For some, it’s a diet fad. For others, it’s a medical necessity. Going gluten-free is becoming increasingly popular among those who want to get healthier as well as people with celiac disease who need relief. Gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, is responsible for making dough elastic and stretchy and giving baked goods their light and airy structure. This can require some adjustments, but you can still bake scrumptious gluten-free treats.
Replace Your Flour
The easiest and fastest way to adapt your favorite recipes is to start with gluten-free flour. “Look for gluten-free ‘all purpose’ flour that is suitable to replace standard flour without adding any additional ingredients,” says Lucia Schnitzer, owner of Luci’s Healthy Marketplace, a Phoenix boutique grocer that specializes in gluten-free and organic foods.
Gluten lurks in more packaged goods than you think. When thickening gravy, remember to use a gluten-free substitute instead of automatically reaching for the regular flour tin. When baking casseroles or other dishes, Schnitzer says to be wary of canned creamy soups that may include preservatives with modified food starch or malt flavoring. “Reading labels is a must.”
Buy a Scale
Not only is the weight of gluten-free flour different from wheat flour, but the weight also differs among gluten-free varieties. Prevent baking mishaps by measuring gluten-free flours by weight instead of cups, advises Janice Mansfield, a personal chef in Victoria, B.C., Canada who specializes in meal plans for people with dietary restrictions. Also use weight when combining different gluten-free flours to enhance specific properties of baked goods or in a pinch when you run out of one type.
Related: Here is her conversion chart for gluten-free flour volume-weight:
Help it Rise
For desserts that should rise like cakes, breads and muffins, help them reach their potential by adding Xanthan gum. Use 1/4 teaspoon of Xanthan gum for every cup of flour, suggests Megan Aaseby, Illinois-based author of the gluten-free blog glutenright.com. Add it last and limit stirring to 5 or 6 strokes to prevent your treat from becoming tough or rubbery.
Gluten-free flours are heavier and aren’t as elastic as regular flour, but beating your ingredients for a longer time helps creates more air bubbles in the batter. This makes cakes, muffins and breads fluffy instead of dense, according to Seattle-based gluten-free blogger and cookbook author Jeanne Sauvage. Be sure to beat well after adding each ingredient to ensure everything is incorporated and airy.
Check Your Temperature
When baking cakes or muffins, make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before getting started, advises Karina Allrich, Connecticut author of glutenfreegoddess. You can place eggs in a bowl of lukewarm water to raise the temperature. And if you're using frozen fruit, thaw it to room temperature and drain well. Cookie dough tends to react the same, but because can spread faster while baking, she recommended chilling the dough beforehand and baking it on parchment paper.
Removing Instead of Replacing
If altering recipes and reconfiguring measurements is getting tiresome, consider changing your culinary game plan to create those favorite dishes without the gluten items instead of searching for substitutes. For example, Beckett omits the graham cracker in his chocolate-dipped bacon s’mores for gluten-free dieters. “At the restaurant, we focus on removing the gluten as opposed to replacing the gluten with gluten-free options.”
Adjust for Altitude
High altitudes can also affect gluten-free ingredients. If your bread, cakes or cookies are a little off, experiment until you find the right combination for where you are. For example, reduce baking powder by 1/4 teaspoon for each teaspoon called for in the recipe if you are baking above 6,000 feet, recommends Jules Shepard, Maryland-based author of gluten-free cooking books and julesglutenfree.com. If you are baking higher than 8,000 feet, reduce by 1/2 teaspoon for each teaspoon in the recipe.
Experiment with Substitutions
Allrich suggests baking with organic brown sugar or cane sugar instead of agave syrup or natural sweeteners. Keep in mind that brown sugar adds a little extra moistness to gluten-free goods and cane sugar makes cookies crispier. If you want to avoid sugar altogether, try substituting 3/4 cup honey for one cup of granulated or brown sugar. Experiment a little to see what diet-friendly pantry items are good substitutes for those packed with gluten. “You can always use rice flour, tapioca starch, arrowroot starch, millet flour and other grain flours and starches,” Beckett says.
- Lucia Schnitzer; Owner, Luci’s Healthy Marketplace; Phoenix
- Thom and Kathy Coker; Owners, T.C. Eggington's; Mesa, Arizona
- Justin Beckett; Chef/Owner, Beckett's Table; Phoenix