‘Gluten Free’ is a phrase that more and more ingredients, recipes and restaurants are using. People with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerances seem more prevalent than years ago and these people deserve to eat delicious baked goods just like the rest of us. Gluten free foods have come a long way in terms of taste and texture. Breads used to be rock hard and crumbly with a high price accompaniment. Through experimentation and trial and error, there are now ways to make baked goods just as delicious while being gluten free. Your pocketbook won’t be lightening either because the alternative ingredients you may need to buy will last you quite some time and you will most likely have some of the other ingredients in your pantry already.
One of my best friends was diagnosed with Celiac Disease a few years back. She gets extremely sick if she consumes anything with gluten. I never completely understood what exactly ‘gluten’ was and why and how it affected the body. Lucky for me, my baking classes taught me quite a bit about gluten and ways to bake gluten free.
Gluten is a protein that is found in cereal grasses such as wheat, barley and rye. Gluten’s function in Mother Nature is to provide nourishment for new plant embryos. Plants and trees are always trying to spread their seeds to reproduce anywhere they can and this assists with that. Gluten is a naturally occurring protein compound in grains, but it can also be extracted and used as a food additive-often to add protein to a dish.
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. It causes the immune system to react unfavorably to gluten in the digestive tract and then attacks the lining of the small intestine. The body cannot process gluten whatsoever and this is what causes the immune system to attack the digestive tract. This causes an inflammatory response, which in turn causes severe discomfort for the person. Celiac Disease interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food, can cause chronic fatigue and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Gluten intolerance is less severe than Celiac Disease, but still unpleasant as it can cause bloating, diarrhea, fatigue and muscle and joint pain.
This is why gluten free baked items are so important for people who suffer from these ailments. Gluten has many purposes in baking. It gives dough its elasticity, helps it rise, helps it keep its shape and provides chewiness. In the absence of gluten, replacement ingredients are needed to help give the product structure, tenderness and pliability. There are four specific whole grains that contain gluten: wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Some gluten free whole grains include buckwheat, rice, sorghum, amaranth and corn. Gluten free flours vary immensely. They range from whole grain flours like brown rice and quinoa, to starch flours like tapioca and cornstarch, to nut and bean flours like almond, coconut and garbanzo beans.
Often times when baking gluten free, you will want to mix different flours together. You will also want to add xanthan gum or guar guar to the mixture. These ingredients add stability and stretch to the dough, which is needed in the absence of gluten. Alternative flours can also be a bit gritty so the xanthan gum helps bind everything together. A good, solid mixture of gluten free flours and gums will create a very suitable replacement for a traditional all-purpose flour. For an all-purpose GF flour mix use:
-50% white or brown rice flour
-25% starch flour (like cornstarch or tapioca)
-25% protein flour (like soy, quinoa, bean or sorghum)
It is also recommended that you add ½ tsp of xanthan gum as the last ingredient for every cup of flour mixed.
Some tips and tricks to keep in mind when baking GF:
-Reduce the liquid in your recipes by about 1/3 and add back in some kind of fruit puree. Pureed banana, sweet potato, squash, pumpkin and applesauce would all work. Yogurt is another option. These fruit purees contain natural pectin, which helps bind the ingredients together. Remember-with no gluten present, different types of ingredients are needed to assist with all the characteristics that gluten brings to the product. You choice of the fruit or veggie is a good way to add a different and complimentary flavor to the product as well.
-Adding one extra egg or two extra egg whites is another way to aid with binding, add extra texture along with moisture to your product
-You may need some extra help leavening the product. With breads, increase the amount of yeast by about 25%. If not using yeast, add 25-50% more baking powder and baking soda to give the product more rising action. With baking soda, it’s beneficial to add an acidic element which will activate the baking soda and assist with rising. ½ teaspoon of lemon juice added to the mixture for example.
-Mix the wet ingredients together either at a high speed with a stand/hand mixer or vigorously by hand, for about one minute before blending with the dry ingredients. This will help trap the air into the mixture, which will produce a lighter texture and aid with leavening.
-Try substituting light brown sugar for refined white sugar. Brown sugar carries more moisture and flavor.
In my experience with GF baking, using these tips and tricks has not altered the final flavor of the product and I’ve been very happy with the results. You would never know that the item was GF if someone didn’t tell you. So next time you want to make some yummy treats for someone with a gluten allergy, just keep this info in mind and you will be on your way to making delicious goodies for them and yourself!