In the Kitchen: Coconut Flour, Gluten-Free Baking & More!
Food editor Beth Hillson answers your questions about special-diet baking.
Q: With multiple food allergies in my family, I’m always trying to substitute something when baking. Ingredients are so expensive! Is there a less costly way to try out recipes and experiment with substitutions?
A: Divide your recipe and work with a smaller version. Here’s my rule of thumb: Use the number of eggs as the common denominator. If the recipe calls for two eggs, divide the recipe in half. If it calls for three eggs, make a third of the recipe. If you bake egg-free, follow the same technique but use an egg replacer for each egg substituted. Be sure to divide all ingredients by the same amount so the outcome is consistent. If a recipe calls for only one egg, divide the recipe in half and use either the yolk or the white of one egg in the recipe.
You might wonder how you can make a full cake or loaf of yeast bread when you’ve reduced the size of the recipe. That’s easy. Prepare the cake batter as cupcakes and the bread dough as rolls. The baking time will be shorter—about 18 to 22 minutes total—but the taste and texture should be the same. I often use this method when developing new recipes and we routinely use it in Living Without’s test kitchen.
Q: I know that gluten is bad but, for me, sugar is worse. I have yet to see cookie recipes that are gluten-free and sugar-free, too. Is it possible to make desserts that don’t contain so much sugar?
A: I’ve had great success replacing sugar with a stevia product, such as Stevia in the Raw, that contains a bulking agent and is designed for baking. You might give this a try. Usually I replace half the sugar with stevia and leave the remaining sugar in the recipe. But if you cannot have any sugar, by all means, replace it all with a stevia product. Stevia in the Raw can replace white sugar in a one-to-one ratio.
For gluten-free, allergy-friendly desserts sweetened with liquid stevia, agave nectar and honey, see our Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes recipes.
Q: Why am I seeing so many new and expensive flours in recipes now? It used to be just rice flour and some starches.
A: Rice flour and the “white” starches still play a role in gluten-free baking but, frankly, we’re moving away from using them exclusively. Highly processed and nutritionally depleted, these items contain simple carbohydrates that quickly convert to sugar when metabolized by your digestive system. Flours made from gluten-free whole grains are more nutritionally dense; many contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals than even wheat flour.
These “new” flours—amaranth, chickpea, coconut, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff and others—are made from grains and seeds that have been staple foods of ancient cultures around the world. Not only are these flours metabolized more slowly (warding off unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels), they also add valuable protein and elasticity to gluten-free baking.
Don’t worry about dedicating an entire paycheck or pantry to all these products. You can bolster the nutrient count of your baked goods by simply adding ╝-Ż cup of an ancient grain flour to each cup of your favorite gluten-free flour blend. Whisk to combine and use this as your all-purpose flour blend. Alternatively, purchase a blend that already contains one of these great flours. A growing number of gluten-free commercial blends feature them.
Q: I want to try your recipe for gluten-free soft dinner rolls but I don’t have a big, heavy-duty stand mixer with a paddle attachment. All I own is a hand mixer. Will it work with this recipe?
A: Big stand mixers save time and effort but almost any recipe can be made “by hand” or with a hand-held mixer. Just be sure that your mixer has at least 250 watts of power. The xanthan gum or guar gum in gluten-free bread recipes causes the dough to become sticky and very heavy, which may burn out a less powerful machine.
Q: My breads and baked goods tend to be very crumbly. Is there anything I can do to improve the texture?
A: Yes, here are a few tips that help improve the texture of gluten-free goodies. Include a high-protein flour, such as chickpea, quinoa, sorghum or amaranth, as part of your baking blend (up to 30 percent). The protein provides some of the elasticity that gluten imparts to baked goods. Consider adding a little more xanthan gum or guar gum or try adding a tablespoon of flax meal softened in 3 tablespoons hot water along with the eggs in your recipe.
Food editor Beth Hillson is a chef and cooking instructor. She is founder of Gluten-Free Pantry, one of the first gluten-free companies in the United States, and author of Gluten-Free Makeovers (glutenfreemakeovers.com)