May 16

Fresh Start

“What gluten-free flour do you use?” “Please share your hot cross bun recipe!” “I need to up my soup game. Any ideas?” “I’m not having luck with gluten-free baking. Am I using the wrong flour?”

I wrote this blog totally unrelated to my day job for several years until I got too busy with work. I’m finding, however, that people on my social media platforms often ask for recipes or advice in particular on gluten-free baking, cooking and a variety of other topics. So I’ve decided to reboot this blog to be a repository for miscellaneous things people ask me about and things I think you might enjoy including recipes (especially gluten-free which involves different techniques and methods), small things you can do to brighten your day and encouragement to learn something new. I’m going to try to keep the posts relatively short in general but when it’s a complicated topic, like I’m writing about today, I’m going to write more in depth.

Given the frequency with which I’m asked about gluten-free flours, I have to devote this first post to answering that question. Like many things in life, it’s a complicated answer to a simple question. The broad answer is that the chemistry of gluten-free baking is so much more than a mere flour substitution. If you’re going to bake gluten-free, take the time to read up on the science and you’ll be rewarded with baked goods that taste every bit as delicious as their wheat counterparts.

Start by purchasing or borrowing How Can This Be Gluten-Free from America’s Test Kitchen, volumes 1 and 2 The experts there explain everything you need to know about hydrating the flours and bread structures as well as sharing their recipe for the ideal general purpose gluten-free flour. I’ve found that mixing my own flour using their recipe that includes white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch and dried milk powder has both saved me money and yielded fantastic baked goods. We’re talking great flavor, good crumb, not gummy and baked goods that will delight the wheat-eaters in your family as well. I typically order the ingredients for the America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) flour mix from a variety of places based but have included links to at least one place you can find what you need.

Let’s say you’re in a hurry and need to grab an off the shelf gluten-free flour or mix. Below are my top picks:

Flours for bread baking: King Arthur’s All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour is a good general flour I’d use in breads for example. Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur also make bread mixes, which are good but not as good as the bread you’ll get from the ATK recipes in the books. If you have the unfortunate memory of the old Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free bread mixes that used to rely too heavily on bean flours, you’ll be thrilled to know that they changed their formulations and their flours and mixes no longer have strong bean tastes and smells.

Flours for cookies, brownies, cakes: The King Arthur Measure for Measure is good when you want to do a straight substitute of a gluten-free flour in an old family recipe for example. The pricier Cup 4 Cup gluten-free flour is a totally different type of flour with a high amount of corn starch acting as a binder in place of the gluten. I’ve had excellent results in a recipe using half Measure for Measure and half Cup 4 Cup if it’s a recipe that’s not in the ATK cookbooks. Some cookies are wonderful with Cup 4 Cup for example but others like biscotti lack a good crumb when you do a straight substitution. Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 All-Purpose Flour is similar to Measure for Measure.

Flours for pancakes and waffles: Pamela’s Baking Mix is our go-to for pancakes. It contains nut flours which add protein and good texture and is fantastic for biscuits and a topping for pot pie, for example. A close second would be King Arthur Pancake Mix.

Ingredients that you will want to have on hand for gluten-free baking: psyllium husk powder gives a great texture and elasticity lost without gluten. ATK recipes call for it frequently. It’s a game changer. Xanthan gum is used less frequently but also helpful in producing a nice chew. Most of the recipes I use call for. oat flour I used to grind oats in the food processor to produce it but realized that I use it so frequently that I included a bag in my last Bob’s Red Mill order and it’s convenient to have on hand.

Miscellaneous gluten-free baking ingredients worth trying: Trader Joe’s delightful gluten-free pumpkin bread mix is fabulous yet only available in the fall so stock up when you see it. Trader Joes, Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur all make very good brownie mixes as well.  Although I used to make my own pie crusts, my family and I have concluded that it’s hard to beat Whole Foods’ gluten-free pie crusts. They are sold in pairs in the frozen food section and are fabulous. Don’t worry that they always crack when prebaking. They will still taste fantastic. They don’t get soggy the way wheat does because the rice flour produces a sturdier crust that absorbs the liquids in the pie less easily. If you want a double-crusted pie however, ATK’s recipe or King Arthur’s mix will be helpful. I’ve never had a bad mix from King Arthur.

Off the shelf gluten-free bread: The ONLY off-the-shelf gluten-free bread worth eating is Trader Joe’s. Our daughter actually prefers it to wheat. It’s the only gluten-free bread that’s excellent at room temperature in a sandwich for example. Their gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread is fantastic as well. The bagels are a little bland and too airy for my taste. If you don’t live near a Trader Joe’s, seek one out any time you travel and put a loaf in the freezer. Unless you bake bread yourself, you will not find any other gluten-free bread that’s even close. Udi’s is a very distant second.

Lastly, let me say this: it’s really tough to be gluten intolerant. People don’t get it and there’s not a lot of choice out there for us in restaurants or even at neighborhood potlucks. People make inappropriate and hurtful jokes and it’s just a drag. It’s easy to convince yourself that if you’re the only one in the family who is gluten-intolerant that it’s not worth baking bread for yourself. One of the reasons I’m spending my Saturday night writing this is to convince you that life is short and being able to bite into a beautiful piece of toast is totally worth the time it takes to prepare. Once you get the hang of it and experience success, it will just become a habit and you too will have a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread cooling on your counter. I’ll help you get there.