Gluten Free Classics for Bakers

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goaheaditsglutenfree Tamara Kaye Sellman

One of the fastest growing areas of dietary concern focuses on food-related sensitivities that wreak havoc with our systems. Celiac disease (or sprue), is an autoimmune disease in which ingested glutens and other related proteins damage the small intestine’s lining. Gluten is the key protein in wheat flour, but it’s also found in barley, rye, and (potentially) oats.

This means, in a nutshell, that people who suffer from celiac disease cannot consume any of these foods at any level without feeling ill. The challenge for people in this category, however, goes far beyond avoiding wheat, barley, rye and other gluten-producing cereals, though avoiding all breads and other baked goods is hard enough for the average person. It’s in identifying the addition of these cereals in processed and prepared foods.

Gluten appears in all sorts of other foods that one might not associate with gluten at all, such as:

Self-basting turkeys, suet, imitation krab, sausages, lunch meat, bleu cheese, gravy powders, baked beans, alcohol, dried mustard, instant coffee, cheap chocolate, licorice, chutneys, pickles, salad dressings, spices, malt vinegar… even some cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and toothpastes.

Virtually everything pre-made thing you buy at the store requires some form of gluten, to bind or thicken its contents, or for flavoring. If you check the labels on cans and boxes of prepared foods, you’ll likely find the additions of food starch, malt, fillers, binders, thickeners—all things that the gluten intolerant person must avoid.

Suddenly, the diet for the average person with celiac disease is greatly limited to raw fruits and vegetables, fresh meats… and that’s about it. They are forced to become vigilant about deciphering food labels, cooking from scratch to avoid unwanted ingredients, and skimming the restaurant menu very carefully.

Celiac affects approximately 3 million Americans, or 1 in 133 healthy people. It’s more common than epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, colitis and other disabling diseases. It’s genetic as well. If left undiagnosed or untreated, it can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders, as well as osteoporosis, infertility, neurological conditions—even cancer.

You can imagine that the comfort of baked goods will be the first things celiac disease sufferers will miss as they adjust their diets. Bread is a breakfast-time staple in the US; sandwiches make for easy lunch, and pasta, quick work for dinner. The good news is that there are many gluten-free cereals, breads and pastas now available to stand in for their gluten-rich cousins.

Still, if you’re a person who has been diagnosed with celiac disease and you loved to bake, you may find yourself in tough spot. What to do about all those ingredients you can no longer use?

The Celiac Sprue Association offers a great resource for developing your own basic gluten-free flour mixes to use in home baking; these recipes were developed by home economists Mary Schluckebier, Carol Fenster, and Bette Hagman to suit a variety of purposes (such as for making bread, pastry, cookies, pasta, or as a simple substitute). The trick comes in finding the right blend of gluten-free flours (rice flour, arrowroot flour, buckwheat flour, corn flour, soya flour, tapioca flour) to yield the best possible result in flavor, texture and baking performance.

One key ingredient for successful gluten-free baking is xanthan gum. This polysaccharide (corn-based, fermented product) is used to thicken, bind and emulsify gluten-free ingredients. Without xanthan gum you may end up with loose baking batters and doughs that don’t bind together. You can find xanthan gum at health food stores and, more recently, in the bulk foods section at the grocery store.

Home cooks have arrived at some basic common guidelines for incorporating xanthan gum into gluten-free flour blends. For bread and pizza dough, the addition of 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum per each cup of gluten-free flour works. For cakes, muffins and quick breads, add ½ teaspoon to one cup of gluten-free flour. And for cookies and bars, a scant ½ teaspoon per cup of gluten-free mix should give you the best results.

Here are three easy and classic recipes for enjoying gluten-free foods.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

A flourless chocolate cake is really more a creamy fudge-like torte than a cake. This recipe will come out a little sticky, but that is the desired result. Restaurants often serve their flourless chocolate cakes on a small pool of raspberry sauce for a reason: it’s delicious! Choose the best quality chocolate available to you when you make this.

7 oz semisweet or darker chocolate (anywhere from 45 to 61% cocoa)
4 eggs, separated

1 cup (220 g) sugar, divided
1½ sticks of butter softened to room temperature and cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch cake pan, then line it the bottom with parchment paper.

