Q: I have been diagnosed with celiac a while back and I am learning a lot about gluten-free. As I am reading the newspaper, to my surprise I see a gluten-free Portuguese sweet bread ("Gluten-free bread: It's all about trust," Feb. 5, 2014).
I have lots of recipes and my question is if I can bake a regular cake or cookie recipe with a gluten free flour blend and still will come out OK? Or do I have to change/adjust the recipe? And what is the best GF flour blend mix?
Do you have a nice homemade pizza dough recipe?
Do you know if there a place either in the Internet or anywhere else that can help me with gluten free baking? I have tried few recipes and they are not good, I miss eating a nice dessert without breaking my pocket.
--Raquel Franqui, New Britain, Conn.
A: "Gluten-free baking can be intimidating at first. You feel as though every recipes you've ever used has to be thrown out the window," wrote Shauna James Ahern, author with Daniel Ahern of "Gluten-Free Girl Every Day" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $29.99), in an email. "But once you find the combination of gluten-free flours that work for you, you'll feel more confident to play. Buy a scale, since baking by weight makes your experiments more like to be successful. And keep trying. You'll get it, over time."
I forwarded your email to her and she suggested you check out her guide to gluten-free baking at her website, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef (go to: glutenfreegirl.com/a-guide-to-gluten-free-baking).
Her piece, in short, advises you to: let go of expectations born of baking with gluten; be willing to combine various gluten-free flours to get the right tastes and textures; learn to bake by weight — a more accurate way to go about it; and be willing to experiment, to "play."
I also contacted the Celiac Disease Foundation in Woodland Hills, Calif. I heard back from Maya Blackburn, the foundation's development coordinator, who identified herself in an email as "the unofficial, in-office, gluten-free foodie" at the agency. She was diagnosed with celiac disease three years ago and found it difficult to indulge in her favorite "hobbies" — cooking, baking, shopping, dining out.
Blackburn believes the "crisp crunch" of most cookies and the "moist, chewy texture" of brownies make them easier to re-create as gluten-free products than bread or cakes, where "you need to re-create a familiar texture of light fluffiness, that is difficult to do without the G-protein."
"The key to a good flour substitution is finding a mix that has xanthan gum already in it,'' Blackburn adds in her email. "Since gluten is what gives most baked goods its chewy, enjoyable texture, xanthan gum is used to give the batter or dough a 'stickiness' that would otherwise be achieved with gluten. You can always buy xanthan gum separately, and add it to gluten-free flours or mixes that don't have it. But it should be noted that it can be quite pricey on its own, and you only need the smallest amount for most baking needs."
Ahern, however, insists you don't need xanthan gum. She prefers to use psyllium husks, ground chia seeds or flax seeds in place of it.
Choose which route works best for you and your family.
As for gluten-free flour mixes, my colleague Judy Hevrdejs notes that there are almost two dozen gluten-free all-purpose flours on the market. She conducted a test using six of these flour products in a muffin smackdown for a Good Eating story; see it here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/food/sc-food-0221-gluten-free-flours-recipe-20140222,0,3887199.story
Finally, see below a gluten-free pizza dough recipe from Ahern's blog. I have not tested it myself.
Gluten-free pizza crust
Makes 2 8-inch pizza crusts or 1 16-inch pizza crust.
This pizza dough recipe comes from Shauna James Ahern's blog, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef (glutenfreegirl.com). Her whole-grain gluten-free flour mix can be made with a variety of whole grains. The basic recipe included in her new cookbook, "Gluten-Free Girl Every Day," calls for mixing 300 grams each of teff flour, millet flour and buckwheat flour and pouring the mix into a large container for storage until ready to use.
1 tablespoon ground flax seed or ground chia seeds
500 grams whole-grain gluten-free flour mix