Gluten-free food products are on the rise and so are recipes for gluten-free baking. There’s a theory that everyone has a certain degree of gluten intolerance, and that can vary from having a slightly upset tum after eating a pasta dish to getting seriously sick from a few breadcrumbs. Around 65,000 New Zealanders are thought to have Coeliac disease (where ingesting any trace of gluten could be life threatening), and countless more Kiwis suffer from gluten intolerance.
If you haven’t been officially diagnosed by a medical professional, choosing to eat gluten-free foods isn’t necessarily healthier for you. However, if you have gut problems such as IBS, general tiredness or skin problems including dermatitis and eczema, you may benefit from reducing or removing gluten from your diet.
Avoiding gluten in meals can be relatively straightforward, but baking can be difficult. I should know as every Christmas I do large baking giftbaskets for friends and family, and my best friend and sister-in-law are both gluten intolerant.
Most people with gluten sensitivity who have experimented with baking have at some point ended up with scones like cannonballs or a cake that can only be used as a doorstop (you know it’s bad when you chuck your dud baking out on the lawn and even the birds won’t eat it – this has happened to me a few times…).
I teamed up with food and lifestyle blogger Ashleigh from The Food Nest NZ (www.thefoodnestnz.com) to bring you our top tips for baking gluten-free. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram 🙂
1. Different flours will give you different results
To replace standard baking flour, you have three options – buy a pre-made, general purpose flour mix (such as Edmonds Gluten-Free flour), buy a specific flour alternative (such as buckwheat, coconut or rice flour), or blend your own flour from a combination of different gluten-free alternatives.
The latter supposedly can give you the best results, however different combinations will be suited to different baking products. For example, a flour you use for pizza dough will likely not be that great in a sponge cake. Buying pre-made mixes or flour alternatives may not give you the best baking results every time, but it will be far easier if you do baking regularly and don’t have the time to mix your own flours.
2. Light fluffy baking may not work
Gluten is a stretchy, sticky protein that helps give baked goods their shape. Airy sponge cakes, soft waffles and delicate souffles may seem appealing, but without gluten, they will likely turn out dense and hard.
If you have time and patience, you can keep doing trial and error with different flours and try to perfect these fluffy morsels, or you can get close to spot on with baked goods that would typically be more dense anyway. Brownies, slices, dense cakes like hummingbird cake, and cookies almost always turn out well with ready made supermarket-shelf gluten-free flours.
3. ‘Normal’ recipe quantities may be off
If you’re substituting your flour in a ‘normal’ recipe, be aware that different flours may require different conversions (i.e. 1 cup of flour may not equal 1 cup of rice flour in a recipe). Before you get started check the packet for any conversion suggestions and pay attention to your mix as you go.
4. It’s okay to experiment
Gluten-free ingredients can be expensive and at times difficult to source which means experimenting within your budget and with what’s available to you is important. Ashleigh says it’s good to remember that nothing in the cooking world is easy (except maybe boiling water) so if you don’t get it right the first time, or if it tastes great but the texture or moisture isn’t there – don’t quit!
Sit down and work out what you were missing, what you could add less or more of, or what you could substitute. If you feel like you want to add something different – add it. Like normal baking, gluten-free baking – is mostly trial and error so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get it right the first time. Expect to feed the bin!
5. Cooking temperatures may vary
Ashleigh tends to find that gluten-free baking takes about 10-15 minutes less than normal, ‘although it could possibly be my oven,’ she says. The exception to this is when she makes cheesecake bases which take 10 minutes longer which she reckons has something to do with the amount of butter used.
‘If a recipe that I have adapted to suit me calls for baking at 180 degrees, sometimes I’ll drop my oven down to approximately 160,’ she says. ‘It’s better to be safe, than sorry!’
6. Double-check your baking ingredients for gluten
Sometimes you’ll need to put some thought into the baking ingredients that contain gluten as it’s not just flour you need to be wary of. Ashleigh says oats are a tricky ingredient when it comes to living a gluten-free life due to the way they are processed – while they may not contain gluten, they are processed on the same lines as foods that do contain gluten which means there is a risk of contamination.
Ashleigh says, ‘I avoid them when and where I can, depending on the brand, but check packets to find out what the oats have been processed with. If you require an alternative, desiccated coconut is a fantastic substitute.’