Do you have difficulty digesting gluten? Don't worry: Our gluten-free baking tips will help you whip up delicious goodies you can stomach.
Gluten gives bread and cakes elasticity and an airy structure but not everybody can digest this protein properly. While the first generation of gluten-free baked goods were more brick-like than feathery light, specialist bakers like Megan Forrest of Cup of Tea Bakery in Whitby, Ont., have since experimented, worked with new ingredients and figured out how to get gluten-free baking just right.
Here are a few of Forrest's top tricks to help your gluten-free baking look and taste delicious!
1. Flour power: Find alternatives for wheat flour
From chickpea flour to maize flour to ground almonds, there are many great wheat flour replacement options out there for those with gluten sensitivities. Forrest tends to use a mix of white rice and tapioca starch or potato starch for most gluten-free baked goods. "We find a combination can help prevent the density you sometimes get in baked goods made with just one kind," she explains.
Bonus: Mixing flours means you can benefit from their different nutritional properties. For breads, Forrest introduces brown or white rice flour, depending on the colour and texture she's looking to achieve. Storage in the fridge is best to preserve freshness and quality. And don't forget to sift the flours before and after measuring as this helps introduce air.
2. Adjust your palate to different flavours
Many people new to gluten-free baking often complain that the baked goods don't taste the same as those made with products containing gluten. This is most evident in items like shortbread or bread, where there are only a few ingredients, so you really taste the flours. "You have to realize that with gluten-free bread, it's not going to be the same, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing," says Forrest.
Make the switch to gluten-free goodies by starting with cakes and more complex baked goods that draw rich and complex flavours from fruit, spices, chocolate chips, nuts and other interesting ingredients. This will help your palate adjust. And it's worth tasting items made with everything from coconut flour to corn flour to find out which flours appeal to your taste buds.
3. Go for ground nuts or nut butters
Ground nuts or nut butters can replace regular and gluten-free flours in some cookies and cakes and they're rich in protein, too. However, Forrest warns that people with gluten-sensitivity may be more prone to other food intolerances or allergies as well. When in doubt, ask whomever you're baking for, or keep a food journal to track your own or a sensitive household family member's reactions to different ingredients.
4. Ease the texture with different ingredients
“You sometimes find gluten-free cakes get dry or have a strange texture,” says Forrest. To combat this, she suggests adding beets to chocolate cake for sweetness and extra moisture.
For vanilla, grind flax and soak it in hot water to make a neutral-tasting paste, and for pound cakes, use bananas or applesauce to make them moister.
In bread, eggs, cider vinegar and oil, honey, molasses or a solution of brown sugar and water work wonders for keeping things moist. Additives such as xantham gum and guar gum help hold gas and keep the structure of baked goods light.
5. Change the temperature in your kitchen
Regulating the temperature in your kitchen isn’t so important if you’re making cakes and cookies (icing is another story), but it does have an impact on breads. “Getting a good rise can sometimes be difficult with gluten-free bread, so you need optimal conditions,” says Forrest. The ideal kitchen environment is draft-free, with a temperature between 10°C and 15°C.
6. Bake smaller portions at a lower temperature
If overcooked, gluten-free baked goods are less forgiving than those made with gluten, so watch them carefully in the oven and take them right out when they’re done to avoid drying them out. Smaller portions baked for longer at slightly lower temperatures give the best results, so try working with mini loaf tins or muffin cases.
Don’t give up on being gluten-free!
Even professionals like Forrest have to work at adapting recipes to make them gluten-free. “It’s all about trial and error,” she says. If you’re disappointed with the way a recipe turns out, search online for advice that will help you figure out what to do differently next time. The Canadian Celiac Association offers excellent advice, too. And just bear in mind that if you’re trying something new, give it a trial run when there’s no pressure -- as in, not hours before a birthday or dinner party!
Giving up gluten can be tough, but it doesn’t have to mean giving up the things you love. All it takes is a few tricks, a little perseverance and an adventurous spirit in the kitchen for you to have your cake and eat it, too!