Ask the Chefs: Gluten Free Baking


Food editor Beth Hillson and cookbook author Sueson Vess answer your questions about special-diet baking.

My child is allergic to corn in addition to gluten and dairy. It’s difficult to avoid corn when baking. Any suggestions?

Corn is hidden in many ingredients, including sorbitol, maltodextrin, most baking powders, confectioner’s sugar and monosodium glutamate (MSG), to name a few. Even xanthan gum, which is used in many gluten-free prepared foods and mixes, is produced from the fermentation of corn sugar. (Xanthan gum may not pose a problem unless your corn allergy is serious.) Guar gum is a safe alternative.

To replace corn syrup in your recipes, substitute an equal amount of honey, agave nectar, tapioca syrup or rice syrup. To make corn-free baking powder, blend together 1/3 cup baking soda, 2/3 cup cream of tartar + 2/3 cup arrowroot starch. To make confectioner’s sugar, combine 1½ tablespoons tapioca starch/flour (or potato starch) + enough granulated sugar to equal one cup. Process this mixture in a blender on high speed for 45 seconds or until powdered. For a creamy frosting that’s free of gluten, dairy and corn, try this recipe.

Seven-Minute Frosting 
1¼     cups sugar
 ¼      teaspoon cream of tartar
         Pinch of salt
1/4   cup cold water
2      egg whites, room temperature
1      teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.  Place sugar, cream of tartar, salt, water and egg whites in the top of a double boiler or heat-proof bowl. Beat ingredients with a handheld electric mixer for 1 minute to combine.
2.  Place the pan or bowl over boiling water, being sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the top pan. Beat constantly on high speed with an electric mixer for 7 minutes until mixture is the consistency of frosting and forms stiff peaks.
3.  Remove from heat and beat in vanilla. Makes enough to frost one two-layer cake or 24 cupcakes.                      
—Sueson Vess


Your bread recipes call for cornstarch, corn flour or cornmeal. I’m gluten free and allergic to nuts and corn. What can I do?

Use tapioca starch/flour or potato starch in place of cornstarch. Replace corn flour with sorghum flour. Substitute rice bran for cornmeal. If the cornmeal is used for dusting pans or meat, use rice flour instead. Turn to page 60 for a list of more substitutions.
—Beth Hillson


My daughter has celiac disease and she had a bad reaction to bread I made with xanthum gum. She read on the Internet that people with celiac disease shouldn’t eat xanthum gum. Is that true?

Xanthan gum is gluten free and safe for people with celiac disease. Some people are sensitive to xanthan, evidenced by gastrointestinal symptoms, such as bloating, gas and diarrhea. For these folks, consuming even a minor amount can prompt trips to the bathroom. A xanthan reaction can mystify celiacs, making them think they accidentally ingested gluten. If your daughter is sensitive to xanthan, use guar gum instead. It makes a good substitute and is also less expensive.  
—Beth Hillson


I can’t tolerate garlic. Can you suggest a replacement?

If you’re avoiding the entire allium family (onions, garlic, shallots, leeks), try asafoetida or “hing.” This ancient Indian spice, derived from a species of fennel plant, has a strong, unpleasant odor when raw. However, it imparts a garlic-like flavor when cooked. Check labels carefully as some asafoetida products contain wheat. For more substitution ideas, along with recipes of favorite dishes made without garlic, read “Hold the Onions, Garlic and Peppers!” (April/May 2009).
—Beth Hillson


My 4-year-old son has multiple allergies —wheat, rice, certain beans, soy, eggs and several other foods. I’d love to make him muffins, cookies and cupcakes but I can’t find a rice-free, soy-free flour blend that actually works. Any ideas?

Not knowing all your son’s forbidden foods, I’m guessing that these flours may be okay for him: almond, amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, cornstarch, corn flour, millet, potato starch, quinoa, sorghum and tapioca. Choose at least three of these to create a blend. In a perfect world, your formula should look something like this:

    1     cup sorghum
    ¾     cup quinoa, amaranth or millet
    ½     cup tapioca, arrowroot, potato
        or cornstarch
    1-2     teaspoons xanthan gum, guar gum or agar powder (as a

Combine ingredients and store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Use this blend as a one-for-one flour substitute in recipes for cupcakes, muffins and cookies. Note that amaranth and, to a lesser extent, millet have a bit of an aftertaste. They work great in recipes that contain chocolate, brown sugar or warm spices. However, they wouldn’t be my first choice for sugar cookies or a yellow cake.