To rise or not to rise?
What is the right algorithm for producing gluten-free baked goods that are light and luscious? Even if you are lucky enough to be blessed with a baker’s thumb, you may have had some inedible flops when you switched to gluten-free versions of your favorite cakes and cookies.
GF baking is not rocket science, but it is culinary science. And there are a few basics you need under your apron before you begin.
For starters, gluten is a type of love-hate protein found primarily in wheat, rye, and barley but also in small sometimes trace amounts in innumerable (and often unlikely) prepared and processed foods from beer and bouillon, to lip gloss and communion wafers.
Gluten is what makes dough doughy, trapping gas bubbles during fermentation and giving baked goods the light and chewy texture we enjoy in our cookies, pizza, and waffles.
But gluten is a serious threat to folks with celiac disease and can cause unpleasant symptoms for those with diagnosed or suspected wheat sensitivities and allergies. Gluten is also considered unhealthy for the rest of us by many medical authorities because of its suspected ability to disrupt gut immunity, cause brain fog, mood disorders, and skin conditions.
The jury may still be out on this, but meanwhile, 3.1 million of us call ourselves gluten-free these days, and according to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center published in 2014, a full 63% of Americans believe that a gluten-free diet could improve their mental or physical health. Those numbers have only risen in recent years.
The good news is that if you are among the numbered, you can still have your homemade cake and eat it, too, if it’s gluten-free. But you have to know a few tricks to make sure it will be both gluten-free and good!
First, some pointers.
1) Gluten-Free Flour: There are many popular flours derived from grains and foods which are naturally gluten-free including almond, coconut, oat, chickpea, cassava, arrowroot flour, and more) but they have a totally different makeup than regular flour and to successfully substitute them in a recipe calling for regular flour you may need to add other ingredients such as xanthan or guar gum, so read recipes carefully and measure carefully. Also do not willy-nilly switch out one GF flour for another. While oat flour is an acceptable substitute for almond flour (and vice versa), coconut flour is not and requires a recalibrating of ingredients in a recipe.
2) Gluten-free all-purpose flour is typically made from a mixture of ingredients, including tapioca, brown rice, or sorghum flour. The blend, which often includes potato starch, xanthan gum, or guar gum, is formulated to perform pretty much like regular flour.
3) Look for the words “Measure for Measure” on your GF Flour. This enhanced flour comes with combinations of ingredients that mimic the qualities of non- GF flour. In other words, a cup of measure for measure gluten-free all-purpose flour will be the equivalent of 1 cup of regular flour. This is not necessarily the case with 1 cup of almond, rice, oat, or other non-gluten flour. (Look for top-rated brands such as Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur brands).
4) Temperature check: Always preheat the oven and use the middle rack. GF recipes generally need lower temperatures and longer bake time than conventional recipes. A good oven thermometer is a smart investment.
6) Expiration dates: Check that your baking powder, baking soda, and flavoring extracts are also gluten-free and still potent. Potency is critical to successful rising. Replace them if they’ve been on the shelf (opened) for more than 6 months.
7) Be gentle: GF dough doesn’t require over-beating or over-kneading since there is no gluten to develop.
8) Cool it! This is as important as the baking, Always place your finished baked good on a wire rack to prevent sogginess.
9) Gluten-free flours have a shorter shelf life than their regular counterparts. Buy them in small quantities and refrigerate.
DARK CHOCOLATE CHIPPERS
3 cups almond flour or oat flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter or plant-based butter
¾ cup brown sugar (or a sugar substitute such as coconut sugar or date sugar)
2 large eggs (or the equivalent using egg replacer)
1 cup semi-sweet dark chocolate chips or sugar-free chocolate chips (even Hershey’s makes them)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. And place the rack in the middle of the oven. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or spray liberally with oil.
- Whisk the almond flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Beat the butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, beating after each addition to incorporate, and then beat in vanilla. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated. Fold in chips.
- Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto each prepared baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. Roll each into a ball with slightly wet hands. Bake until cookies are golden but still soft in the center, (10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Variation: for added crunch and nutrition, fold in ½ cup crushed walnuts, almonds, or sunflower seeds.
BEST ANY BERRY GF MUFFINS
1 1/2 cups Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Mix
1/2 cup regular sugar or coconut sugar
4 tablespoons melted butter dairy or non-dairy) or 1/4 cup coconut oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk or non-dairy substitute
1/2 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract
3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, or cherries
Cinnamon sugar, optional; for sprinkling on top
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 8 cups of a standard muffin pan, or use paper cups
- Stir together the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl; set aside.
- Whisk together melted butter or oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla.
- Stir the dry mixture into the wet ingredients. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and continue to mix just until blended. Fold in berries.
- Fill the muffin cups until ¾ full. Sprinkle (optional) with cinnamon sugar.
Let the muffins rest for 10 minutes, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove muffins from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool.
GLUTEN-FREE SILVER DOLLAR PANCAKES
1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice mix
1 large egg
1 tablespoon butter or oil
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
¼ cup chopped sugar-free coconut flakes (optional)
½ cup cold milk or cream (dairy or non-dairy)
- Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Mix wet ingredients (except milk) in a second bowl and blend well. Add milk to form a smooth batter. Add more milk if too thick.
- Heat oil in a griddle or pan over medium-low heat. Drop 1 heaped tablespoonful onto the pan for each pancake. Cook until bubbles form and the edges are dry, 3 minutes. Flip and cook until browned on the second side, 2 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter. Be careful to adjust heat if necessary and add a bit more oil if the pan seems dry. Makes about 12 small pancakes.