Ask the Chef: June/July 2018

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“What’s a good replacement for milk in rice pudding?”

Q: I’m dying for some pudding but suddenly find I can’t tolerate dairy. What’s a good substitute for milk in my favorite rice pudding recipe?

A: Lots of alternative plant-based products are available and all are excellent one-to-one substitutes for milk. My favorites are coconut milk (the beverage) or almond milk (if nuts are tolerated). Soy milk, hemp milk, rice milk and oat milk are good replacements, too.

Q: I’d like to hone my gluten-free baking skills since there’s very little on the market that’s easy on the pocketbook or safe for all my food allergies. I’ve had success using several recipes in Carol Fenster’s cookbook, Gluten-Free 101. But her yeast bread recipes call for soy lecithin, which I can’t find. Is there an alternative?

A: I applaud your can-do attitude! You’re in good hands using recipes from Carol Fenster. However, Gluten-Free 101 is one of her older books, originally published in 2003 and updated in 2008 and 2014. Back in 2003, many gluten-free chefs (including me) used soy lecithin to enrich (tenderize) gluten-free dough. You can omit this ingredient from the recipe without substantially changing the outcome. We now have better methods for creating more tender baked goods. First, you could exchange some of the rice flour in your flour blend for a high-protein, high-fiber flour, such as amaranth flour, millet flour or buckwheat flour. You could also add 1 to 2 tablespoons of flax meal to the dry ingredients in your recipe. In place of a whole egg, try using two egg yolks.

There’s no hard and fast formula. You’ll have to experiment based on the type of baked goods you’re making—but it sounds like you’re comfortable with experimenting. Happy baking!

Q: My pantry is full of baking ingredients. What’s the best way to store them? And what’s the best way to store my baked goodies? For instance, I make Amaranth Carrot Cookies all the time. Can I leave the amaranth flour on the kitchen counter? And what about the cookies? Should they be refrigerated?

A: This is an age-old question. Those of us who bake keep a stockpile of gluten-free ingredients and we want to keep them fresh as long as possible. Some items, like rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, cornstarch and gums, can be stored at room temperature for several months. Flours like amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff and nut flours contain a high level of oil and they can become rancid in a few weeks if stored at room temperature, especially in warm weather. These are best stored in the refrigerator where they will retain their freshness for several months or in the freezer (wrapped well) for up to a year. Be sure to bring all ingredients to room temperature before baking with them.

Baked goods can be kept in a sealed container on the counter and eaten within three days. Any leftovers can be wrapped and frozen up to 3 months. Let baked yeast bread cool to room temperature; then slice it, place waxed paper between slices, wrap the loaf and freeze. Pull out slices as needed and toast them or simply defrost them and enjoy.

Q: There are so many different flours in gluten-free recipes! Sometimes I don’t have all of them or I’m allergic to one of them (like almond flour). Any general tips for navigating the complicated world of substituting in gluten-free baking?

A: Each type of gluten-free flour and starch has unique properties and baking characteristics but it’s not difficult to successfully replace them to accommodate your pantry, your palate and your allergies. The fact is that you have tons of options when a recipe calls for flour. You just have to know what’s out there and generally how it works. Use the chart in the back of this magazine (GF Flour Replacements, page 76) as a guide to help you select replacement gluten-free flours and starches for your baking. As a rule of thumb, use neutral blends (rice flour and starches) for delicate baked goods like cookies and cakes. Choose high-protein, high-fiber blends (with amaranth, sorghum, millet and such) for yeast breads and pizza. Use a blend of both when making quick breads and muffins.

Q: I only have a hand-held mixer. Is it possible to use it rather than a large stand mixer to make gluten-free baked goods?

A: Yes. Absolutely. Just be sure it’s a heavy-duty mixer so you don’t burn out the motor. Gluten-free doughs tend to be thicker and heavier than their wheat-based cousins. You’ll need a mixer with some power to stand up to the dough.

gluten free baguettes

Q: Is barley gluten-free?

A: No, it’s not. A gluten-free diet means no wheat, rye or barley or derivatives. Watch out for barley malt, which can be a surprise ingredient in some foods.

Q:  I’d like to make the egg-free version of the French Baguettes in your February/March 2017 issue. My daughter is allergic to sorghum flour and it’s in the flour blend. Can I replace it with another gluten-free flour and still get good results?

A: Yes. Several other flours would fit the bill in this recipe. For starters, try replacing the sorghum flour with an equal amount of either amaranth, millet or teff flour. Turn to GF Flour Replacements for other options. For this recipe, I would avoid using quinoa, chickpea or oat flour, as they’re a bit heavy for the already dense dough.

Q:  What’s a good way to make a gluten-free baking blend?

A: Most gluten-free all-purpose flour blends contain about 30 percent starch; the remaining 70 percent is a combination of flours. Then depending on the type of baked goods you’re making, you’ll need a bit of xanthan gum, guar gum or psyllium husk. Cakes, cookies, muffins and other quick breads require about ½ teaspoon of gum per cup of flour blend. Yeast breads require about 1 teaspoon. Pizza dough and pie crust require about 1½ teaspoons.

beth hillson

E.B. Taylor

There are basic flour blend recipes here. Double or triple these recipes to make as much flour blend as you need. You can substitute flours and starches using the chart on the substitutions page.

To make your flour blend, thoroughly combine all ingredients. Store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator until used. In most cases, it’s best to bring the flour blend to room temperature before using it in a recipe.

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).