Ask the Chef: April/May 2019

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GFM Food editor Beth Hillson
Food editor Beth Hillson answers your questions about special-diet baking.

“I’m allergic to rice and want to create a flour blend that is rice free. I’m afraid I don’t have enough confidence to create a good blend that I’ll actually like! Can you help?”

Q: I’m trying to make my own cup-for-cup flour blend. I’m allergic to rice and want to create a flour blend that is rice-free. Some of the mixes I’ve tried leave a bitter aftertaste that makes my baked goods inedible. I’m afraid I don’t have enough confidence to create a good blend that I’ll actually like! Can you help?

A: I applaud you for making your own cup-for-cup blend. A personalized blend is a great way to customize recipes to suit your specific food issues. As for bitter-tasting ingredients, you don’t mention which flours you’ve been using but here are a few suggestions. Before you mix your blend, start by smelling and tasting each individual ingredient. Discard anything that smells or tastes “off” or that’s beyond its use-by date. Note that some brands of tapioca starch/flour have an unpleasant taste and certain flours in larger amounts, like sorghum and amaranth, can impart a bitter aftertaste. Also, many flours (like nut flours, sorghum flour and amaranth flour) can become rancid fairly quickly if stored at room temperature. For best results, store your gluten-free flours in the refrigerator and use them within six months.

To create an all-purpose blend that’s rice-free, try using corn flour, a small amount of sorghum flour (no more than ¾ cup) and gluten-free oat flour (if you tolerate oats). These can be combined to replace the same amount of rice flour in a blend or to create part or all of a new blend. Check the flour blend recipes on this site for amounts and ratios. If you find that tapioca starch/flour is a problem (i.e., you don’t like the aftertaste), replace it with an equal amount of potato starch or cornstarch.

For more help, check out our chart of flour substitutions.

Q: I’ve made the recipe for Champion Sandwich Bread twice in the last two months and I love it. The taste is great! But the dome of each loaf collapsed after it came out of the oven. I followed the recipe and did not substitute ingredients. I measured everything out and let all items come to room temperature before mixing. I used a digital thermometer to ensure the water temperature was correct. I let the dough rise in my microwave. I even calibrated my oven to make sure the temperature was correct. Help!

A: It sounds like you’re doing everything just right. If I were your teacher, you’d get an A+! But grades aside, the best reward is having delicious gluten-free bread. Champion Sandwich Bread is a proven recipe, the number one favorite among readers. So let’s see if we can create a delicious loaf for you.

Too much liquid can cause a gluten-free loaf to sink as you describe. There are three things to check and they all have to do with the ratio of wet-to-dry ingredients.

First, examine the type of powdered milk you’re using. If it has the consistency of coarse granules, it’s throwing off your wet-to-dry ratio. This recipe works best with finer granules of powdered milk (i.e., the consistency of granulated sugar).

Second, egg size matters. This recipe calls for large eggs, not jumbo. Using jumbo eggs adds extra liquid to the recipe.

Third, try adjusting the liquid. If all measurements have checked out and your gluten-free loaf still collapses, remove and reserve 2 tablespoons of liquid before mixing the wet and dry ingredients. Then slowly add back a little of the liquid, one to two teaspoons at a time, when mixing the ingredients until the batter is shiny and smooth, but not thin. The consistency should be like a thick cake batter.

Update from Beth: This reader wrote back to say she’d been using milk “buds” (coarse granules), not finely powdered milk. Once she made that switch, her bread was perfect.

gluten free margherita pizza recipe
Oksana Charla

Q: My grandson is gluten-free and can’t have eggs or peanuts. He loves pizza and I’d love to make it for him. What can I substitute for the eggs? Can I just leave them out?

A: Your grandson is in for a treat. In this issue, we offer a cauliflower pizza crust; just follow our egg-free instructions. Also, the cover of our October/November 2018 issue featured a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free pizza. It’s a delicious, versatile recipe with lots of variations that your grandson will surely enjoy. Find it at GlutenFreeAndMore.com/perfectcrust.

While you’re on our website, check out the other pizza recipes posted. If they call for eggs, follow the egg-free instructions at the bottom of each recipe. You can also try converting your favorite gluten-free crust recipe by replacing each egg with flax gel. To make flax gel, combine 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds with 3 tablespoons hot water; let it sit 5 minutes to thicken and then add it to your recipe to replace one egg.

Q:  My mother passed away recently. I was wondering how I could duplicate her Christmas stollen for my gluten-free diet. Her stollen was the best. It used candied fruit, dates, nuts and cake yeast. My attempt to convert it to gluten-free this past Christmas was a flop. What would be the best gluten-free flour blend to use to get it to rise properly? Do you have any recipes I could try?

A:  I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. Re-creating her stollen is a meaningful way to honor her memory, especially at Christmas.

I can tell you from experience that yeast dough recipes are the hardest to replicate in gluten-free baking. Substituting a gluten-free flour blend for conventional gluten-filled flour is a daunting task in delicate yeast recipes. Not only must you create the proper balance of wet-to-dry ingredients, you must also replace the missing elasticity so the yeast can rise properly. I suggest starting with one of the yummy gluten-free recipes on our website, such as our Pear & Dark Cherry Fruit Cake (GlutenFreeAndMore.com/pearcherrycake). A combination of stollen and fruitcake, it has elements of your mother’s recipe (candied fruit and cherries). You could begin there and add some more of your mother’s touches.

Q: I made Rebecca Reilly’s Buttermilk Rolls in the December/January 2017 issue. They came out great but my family didn’t care for the buttermilk taste. Can this recipe be made with regular milk? Do I have to reduce the quantity of milk or add something to it?

A: Yes, you can certainly replace the buttermilk with an equal amount of regular milk when making these delicious rolls. I suspect the sourdough taste you’re getting comes from a combination of yeast and buttermilk. Using an equal amount of plain milk should reduce the overall sourdough flavor but a bit may still linger due to the yeast in the recipe.

Q: I’m gluten-free and lactose intolerant and I’d like to make the Streusel-Top Coffee Cake in your December/January 2019 issue. What would be a good substitute for 1 cup of sour cream?

A: There are several gluten-free, dairy-free sour cream products available on the market. Green Valley offers a lactose-free sour cream. Follow Your Heart makes a dairy-free plant-based sour cream. If you can tolerate soy, try Tofutti’s sour cream substitute.

You can also replace sour cream with an equal amount of plain yogurt. Try the dairy-free, plant-based yogurt made with coconut milk sold by So Delicious Dairy Free.

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 and The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten Free (Da Capo Lifelong).