In the Kitchen: Does Hot Water "Kill" Gluten?
Our expert answers reader questions on kitchen cleanliness, gluten-free flour and egg substitutions.
Food editor Beth Hillson answers your questions about special-diet baking.
Q: When washing dishes, how hot does the water have to be to kill gluten? Should I use bleach?
A: Gluten is a protein, not a bacteria. It has to be removed, not killed. Imagine that gluten is like cocoa powder, which coats everything with a fine film when it’s spilled. You would use soap and water to remove that cocoa film, cleaning and wiping it away so it doesn’t get in your food or on plates, bowls or utensils. That’s the level of cleaning that’s necessary with gluten. Thorough scrubbing with soap and water should do the trick.
Q: I’m a creative cook. I add a dash of this and a dollop of that. I’m looking at a gluten-free recipe that calls for ¾ cup plus 1 teaspoon of a particular flour. Do I really have to be this precise when baking gluten-free?
A: The short answer is yes. The delicate balance of wet to dry ingredients is important to successful gluten-free baking. Even a smidge more or less of liquid or dry ingredients can throw off the ratio and transform a light and airy baked good into something gummy and dense or dry and crumbly.
The old adage, “cooking is an art, baking is a science” is certainly the case in gluten-free baking. If you’re mixing flour to coat chicken or adding flour to the pan to thicken gravy, it’s not necessary to be this precise.
Q: I can’t eat gluten and I’m allergic to rice and soy. I wanted to try some of the recipes in your magazine but I can’t find a gluten-free flour blend that doesn’t contain soy or rice. I can only use oat flour and almond flour. Can you suggest a homemade gluten-free blend that will work for me?
A: Gluten-free oat flour is a wonderful ingredient for gluten-free baking. Its nutrient and fiber profiles are high and it contains a lot of protein, which adds structure to baked goods. The same is true for almond flour, which also has high levels of protein and fiber. To make a baking blend with these two flours, use about half as much almond flour as oat flour. Be sure to include a starch, such as arrowroot powder, as part of your blend. Try this recipe:
Gluten-Free Flour Blend
MAKES 4 CUPS
2 cups gluten-free oat flour
1 cup almond flour
1 cup arrowroot powder
1. Combine ingredients thoroughly. Refrigerate in a tightly covered container until used.
Q: I notice there are several different methods for replacing eggs in your recipes. Some call for applesauce, others call for flax gel and some use a commercial egg replacer. How do you decide which one is appropriate for which dish?
A: Madalene Rhyand, the head of our test kitchen, is a master at replacing eggs in gluten-free baked goods. She tests our recipes with and without eggs. First she looks at the function the egg performs in the recipe. Is it a binder? A leavening agent? Is it partnered with a leavening like yeast or baking powder?
If the egg is used as a binder, it can usually be replaced with mashed banana, unsweetened applesauce, gelatin, fruit pectin, flax gel or chia gel. We used to routinely call for flax gel (or chia gel) made with a mixture of flax meal (or chia) and hot water. Lately, however, we’ve been combining hot applesauce with flax meal (or chia) because it delivers a double benefit—viscosity from the flax and binding from the pectin in the applesauce.
If we replace an egg that’s used to create “lift,” we add an extra ½ teaspoon or so of baking powder to the dry ingredients. If there’s no baking powder in the recipe to begin with, we add 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
Madalene notes it’s just not possible to successfully replace the eggs in some recipes, like a custard or meringue. She also says it’s tricky to substitute the eggs in certain brownie recipes. An egg replacement can leave brownies with an unpleasant chew. She gets best results using ¼ cup applesauce, pureed silken tofu (if soy is tolerated) or coconut yogurt to replace each egg. If the brownies are meant to be cakey, she generally adds ½ teaspoon baking powder to the dry ingredients and sometimes reduces the liquid a bit.
You have to consider the amount of liquid being replaced with each egg. One large egg has a value of ¼ cup liquid. However, if many eggs are being replaced in a recipe, a 1-for-1 liquid replacement may be too much for the recipe to work successfully.
Oil is another consideration. Eggs can nicely absorb some of the oil in a recipe but commercial egg replacer doesn’t do this. It’s sometimes necessary to reduce the oil in a recipe by 1 to 2 tablespoons when using an egg replacer powder.
Knowing which egg substitution to use can be, at least partly, a gut feeling and take some trial and error. Madalene spends a lot of time in our test kitchen determining the best replacements so that all of our recipes work for you—with and without eggs.
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).