Putting Gluten-Free Recipes to “the Test”
A new book from the folks at America's Test Kitchen provides gluten-free guidance.
The cooks at America’s Test Kitchen—the folks behind the popular Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines and the America’s Test Kitchen TV show—are renowned for their obsessive approach to cooking. They develop and test multiple variations of a recipe, sometimes even 100 times, to come up with the perfect approach.
At public events sponsored by America’s Test Kitchen, fans consistently asked about gluten-free cooking. And so, using their usual scientific protocol, the cooks began a quest to determine what works best in gluten-free cooking—and why. The results are detailed in America’s Test Kitchen’s latest book, The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook.
“Most of the recipes in our book are what I would call the greatest hits of American cooking,” says Jack Bishop, America’s Test Kitchen editorial director. “People wanted chocolate chip cookies. They wanted a yellow birthday cake. Same thing with savory—fried chicken, breaded pork chops.”
The book tackles gluten-free cooking and provides some guidance on ingredient substitutions but it doesn’t delve deeply into allergy-free cooking. Most on the America’s Test Kitchen team do not have food allergies or sensitivities. It took the cooks two months to develop their gluten-free flour blend, which consists of white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch (for tenderness), tapioca starch (for elasticity) and nonfat milk powder (for browning). They quickly found that gluten-free flour blends behave differently than wheat flour, not just because of all the things gluten does—like controlling the spread of cookies, trapping gas in breads and creating a fine crumb in cakes—but also because gluten-free flours have a lower protein and higher starch content.
“There are two things that are really important about gluten-free flour blends. They typically contain about half as much protein as wheat flour, so that means you have all kinds of structural problems,” Bishop says. “Because there’s less protein, there’s more of something else, meaning there’s more starch. And that starch causes all kinds of issues when you follow normal baking rules.”
For instance, bakers are traditionally cautioned not to over-mix muffin batter and to leave streaks of flour in the batter to prevent overdeveloping the gluten. But in gluten-free muffins, that approach results in a gritty product because the starch isn’t well hydrated, Bishop says.
“So we started vigorously beating in the flour—and it got much better. Then we wondered, what if we took this even further? What if we let the batter hydrate by just resting? And we found that any low-moisture baked good, whether it’s a cookie or muffin or biscuit, benefits from 30 minutes of letting the batter hydrate. You not only want to incorporate the flour fully, but you also want to make sure the flour gets some time to hydrate before it goes into the oven. If it doesn’t, you’re going to be left with a pasty grittiness as an aftertaste.”
Along with the hydration time, testers added additional liquid in many of the recipes, such as two tablespoons of milk in their chocolate chip cookie dough. They doubled the percentage of water in their pizza crusts.
For breads, they added more water to create steam in order to provide lift, a higher rise and more chew. Because of that extra liquid, they needed to cook the gluten-free loaves longer than conventional loaves—up to a total of two hours in the oven—so they didn’t end up gummy.
Many gluten-free bread loaves are small, dense and heavy. The lack of gluten and lower protein in most gluten-free flour blends doesn’t provide enough structure to hold the shape of the dough to enable it to rise above the loaf pan. So the cooks created a foil wreath—like a soufflé collar—to help the bread rise 1½ inches above the rim. To increase the protein, they added more eggs and additional milk powder. They also used more leavener, adding baking powder in addition to the yeast.
And then there was the issue of fat, especially in cakes and cookies.
“One of the most interesting things about all of these recipes was the role of fat,” Bishop says. “It turns out that the protein in wheat flour helps absorb the fat. Gluten-free flours have a lot less protein, which means they have a really hard time absorbing fat. That’s not such a big issue in bread, which doesn’t have a lot of fat. But it’s a huge issue in yellow cake. Generally, two sticks of butter—1 cup—is the standard amount in a two-layer cake. We found that gluten-free flour blends just can’t absorb that fat and you end up with a really greasy, unpleasant texture.”
