A guide to baking without wheat, rye, and barley for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance
"Bakery is chemistry—gluten-free baking is really a science," says gluten-intolerant baker and blogger Rella Kaplowitz of pennypinchingepicure.com.
Kaplowitz began experimenting with gluten-free cooking to deal with frequent stomachaches. She went back on gluten for a few months so that she could be tested for celiac disease. Although that test came up negative, she's adopted gluten-free eating to deal with her gluten intolerance.
Kaplowitz's first few forays into baking without gluten yielded some disappointing results. The muffins were "so hard and dense, they went right into the garbage," she says. Undaunted, Kaplowitz put on her lab apron and started to experiment.
|Rella Kaplowitz often creates her own baking mixes using gluten-free flours. For muffins, she prefers the whole-grain nuttiness of sorghum, brown rice, and a little bit of millet. For cookies, she likes a crisp, crunchy texture that comes from using tapioca or potato starch. Here's how she describes the effects of baking with these flours:|
|Crispy: Potato, tapioca starches|
|Chewy: Almond, hazelnut flours|
|Dense: Quinoa, buckwheat|
|Nutty: Sorghum, brown rice, millet|
All-purpose flour is a complex mixture of several types and textures of flour. To replicate that without using wheat, rye, or barley, Kaplowitz blends other types of flour, in various proportions, to get the texture and taste she desires. For example, rice flour gives a powdery quality to baked goods.
Most serious bakers weigh the flours and other ingredients to ensure they're using the correct proportions. For those short on time, there are gluten-free, all-purpose flour mixes on the market. Kaplowitz especially likes the Bob's Red Mill brand.
In baked goods, the gluten protein provides a degree of stickiness, which must be replicated to bind the ingredients together. Kaplowitz uses xanthan gum and guar gum to give dough and batter the pliable, stretchy quality they need to bake into crisp or tender morsels, respectively. The gums, available in powdered versions, thicken, emulsify, and stabilize recipes. Kaplowitz recommends that you look for a gluten-free, all-purpose flour mix that already features xanthan or guar gum. Note that gluten-free prepared foods have a shorter shelf life, and homemade foods may grow dry or stale more quickly because they're missing some preservatives and stabilizers.
Kaplowitz says there's an upfront investment to gluten-free baking. She recommends having at least five flours on hand, and perhaps as many as 10. Otherwise, everything you bake will taste and feel the same. Be sure to plan for enough storage space and invest in airtight containers to protect the ingredients. If you bake infrequently, refrigerate or freeze the flours for safety—they can spoil quickly.
Buying online tends to yield the best prices. Still, Kaplowitz finds cooking from scratch more affordable overall than purchasing ready-made gluten-free foods. "It can be expensive if you're really attached to packaged foods," she says.
Kaplowitz welcomes the recent interest in gluten-free eating—new products have hit grocery store shelves. She worries, however, that the fad creates confusion. "Seeing 'no gluten ingredients' on a label is not the same as being gluten-free," she says. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue guidelines on gluten-free label claims. Kaplowitz recommends becoming a super sleuth in reading labels and finding brands you trust. "Pay attention. Keep track of products you buy regularly," she says. "If it makes you sick, throw it away."
Since removing gluten from her diet, there's really only one food Kaplowitz misses: bagels. She hasn't yet perfected a recipe that yields the crisp exterior and chewy interior she loves. But otherwise Kaplowitz finds that her home-baked goods are so much better than store products.
- When you see "modified food starch" on the label, contact the manufacturer to find out if the starch is from corn or another gluten-free product.
- Store moist gluten-free baked goods in airtight containers; they often dry out faster than regular versions.
Recipes by Rella Kaplowitz and Robyn Webb, MS, LN
- Rella's Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
- Pizza Margherita With Gluten-Free Crust
- Gluten-Free Carrot-Maple Muffins