Beat the egg yolks into half of the sugar in medium bowl. Reserve.

Break the chocolate into small pieces. Place in a glass microwave container. Add butter pieces. Cook on HIGH in the microwave 1 minute; stir to combine melting chocolate and butter. Cook on HIGH 30 seconds and stir again. If chocolate and butter aren’t entirely melted, cook on HIGH for 30 seconds more. Watch carefully, as you don’t want to scorch your mixture. In most home microwaves, chocolate should melt evenly into butter after 1 minute 30 seconds.

Fold the reserved egg yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture; set aside.

Beat egg whites until frothy with an electric mixer; gradually add the remaining half of the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold egg white mixture into chocolate mixture. Pour cake batter into prepared cake pan.

Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 40 minutes. Use the flat edge of a butter knife or frosting knife to separate the cake from the parchment paper. Cake will be very sticky.

Serve warm or cold with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder or powdered sugar (or both). Or do like the restaurant chefs do and bring out the raspberry sauce!

Makes 12 servings

Recipe ©2009 Tamara Kaye Sellman

Basic Gluten-Free Sugar Cookie

Listen, you won’t know the difference, and neither will your kids. Frost these with a simple glaze of 1 cup confectioner’s sugar with ½ teaspoon of your favorite flavoring extract and enough milk (add by the teaspoon) to make the proper consistency. Add food coloring if you like, as well.

cups gluten free flour mix (popular brands include Pamela’s, Bob’s Red Mill, Namaste)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2½ teaspoons of xanthan gum*

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ cup margarine
½ cup butter

1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla (no additives)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine flour mix, baking powder, xanthan gum (if necessary) and nutmeg in large bowl; set aside.

Cream margarine and butter with sugar in a mixer bowl. Blend in egg and vanilla. Mix well; the more light and whipped the batter, the better.

In stages, blend in dry ingredients until completely incorporated.

Refrigerate cookie dough at least one hour. When the dough is properly chilled, roll it out to a ½-inch thickness and cut into shapes using cookie cutters.

Bake cookies on an ungreased baking sheet 12 to 15 minutes, until light golden brown. Allow to cool on racks before frosting, if desired.

Yield depends upon size and shape of cookie cutters

*Check labels: You won’t need to add xanthan gum if your gluten-free flour mix already contains it. Also look for guar gum on the label of your flour mix; if it’s present, you won’t need to add xanthan gum.

Recipe ©2009 Tamara Kaye Sellman

Gluten-Free Pizza Dough

I can’t imagine an American household going without pizza for even a week. Fortunately, there’s hope yet for homemade Friday night pie. This particular recipe does not call for yeast, so it can be made up and used right away—perfect for a busy Friday night.

2 cups gluten free flour mix (popular brands include Pamela’s, Bob’s Red Mill, Namaste)

2 teaspoons xanthan gum*

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1½ cups seltzer water

Sauces and toppings as desired

Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly oil a pizza pan and set aside.

Combine dry ingredients (except herbs) first. Grind dried herbs in a mill or mortar and pestle, then stir into flour mixture.

Stir in oil and water and combine well to form a sticky dough. Spread into a circle on prepared pizza pan, dipping fingers in warm water to keep from sticking to the dough.

Bake crust 20 minutes. Remove from oven; add desired sauces and toppings, then return pizza to oven to bake another 15 minutes or until cheeses are melted and toppings are heated through.

Makes 1 pizza crust

*Check labels: You won’t need to add xanthan gum if your gluten-free flour mix already contains it. Also look for guar gum on the label of your flour mix; if it’s present, you won’t need to add xanthan gum.

Recipe ©2009 Tamara Kaye Sellman

Disclaimer: Consume these recipes at your own risk; they do not take into consideration any food allergies that you may have. Kalön assumes no liability if you consume foods, called for or referred to in any way in these recipes, to which you are allergic.

Bio: Tamara Kaye Sellman is a creative writing coach and developmental editor living in Bainbridge Island, WA. She writes the blog, BuzzFood: Feed the Obsession (

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