In addition, the water in butter hindered the absorption of fat. So the cooks often used a combination of vegetable oil for stability and butter for flavor. To prevent greasiness, they slightly reduced the butter or oil but this made their baked goods taste less rich. So the cooks turned to other ingredients to enhance richness. They added melted white chocolate to yellow cake, used cream cheese to replace some of the butter in their pound cake and put sour cream in their birthday cupcakes.
Based on their success, the cooks taped their first gluten-free episode of the America’s Test Kitchen TV show and they’re working on a second gluten-free cookbook.
“It’s been interesting, as we’ve pushed the limits of what we traditionally do in the test kitchen,” Bishop says. “Our goal is to help people be more successful when they cook. We want people to cook. And when they cook, we want them to enjoy it.”
Gluten Free English Muffins
MAKES 10 MUFFINS
Cornmeal helps create the distinctive crunch on the exterior of conventional English muffins. This dough is sticky and hard to dust with cornmeal. Instead, sprinkle the rimmed baking sheet with cornmeal and then sprinkle more over the top of the risen dough rounds. When baked and cooled, unsplit English muffins can be stored in a zip-top bag for up to 2 days.
¾ cup cornmeal, divided
1½-2 cups warm water (110°F)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or dairy-free butter replacement, melted and cooled
3 cups + 2 tablespoons ATK Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1⅓ cups gluten-free oat flour*
½ cup nonfat dry milk powder of choice
3 tablespoons powdered psyllium husk
2 tablespoons sugar
2¼ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
1. Sprinkle ½ cup cornmeal evenly over 2 rimmed baking sheets. Whisk 1½ cups water, eggs and melted butter together in bowl. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix flour blend, oat flour, milk powder, psyllium, sugar, yeast, baking powder and salt together on low speed until combined. Slowly add water mixture to the dry ingredients and let dough come together, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed to form a dough. Increase speed to medium and beat until dough is sticky and uniform, about 6 minutes. (Dough will resemble cookie dough.)
2. Working with ⅓ cup dough at a time, shape into rough balls using wet hands, spacing at least 1½ inches apart on prepared sheets (5 per sheet). Cover loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
3. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Remove plastic and using a greased metal spatula, press dough balls into ¾-inch-thick rounds (about 3½ inches in diameter). Dust tops of muffins with remaining ¼ cup cornmeal.
4. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering, about 2 minutes. Wipe out skillet with a paper towel, leaving a thin film of oil on the bottom and sides of the pan. Carefully lay 4 muffins in the pan and cook until bottoms are just set, about 1 minute, occasionally pressing down on the muffins with a spatula to prevent doming.
5. Flip muffins and continue to cook until set on second side, about 1 minute longer. Transfer muffins to a clean baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining 2 teaspoons oil and remaining muffins in 2 more batches, wiping skillet clean before each batch and transferring muffins to the same baking sheet.
6. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown and firm, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Transfer muffins to a wire rack and let cool at least 20 minutes before splitting with a fork and toasting.
Each muffin contains 348 calories, 7g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 50mg cholesterol, 480mg sodium, 62g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 6g sugars, 10g protein, 37Est GL.
Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.
For Egg-Free English Muffins, omit 2 eggs. Combine 2 tablespoons flax meal or ground chia seeds with 6 tablespoons hot applesauce. Let sit 5 minutes to thicken. Add 1½ cups warm water (in the recipe) to applesauce mixture. Then add this mixture in step 1 to replace eggs. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed, to form a dough.
*TIP If you don’t have oat flour, make your own by processing gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats in a food processor or spice grinder until finely ground, about 1 minute. Don’t use quick oats; they have a dusty texture that won’t work in this recipe.
