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
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
15 grams (4 teaspoons) active-dry yeast
50 grams (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
85 to 190 grams (1/2 to 1 cup) warm water, about 110 degrees
olive oil for brushing on top of the crust
1.Mix the flax seed (or chia seed) into a bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons of boiling-hot water over the seeds. Whisk immediately and quickly until you have a thick paste or slurry. Set aside; cool.
2.Put the gluten-free flours and the salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix together.
3.Put the yeast, olive oil, and half the warm water into a small bowl. Stir gently. Let them sit for a moment to activate the yeast.
4:Add the flax seed or chia seed slurry to the dry ingredients and mix for a moment. Pour the yeasty water into the dry ingredients. With the mixer on medium, whirl for a few moments, until the dough comes together into a soft ball around the paddle of the stand mixer and feels soft and pliable. If the dough feels too dry, add more of the warm water in small amounts until the dough feels right. (You might not need all the water. You might need more. Yeast doughs can differ from kitchen to kitchen.) Set the dough aside in a warm place and let it rise for 1 hour.
5:Preparing to bake: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. (If you feel comfortable with heat, take it up to 550 degrees. Just watch the dough in the oven, carefully.) If you have a pizza stone, make sure it is in the oven. If not, sprinkle a pizza tray or baking sheet with gluten-free cornmeal.
6.Rolling out the dough: Grab 1/2 of the dough and put it between 2 pieces of parchment paper. Through the paper, roll out the dough to your desired thickness. Take the parchment paper off the dough, then transfer the dough to the pizza stone or prepared pizza tray. Brush the top with olive oil. Bake until the dough has started to crisp up and browned at the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes. (And less if you have the oven cranked up to 550 degrees.)
7.Take the crust out of the oven. You now have a pre-baked pizza crust. Top with anything you fancy and continue baking until the cheese is bubbly and melty.
Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.