Ask the ChefsApr/May 2014 Issue

In the Kitchen: Chocolate Allergy, Gluten-Free Baking & More

Our food editor answers your questions about special-diet baking.

Photo stockbyte/Thinkstock

Q: My gluten-free son is allergic to chocolate. What can I use as a substitute for cocoa powder?

A: Carob powder is a great substitute for cocoa. Use it as a direct one-for-one replacement. Read labels carefully, however, and be certain to select unsweetened carob powder. Some sweetened carob products include barley malt, which contains gluten.

Q: What kitchen utensils and tools do you recommend for someone who’s just starting to bake gluten-free?

A: Gluten-free batters and dough tend to be thick and sticky. I recommend investing in a heavy-duty hand-held or stand mixer to mix the dough.

Other tools of the trade include plastic wrap and vegetable oil spray. Spraying a bit of oil on a sheet of wrap helps you roll out piecrusts, smooth the tops of pizza dough and form yeast rolls with no sticky mess.

I also suggest buying assorted metal ice cream scoops to transfer dough to baking pans. Lightly spray the scoop with oil and one squeeze of the handle will deposit the dough where you want it. Large scoops are great for filling muffin cups; smaller scoops form uniform-size cookies.

Many gluten-free bakers use parchment paper to line their cookie sheets and work counters. Parchment paper helps keep gluten-free items from sticking to surfaces (such as when you’re rolling out dough on your counter).

If you aim to become a bread maker, pick up an inexpensive instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature of your baked loaf to make sure it’s done.

As for cookware, heavy-gauge baking pans are best for gluten-free baked goods.

Q: Is there any difference between regular flax meal and golden flax meal in terms of baking?

A: Golden flax meal has a lighter taste and tends to disappear into the final product. Its darker cousin, conventional flax meal, delivers a slightly stronger flavor, making it better suited for hearty breads and desserts. Its brown flecks are also more evident, which may make it less appealing in delicate, light-colored baked goods.

Q: Both my son and I have celiac disease. He must also avoid dairy and potatoes—and now xanthan gum and guar gum are out. I’ve been making muffins and other things for him but I’m stymied about baking gluten-free without using gum. What can you suggest to replace it? What about replacing potato starch?

A: Try using 1 to 2 tablespoons of flax meal or ground salba seed to replace the gum. Given the range of amounts, it may take a little trial and error to get the results you like. To replace potato starch, try an equal amount of arrowroot starch/flour or rice starch (also known as Mochiko).

Q: I’ve been noticing that more gluten-free recipes are calling for psyllium husk fiber. I think I may be reacting to this ingredient. Is that possible?

A: This type of allergic reaction is rare but a few readers have informed us that they do react to psyllium. Indeed, there is a warning on the container stating that a small percentage of people may develop a sensitivity to it. Symptoms include difficulty swallowing or breathing after ingesting this product. People who experience this kind of reaction should seek immediate medical attention, the warning states.

If you suspect you have a problem with psyllium, be on the safe side. Replace the psyllium in your recipes with an equal amount of ground flax or chia seeds.

Q: Stocking my gluten-free pantry is such an overwhelming task. I see all these great baking recipes I’d like to try but I never seem to have the right ingredients. Can you help?

A: The quickest way to start baking is to purchase two separate commercial all-purpose gluten-free flour blends and use them as a one-for-one replacement for the total amount of flours called for in your recipe. One blend should contain some protein flour, like chickpea or sorghum, along with the usual rice flour and starch. The other can be a basic “white” flour blend—a mixture of rice flour plus potato, corn or tapioca starch. The protein blend is great in breads, pizza and piecrusts. The other can be used for most of your other baking.

As you become more adept at gluten-free baking, you can create your own blends by adding more nutrient-dense flours or using the blend recipes in Living Without’s Pantry. These basic blends can form the basis for a short shopping list of from-scratch flours you can keep in your pantry.

In addition to these all-purpose flour blends, xanthan gum or guar gum are essential in most gluten-free baking. Since recipes call for only a small amount, one bag should last a while. Transfer the contents to a tightly covered container so you can measure out what you need without spilling.

Your Master Pizza Crust recipe is a family favorite. I’d like to make it ahead and keep it in the freezer for later. What’s the best way to do this? Should I make a fully loaded pizza and freeze it after it’s baked? Or should I freeze just the dough and roll it out later?

This pizza dough, available at LivingWithout.com/masterpizza, can be frozen in any of three stages. You can prepare the pizza (toppings and all) and bake it according to recipe instructions. Then cool it, wrap it tightly and place it in the freezer. If you take this route, cut the pizza before freezing so you can remove individual slices and reheat them (preheated 350F oven for about 5 minutes) whenever you get a hankering for pizza.

You can also wrap and freeze the raw dough in a ball. If you do this, thaw it and roll it out. Then assemble your pizza and bake it according to recipe instructions.

My favorite way to freeze pizza is to roll out the dough and shape it into a raw crust. I then freeze it, uncooked and without any toppings on it. When I want a pizza, I pull the crust out of the freezer and load it with my favorite sauce and toppings. By the time I’m done with that, the dough is thawed enough to go directly into my preheated oven. (The crust rises a bit while baking.) If you choose this option, bake the pizza according to the time and temperature indicated in the recipe.

I’ve had great success freezing pizza all three ways, using any number of different gluten-free pizza recipes. My bet is that you will, too.

Q: Do you recommend silicone bakeware for gluten-free baking?

A: Silicone is safe and durable. I like to use silicone baking sheets for cookies. I recently made muffins using Baking Buddies reusable silicone baking cups, the sturdiest brand of muffin cups I’ve found to date.

Keep in mind that gluten-free dough tends to spread rather than rise. That wonderful non-stick silicone surface provides little traction for baked goods to rise. This makes silicone loaf pans less than ideal for your gluten-free yeast breads and quick breads.

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