Gluten Free Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is typically dredged in flour, then a buttermilk-egg batter, then another coating of flour. The starch in the wheat flour delivers a coating that’s brown and crisp, while the protein in the flour allows the coating to cling to the chicken and stay in place. After brining the chicken to ensure juicy meat, testers ran a battery of gluten-free coating tests, trying cornstarch, rice flour, potato flour, potato starch, cornmeal and corn flour. Mixing cornstarch with cornmeal delivered a substantial, crisp, flavorful crust that fried up perfectly. Adding both baking soda and baking powder to the buttermilk produced just enough carbon dioxide to lighten the coating. Letting the dredged chicken sit for 30 minutes before frying evenly hydrated the coating and prevented any dry spots. Note: If using kosher chicken, do not brine.
¼ cup salt
¼ cup sugar
3½ pounds bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts cut in half, drumsticks and/or thighs), trimmed
1 cup cornstarch, divided
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk (or milk of choice combined with
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar)
1 cup gluten-free cornmeal
1½ teaspoons garlic powder
1½ teaspoons paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 quarts vegetable oil
1. Whisk 1 quart cold water, salt and sugar together in large bowl until sugar and salt dissolve. Add chicken, cover and refrigerate 1 hour. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Set wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and line a plate with a triple layer of paper towels.
2. Place ½ cup cornstarch in large zip-top bag. Beat egg, baking powder and baking soda together in a medium bowl; stir in buttermilk (mixture will bubble and foam). Whisk remaining ½ cup cornstarch, cornmeal, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne and 1 teaspoon salt together in a shallow dish.
3. Working with half of the chicken at a time, place chicken in the bag of cornstarch, seal the bag and shake it to coat the chicken. Using tongs, remove chicken pieces from the bag, shaking off excess cornstarch. Dip it in the buttermilk mixture and then coat it with cornmeal mixture, pressing gently to adhere. Place dredged chicken on prepared wire rack, skin side up. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, add oil to a large Dutch oven until it measures about 2 inches deep and heat over medium-high heat to 350°F. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 200°F. Carefully place half the chicken in the pot, skin side down, cover and fry, stirring occasionally to prevent pieces from sticking together, until deep golden brown, 7 to 11 minutes. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 300 and 325°F. (After 4 minutes, check chicken pieces for even browning and rearrange if some pieces are browning faster than others.) Turn chicken pieces over and continue to cook until breast pieces register 160°F and drumsticks and/or thighs register 175°F, 6 to 8 minutes. (Smaller pieces may cook faster than larger pieces. Remove pieces from the pot as they reach the correct temperature.) Drain chicken briefly on paper towel-lined plate. Then transfer to a clean wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.
5. Return oil to 350°F and repeat with remaining chicken.
Breast (about 3 ounces) with skin contains 218 calories, 11g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 71mg cholesterol, 231mg sodium, 8g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g sugars, 21g protein, 4Est GL.
Drumstick (about 1½ ounces) with skin contains 115 calories, 7g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 3mg cholesterol, 116mg sodium, 4g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g sugars, 9g protein, 2Est GL.
Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.
For Egg-Free Fried Chicken, omit 1 egg. Combine 1 tablespoon flax meal or ground chia seeds with 3 tablespoons hot water. Let sit 5 minutes until thickened. Use this mixture in step 2 to replace 1 egg.
The key to a tender, moist meatloaf is adding a panade (a paste of bread and milk) to the meat mixture. The starches in the panade absorb liquid from the milk to form a gel that coats and lubricates the protein molecules in the meat, preventing them from linking together and becoming tough. The challenge was that gluten-free sandwich bread doesn’t break down into a proper paste, which means a tough, chewy meatloaf.
Testers tried ground oats, corn tortillas, potato flakes and gelatin. All produced a loaf that was nicely bound but the potato flakes were the winner. They had the right neutral flavor and blended seamlessly into the mixture. Their starchy makeup worked just like bread, absorbing liquid and keeping the loaf tender.
