Ask the Chef: August/September 2017

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

Q: I’m looking at a recipe that calls for a tablespoon of xanthan gum. If my all-purpose flour blend contains xanthan gum, do I add more to the recipe?

A: No. There’s no need to add more gum if it’s already in your flour blend.

Q: Have you ever made kraut burgers, bierocks or runzas with a gluten-free bread mixture? For years, we’ve made these items for fundraisers using a conventional bread mix. Now we have family members with celiac disease and we’d like them to partake. But we haven’t found a gluten-free recipe that’s the right texture to fold around the meat mixture. Everything we’ve tried is way too sticky. Can you help us?

ask the chefs

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A: For stuffed meat pies like these, I recommend you use a high-quality, gluten-free commercial bread mix. Make up your traditional fillings using gluten-free ingredients (no stout or other gluten-filled beer). Prepare the dough as you would for bread, according to the package instructions. Scoop out about ¼ cup of dough (more or less) and place it on a sheet of lightly oiled plastic wrap. Spoon a bit of your meat mixture into the center of the dough. Reaching under the plastic wrap, scrunch the dough together to cover the filling. Turn the meat pie onto a cookie sheet that’s lined with oiled parchment paper and repeat. Let the pies rise in a warm, draft-free place. Then bake them in a preheated oven according to your recipe, usually about 18 to 20 minutes. If you want an herb or seed topping, brush the pies with egg wash or milk and sprinkle them with seeds or herbs just before baking.

Q: My daughter, who is gluten intolerant and egg-free, wants to make one of your bread recipes. She can’t have flax. Do you have a good recipe that uses chia instead of flax meal?

A: Chia seed (also called salba) is interchangeable with flax meal. Both are commonly used in gel form to replace eggs in baked goods. Here’s how it’s done: Combine 1 tablespoon of chia seed or flax meal with 3 tablespoons of hot water and let this mixture sit a few minutes to thicken. Use this gel in your recipe to replace 1 egg.

Egg-free instructions are provided for Gluten Free & More recipes whenever possible. (In rare recipes, the eggs cannot be successfully replaced.) Instead of using flax meal in our egg-free instructions, use an equal amount of chia seed.

Q: Your Pizza Master Dough recipe calls for a high-protein flour blend. What are some high-protein flours? Can I make my own blend?

A: Ancient grains like amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff are naturally gluten-free, high protein and high fiber. In addition to delivering extra nutrients to baked goods, flours made from ancient grains promote stretchiness, flexibility and structure in dough—valuable characteristics in gluten-free baking. To make your own basic high-protein or high-fiber flour blend, turn to Substitution Solutions on page 79. Both blends contain a good amount of protein, ideal for pizza crust. If you prefer a commercial all-purpose blend, look for one that contains one or more of these ancient grains. To avoid risk of cross-contamination, select a brand that is certified gluten-free.

Q: When I convert a standard recipe to gluten-free, I usually add ½ to 1 teaspoon of guar gum to the dry ingredients. Often, the end product has a bitter-sour-salty aftertaste. This happens whether or not the recipe calls for baking soda or baking powder. I’m kind of stumped. Is it the guar gum? Could my ingredients be spoiled?

A: Some gluten-free bakers are inclined to add more baking powder or baking soda to a recipe to give it better lift. Too much can produce a salty or metallic aftertaste. Guar gum can impart a sour taste, so that might be your problem. Try switching to xanthan gum and see if the flavor improves.

Q:  Unfortunately, I seem to have developed a problem with onions. They’re used in so many things and I sure do miss the flavor! Can you suggest something that comes close?

A: Try asafetida, also known as hing. It’s available at Indian markets and online. This Indian spice tastes a lot like leeks. Start with a small amount to make sure you like the flavor; heat it first in oil to reduce its pungent notes. Most asafetida is gluten-free but occasionally you’ll come across a brand that contains wheat. So be sure to check the ingredient label.

gluten free irish soda bread

Rebecca Reilly

Q: I wanted to let you know what great success I had baking Irish soda bread using Rebecca Reilly’s recipe (April/May 2017). It was delicious! I hadn’t had Irish soda bread since I was diagnosed with celiac disease nearly seven years ago and was very excited when I saw the photo in your magazine. It looked promising and called for ingredients I had in my cupboard. Rebecca’s hot cross buns will be my next endeavor!

A: Thanks for your nice note. We love Rebecca’s recipes, too. She is a master baker!

Q: I’m gluten intolerant and find that my life is better without wheat flour. My problem is that my husband is a strict diabetic who can’t eat much gluten-free flour. Do you have any suggestions on how to work around this when it comes to baked goods we can both eat?

A: Your husband’s restrictions mean avoiding most conventional and gluten-free baked goods as they’re filled with flour and sugar. You will find some common ground by focusing on recipes for paleo-style baked goods that use coconut flour and almond flour. For starters, try the Lemon Curd Cake in our April/May 2017 issue. It’s also low in sugar. You’ll find more recipes for paleo-style items by searching Gluten Free & More‘s website.

Q: What in the world is a 6-cup muffin pan? The only muffin tins I’ve ever seen have 12 cups.

A: Our Hot Cross Bun recipe (April/May 2017) calls for a 6-cup muffin pan. Some 6-cup pans have extra-large indentations and make jumbo muffins or cupcakes, twice as large as those made in standard 12-cup muffin pans. Other 6-cup pans make standard-size muffins or cupcakes, used when you want to make half a recipe. You can find both types of pans online from Wilton or Amazon.

beth hillson

E.B. Taylor Photography

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).