One of the questions I am most asked is how to convert gluten-containing desserts into gluten-free treats that…well, not to put too fine a point on it, actually taste great. We have all had those gluten-free desserts that taste like sand or glue…or have a completely unpleasant aftertaste from all the gums used to hold the pastry together. It’s enough to make you swear off sweets!
It takes some doing, I will tell you that. As an avowed gluten fan, I tried to gloss over the whole gluten-free dessert thing. But then I realized I was missing out on an entire way of creating food; delicious, good-for-you food…and treats at that! Was I crazy?
At first, I relayed the same tired information as everyone else. Enjoy a baked apple or applesauce; have some dark chocolate or vegan ice cream; make a fruit cobbler with topping made from nuts and on and on. But I realized that sometimes, you just want a cookie…or a cupcake.
I admit that I still struggle a bit with some things, like pie crusts, but I will share what I know.
This is the biggest challenge in gluten-free baking since without a flour (or mix) that works well, your baking will only lead to frustration and less than yummy results. When you are buying gluten-free flour, look for whole grain and/or bean flours to ensure you are getting the least refined carbohydrates and the most nutritional bang for your buck.
The most common gluten-free flours for baking are coconut, brown rice, fava bean, white bean, amaranth, millet, quinoa and gluten-free oat. There are nut flours like almond and hazelnut but they are really nut meals. Tapioca flour, cornstarch and potato flour are often used to create the starchy texture that we want…and need…for treats to be tasty.
There are a boatload of mixes out there designed to give you the most authentic results but quite frankly, I have found the results to be dicey and the ingredient panel even more dicey on many of the mixes and blends. Some of them read like Russian novels. And if going gluten-free means compromising your health, well…
I have tried a lot of gluten-free options, from making my own mixes to using a pre-mixed flour blend. I find coconut and brown rice flour yield very dry results. Millet flour gives me moisture but a heavy end result, as does gluten-free oat flour. Amaranth and quinoa flours are nice but I battle the aftertaste. Cinnamon works for that problem, but not every recipe wants cinnamon. Nut flours mixed with whole grain flour can give you a very nice cake and cookie texture if you get the mixture just right. Bean flours are great for savory dishes but I confess that I did not like them as much in sweets.
All of these flours need to be mixed and matched to create the perfect blend for what you might be baking. I don’t know about you but that’s a lot of commitment on the part of the baker. I have read a million blogs by gluten-free bakers talking about the one great mix they make and use for all things baking, but I have not found success across the board with any of them.
But then I found a gluten-free flour mix by a company called Authentic Foods, dedicated to all things gluten-free. While a variety of gluten-free flours are sold on the site, from rice flour to almond meal, their Steve's Cake Flour takes the cake (pun absolutely intended). Made from a brown rice flour base, sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, cornstarch and fiber round out the simple ingredients. The company guarantees no GMO ingredients and with only a handful of ingredients...and NO GUMS...I was in love.
The results I have achieved with this flour mix have been amazing. The only caveat I have discovered is that unless I double the quantity of vanilla in a recipe, my results can taste a bit flat, as if I did not use enough salt. But once I figured that little glitch out, I was good to go. No one knows the difference when I serve cakes, cookies or other treats.
You may not want to go with a blend and that’s cool with me. If you want to create your own flour blend, you simply have to mix and match flours until you discover the texture and flavor you like.
But then there’s the question of binding. With gluten, you never worry about cupcakes that fall apart or cookies that crumble. In gluten-free baking, there’s the issue of binding, which is why so many flour mixes use gums of one kind or another which some people like and others object to having in food. If you bake with eggs, there’s no problem. The challenges arise when you are converting to both plant-based baking and gluten-free.
For me, when I am not using the flour blend I have come to love, I use chia seeds as my binder and have found no gums necessary. I soak a teaspoon of chia seeds in two tablespoons of water until the tiny seeds begin to sprout (30 min or more…) and then whip them with a whisk and add to my recipe. So far; so good. My results have been great (as long as no one objects to the tiny flecks of chia throughout their cake).
There’s a lot to gluten-free baking. I have come to respect it as an art unto itself. I am by no means an expert at it but I love the challenge of creating a sweet treat that has a familiar feel and flavor to it for my friends and loved ones who need to live gluten-free.
So here you go…my limited wisdom and experience for baking fabulous gluten-free treats. What I am doing for you is posting gluten-containing recipes of mine with a mini-blog at the beginning of each one explaining how I converted them to gluten-free…and some naturally gluten-free treats as well. I hope you like the approach and enjoy the results.
I’d love to hear what you think Post and share your gluten-free ideas, successes, questions and yes, your failures. We can all learn from it!