As the nation celebrates May as Celiac Awareness Month, I was honored to be a guest speaker at the 40th Anniversary Conference of the Gluten Intolerance Group this past weekend in Atlanta, GA. One of my presentations was for beginners, those who are just starting the gluten-free diet.
We were all beginners in this gluten-free journey and I talk to beginners every day about their concerns. They are overwhelmed and confused yet eager to eat their favorite foods again such as pizza, bread, cakes, and cookies—all of which require baking. And, like, me they want to continue eating their favorite baked items (for me, it was my mother’s chocolate cake which is shown in the photo). So, drawing from the information in my new book, Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking, here are some tips on baking that I shared with these beginners:
Use a Gluten-Free Cookbook.
Beginners should start out with cookbooks that contain gluten-free recipes to assure early success and build confidence as you learn new techniques and working with unfamiliar ingredients. Then, apply this new-found expertise to transform family heirloom recipes or favorite recipes from non-gluten-free cookbooks to a gluten-free version.
Follow the Recipe.
Follow the recipe precisely as written—especially the first time. Gluten-free batters and doughs are much softer and wetter than wheat-flour versions, so resist the temptation to add more flour which makes baked goods dry and crumbly. (I know this from personal experience! The first gluten-free bread I ever made was a resounding failure because I thought the dough was too soft and added more flour.)
Use a Blend of Flours in Baking.
Replace wheat flour with a blend of gluten-free flours instead of a single flour. Use the flour blend recommended in the recipe for best results. Find a blend you like (either store-bought or homemade) and keep this gluten-free flour blend in your pantry so you’re always ready to bake.
Use the Right Tools.
Use dry measuring cups to measure dry ingredients; liquid measuring cups for liquid ingredients. Many beginners don’t understand the difference between the two. Liquid measuring cups are usually see-through plastic or glass and have spouts. Dry measuring cups are usually opaque—such as plastic or metal—and the cups nest together. Dry and liquid measuring cups are not interchangeable in baking since it is very difficult to measure flour accurately in a liquid measuring cup.
Measure Flour Correctly.
Before measuring, run a whisk or spatula through the flour to aerate it a bit. Measure the flour by loosely spooning it into a measuring cup. Level the mound of flour with the flat side of a knife and never pack the flour down into the cup. Incorrect measuring can yield 20% more flour than needed, leading to dry baked goods. See my video on “How to Measure Flour” under Videos button at www.CarolFenster.com or www.CarolFensterCooks.com.
Incorporate Whole Grains for Better Nutrition.
Some gluten-free flours and grains are vitamin-deficient so search out recipes that use whole grains or whole grain flours such as amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, sorghum, and teff for wider diversity and better nutrition.
Consider an Increase in Flavorings, Herbs, and Spices.
Beginners may want to increase spices, herbs, and flavorings (such as vanilla extract) by ¼ to 1/3 to compensate for the loss of wheat flavor that many notice as their palates adjust to the new flavors and textures of gluten-free foods.
Don’t Forget the Gum.
Use xanthan gum or guar gum as directed in the recipe. It compensates for the missing gluten and improves texture and rise in baked goods. Without gums, baked goods crumble and fall apart. If you absolutely, positively don’t want to use gums in your baking, you’ll have better luck with smaller items such as bars, muffins, and cupcakes that don’t have to rise too much.
Use Smaller Pans for Baking.
Breads may be more successful in several small loaf pans (e.g., 4×6-inch) instead of one large (5×9-inch or 4×8-inch) loaf pan. A Bundt pan (instead of a 9×13-inch pan) produces a more successful cake because its circular shape (with the hole in the middle) promotes even heat distribution and reduces falling.
Use Nonstick Pans for Certain Foods.
Use nonstick pans (gray, not black) for pizza, breads, cakes, bars, and muffins to promote proper browning and encourage rising. For cookies, use shiny (not nonstick) baking sheets. Generously grease baking pans and use parchment paper on baking sheets to avoid sticking.
So those are my tips for beginners. Hopefully, you—and all of the people in the audience last weekend—will get in the kitchen and start baking.