When I was diagnosed with coeliac disease five years ago I felt so sad at the thought of giving up gluten for life; the taste of gelatinous oat porridge for breakfast, soft pearl barley in my soups, the silky pull of buttery brioche in my hands, the malty sip of a porter beer - but also how gluten felt against my knuckles when I kneaded it, how elastic and clever and versatile it could be... I often think about my baking life pre-diagnosis, with great fondness. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss making and eating certain things - rye and walnut sourdough bread, flaky moroccan style (m’semen) flat bread, Japanese dumplings and egg noodles…
It took me a while after I completely cut gluten from my diet to want to try any gluten-free baking - I knew many people were doing it, and that I could access recipes galore and gluten free grains and flours - but perhaps I needed a break from baking altogether to forget everything I had learned and known - to clear the space in my heart and mind (and belly) for a new adventure!
These are ten “tips” that continue to shape and develop in my gluten free baking, I hope they might be helpful to you too:
Accepting that gluten free baking and bread will never taste the same as gluten-ful baking, and that is totally okay! Rather than try to replicate a gluten-free version of everything as closely as you can, enjoy the unique textures and flavours of gluten free grains and flours. It saddens me that a lot of supermarket gluten free baked goods are full of gums, emulsifiers, sugars and additives to make it taste “more” like bread, but in doing so create a product that is less-healthy and less-digestible for it’s eaters! I don't think my gluten free bread tastes much like I remember gluten-ful bread did / but I do think it’s delicious in it’s own right!
Never stop experimenting with different gluten free grains and flours. Try them all if you can - and then only use the ones you really like the flavour and texture of. Sure, quinoa may be on all the “super-healthy-food” lists, but if you can’t really abide it then don't eat. There are so many different grains you can use in your baking you need not limit yourself to what other’s use. I also like the idea of experimenting with the grains that are grown locally to you; for me in Australia I can buy beautiful organically-grown millet, buckwheat, sorghum and rice so that’s what I use most of in my baking.
My best gluten free baking recipes always have a balance of starch flours (ie. tapioca, arrowroot, potato, cornflour) with grain-grass flours (rice, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, teff, quinoa). Because gluten free grains lack the proteins of gluten they are not as easy to bake with - they need extra starch to help bind them together and keep the texture soft and elastic. In bread I use a ratio of 1:3 starch to grains, and in sweet baking such as cakes and biscuits I use as 1:2 ratio of starch to grain. My favourite all-purpose flour mix is a very simple 1:2 tapioca or arrowroot starch to white rice flour. My favourite bread flour mix is 1/2 tapioca starch to 1/2 cup brown rice flour + 1/2 cup buckwheat flour.
Find recipes for something you really love to eat or create your own gluten free version of them. Something I loved (and missed) eating was a french baked custard called “canelé” which I had made before I became coeliac - I used my original recipe and tinkered with until I was happy with it’s taste and texture in gluten free form. I now make these custards for farmers markets and they make a lot of people very happy!
It’s cliche I know, but practice really makes perfect when it comes to success with gluten free baking. The more you make a certain recipe and get a feel for your ingredients, your oven, your enjoyment of it - the better it will get every time you try.
Much of my baking is quick substituting of a gluten-ful recipe; I replace whatever it asks for such as wheat flour with my all-purpose baking mix (1:2 tapioca + white rice flours), with usually an extra egg to help with binding. Sometimes I might use a ground nut flour such as almond or hazelnut instead of the suggested wheat flour and that works wonderfully well in cakes. When it comes to sauces or sponge cakes that ask for “cornflour” I use tapioca starch in exactly the same quantity - I have found it works with success every single time.
7. Buy quality and bulk
Seek out the best quality gluten free grains and flours that you can. Your tummy and your baking will thank you. I have found buying organically-grown grains in bulk quantities (5kg bags for example) ends up being a cheaper than the little packets of conventional gluten free flour found in the supermarket. For those in Australia, I love using Honest to Goodness for buying my flours. When making sourdough bread it’s extremely important to use chemical-free grains (or organically grown) in order to not kill the good bacterias in your sourdough starter. Grains and flours don't store forever - and flours go rancid more quickly than whole grains - it is better to find the flours you like the best and get bulk quanities that you know you can use up over 2-3 months before it goes bad. Otherwise store excess flour, especially nuts flours in the fridge or freezer to keep them from spoiling.
8. Embrace eggs
Eggs are glorious. Obviously I am a bit biased because I am a farmer of pasture raised eggs and handle some 300 of them every day! Eggs contain almost every mineral and vitamin the human body needs and are full of protein; especially in the whites which will help your baking hold together, rise and be softer/lighter in texture.
9. Explore the garden
Explore your garden (and local farmers markets) for edible weeds, herbs, vegetables, and fruits you can incorporate in your baking throughout the seasons. Got lots of apples? Make pies! A ton of parsley or rosemary? Make biscuits or crackers. Never ending supply of zucchinis or squash? Grate it up and mix into your bread with caraway seeds! My favourite gluten free baked good by far and away is a very simple tarte tatin I make in Autumn with quinces which are so plentiful around here I can pick them from wild trees growing beside the road.
10. Don't apologise
I will never forget the time, a couple of years ago, when I was standing at a local farmers market with my table of gluten-free bread and a random lady came up to me with a frown and said "this stuff is what I hate! gluten free rubbish", I was shocked, but eventually she told me that what gluten free bread had tried she thought was awful and hated how trendy it was to be on a gluten free diet. I was quick to remind her that many people have diseases and intolerances, and that while it isn't "healthier" for all people to be gluten free, for many many people it is, or even their only choice! We have a gluten free household so when I cook for events or parties, it's always free of gluten, and delicious, and I never apologise for it.
I have released an eBook “The Art of Gluten Free Baking” with my recipes for gluten free sourdough, artisanal breads and more. You can buy it here.