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
2 large eggs
½ cup milk of choice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons gluten-free Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
⅓ cup potato flakes
⅓ cup minced fresh parsley
1 pound ground pork
1 pound (85 percent lean) ground beef
1. Adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Fold heavy-duty aluminum foil to form a 9x5-inch rectangle. Center foil on a wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Poke holes in the foil with a skewer (about ½ inch apart). Spray foil with vegetable oil spray.
2. Stir ketchup, sugar and vinegar together in a bowl and set aside. Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for 5 minutes.
3. Whisk in eggs, milk, mustard, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Stir in potato flakes and parsley. Add pork and knead with hands until thoroughly combined. Add beef and continue to knead until uniform.
4. Transfer meat mixture to foil rectangle and shape into 9x5-inch loaf. Brush half of ketchup mixture over meatloaf. Bake meatloaf in preheated oven 40 minutes.
5. Brush meatloaf with remaining ketchup mixture and continue to bake until center of loaf registers 160°F, 30 to 35 minutes. Let meatloaf cool 15 minutes before slicing.
Each serving contains 530 calories, 35g total fat, 13g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 180mg cholesterol, 783mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 8g sugars, 30g protein, 13Est GL.
Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.
For Egg-Free Meatloaf, omit 2 eggs. Combine 2 tablespoons flax meal or ground chia seeds with 6 tablespoons hot water. Let stand 5 minutes to thicken. Add to recipe in step 3 to replace 2 eggs.
MAKES 1 LOAF
The test cooks wanted a pumpkin bread that not only was gluten-free but also had just the right texture—not too dense, not too cakey. After adding the flour blend and leaveners to the pumpkin puree mixture, they continued stirring for a full minute to ensure the flour was thoroughly incorporated. Stirring this long also guaranteed the batter was properly aerated, giving the bread a good rise. This wetter batter did not need to rest to hydrate the flour; the extra moisture plus the longer baking time prevented any grittiness. If you use a 9x5-inch loaf pan, start checking for doneness 5 minutes earlier than advised in the recipe. Pumpkin bread is best eaten on the day it’s baked but this bread can be cooled, immediately wrapped in plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. To serve, warm it in a 300°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
1¼ cups ATK Gluten-Free Flour Blend
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup canned pumpkin puree
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
-Pinch ground cloves
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 ounces cream cheese of choice
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons buttermilk (or milk of choice combined with 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar)
½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine, optional
1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8½x4½-inch loaf pan. Whisk flour blend, baking powder and baking soda together in bowl. Set aside.
2. Combine pumpkin puree, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and cloves in medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook 2 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly until mixture is reduced.
3. Off heat, stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil and cream cheese until combined. Let mixture stand 5 minutes. Whisk until no visible pieces of cream cheese remain and mixture is homogeneous.
4. Whisk together eggs and buttermilk in a separate bowl. Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine. Stir flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until thoroughly combined and no lumps remain, about 1 minute. Fold walnuts, if using, into batter.
5. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let bread cool in pan on wire rack 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan and let cool at least 1½ hours before serving.
Loaf yields 8 slices. Each slice contains 337 calories, 16g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 61mg cholesterol, 272mg sodium, 46g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 26g sugars, 5g protein, 29Est GL.
Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.
For Egg-Free Pumpkin Bread, omit 2 eggs. Add ½ teaspoon additional baking powder to the flour mix in step 1. Reduce oil to 1/8 cup in step 3. Mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder with 3 tablespoons cold water; add to buttermilk of choice in step 4 to replace 2 eggs.
MAKES ABOUT 24 COOKIES
There are two big issues with many gluten-free cookies: off-flavors and dry, tough textures. To counter this, the cooks amped up the chocolate flavor, adding not just melted chocolate but also chocolate chips, cocoa powder and a little espresso powder. To ensure sufficient structure, they used ¼ cup granulated sugar for structure and ¾ cup brown sugar to boost the chewy texture. They also switched out 5 tablespoons butter for vegetable oil to get chewy cookies. Resting the dough for 30 minutes ensured the starches in the flour blend were fully hydrated, preventing any chance of a gritty texture and reducing cookie spread. These cookies are best eaten on the day they’re baked but they can be cooled and placed immediately in an airtight container and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. For best results, do not replace the eggs in this recipe.
