Gluten-free holiday treats

Here is the story from the Dec. 12, 2012, edition of the Albany Democrat-Herald on gluten-free holiday baking.

Gluten-free holiday treats

By Heather Crabtree
Albany Democrat-Herald

Anyone who has a food allergy or a dietary restriction can tell you that the holidays are often the hardest time of the year with all the food, baked goods and candies floating around the home and office.

The choice is either to feel left out or make your own, and there are times that there are no easy alternatives.

As someone with celiac disease — meaning I can’t have anything with gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley — anything bread related has been off my plate for years. At least it was until I started exploring the alternatives.

There are plenty of gluten-free recipes out there, but the problem I’ve found with those is that it requires you to buy a lot of flours or items that aren’t usually on your shopping list or are incredibly expensive.

It was for this reason that I started experimenting with converting regular recipes to gluten-free a few years ago.

Here are a few simple tricks that I apply to baking.

A straight flour swap

If you are a lover of sweet breads, such as banana bread or zucchini bread, one of the easiest ways to convert a traditional recipe is to substitute the all-purpose flour with a gluten-free (gf) all-purpose flour mix.

I recommend one that is mainly rice flour. I’ve found several that have a lot of corn flour, and those products just end up making the bread taste like corn bread. However, I’ve been told with the rice flour mixes, you can’t tell the difference.

Also, if you prefer to stick with one flour instead of a mix of gf flours, I recommend rice flour as the preferred one-on-one substitute.

Picking your recipe

One of the issues I’ve found with gluten-free breads is that they can be dense and dry. That’s why it’s important to pick a recipe that calls for more moisture, such as the banana bread  at right, which calls for sour cream that naturally adds moisture to the sweet bread.

I’ve also found that trying to just swap gf flours for all-purpose flour in a yeast bread or cake recipe doesn’t work. Gf food rises and cooks differently, so it is better to stick with simpler recipes like the sweet breads and some types of cookies when converting a regular recipe.

Complex cookies

When I first starting baking gluten-free treats, my cookies fell flat — looking more like peanut brittle than a cookie.

Cookies that have a higher butter and sugar content tend to flatten because the gf flours lack the binding agent — gluten — in regular flour.

Holiday cookies are not impossible to make, however, by swapping flour; it just requires remembering some basic concepts from high school science and an additional recipe adjustment for chocolate chip cookies.

Following the cookie recipe on the back of the bag, I add an extra egg and xanthan gum, which acts as a thickener. Too much xanthan and the cookies look like little cakes. Too little, and the cookies flatten and turn to brittle.

I always cook a test batch to make sure they are going to react the way they are supposed to. That way, if they do fall flat, I can add more xanthan gum before I throw the rest in the oven.

Another trick is to refrigerate the cookie dough. This allows the fats to harden again and helps the cookies keep their shape when placed in the oven.