Gluten-Free Baking Is Easier Than Ever Before
- Monday, 21 December 2009
Having been a baker for as long as I can remember, my course of real kitchen work started at a vegan and organic cafe and co-op. I did a great deal of vegan baking and started getting requests for gluten-free items even back in the early 2000s.
As more people are finding out about sensitivities to gluten and wheat, it is more important than ever to share what I have found with gluten-free baking. Currently, much of what interests me outside of all the pastry I play with day in and day out are gluten-free goodies that give people hope of enjoying their favorite treats again, in a new safe and gluten-free way.
Why does gluten matter in baking? Gluten is a protein that is found in mainly grains such as wheat, spelt, and barley to name a few mainstream varieties. Composed of proteins glutenin and gliadin, gluten develops when these proteins are mixed with water and kneaded. The gluten forms a network of structure and causes the dough to rise, swell and develop that chew and fluff found in traditional baked goods.
Gluten is required in items like breads, but not in goods such as cakes and cookies, where a tender crumb is desired. Baking is relatively simple if you can follow a recipe and use a typical all-purpose flour, but it gets more complicated when you take the gluten out (as anyone who has tried to bake gluten-free goods surely knows!).
Simply substituting gluten-free flour will not make a very desirable baked good. A blend of flours, gums, and starches is the easiest way to get each of the desired characteristics that mimic wheat flour. Think one for texture, one for structure, one for chew, one for moisture content, etc.
I completely support items in stores that are labeled "gluten-free flour blends." Companies spend time and money to achieve a balance in these blends, and they test them for use in traditional recipes. There is no shame in using a major company's hard work for your benefit!
Gluten-free baking is a bit of an experiment. There is no guarantee that a one-to-one substitution of a gluten-free flour blend will be exactly the same as your old recipes, but play around and try a little less or a little more until you're happy with the results.
Going gluten-free is not the end of baked goodies, but the beginning of a new time and new tastes! My best advice is to stay true to your tastes in the end and accept your condition with an open heart. If you weren't a fan of cakes before going gluten-free, it might not be the most ideal time to want to start eating cakes.
Finding things that are accidentally gluten-free is also a great option. Flourless chocolate or nut tortes are simple to make and gluten-free. Nut flour cookies and cakes are also gluten-free. Meringue cookies, jelly candies or other egg based custards, mousses, and puddings are all sweet, delicious, and gluten-free treats.
Compile a list of safe and great recipes as you find them, and you'll soon have a collection of options you know you can rely on to get the results you desire. Write down any and all notes relating to what you did to make the recipe ideal.
Pastry chefs write down every last detail when we're developing recipes so that anyone can make the same recipe again. Ingredients are weighed in grams or ounces and technique is noted accurately, including minute details such as mixing time, type of spoon used, and how many times batter is folded. There is nothing worse than getting a recipe perfect and then never being able to do it again!