Thursday, June 12, 2014

Making a Recipe Gluten Free

Until moving up to South Dakota, in all my 60+ years I had never met anyone who was gluten intolerant (that I or they knew of) or had Celiac disease. Now it seems every time I turn around I am confronted by another gluten intolerant person. Not having ever considered myself gluten intolerant, now I understand that a good portion of us in the US do have some sort of gluten related allergy whether acknowledged or not. And just as with a new vocabulary word, once learned it seems to pop up everywhere. 

GF Caramelized Sugar Cake
Gluten-Free Caramelized Sugar Cake
I could not say if I have a gluten allergy or not, though it is quite possible. I do not have any crippling ailments or depression or most of the long list of possible symptoms. But, I love breads. And cakes and cookies and pies and scones and on and on and on. In this past month or so I have totally fallen in love with Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice and have made about 6 different bread products form that book. There is just nothing so wonderful as the smell of baking bread. Having to do without these heavenly products nearly makes it feel like life wouldn't even be bearable without them. And yet the list of people who cannot eat these types of things is growing daily.

When I first came into this town, I found that one of the women working at the museum here is gluten intolerant as are others in her family. When making any food for a museum function, I must be aware that there is one person who cannot have most of the things I would normally make. So, I began experimenting with gluten free flours and baking gluten free. All that said, most of the regular foods we make do not have any gluten in them, naturally. And many have gluten products added just for a particular convenience. So many yogurts have wheat and/or other starches added to make them creamier, as do such simple things as store-bought spaghetti sauces. Who would ever have thought that red licorice has wheat in it? I mean, really?!

When I began testing some recipes, I found a couple of alternate flour mixtures and began there, substituting 1 to 1 for regular flour in a recipe. My first was a chocolate cake. It was not bad at all, though the texture was different. But it was good. I was encouraged. I tried making pancakes, which also turned out really good, though they need to be baked longer than regular wheat flour pancakes. Below is My Favorite Pancake recipe. Substitute Gluten Free all-purpose flour mix for the wheat flour, is making gluten free. Be aware that many GF flour mixes already contain xanthan gum, so be aware before adding a teaspoon more..

My Favorite Pancakes

Gluten Free Peach Pancakes

Makes about 16 (5-inch) pancakes

1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Oil, for griddle
Fruit, optional (1 cup blueberries, 1 ripe peach, peeled & chopped, 1 banana, mashed, or 1 apple, peeled, cored and grated)

Mix the lemon juice into the milk and set aside to curdle. Sift together the flour, sugar, soda & salt. Whisk the egg and the melted butter into the milk. Pour into the dry ingredients and whisk gently just until combined.

Pour out ladles-full of batter onto a griddle, and just before flipping, sprinkle on a few blueberries. Flip and finish baking. This prevents the pancakes from turning blue! Yield: 16 pancakes

NOTES: The "milk and lemon" step is to make it easier to have all ingredients on hand, with the belief that it would be more usual for most people to have milk and lemons in their refrigerator than to have buttermilk. If you happen to have buttermilk on hand, substitute 2 cups of buttermilk for the milk and lemon juice. 

GLUTEN-FREE option: Substitute your favorite gluten-free flour for the all-purpose flour, and add in 1 teaspoon xanthan gum with the other dry ingredients. Proceed with directions as above. These are really delicious either way, and I have made these 3 times gluten-free. They require just a bit more monitoring to make sure they are cooked through, but they turned out perfect each time.

My first recipes included xanthan gum, to give some of the stability that the gluten in wheat flour would normally give. I was detecting a flavor in the baked goods I made but didn't know what it was from. I had read an article on xanthan gum in a magazine, saying that chefs used it to thicken sauces or dressings without the need for heat. I tried a recipe for a relatively runny salad dressing, adding xanthan gum to thicken it. There was that flavor again, and it completely ruined the flavor of the dressing. Ahhh. Now I knew what that flavor was in the gluten free baked goods.

Crusty Boule
I had fallen in love with the Gluten Free Girl and the Chef blog (, reading how Shauna James Ahern's life changed once diagnosed properly and able to be in control of her life again. Her recipe testing and tasting was interesting and I read avidly, trying to get all the info I could from a site that was intelligently written, by someone who knew the difficulties, pitfalls and hazards. I used one of her bread recipes, a "Crusty Boule", and though the bread loaves were minuscule, were also really tasty. In later posts, Shauna mentioned that xanthan gum seemed to be causing her some new health problems, and that she was trying out using psyllium husks to give the gluten replacement structure in some of her baked goods, with some success. I decided to try that out. 

Psyllium seems to work well in some recipes. I haven't used it enough in baking to really determine where it will or won't work, but at least it is an alternative. Then I read a recipe using guar gum. This stuff is expensive! But I bought a small amount to try. So far, I have not detected that "off" flavor I so object to with the xanthan gum. And then, the other day I made a new recipe called Muhummara. This Middle Eastern dip or spread is thickened with bread crumbs. 

The museum holds artist receptions for those artists featured at the museum, and the current one happens to have allergies to gluten and various other things. The museum staff were concerned what to serve at this reception, and so asked my thoughts and opinions on the matter. Hummus was one suggestion. I also thought of the recipe for Muhummara, which I found particularly delicious. While it is normally served with pita breads, it would also be good with vegetables or gluten free crackers, just as would hummus. But there are bread crumbs in the Muhummara recipe, so I wondered if using gluten free bread to make the crumbs would work?

This is What I Did:

I bought a loaf of Udi's gluten free whole grain bread and took out three slices to make the 2/3 cup. I processed the fresh bread to crumbs, then tossed it in a hot pan to evaporate liquid and brown the crumbs. It was a perfect 2/3 cup! The recipe calls for 12 ounces (drained) roasted red peppers. I got two 12 ounce jars of roasted red peppers, which by the time they were drained came to only 2 ounces more than the recipe called for. I used them all. I followed the regular recipe as I added in the ingredients, but after the gluten free bread crumbs, where there should have been a pretty thick mixture, it was still rather thin. And I decided that psyllium husks would be perfect in this application. I added 2 tablespoons and it thickened nicely. This allowed the addition of the olive oil at the end. The dip is delicious, and I cannot tell any difference in flavor. I hope the people attending the reception will enjoy this dip as much as I have. That it is gluten free is unimportant except to those who must have it. The flavor is the same, and that is what counts.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.