Hi Mamatoga readers! Are you gluten-free? Or perhaps your child is on the diet? (Or maybe your kid’s best friend?) I’m here to help! (And if you are just curious about the gluten-free, we’ll cover that too!) First, please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Elizabeth Barbone and I was born with severe food allergies. How severe? My diet was so limited that for years the only “treat” I could eat were popcorn cookies. Sounds okay, right? I mean, popcorn = good, cookies = great. So....popcorn cookies must have been amazing. Well, I thought they were. But, in reality, they weren’t ‘popcorn cookies” at all. The treat my mom called “popcorn cookies” were actually rice cakes. Rice was one of the foods I wasn’t allergic to and since---if you use your imagination--they kind of look like popcorn, my mom christened them popcorn cookies.
As you can imagine, growing up food allergic wasn’t always fun. At school kids teased me about my lunch, I was left behind on school field trips (this was always a *major* bummer to me), and I dealt with an assortment of other food-related issues. Interestingly instead of being afraid of food, I began to appreciate it. The foods I could enjoy, like my mom’s banana bread (this was after the popcorn cookie-phase), I cherished. The foods I couldn’t eat? Well, I wanted to figure out a way to make them that fit my diet!
I headed off to the Culinary Institute of America (much to the dismay of my allergist) to study the ins and outs of cooking and baking. After graduation, I began teaching cooking classes to people who also dealt with food allergies. Twelve years after embarking on this journey, I’ve written two gluten-free cookbooks (Easy Gluten-Free Baking, 2009 and How to Cook Gluten-Free, 2012), run a website dedicated to gluten-free cooking and baking, and have taught countless cooking classes all over the country. And today I’m here to help you!
Let’s dive in.
First things first the basics:
Why the gluten-free diet? The gluten-free diet is required for anyone with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder (it’s not an allergy). While today many folks try the gluten-free diet for various reason, people diagnosed with celiac disease must comply with the diet 100%. For celiac patients, the diet is a medical requirement and not a choice.
What’s gluten-free? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and (sometimes) oats*.
*Gluten-free oats are now available. Be sure the oats you select are marked gluten-free or they aren’t appropriate for someone with celiac disease.
Gluten-free grains include, but aren’t limited to:
- Buckwheat (Yes, buckwheat’s gluten-free)
Happily fruits, vegetables, and meats (like beef, chicken, and pork), and fish are naturally gluten-free. And with gluten-free grains, we can create tasty versions of traditional gluten-based foods, like breads, pizza, cookies, and more.
Gluten can hide were you least expect it and I think this is one of the biggest challenges of the diet. Sure, you might know that traditionally made bread, pasta, and pizza aren’t gluten-free but would you have guessed that Twizzlers, traditional Rice Krispies, and most soy sauce also contain gluten? Or, when eating in a restaurant you need to be sure that no cross-contact with gluten-containing foods
Being on a gluten-free diet means you must be a label and food preparation sleuth. Today labeling is getting better--perhaps you’ve seen “gluten-free” labels popping up on foods at the grocery---but it still has a long way to go. At this point, the term “gluten-free” isn’t even regulated! The FDA is still working on that. For now, vigilant label-reading and direct contact to companies still rules the day.
Now that we’ve covered the (very) basics, let’s get to some of your questions:
What is your advice for a mom who is just starting to figure out gluten free cooking for an already picky little one?
Great question! Sometimes, but not always, little ones are picky because food used to make them feel bad. Imagine each time you ate something, you got a stomach ache. You’d be a picky eater too! Many readers have shared with me that once their picky eater goes gluten-free, they aren’t so picky anymore.
If your child was diagnosed with celiac disease, try to first identify what foods he/she loved that are already gluten-free. Do they adore grapes? cheese bites? yogurt? Write those foods down. Then jot down a list of foods he/she loved that aren’t gluten-free. Pasta? chocolate chip cookies? Twinkies? (I have an entire chapter in my book devoted to gluten-free versions of favorite foods like twinkies!) Start by picking up some gluten-free foods at the grocery store. Try them. Some gluten-free premade foods, like pasta are outstanding! Others? Aren’t so great. If you don’t like what you find, head into the kitchen. Homemade gluten-free foods are delicious! (I’ll share some really easy recipes below.) In the early days of preparing gluten-free food, you might want to hang a “safe food” list in the kitchen. This helps when you’re trying to prepare a meal at the end of the day and everyone is cranky.
