Gluten-free baking tips for the holidays and every day

by Julie Snyder

Gluten-free bakingGetting rid of gluten doesn't mean giving up on baked goods. Since cutting it out of my diet, my baking attempts have been hit and miss -- from over-the-top spectacular to crumbly and tough.

Becki and I combined our "learned-it-in-the-kitchen" knowledge to make your holiday baking a delight -- for everyone in your family.

Here's how you can make zero-gluten versions of your favorite recipes and create new ones that would make your relatives proud.

Becki's story

My family got dropped into the gluten-free world when our 15-month-old son was diagnosed with celiac disease. I felt as if I couldn't feed him anything. His diagnosis came two weeks before Thanksgiving. I got my first taste of taking everything for him at the holiday gatherings that year. It was very hard.

We fell deeper into the gluten-free world when our daughter was tested at 14 months. She has gluten sensitivity. I didn't feel as lost this time. I already had the tools that allowed me to give her the foods she could have eaten had she not been gluten-sensitive, even during the holidays, even yummy baked goods.

Gluten-free baking tips

Get friendly and familiar with substitutes for gluten

The proteins gliadin and glutenin give baked goods their bounce and moist texture. Those are the very ingredients to avoid on a GF diet. You've probably run into the substitutes -- gelatin, xanthan gum or guar gum. They're happy to pitch-hit as a binder in place of gluten.

Xanthan gum feels slick on your fingers. It adds moisture to your batter and helps baked goods stick together.

Guar gum has eight times the thickening power of standard starches. It gives your baked good bounce.

Gelatin: Although not as effective, unflavored gelatin is cheaper. If the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum, use 2 teaspoons of unflavored gelatin.

The big list of flours

Black bean flour: Great in chocolate desserts like brownies; high in fiber and protein
Brown rice flour: Mild flavor, good base for most baking projects; mixes well with black bean, coconut and sorghum flour
Coconut flour: High in fiber, good in light-colored goods, especially those flavored with citrus
Millet flour: Mild, nutty flavor, light texture; good in baked stuff containing moist fruit
Potato flour: Works well with gritty flours like rice; use in moderation as it burns easily
Potato starch: Finer than potato flour; Gives pancakes, waffles and brownies a crisp outside
Sweet sorghum flour: Coarse texture, high in iron, potassium and phosphorus; good base for quick breads, muffins, biscuits and pancakes
Sweet white rice flour: Similar to powdery white cake flour, lightens the texture of baked goods
Tapioca starch: good thickener for puddings, adds crackle to cookies

These two flours are gluten-free but not great for baking: Amaranth flour is healthy and high in protein, but its flavor tends to dominate baked goods. It's a tasty whole grain addition to cereals, pilafs and rice dishes. Teff flour has a healthy nutritional profile, but it makes baked good dark and tough. I do like a bit in pancakes and in breading.

Tips and tricks

Order matters: Double check the recipe when you are adding the ingredients in the bowl. Sometimes if you just put them in like your mom taught you, the recipe doesn't turn out the way it should.

Hidden gluten: Make sure all the ingredients you are using are gluten-free. Some sneaky sources might include:

✓ Unsalted butter with "natural flavorings"
✓ Brown sugar with caramel flavoring
✓ Spices not labeled gluten-free
✓ Light sour cream with thickeners or stabilizers

Pans and utensils: You don't necessarily need separate baking utensils. Wash them carefully between uses and check stick-free surfaces for scratches and cracks where gluten might hide. Replace if needed.