Ask the Chef: December/January 2019

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

Q: I’d like to replace a specific flour blend in a recipe with a commercial all-purpose blend. This would save me time and money. If the AP blend doesn’t contain xanthan gum, how do I handle that?

A: Most all-purpose flour blends can replace the flours and starches in most gluten-free baking recipes. Results will vary, of course, depending on the recipe and the blend.

If your recipe calls for xanthan gum and your replacement all-purpose blend does not contain it, add some xanthan gum to your recipe using these general guidelines: For cakes, cookies, bars, muffins and quick breads, add ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (or guar gum) for every cup of flour blend. For yeast bread and other yeast-containing baked goods, add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum (or guar gum) for every cup of flour blend. For pizza dough and pie crust, add 1½ teaspoons xanthan gum for every cup of flour blend.

That said, gluten-free expert chefs deliberately specify a particular combination of flours and starches to yield the best results. That’s why it never hurts to follow the recipe exactly.

Q: I want to make a gluten-free bread recipe that calls for ½ cup of powdered milk. Can I omit the powdered milk and substitute some almond milk instead? I’ve done this before with regular (gluten-full) bread recipes with good results using my bread machine. However, those recipes called for ¼ cup, not ½ cup of powdered milk.

A: I wouldn’t recommend replacing powdered milk with liquid almond milk. The reason is that you’re replacing a dry ingredient with a liquid, which throws off your recipe’s wet-dry ratio. If you can’t tolerate dairy milk, try an equal amount of plant-based powdered milk, such as coconut, rice, potato or soy milk powder. Dairy-free powdered milk is often available in the baking aisle in supermarkets. If you can’t find it in a grocery store in your area, order it online.

Q: Your recipes never call for sifting the gluten-free flours. Isn’t it important to sift them?

A: Gluten-free recipes rarely call for sifting the flour. That’s because we make and use blends of flour and starches. Before these blends are added to our recipes, they’re thoroughly whisked so that the flours, starches and gum are evenly dispersed and completely combined. This fluffs up the flour blend so it’s light and clump-free, eliminating any need to sift.

Coconut flour clumps, so it should be sifted for best results. Cocoa powder can be lumpy, so it often needs to be sifted, too.

When sifting is necessary, use a clean, dedicated sifter to avoid cross-contamination. (Check out Kitchen- Aid’s new sifting gadget.) Or simply put your ingredients in a fine mesh strainer and tap it over a bowl.

Q: I’m gluten-free and love to bake. My sister is allergic to eggs and my mom can’t tolerate tapioca flour. Do you have any substitution ideas?

A: You’ve certainly come to the right place for gluten-free and egg-free recipes! You can have success replacing eggs in many recipes using flax gel. For each egg replaced, combine 1 tablespoon flax meal with 3 tablespoons hot water. Let this mixture sit for 5 minutes to thicken before adding it to your recipe.

Generally speaking, flax gel is a reliable go-to for replacing eggs—but it doesn’t work every time. It depends on the recipe. Some recipes, especially quiches and meringues, are notoriously challenging to re-create with an egg replacement. And certain egg replacers work better than others in certain recipes. Companies like Ener-G and Follow Your Heart offer gluten-free egg replacers.

Our test kitchen works very hard to creatively tackle all egg-free challenges. We offer egg-free instructions with every recipe whenever that’s possible. For instance, our test kitchen has had great success using aquafaba (the liquid in canned chickpeas) to make egg-free lemon meringue pie. For the recipe and step-by-step instructions, go to our egg-free lemon meringue pie recipe.)

Tapioca starch/flour is easy to replace. Just substitute an equal amount of potato starch or cornstarch and proceed with your recipe.

Q:  What is whey? And is it gluten-free?

A : Whey is the watery part of milk that remains after the curd is removed. There are two proteins in milk—whey and casein—and both are gluten-free. People can be allergic to either of these or they can be intolerant to lactose, a milk sugar. If you’re avoiding dairy, there are a variety of plant-based milks (like almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, flax milk) that can be used in place of dairy milk.

Q: The all-purpose flour blend in the back of the magazine calls for white or brown rice flour. Can I substitute some sorghum flour? If so, how much should I use?

A: Sorghum flour is a great substitute for rice flour. With its high-protein, high-fiber content, it adds nutritional benefits to your recipes. In this particular flour blend, I would replace just half the rice flour with an equal amount of sorghum flour. Sorghum has a bit more flavor than mild-mannered rice flour and so it might subtly alter the flavor of some of your baked goods. Millet flour has a neutral taste, making it a good stand-in for the rest of the rice flour.

Q:  I’d like to make your recipe for Cherry Chocolate Biscotti but it calls for ½ cup of gluten-free cornmeal and I can’t eat corn. Can I eliminate the cornmeal from the recipe? If not, what can I use as a substitute?

A: Don’t omit the cornmeal from this recipe as it represents a substantial amount of the dry mixture. Instead, replace the cornmeal with an equal amount of rice bran or almond flour. Either should work nicely.

gluten free cherry biscotti
Jeff Rassmussen

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).