Dogfish's Guide to Gluten-Free Baking

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I think there was a gluten-free baking thread in here awhile ago, but I can't find it now, so I thought I'd start one. There's been some chatter in the Goon Doctor about gluten intolerance/celiac disease, so I thought I'd start a thread about gluten-free baking!

First things first:

What is gluten?[edit]

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It’s what gives bread and pastas their delightful texture, and it’s what gives those of us with celiac disease or another gluten intolerance our horrible pain.

Is gluten bad for you?[edit]

Depends on who you are. If you have celiac disease, like I do, yes. If you are a normal person with no gluten intolerance, then no, gluten is fine for you. It’s not making you fat or contributing mysterious ‘toxins’ to your body.

I can’t eat gluten. What can’t I eat?[edit]

Anything that contains, or has come in contact with, wheat, barley, and rye. This usually means both the obvious breads, pastas, cakes, muffins, etc., and also a surprisingly large number of foods with ‘hidden’ gluten, like:

  • Soy sauce
  • Beer
  • Seitan
  • Certain grains that are related to wheat, like spelt, kamut and triticale
  • Anything with the word “malt” in it: malt vinegar, malt balls, malted milk. If you go back in time to the 1950s, you better not even step foot in the Malt Shoppe
  • Many, many processed foods, which contain either wheat starch or the insidious barley malt extract

Is there anything I can eat?![edit]

The first reaction everyone has when I tell them I can’t eat gluten is “Wow! What do you eat?” Luckily, the answer is, “an awful lot of things,” including:

  • Meats
  • Cheeses
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa, buckwheat, corn
  • Gluten-free flours and starches (rice, quinoa, teff, potato, corn, tapioca) and the foods that they make

There are also gluten-free versions of lots of things. For example, for my fellow Canadians, No Name brand soy sauce doesn’t have any wheat in it for some reason. You can also buy the fancy tamari soy, which doesn’t have gluten. There are commercially-prepared pastas, breads, etc. that are made from gluten-free flours, although I find those aren’t as tasty as the ones I make myself.

That’s why I thought I’d start this thread! I do a lot of gluten-free baking, and have developed some flour mixes that work really well. I brought some cupcakes to work the other day, and everyone was all, “Oh, these are delicious; too bad you can’t eat them, but how sweet of you to make them for us!” They were very surprised when I took a bite of one. Gluten-free, bitches!

Since gluten-free cooking is pretty much a no-brainer (roast your chicken as normal, thicken the gravy with corn starch; make your stir-fry with rice noodles and GF soy sauce; etc.), I thought I’d talk about gluten-free baking instead.

For gluten-free baking, you will need a good blend of flours and starches (I’ll post mine in a minute), plus xanthan gum.

What’s xanthan gum? It seems like something that would be bad for me.

Xanthan gum is made from the outer coating of a tiny bacterium, Xanthomonas campestris. It’s a polysaccharide that’s derived from fermenting corn sugar under controlled conditions and then harvesting the slimy goodness of the bacteria who come to the party. It’s a thickener, emulsifier, and stabilizer, and in gluten-free baking, it helps to fulfil some of the functions that gluten otherwise would.

If you’re opposed to putting bacterial slime powder in your food (and you shouldn’t be; it makes your cakes so moist!), you can substitute guar gum, a fibre from the seed of the guar plant, in a 1:1 ratio. In larger doses, guar gum is a stool softener for the very same reason that it will make your baked goods delicious: it helps to regulate the moisture content of whatever it’s in, making your muffins (or your poop!) soft and fluffy.

Can I bake gluten-free without xanthan or guar gum?[edit]

Yes, but your baked goods will probably be less delicious. One alternative to using these additives is to use cooked grains or tubers instead of flours. You can make cakes using cooked rice or potato (plus extra fat), which will help your baked goods stay moist. I’ll post a good recipe for mashed-potato lemon cake that demonstrates this principle pretty nicely.

However, if you choose to go the flour route, here’s my recipe for all-purpose flour.

Gluten-free AP flour blend:

  • 2 parts rice flour (brown or white, your call)
  • 1 part potato flour
  • 1 part corn starch
  • 1 part tapioca starch
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum per 1.25-1.5 cups flour mixture

I have substituted this blend for all-purpose flour in originally gluten-containing recipes for cake, banana bread, pancakes, and all kinds of muffins with universal success.

Finally, a few gluten-free resources for further reading[edit]

  • [Gluten-Free Girl] has some awesome recipes. She uses a different flour blend than I do; I've tried hers and it works great, but it's a little bit more of a pain in the ass to make up a batch.
  • [Gluten-Free Goddess] is sometimes hit-or-miss, but her quick breads and breakfast cookies are delicious. Also she has a technique for rolled cookies that makes everything 100% easier.
  • Because I'm Canadian, I go to the [| Canadian Celiac Association] for really good "What Not to Eat" lists, information on tax credits, etc. Other places probably have celiac associations too.
  • [This book] is a must-have for gluten-free bakers. They give six different flour blends to use in different applications and, to be honest, that's more work than I'm prepared to put in, but I just use my own flour in their recipes and everything tends to turn out great.