Monday, July 23, 2007

Gluten-Free, Quick and Easy

I started blogging last summer after discovering that eating gluten-free would help my son, the Maestro. The Maestro has Sensory Integration Disorder, and avoiding gluten and casein has made a huge difference for him. It turns out that I am gluten intolerant too, and feel so much better since avoiding gluten. We all know that going gluten free can be a very intimidating process. Many of the rules of baking get reversed, if not completely thrown out, when you get rid of gluten. I had a lot of question that I couldn’t find the answers to. I thought that if I couldn’t find the answers, probably there were a lot of other people who were having the same problem I had and I needed to share what I had found. Recently I was given a copy of Carol Fenster’s new book, “Gluten-Free, Quick and Easy”. In many ways this is the book I had been looking for, but couldn’t find.

One of my biggest initial frustrations was the huge number of flour mixes that people recommend, and the variety of GF flours that behave completely different from each other. What would I like? What would I need? I have found too many lists that described the most common types of rice flour and omitted grains gaining in popularity. This book has the most complete list of gluten free flours that I have seen in one place, with a good description of the flavours and properties of each. It describes new flours fewer people have had experience with, such as Montina flour and Salba, as well as the most common flours such as rice or Garfava. There is also a smaller list of important staples in a gluten-free pantry that you need to make the recipes in the book, to eliminate the guesswork in getting started.

Another thing we were glad to see was what we call a “mega-cooking” plan. Before eliminating gluten, Riley was excited about making mixes for baking, and making multiple batches of dishes for freezing. Without all-purpose flour, all the air went out of that balloon for us. I have always wanted to do the math and make a big bucket of muffin mix. And waffle mix. And bread mix. And cake mix. The last six months, when my baking had developed to the point that I had the basic recipe that I wanted for scale-up, I have had job applications, interview trips and a dissertation to write instead of working on mixes. Later this week I have my defense, and I suppose I have become the target audience of a quick and easy cookbook. Now Carol Fenster has done the math for me, and there are mix recipes that she uses for her quick breads, her yeast breads and cakes. Carol also includes a plan for purposeful left-overs, called “planned-overs”. There is a month-long sample recipe plan for producing planned-overs and what recipes to use them in. Also, each section has a list of recipes that fit together using planned-overs.

Each recipe calls for ingredients that are naturally gluten-free, but there are also a number of ingredients that may or may not be gluten-free, depending on the brand you choose. For each of these, there are suggestions of common brands that are gluten free, such as tamari soy sauce (Eden, San-J,Hy-VeeI) or Oriental 5-Spice Powder (Durkee, Tone’s, Spice Island).

So far, I have made the bread machine yeast bread recipe, some Swedish meatballs, and a basic pie crust. I have always had better luck baking bread in a bread machine than I have had using an oven, but I have never considered that the pan I am using might be the difference-maker. Apparently it is. I have always had a hard time knowing if bread is done, but I learned that the interior temperature needs to be 200-205 °F. Jabbing my meat thermometer into a loaf of bread isn’t my first choice, but it sure beats having a loaf collapse because it isn’t done on the inside. Perhaps someday I will be able to know when a loaf is done based on the sound when I thump it, but until then a small hole is a small price to pay.

I have talked about my pie crust before, and wished that I had a pie crust recipe that was more malleable. I liked the flavour of my sorghum/tapioca crust, but it cracked whenever I tried to move it. Carol Fenster’s solution is to use some sweet rice flour to make a softer, more pliable dough. The Maestro and I made pumpkin tarts this weekend, and they turned out great.

So is this book perfect? No, but it is amazingly close. I think I will continue to use my basic flour recipe for most things, though the pie crust was easier to work with than anything I have come up with. I have to disagree with the explanation on the gluten-free status of oats. The problem with oats is NOT exclusively cross-contamination. A friend of mine who is a plant physiologist has run assays on different strains of oats, grown from seed and never processed with wheat. Some strains have gluten-like proteins that cause an antibody response and some do not. I am pretty sure he has never published this, so a thorough search of the primary literature is not going to reveal the difference. Anyone who decides to grow their own oats needs to keep the strain of oats in mind.

Overall, this book is a great resource for anyone starting on the gluten free lifestyle. I wish I had had it a long time ago. At the same time, someone with more GF experience can still learn a lot from it. The Maestro, who is now four, is already planning what kind of pie he wants to make with our new favourite pie crust.


  1. Sounds like a great resource. I tend to get overwhelmed with the variety of GF flours as well, and how to combine them. It's alot to take in!


  2. Yesterday I saw a comment left by Mike Eberhart on the blog "I am gluten free", saying that flour mixes don't give consistently good results, and that one should tailor the ratio of flours for each recipe. I saw that and thought, "Wouldn't that be nice if we all had that kind of understanding of the properties of each flour type, that we could all do that!" It's a bit beyond most of us, I'm afraid.

  3. I was very interested to read your comments on oats, as that is exactly what I had feared. Good review, as well. I've preferred Bette Hagman's books for breads so far, but Carol Fenster has some good culinary tricks up her sleeves as well.
    -Sea of

  4. Hi ElwoodCity,
    It is very nice that you have also experience with Salba. How do you use it? I found that it is possible to replace a big part of the flour in recipes by Salba. I have made delicious muffins and pancakes with Salba already. Furthermore, it is an easy way for celiacs or like you, anyone with gluten-intolerance, to replenish vitamin and mineral intakes, since it contains lots of omega-3s, vitamin A and C, iron, calcium, folate, and magnesium!! Life is easier than you think it is..

  5. I mentioned Salba as an example of a new type of flour that fewer people have had experience with. I actually had never heard of Salba until looking at this book.

    Sorghum has really good protein content, but it could be better with vitamins and minerals than it is. It sounds like Salba would be a good addition.

    What is it like to bake with?

  6. Is there any way to find out which strains of oats contain gluten-like proteins?