In the Kitchen: Bread-Starved? We Can Help!
Food editor Beth Hillson answers your questions about special-diet baking.
Q: My family is bread starved. Can you help? We have a wide range of food issues, including allergies to almonds, corn, dairy, rice, soy and wheat. I'm having difficulty finding an all-purpose flour blend I like and that will make good sandwich bread for school lunches. Can you recommend a blend?
Also, can you suggest a good substitute for corn and cornmeal that fits our dietary restrictions?
A: You’ve come to the right place. Start by making a list of the foods you can have, rather than the ones you can’t. This is both empowering and helpful.
Given your food allergens, the following ingredients appear safe: sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, oats, millet, teff, buckwheat, tapioca, potato and arrowroot. Let’s turn this list into an all-purpose flour blend that you can use to make delicious bread and other gluten-free baked goods:
All-Purpose Flour Blend
MAKES 4 CUPS
1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup amaranth, millet or quinoa flour
˝ cup gluten-free oat flour
1 cup tapioca starch/flour
˝ cup potato starch (not potato flour)
Combine all ingredients and refrigerate in a tightly covered container until used.
You’ll want to add a binding agent (a gum) to this blend. Some corn-sensitive people avoid xanthan gum because it’s produced using corn. (Scientists say there’s no corn residue present but these people say that their gut tells them otherwise.) You can use guar gum or agar powder instead. Add about 4 teaspoons to this blend.
Use this flour blend in all the bread recipes you’ll find at GlutenFreeAnd-More.com; replace the flour blend in the recipe with an equal amount of this blend. If a recipe calls for milk powder, use Quinoasure (quinoasure.com), a plant-based milk powder made with quinoa.
As a general rule, you can replace corn flour in baking with an equal amount of sorghum flour. Replace cornmeal with coarsely ground gluten-free oats or coarsely ground quinoa flakes.
Q: I’m allergic to rice and rice flour is everywhere in gluten-free baking. Is there a way to make gluten-free recipes without it?
A: Yes, rice flour seems to be synonymous with gluten-free eating but it can easily be replaced if you’re baking from scratch. In place of the rice flour in your recipes and your flour blend, use an equal amount (by volume, not weight) of another mild-tasting gluten-free flour, like sorghum flour or corn flour.
Q: Some of my recipes call for dark molasses and others call for light molasses. Still more call for sulphured or unsulphured molasses. I’m confused. Is there really a difference? Isn’t this overkill?
A: Molasses is a star ingredient in a lot of holiday baking but not all types can be used interchangeably. A byproduct of the sugar-making process, molasses is the syrupy brown liquid left over after boiling once the sugar crystals have been removed. The variations depend on how many times the syrup is boiled and what is added to it.
Light molasses is produced after the first boiling of the sugar cane or sugar beet. It is light in color and sweet in taste because only a small amount of sugar has been extracted. This type of molasses is best for baking, marinades, rubs and sauces or even as a topping on gluten-free toast and oatmeal. It can make cookies softer and breads crustier.
Dark molasses, also known as “full” or “second” molasses, results after the second boiling and more sugar is extracted. It is darker in color, thicker and less sweet. It’s ideal for gingerbread and gingerbread cookies.
Blackstrap molasses is yet another type, produced after the third boiling. Very thick and dark in color, the taste is strong and a little bitter. It’s not great to substitute blackstrap for light or dark molasses, but some people prefer it because it contains the highest vitamin and mineral content (think: iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, selenium, potassium, vitamin B6 and niacin). There are people who take a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses every day for medicinal purposes.
Some molasses is labeled “sulphured,” indicating that sulphur dioxide was added as a preservative to prevent fermenting. Sulphured molasses is generally less sweet. Some recipes will specify “unsulphured” molasses because it’s sweeter and has a more intense molasses flavor.
You might also spot “fancy molasses” on your grocery shelf. This is the lightest and sweetest of all the different types. More expensive, it’s typically saved for topping pancakes or biscuits.
Most molasses is derived from sugar cane and sugar beets but you can find molasses made from pomegranates, sorghum, carob and dates. These specialty items, often used in Middle Eastern cuisine, are expensive and not always readily available in grocery stores.
Food editor Beth Hillson (bhillson@GlutenFreeAndMore.com) 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 and Living Well Gluten Free (Da Capo Lifelong).
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