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Lessons Learned From Gluten-Free Baking


After struggling with GI issues for many years, I recently decided to take my diet in hand. I had previously gone “dairy-free” for the same reason and experienced some success, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be, gastrointestinally speaking. Gluten, a storage protein in wheat that gives baked goods that elasticity and lightness, has long been touted as a contributor to aforesaid GI issues. My sister had already gone gluten-free for the same reason. There was only one thing standing in my way: my undying and uncompromising love for baked goods. I didn’t see how I could ever give them up and experience a satisfying diet. So, I went in search of gluten-free alternatives.

First, I bought several packaged brands of breads, bars, and some sweets. They were, for the most part, pretty horrible: dry, tasteless, heavy, just not a good “mouthfeel.” I found one or two bread brands that I liked, but I certainly wasn’t eating a sandwich every day. A little discouraged but still somewhat hopeful, I turned to homemade goods.

I have always loved to bake. It is relaxing and rewarding for me, and I enjoy trying new recipes. Since I have quite a bit of experience in the baking department, I figured this would be a cinch. There are many gluten-free (GF) flours available out there: rice, brown rice, soy, almond, and coconut, to name a few. I would simply substitute one of these flours for any white flour the recipe called for.

The first item I tried was GF pancakes. Easy! Same ingredients, just substitute the GF flour. The pancakes were rubbery with a gritty mouthfeel. Just in case I missed something, I tried again… with the same result. This was not a pancake that I could recommend, or for that matter, serve. After trying muffins, quick breads, cakes, cookies and brownies, I was discouraged. It was at this time that I discovered the Twist Bakery in Millis. This lovely little gem has not only gluten-free baked goods, but also dairy and nut- free. They have many selections, and everything I tried there was simply delicious. I live in Canton and can only get over there once in a while, so unfortunately Twist would not become my baked goods supplier. It did, however, inspire me to do some research. If GF baked goods can be this good, I can learn how to make them.

I went into the Minuteman catalog and typed in a search for “gluten-free baking.” One of the books that came up was The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook, by America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). Intriguing. After reading the introduction, I could see that good GF baking comes down to understanding the relationship between the amount of glutenin (a wheat protein) and its reaction to water and mixing. It’s not just a matter of using gluten-free flour. If the gluten is taken out, something else must be substituted, or one ends up with the aforementioned pancakes.

Three main factors come into play when one is using a gluten-free flour. First, the amount of glutenin in the flour is very important, as more glutenin = more strength and elasticity. With bread flour, for example, there is more glutenin, and using it results in a nice mouthfeel for bread. Cake flour, on the other hand, has a lower glutenin content and produces a soft structure that is perfect for cakes. Second, water is a big factor in the development of gluten. The more water, the stronger and more elastic the gluten is. This gives the baked good an “airier” result and is pleasing to the palate. Finally, mixing time is very important. The less a mixture is stirred, the less gluten will develop. In the case of muffins, this is why all package directions warn you not to “overmix.” Result? Tough, hard muffins that do anything but melt in the mouth.

Now we come to the substitutions for gluten. In the recipes from HCIBGF, America’s Test Kitchen, after literally thousands of tries, has developed a flour blend that can be used to produce pretty yummy baked goods. Their secret? A mix of GF flours, a mix of starches (for that elasticity), and nonfat milk powder (to help with browning). And for DF folks, we can use soy milk powder in place of the milk powder, with the same result. One other element is necessary with GF baking, and that is a binder. A binder acts as strengthener and gives the baked goods desired elasticity. ATK basically recommended xanthan gum, and, though it is not added to the ATK flour blend at the outset, each recipe calls for the flour blend AND a teaspoon or so of the xanthan gum.

The Living Gluten-Free Answer Book, by Suzanne Bowland

The How Can it be Gluten-Free Cookbook, Volume 2, by America’s Test Kitchen

https://www.americastestkitchen. com/guides/gluten-free/keys-to-successful-gluten-free-baking

Carla Howard is the Senior Circulation and Media & Marketing Assistant at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the February 21, 2019 issue of the Norwood Transcript.


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