Certain holidays will always be associated with specific dishes: turkey at Thanksgiving, for instance, or hot cross buns at Easter. And many of us make the same foods, using the same recipes, over and over again, each year. Because why mess with tradition?
But if you suddenly discover you’re gluten intolerant, have celiac disease, or have simply decided to eat gluten-free — what happens to the Thanksgiving pie or Christmas cookies?
Baking gluten-free can be a challenge: There’s more to gluten-free treats than simply using gluten-free flour. Here are 10 tips on baking for gluten-free family and friends: what to make (and what NOT to bake), and how.
1. Follow gluten-free recipes carefully
Unlike cooking, where you can vary a recipe by adding a dash of this and a handful of that, baking is precise. Follow gluten-free recipes exactly, including using specialty ingredients like xanthan gum or brown rice flour where called for.
2. Watch out for gluten in other ingredients beyond flour
Did you know vanilla extract can include gluten? So can rolled oats, soy sauce, and malt vinegar. Be a careful label-reader; if you see the word “wheat” anywhere on a label, steer clear.
3. Seek out recipes using just a small amount of flour
The most successful gluten-free recipes are those where flour doesn’t play a significant role to begin with. See that brownie recipe that uses tons of eggs and sugar and chocolate, but just 1/4 cup gluten-free flour? That’s a good candidate.
4. Identify treats that are naturally gluten-free
Meringues, fudge, and most homemade candies don’t include wheat flour or other ingredients with gluten. This easy microwave peanut brittle is ready in just 10 minutes, and makes a big batch of candy that stays fresh for weeks.
5. Look for recipes titled ‘flourless’
You know that decadent recipe for flourless chocolate cake? It’s probably gluten-free. Many recipes will include the word flourless right in their title; that’s your clue to investigate the recipe further, as it has a good chance of being gluten-free.
6. Try recipes using nut flour
Nut flour recipes have become more and more popular in recent years. Look for recipes (without wheat flour) using almond flour, ground almonds, or pecan meal. These nut flours can step in for wheat flour in select cases, yielding delicious, tender shortbread, chewy cookies, or even cake. Hint: Many recipes labeled kosher for Passover substitute nut flour for wheat flour.
7. Bake treats that don’t need to rise much
Gluten is what makes baked goods rise. So rather than fight this fact, go with it: baked goods that naturally don’t rise high — think pancakes, rollout cookies, crackers, and pie crust — are much better gluten-free candidates than popovers or high-rising yeast bread.
8. Skip yeast-based recipes
Sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, sweet breads: while possible to make these gluten-free, it’s quite a challenge to do them well. Unless you’re a seasoned gluten-free baker, stick to recipes not involving yeast.
9. Be aware of other potential allergens
Many people eating gluten-free are also avoiding other allergens, including tree nuts and dairy products. If you’re baking gluten-free treats for specific friends or family members, take the time to ask them about any other allergies before you start.
10. Be extra-careful if you’re celiac
Take the time to verify that the ingredients you use are truly gluten-free; even the tiniest bit of gluten in your food can have serious consequences to your health. The Gluten-Free Certification Organization is a reliable source of information for those seeking products that are guaranteed gluten-free.
Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.