Whether you are a newly diagnosed celiac or just trying to broaden your culinary horizons, eating a gluten-free diet can at first glance seem challenging. But don’t fear! You can still have your cake and eat it too!
The most important thing to remember when going gluten-free is that there are other ways to have the food you love without wheat, rye, barley and even oats. In fact, living gluten-free can prove to be quite easy once you have a basic understanding of a few guidelines.
There’s no “all purpose” in Gluten-Free Baking
When beginning to bake gluten free, the choice of flours available may seem overwhelming, but once you know how to take advantage of their diversity, the possibilities are endless. The gluten-free muffin featured above is made with a mix of sorghum and tapioca flour. It is adapted from a basic chocolate muffin recipe that originally called for “All-Purpose” wheat flour.
An important thing to remember when baking gluten-free is there is not a single substitution for wheat flour, as gluten is responsible for wheat flour’s incredible binding, stretching and rising abilities. Occasionally, one single flour will work in a certain recipe that originally called for wheat flour, but this is an exception to the rule. In general, combinations of different gluten-free flours are used to create flavor, texture, and balance. Also, never underestimate the power of xanthan gum as a binder.
Below is a brief introduction to popular flours that are great for gluten-free baking and cooking:
Hemp Flour/Hemp Protein Powder: This flour imparts a wonderfully nutty flavor and moist texture to baked goods when added in with other flours. Hemp is also very high in protein, which is essential for our body to function properly: necessary for the building and repair of body tissues, among other things! A little bit goes a long way, about 20% of the flour mixture is a good guideline for hemp.
Brown or White Rice Flour: These are great supplementary flours, especially when combined with teff, buckwheat or sorghum flours. Used alone with rice bran will make a pasta that is indiscernible from semolina pasta. Steaming rather than baking desserts made with rice flour really brings out a wonderful, chewy texture.
Almond Flour: Just a touch of this flour (about 1/4 of the flour mixture) is all you need to add moistness, a little binding, light almond flavor, and density to baked goods. Perfect for cookies!
Corn Masa Flour: Traditionally used in popular foods like tamales and tortillas, this flour also works as a base for bread, muffins, cakes, and pie crusts.
Sorghum Flour: A very good substitute for wheat flour in many recipes, especially if combined with cornstarch or tapioca flour. Perfect for pancakes, muffins, cookies, and cakes.
Millet Flour: A lighter colored, slightly drier flour. Great when mixed with heartier flours such as teff, hemp, or almond- but not recommended on its own.
Teff Flour: This is an all around good flour that works in many types of baked goods. It has a stronger nutty flavor and darker color than sorghum and buckwheat. A nutritional powerhouse, but it is oftentimes hard to locate in supermarkets.
Buckwheat Flour: Almost perfect substitute for wheat flour when used in pancakes, muffins, and cakes. Mix with a starchier flour such as cornstarch or tapioca flour to get dough that rolls out well too!
Potato Flour: Not to be confused with Potato Starch. Potato flour is made from the entire potato: peel and all. Potato flour is less dense and yellower in color than potato starch.
Tapioca Flour: A great "second" flour to use along with many flours such as hemp, rice, sorghum, millet, and buckwheat to obtain a chewier, denser result. It is also called tapioca “starch”.
Corn Starch: It isn't only a great thickener in soups, stews and sauces; it also works similarly to tapioca flour in recipes.
Potato Starch: Similar texture to tapioca flour and cornstarch when used in baking and thickening sauces; however it tends to produce gummier results.
Xanthan Gum: You won’t need too much of this stuff to add binding properties to your recipe. One to two teaspoon usually does the trick for most baked goods. Added to most GF baked goods to keep them from falling apart.
Guar Gum: Used as a thickening agent, and can be used in baked goods similarly to xanthan gum.
Gluten Free Raspberry Pie (Photo, Allyson Kramer)
Helpful Tips for Eating Gluten Free
- A good guideline to follow (but not a standard rule) is to use about 1/4 to 1/3 very starchy flour (tapioca, cornstarch, potato starch) to 3/4 other flours (sorghum, buckwheat, rice, etc). Add in a little xanthan or guar gum to ensure that your baked good has a nice crumb, but isn’t “crumbly”.
- Have fun with baking and experiment! Try a few recipes out to get familiar with baking and then start subbing out different flours to see the results. You will be surprised at how quickly you learn the textures, tastes, and abilities of various flours.
- Try working with flavorful and rich milk such as Hemp milk when cooking and baking. Hemp milk adds flavor, creaminess and can moisten up potentially dry baked goods. Non-dairy milks such as hemp milk are a perfect substitute for recipes calling for water or dairy milk.
- Treat every recipe failure as a learning experience. You will make mistakes! Note what went wrong, and change it for next time. It gets easier every time you try.
- When baking GF goodies, resist the urge to open the oven door for at least the first half of baking. GF baked goods are finicky, and often times do not fare well after such a sudden heat change.
- Remember, many of the foods you already loved before shunning gluten are already gluten-free, such as rice, potatoes, corn, and quinoa, which can be used to make everything from pasta to tortillas!
Pesto Infused Vermicelli- Naturally Gluten Free (Photo, Allyson Kramer)
- If you are used to eating at gluten-laden restaurants try eating at various restaurants with cuisines from all over the world. Great GF options are often just typical meals on many of these menus. Try a dosa from a South Indian restaurant, sushi rolls from a Japanese restaurant, tamales from a Mexican restaurant, basil infused curries from a Thai restaurant, injura from an Ethiopian restaurant as well as many more options. Get online and research different cuisines to gain a better understanding of the staple ingredients in common dishes. You may find a restaurant where you can eat everything on the menu!
- Embrace your gluten-free lifestyle! Eating gluten-free opens up doors to new and exciting food choices that may have been overlooked when wheat was an option. There’s a world of great foods out there… explore!