Savvy Veg Adventures in Gluten Free Baking
Gluten free cooking is easy, gluten free baking is another story altogether!
It has been a year and four months since my husband and I went gluten free, and I went gluten free vegan.
From my experiences, vegan gluten free cooking is easy – if you only eat rice or quinoa, and never eat anything made with flour except for gluten free pasta.
My daughter and her husband went gluten free around the same time, and we’ve shared many adventures in gluten free baking. The biggest challenge has been developing gluten free bread recipes.
We’ve experienced the horror of gluten free breads from commercial bakeries, that you buy in frozen solid blocks for 6 or 7 bucks apiece. Those breads are invariably dry, crumbly and taste like cardboard. They’re OK for making gluten free bread crumbs but a failure in sandwiches, and not something to aspire to in home cooking.
We haven’t successfully duplicated yeasted wheat breads. It’s especially sad about French baguettes. But since I’m not supposed to eat yeast, I haven’t bothered throwing myself against that particular brick wall.
We found that gluten free quick breads, muffins, scones and cookies were a lot easier to make, and went over better with our glutenous family and friends. Sarah’s gluten free corn bread is primo, and she recently developed an awesome recipe for gluten free blueberry oatmeal muffins that passes the omnivore gluten lover taste test.
After a year of experiments, I’ve got gluten free flat bread pretty much down, using millet flour, oat flour, tapioca and rice flour, xanthan or guar gum, olive oil, salt and water. They roll out thin, puff up nicely on a hot pan, and make great sandwiches. Who needs yeast bread! Yeah!
I’ve developed recipes for various other gluten free breads, but since we’re also anti-sugar (yes our diet is weird), we pretty much stick to the gluten free flat bread and dosas, best described as Indian crepes, which we roll up with veggies and sauces for a yummy meal.
10 Gluten Free Baking Discoveries We’ve Made:
1. We discovered xanthan gum, a miraculous binder and thickener derived from corn. That part is fine – we’re not allergic to corn. But we are anti-gmo, and it is quite likely gmo corn that food manufacturers are using to make xanthan gum.
2. Which brings us to the alternative – guar gum, made from the guar plant, grown in Pakistan. Previously guar gum was used as a weight loss aid because it created a sensation of fullness – and also intestinal blockage, so it was banned for that purpose by the FDA. Presumably the small amounts used in baking don’t have that effect, but still it makes us nervous.
3. Just the other day, I came across a post from Jean Layton, gluten free doctor and champion gluten free baker. Jean developed a recipe for a gum substitute that she calls Pixie Dust, which is 20 parts golden flax seeds, 10 parts chia seeds and 5 parts psyllum husks, ground into a powder. 2 tsp or 10 g of Pixie Dust = 1/2 tsp xanthan gum, according to Jean. I just bought the ingredients today and I’m going to give Pixie Dust a try with my next batch of gluten free flat bread or muffins.
4. When converting recipes to gluten free: Gluten free flours seem to absorb a lot more water, and need about 20% more liquid. Add tapioca and/or arrowroot starch as part of the gluten free flour mix for their lightness and binding power. Use twice as much baking powder or baking soda as you normally would, always add xanthan or guar gum, or the above mention Pixie Dust, and increase both the baking temperature and time in the oven by 10 – 20%.
5. We’ve found that oat flour or quick oats are wonderful in gf recipes because they are very soft, sticky and high fat. Sorghum flour has a similar texture although not as much fat, but is easier to find than certified gluten free oat flour.
6. It can be a challenge finding gluten free flours at your local grocery store. iHerb is an economical source, with free shipping on orders over $40, and also Swanson Health Products with free standard shipping. It’s a bit harder to find everything you might need on Amazon, and the shipping can really add up when dealing with multiple vendors. Nuts.com is another source, where you can buy larger quantities, but shipping rates are high unless you make large orders.
7. My big gripe with gluten free flours: Those little 22 oz (or less) packages of gluten free flour make me grind my back teeth. It’s almost impossible to find a 5 or 10 lb bag of gluten free flour at a decent price that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg for shipping! I look forward to the day when I can go to the grocery store and buy a 5 – 10 lb bag of any gluten free flour, just like I can wheat flour.
8. You can mix your gluten free baking recipes until your arm falls off, or your mixer breaks down, it won’t make them rubbery because there’s no gluten! But it still seems helpful to mix just until well combined and get whatever it is in the oven quickly to get the full effect of the baking powder or baking soda. Speaking of which, we’ve found it necessary to use much more leavening with gluten free baking.
9. We freely admit that various cookbook authors who have spent endless hours researching, and testing gf baking recipes, may have been more successful in developing gluten free baked goodies than we have. Especially bread, such as Jean Layton’s gluten free sourdough bread, which is more complicated than muffins or flat bread, but worth a try if you’re starved for bread.
10. Chef Del Sroufe kindly contributed an article on Gluten Free Baking to Savvy Vegetarian, with excellent tips, resources and fat free gf recipes for pizza dough, blueberry muffins, chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies. Del’s article was a lifeline to us when we first embarked on gluten free baking.