Steering clear of gluten can be a special challenge during the holidays, when baking goes into high gear in so many kitchens. But with a little know how and experimentation, you can both re-invent your traditional holiday recipes and create some new favorites worthy of handing down. Here are some tips:
- Give yourself time. Gluten-free baking is a matter of trial and error. You may be happy with your first try at a recipe, but be willing to produce a few flops (just in case) in order to come up with a keeper.
- Learn about flour alternatives. The gluten protein in wheat flours is what gives baked goods their light, airy structure. A good gluten-free flour is a blend of medium and heavy flours, along with some starch to lighten and bind the batter or dough. Options include grain flours (such as buckwheat, quinoa, millet, cornmeal, nut meal), sorghum and rice flour, and starches such as tapioca starch, cornstarch, potato starch, and arrowroot starch. Using a variety of flours will also maximize nutrition. Mix your flours together well before using them in your recipe. Sifting them will help improve the texture of your finished product.
- Eggs act as binders, setting the structure and enhancing the texture of baked products. An extra egg or egg white will produce better structure. So will dry milk solids. Guar gum and/or xanthan gum can also be added to gluten-free flour mixtures to help bind and set the structure of the baked goods, resulting in better volume.
- Gluten-free baked goods can be a bit dry. To increase moisture, include an extra egg or oil, applesauce, yogurt, honey or rice malt syrup. Brown sugar will produce a moister product than white sugar.
- To enhance the flavor of your gluten-free version of a recipe, double the spices and increase the vanilla and other extracts.
- Since there's no gluten to develop, shorten your mixing time, combining ingredients until just blended. If you're making bread in a bread machine, only use one kneading cycle.
- For improved rising, dissolve the leavening in liquid before adding to other ingredients.
- Bring all ingredients (eggs, liquids, etc.) to room temperature before mixing.
- To improve texture, refrigerate your dough half an hour or more after mixing.
- For better browning, use dark pans.
- Make smaller items (such as cupcakes or small loaves) rather than big cakes and loaves, because gluten-free products tend to crumble. To minimize crumbling (and avoid sticking), line your pans with parchment paper.
- Remove baked products from their pans as soon as they come out of the oven, to prevent sogginess.
- Keep in mind that baked goodies made with gluten-free ingredients don't last as long as items baked with wheat flour. So think about freezing extra quantities as soon as they're cooled.
It's fun to develop your own recipes—or tweak old favorites into gluten-free versions. Of course, it's also satisfying to start with a recipe you know will work! For the latter, try these recipes: