturday May 21st Maggie from She Let Them Eat Cake
Sunday May 22nd Sea from Book of Yum sharing Gluten Free Vegetarian Burritos
Monday May 23rd Tia from Glugle Gluten-Free
Wednesday May 25th Hallie from Daily Bites sharing Keys to Colorful Cooking
Thursday May 26th Carol from Simply…Gluten-Free
Friday May 27th AndreaAnna from Life as a Plate sharing Tips on Traveling on Day Trips with Kids
Saturday May 28th Zoe from Z’s Cup of Tea
Sunday May 29th Kelly from The Spunky Coconut
Monday May 30th Jess from ATX Gluten-Free sharing 1 Meal 3 Ways, Jazzing up Leftovers
Tuesday May 31st Naomi from Straight into Bed, Cakefree and Dried sharing
Last Year at this Time: Gena’s Raw (Bean-Free) Hummus
Two Years Ago: Dog Day: Celebrate All Moms!
Three Years Ago: Close Encounters with Cookies from Another Planet (Cosmic Cookies) (not GF, not ACD-friendly)