Gluten-Free Baking - The Scoop on Safe-to-Eat Flours
by Claire O’Neil
Gluten, the protein in wheat and other cereal grains such as barley and rye, can be a problem for those with celiac disease or some sensitivity to gluten. Preparing food for a gluten-free diet requires experimenting with new ingredients, like alternative flours, and becoming a label reader, says Tina Turbin, an advocate for gluten-free living at GlutenFreeHelp.info.
Fresh fruits, most dairy products, eggs, fresh vegetables, meats, fish and poultry are already gluten-free. The challenge is trying to make pancakes or pizza, or other recipes that normally call for wheat flour.
With an estimated 18 million Americans sensitive to gluten in their diet and 3 million more diagnosed with celiac disease, according to the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, food producers have finally begun to address the need. Gluten-free cereals and pastas, breads, flours and baking mixes, cakes and cookies, snacks and frozen confections are now available in greater quantities—and in much better tasting versions—than just a few years ago.
New gluten-free products, such as sorghum flour and specially formulated baking mixes, can also help home cooks revamp recipes for family favorites. However, trying to approximate the crust, crumbliness and interior structure of baked goods typically made with wheat flour takes a bit of experimentation when using gluten-free ingredients. Sometimes just one type of flour will work, such as almond flour for waffles, rice flour for cake batter or buckwheat flour for pancakes.
Other baking recipes require an assortment of gluten-free flours. Different types can combine to resemble the taste, color and texture of wheat flour, for example. Most gluten-free flour blends use rice flour as a base, with potato starch, tapioca flour, corn flour and/or cornstarch added for softness. Other flours, such as buckwheat, chickpea (garbanzo bean), millet and sorghum, can improve flavor, color and texture.
Xanthan gum, an additive made from corn, typically provides structure for yeast dough made with gluten-free flour. Eggs, vinegar, sweeteners and applesauce or pumpkin purÃ©e soften and round out the flavor of the dough.
Gluten-free flours, flour blends, and xanthan gum most often appear in the specialty baking section of a grocery or health food store; helpful brands include Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour. Using alternative flours, homemade treats can remain a delicious part of gluten-free living.