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons ATK Gluten-Free Flour Blend
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or dairy-free butter alternative, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
1½ cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1. Microwave semisweet chocolate in a bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 2 to 4 minutes; let cool slightly. In separate bowl, whisk together flour blend, cocoa, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum; set aside.
2. Whisk brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, oil, melted butter, vanilla and espresso powder together in a large bowl until well combined and smooth. Then whisk in cooled chocolate. Stir in flour mixture with a rubber spatula until a soft, homogeneous dough forms. Fold in chocolate chips. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest 30 minutes. (Dough will be sticky and soft.)
3. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with 2 generous tablespoons of dough at a time, roll into balls and space 2 inches apart on prepared sheets. Bake cookies in preheated oven, 1 sheet at a time, until puffed and cracked and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 12 to 14 minutes. Rotate sheet halfway through baking. Cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone.
4. Let cookies cool on sheet 5 minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Each cookie contains 206 calories, 11g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 21mg cholesterol, 84mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 19g sugars, 2g protein, 16Est GL.
MAKES ABOUT 9⅓ CUPS
Tapioca starch is also sold as tapioca flour. They are interchangeable.
4½ cups + ⅓ cup white rice flour
1⅔ cups brown rice flour
1⅓ cups potato starch (not potato flour)
3/4 cup tapioca starch/flour
3 tablespoons nonfat milk powder of choice
Whisk all ingredients in large bowl until well combined. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 months.
Each cup contains 498 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 30mg sodium, 111g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 3g sugars, 3g protein.
Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook. Associate editor Eve Becker (ebecker@GlutenFreeAndMore.com) lives in Chicago.
Tips from America’s Test Kitchen
The cooks at America’s Test Kitchen used these tricks to enhance their gluten-free recipes.
Add Milk Powder The team discovered that milk powder in a gluten-free flour blend promotes browning and adds richness, flavor and personality. If you can’t tolerate dairy, substitute a dairy-free milk powder (made with soy, rice, hemp or potatoes) or omit the milk powder altogether when preparing your flour blend.
Hydrate the Flours The cooks let their gluten-free batter rest for 30 minutes before baking. This kept the baked goods from becoming starchy and gritty. The exception: Recipes with longer baking times didn’t need a 30-minute rest because the flour had time to hydrate in the oven.
Mix Well They mixed some batters vigorously, instead of gently. This helped hydrate the starchy gluten-free flours.
Avoid Excess Flour The team rolled pie dough between two pieces of plastic wrap rather than rolling it out on a floured counter. “Most people flour the counter and roll out the pie dough. But the flour that’s on the exterior of the pie dough never gets hydrated,” Bishop says. You can also use parchment paper or wax paper.
Boost Your Bread The cooks added a little powdered psyllium husk to deliver structure to breads. They used extra milk powder to aid in browning. They boosted protein content with gluten-free oat flour.
Look at Liquids The cooks added more water to their bread dough in order to produce steam for better rising. Extra water in pizza crust dough helped hydrate the flour and created a better chew. To compensate for the extra liquid and ward off gumminess, they extended baking times. Their breads stayed in the oven 1½ to 2 hours. They par-baked their pizza crusts for 45 minutes before adding the toppings.
Use Some Vegetable Oil The cooks replaced some of the butter in their recipes with vegetable oil. Vegetable oil, which is 100 percent fat, often fares better than butter, which is made up of 80 percent fat and 20 percent water.
Make Smaller Recipes Since shelf life is shorter for gluten-free goods and leftovers don’t reheat as well, the cooks reduced the size of their recipes. For instance, their biscuit recipe makes six biscuits, instead of 12. Recipes can be doubled, as needed.