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    Becoming a Gluten-Free Baker

    As a woman with celiac disease, author and editor Chelly Wood used to dread the holidays.

    Her daughter, Annie, also cannot tolerate even a small amount of gluten. The abundance of food at every function increased the risk of both of them ending up ill.

    “When we were first diagnosed, my daughter would get sick every time we traveled for Christmas,” says Wood, who lives in Twin Falls, Idaho. “Family members think they know how to cook gluten free, but they really don't.” Gluten-free food prepared in a pan that was just used to fry up French toast would trigger symptoms, for example.

    Wood developed a plan that has kept both of them healthy.

    Awareness Counts

    The biggest pitfall in baking truly gluten free is often lack of knowledge.

    People who think they're cooking free of gluten usually don't realize their pans are contaminated with gluten in the corners. Further, their counter space is dusted with crumbs from toast and grains of flour from earlier baking projects.

    “Even their cutting boards have minute bits of gluten in them,” Wood says.

    To avoid these problems, Wood says she spent a lot of time in the kitchen during holiday visits watching food preparation to avoid any slip-ups.

    Flour Options

    Knowing the properties of various gluten-free flours can help you decide which ones to use. Caroline Shannon-Karasik, author of Gluten-Free for the Holidays (Skyhorse) suggests using a gluten-free mix if you need a last-minute alternative.

    Brown and White Rice Flour

    Just one cup of rice flour supplies you with almost 10 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. It also contains valuable nutrients such as vitamin B6, magnesium and phosphorus. It's important to note that brown rice flour has more B vitamins, manganese and phosphorus than white rice flour. Fortunately, rice flour is rarely processed in facilities that also handle wheat, so cross-contamination with products containing gluten is unlikely.

    White rice flour is finely milled with a powdery texture, while brown rice flour isn't milled as finely, making it slightly coarser. Due to its coarseness, brown rice flour has a more noticeable texture and bolder taste than white rice flour.

    These can be used interchangeably in recipes. White rice flour typically costs less than brown rice flour, although the whole grain of the latter may be preferable.

    Almond Flour/Meal

    Almond flour adds moisture to baked goods along with protein and fiber. Made by grinding blanched almonds, it requires balancing with a starch or whole-grain flour such as brown rice. Too much almond flour can cause baked goods to fall flat.

    Almond flour is filled with nutrients, including vitamin E, manganese and magnesium. It's low in carbs while high in fiber and healthy fats.

    Since it's not unusual for companies to process almond flour and meal in facilities where other flours are also processed, cross-contamination is sometimes an issue. Look for the “gluten-free” label to make sure the almond flour you purchase is safe for you to consume.

    Almond flour is finely milled whereas almond meal is more coarsely ground. Use almond flour when making finely textured foods, such as cakes and bread. Opt for almond meal in foods where texture doesn't matter as much, such as crackers and low-carb muffins.

    Tapioca Starch/Flour

    Made from the root of the tropical cassava plant, tapioca flour works well in a blend that also contains whole-grain flours.

    Tapioca is pure starch and is made up mostly of carbohydrates. It has minor amounts of fat, protein and other nutrients, so it has limited nutritional value. That said, tapioca flour is a source of digestion-resistant starch, meaning it functions similarly to fiber in the gut.

    Companies that produce tapioca flour often process it on the same equipment as barley, rye, and mill wheat, posing a rather significant risk of cross-contamination. To avoid cross-contamination, purchase products that are labeled gluten-free.

    Tapioca flour is extremely smooth, making it a good thickening agent for soups and sauces. Its texture, along with the fact that it has no discernible smell or taste, makes it a good substitute for cornstarch.

    Potato Starch

    While other gluten-free flours use the terms “flour” and “starch” interchangeably, potato starch and potato flour are not the same. The starch adds moisture to baked goods and works well as a thickener.

    Potato starch contains minimal amounts of nutrients. One tablespoon contains about 10 grams of carbohydrates but lacks protein, fiber and fat. However, like tapioca starch, it's considered a digestion-resistant food.

    Cross-contamination is fairly unlikely with potato starch, but it's always a good idea to look for the gluten-free label. Potato starch is finely textured and flour-like, which is why it's a good thickening agent.

    Arrowroot Starch

    Pricier than other starches, arrowroot's mild flavor makes it a favorite.

    Arrowroot starch is high in protein and other nutrients, such as folate, phosphorus and iron. It's a potential source of prebiotics, a healthy type of fiber.

    Cross-contamination risk is relatively low with arrowroot starch, but it's still a good idea to check for the gluten-free label. Arrowroot flour has a fine, powdery texture and is often used in biscuits and pudding.

    Coconut Flour

    Made from dehydrated, ground-up coconut meat, coconut flour is a good source of iron and fiber. One cup contains about 24 grams of protein and 72 grams of carbohydrates.