Do you have a favorite gluten free bread recipe? Gluten-free bread suggestions- what mix/flour works best as a base? Here’s my recipe for Easy Sandwich bread, complete with step-by-step photos! http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/05/how-to-make-gluten-free-sandwich-bread-recipe.html
As for a flour “blend”, here’s the deal: I don’t think that there is one flour blend that works best. Bread requires different flours than cookies; cookies need different flours than cakes. I don’t say this to scare anyone. Just the opposite! If you’ve worked with a flour blend in the past and have had only so-so results, it isn’t you. It’s the blend.
How do you mix and bake cookies so they are not gritty in texture and crumbly brittle?
If your cookies are gritty and crumbly, it’s probably the flour mix. Here are some recipes that, I promise, are not gritty or crumbly.
Shortbread http://www.glutenfreebaking.com/public/Free_Recipe_How_to_Make_GlutenFree_Shortbread_Cookies.cfm Cut-Out Cookies http://www.glutenfreebaking.com/public/12_Days_of_Holiday_Sweets_GlutenFree_CutOut_Cookies.cfm
Chocolate Chip Cookies http://www.glutenfreebaking.com/public/440.cfm
For baking - if I am converting a recipe and need to add xanthan gum, is there a guideline for how much to use? Is it different based on if I'm doing cookies vs a cake, etc.?
Yes! Like I said above, I don’t believe in a standard “all purpose” gluten-free flour mix. And I don’t believe in x teaspoons of “xanthan gum for every cup of flour.” The amount of xanthan gum a recipe requires depends on the flours and starches used. They all have different properties! A recipe with tapioca starch requires less xanthan gum, for example, than a recipe with no tapioca starch because tapioca starch brings good “stretchy” structure to recipes.
That said, here’s what I’d try:
For cookies If they are drop cookies, try them first without xanthan gum. If they spread too much, begin adding xanthan gum in small increments, about 1/8 teaspoon at a time.
For roll-out cookies, start with 1/8 teaspoon of xanthan gum and then adjust as needed.
For quickbreads and cakes It’s funny, sometimes I use xanthan gum in my quickbreads and sometimes I don’t. Start with 1/4 teaspoon for a recipe that makes a 9x5-inch loaf pan or two 8-inch rounds. If the bread seems too gummy, omit the xnthan gum; if it falls add a little more xanthan gum.
For breads I’m not going to give an amount for bread because yeast bread is so unique and hard to pin-down. If you have questions about yeast breads, pop me an e-mail.
What is your number one gluten free cooking tip?
Ack! My #1 tip? That’s a tough one! After thinking about it, I realized my “number one” tip doesn’t involve a cooking or baking technique at all. It doesn’t involve a special flour or a specific cake pan. It’s all about attitude. Try to remember that there are wonderful, tasty, and delicious gluten-free foods available. If the last gluten-free cookie you ate disappointed you, it doesn’t mean all gluten-free cookies are bad. If you had to leave a restaurant because there was nothing gluten-free on the menu, it doesn’t mean all restaurants are unwelcoming.
Now, I know this might sound a bit Pollyanna-ish. However, I was the kid who used to eat rice cakes as a special treat. So I know that sometimes living on a restricted diet can be hard. There’s doubt about that! But, and this I can promise, you’ll find delicious foods that you love, that your kids love and that fit into the gluten-free diet. Just remember to keep looking!
About the Author Elizabeth Barbone is the author of two gluten-free cookbooks, Easy Gluten-Free Baking (Lake Isle Press, 2009) and How to Cook Gluten-Free, (Lake Isle Press, 2012). She writes a weekly column for SeriousEats.com and runs GlutenFreeBaking.com, her site devoted to gluten-free baking and cooking.
A teacher at heart, Elizabeth travels teaching gluten-free cooking and baking classes to audiences all over the country.
She resides in Troy, NY.