Ask the ChefsDec/Jan 2014 Issue

In the Kitchen: Gluten-Free Cookies, Baking Blend, and More

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Q: My cookies used to rise slightly and dome when they were done. The gluten-free versions just spread. Is the lack of gluten to blame or is there a way to get them to rise and look more like the cookies I used to bake?

A: Yes, gluten certainly helps cookies retain their shape but there are simple tricks to help you make great gluten-free cookies. Chill the batter or the formed cookies for an hour or so before baking. The cookies won’t spread quite as much when baked.

Try cutting back on the baking soda if it’s in your recipe. This may sound counterintuitive, but too much baking soda can break down the protein structure in eggs (if you’re using them) and cause the cookies to go flat. But don’t cut back too much. You need some baking soda for lift and browning.

If your recipe calls for shortening and you replaced it with butter, your cookies may spread more than expected. Try using organic non-hydrogenated shortening rather than butter and see if that helps.

Q: I’ve read that yam starch is high in fiber. Can I add that to my baking blend in place of other starches?

A: Japanese yam starch, also known as yam flour, is sometimes listed as glucomannan or konjac. Used in shirataki noodles, it’s touted as high in fiber, low in carbohydrates and gluten-free. Yam starch is more expensive and not as readily available as cornstarch or potato starch. But it can be used as part of a gluten-free flour blend and it’s a good way to boost your dietary fiber intake.

I would not replace all the starch in your blend with yam starch, however. For one thing, that’s a lot of fiber. For another, yam starch is a bit more gelatinous than most other starches and so it tends to produce a denser product. Start by replacing 3 to 4 tablespoons of one starch with an equal amount of yam starch and see how you like it.

Q: My recipe calls for extra-large eggs and all I have are large eggs. Can I substitute?

A: The difference between using one large or one extra-large egg rarely changes the outcome of a recipe. The amount of liquid in eggs can vary considerably, even in eggs of the same size. So if you’re using one egg, you’ll probably be fine simply using a large egg in place of an extra-large egg.

However, because gluten-free baking is often based on a finely tuned ratio of wet to dry ingredients, you’ll want to make adjustments if your recipe calls for more than one egg. A large egg equals about 3 tablespoons of liquid; an extra-large egg is about 4 tablespoons. If you’re replacing two extra-large eggs with two large eggs, add an additional tablespoon of liquid (water, egg white or applesauce) to your recipe. If the recipe calls for four extra-large eggs, add an additional egg white or yolk to make up the difference. Use the same formula if you’re using egg replacer.

If your recipe calls for a large quantity of eggs, like angel food or sponge cake, your best bet is to purchase the correct size eggs for the task.

The recipe for Coconut Oat Bran Quick Bread in our Aug/Sept issue calls for coconut flour. What would be a good substitute in this recipe? The quick bread recipes look delicious but they’re all based on this one recipe and I am intolerant to coconut.

Coconut flour is much denser than most gluten-free flours and often requires more liquid to offset it. So it’s not a one-for-one substitution with other flours. This recipe also calls for oat bran or oat flour, which also absorbs liquids quite nicely and produces a great crumb. If you tolerate gluten-free oats, I suggest adding cup of oat flour in place of the coconut flour. Adding extra oat bran might give this bread a gritty texture.

If you cannot eat oat flour, try using 1/3 cup of brown rice flour in place of cup of coconut flour. If the results are a bit wet or gummy once the bread has baked, increase that amount of flour by 1 to 2 tablespoons next time you make the recipe.

Q: I love your beer bread recipe by Jules Shepard but would like the loaf to be taller. Can I just double the quantities in the recipe and bake it in one pan?

A: More is not always better when it comes to gluten-free baking. It’s not a good idea to increase the amount of ingredients in a recipe to make it rise more. In fact, you may get the opposite outcome—a dense loaf that isn’t cooked all the way through. You could, however, keep the recipe the same and try using a smaller pan (8x4 inches). Increase the baking time by 5 to 10 minutes and test for doneness so the bread doesn’t over-bake. Note the pan size and the baking time so you can successfully repeat the process the next time you make the recipe.

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