    While it's unusual for cross-contamination to occur with coconut flour, the possibility does exist. So, as always, looking for a gluten-free label or contacting the manufacturer of the brand you're considering purchasing is a good idea.

    Coconut flour is lightweight and powdery. It's highly absorbent, making it a good choice to use when baking cakes, muffins and pancakes thanks to the light, fluffy texture it generates.

    Although coconut flour adds moisture to baked goods, it requires trial and error. The general rule: for each 1/4 cup of coconut flour you'll need to add one egg. So if your traditional recipe calls for a cup of flour, and you're substituting 1/4 cup of flour with an equal amount of coconut flour, you'll need to increase the eggs in the recipe by one, Shannon-Karasik says.

    Quinoa Flour

    High in protein and with a nutty taste, quinoa flour can become too noticeable unless you balance it out with something else, like brown rice flour or almond meal.

    Quinoa flour is full of various vitamins and minerals. One cup has about 92 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fiber and 16 grams of protein. It also contains both iron and calcium.

    Quinoa flour, like almost all gluten-free flours and starches, can become cross-contaminated during processing although the risk is relatively low.

    Quinoa flour is fluffy and soft, and its high protein content lends bread and muffins a dense, rich texture.

    Baking Rules

    Avoiding gluten involves staying clear of all wheat flours, including white flour, whole wheat flour, durum wheat, graham flour, kamut, semolina, triticale, spelt, wheat germ and wheat bran, says Leigh Tracy, RD. Barley and rye also contain gluten.

    Oats may or may not be safe. “Some commercialized oats have been in contact with gluten,” Tracy says, “but those that have not will be clearly labeled gluten-free.” Be wary of bulk bins for purchasing gluten-free ingredients, as they may be cross-contaminated.

    Baking without gluten involves more than simply substituting another ingredient in place of wheat flour.

    “You cannot just replace one type of gluten-free flour for an all-purpose flour. You must use a flour blend,” says chef Kendra Peterson, who blogs at Drizzle Kitchen. “Different flours lend themselves to various purposes, whether it's structure, nutrition or leavening power.”

    Include a starch as part of your flour blend. Tapioca, potato or cornstarch should typically be about one-third of the total mixture, advises Peterson.

    And be sure to mix your ingredients well. “Because you don't naturally have the gluten bond, you need to mix the other flours with the liquid enough to build up the stretchy bond that replaces gluten strands,” Peterson explains.

    Lastly, weighing ingredients works better for accuracy than measuring because gluten-free flours can vary in density; your gluten-free flour substitutions must weigh the same as the weight of the flour you're replacing so the ratio of dry to liquid and fat remains the same.

    Peterson recommends starting by baking gluten-free cookies if you're a newbie.

    “Try a simple sugar cookie or chocolate chip cookie and jazz it up with a drizzle of extra chocolate or gluten-free sprinkles,” she says. “Complex cookies can take more time to adjust to a gluten-free version, so leave those for after you've mastered the basics.”

    Gluten Free Sundried Tomato and Olive Quick Bread

    This quick bread “may be the simplest gluten-free bread recipe I have ever come up with,” says Carol Kicinski, author of Simply Gluten-Free Desserts and Simply Gluten-Free Quick Meals (both from Thomas Dunne) and Simply Gluten-Free Cupcakes (Simply Gluten Free).

    Kicinski, who started developing gluten-free recipes after learning about her own gluten intolerance, says this bread can be served with olive oil for dipping or as a “killer appetizer or snack” with cream cheese and more of the tomato pesto.

    Sundried Tomato Pesto

    1/2 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil

    1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed

    3 tbsp of the sundried tomato oil (or use olive oil)

    1/4 tsp kosher salt

    1/8 tsp black pepper


    Gluten-free, non-stick cooking spray

    3/4 cup rice milk (or milk)

    1 tsp apple cider vinegar

    3 tbsp sundried tomato pesto

    1 large egg, lightly beaten

    1 1/2 cups white rice flour

    1/2 cup tapioca starch

    1 tbsp sugar

    1 tsp baking soda

    1 tsp baking powder

    2 tsp dried Italian seasoning

    1/2 tsp kosher salt

    1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped

    1 tbsp olive oil

    1. Place all the pesto ingredients in a food processor and process until almost smooth.
    2. Preheat oven to 350° and spray 8” by 4” loaf pan with cooking spray.
    3. Combine the rice milk and apple cider vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the pesto and egg.
    4.In a mixing bowl, whisk together the rice flour, tapioca starch, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, Italian seasoning and salt. Add the chopped olives to the flour mixture and toss them well to distribute the olives throughout. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk to combine.
    5.Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 3035 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Brush the top of the loaf with the olive oil.
    6. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling or serve warm.

    Yields 1 loaf

    Source: reprinted with permission of Simply Gluten Free

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    **These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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