Gluten Free Cooking

May 5th, 2007 by Potato

So, as I think most everyone knows by now, Wayfare was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease and can’t eat any more foods with gluten… which is a lot. Well, the story’s a bit more complicated than that — first we need to get an appointment with a GI specialist, and a bunch of other steps that I’ll let her talk about. The main thing is that we’re preparing for a gluten-free lifestyle, while at the same time having a gorging good time on all the bread and pizza she can eat as a farewell.

Just to give a bit of background, celiac disease is, from what the internet tells me, an autoimmune attack against the small intestine triggered by gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, and barely. The only treatment is a life-long gluten-free diet (I’m still trying to find out how much, if any, gluten contamination is allowed; I’ve found one source that says less than 200 ppm, which is “separate spoons” low). This is actually kind of difficult, since so many foods have wheat or gluten in them.

Gluten is the protein in flour that gives dough its elasticity or chewiness — it’s also what helps form the structures in dough that hold carbon dioxide released by yeast to give the final product its airy, bubbly texture. Because of this, it’s used pretty widely, both in the form of flour (often added to things where at first thought you might not expect it, such as sauces, dressings, and drink mixes) and as an additive or binder for medications, preservatives, candies, etc.

The ubiquity of wheat flour (and gluten contamination) will of course make eating out hard, but the sheer usefulness of gluten in cooking is also going to be a pain for making homemade alternatives. If you consider flour, there are a number of different types at the grocery store: bread flour, all purpose, and cake flour, just to name the standard “white” flours. The main difference between them is the relative gluten content: breads and pizza dough need a lot of gluten for the elasticity, and thus bread flour has the most gluten. Cakes and pastries often need a flour that has less gluten so that they come out flakier. All purpose is in the middle. Just using the wrong type of wheat flour can often make a loaf of bread or batch of biscuits come out a little off, so trying to do without gluten entirely is pretty challenging, above and beyond the issue of the alternative flours (corn, rice, potato, sorghum, quinoa, etc.) each having different, arguably inferior flavours to wheat.

Right now, I’m trying to create gluten-free alternative recipes for use at home, preferably only using the 3 most commonly available alterative flours (rice, potato, and corn flour). I’m starting with recipes that don’t rely on the glutenous properties of flour, and in fact my thinking is that any recipe that has a caution not to over-mix, or to let the batter rest so as not to activate the gluten, has a good chance of working well. Indeed, I think the things that make “batters” rather than “doughs” will have the best chance of surviving the translation. So far, I’ve managed to make some decent belgian waffles, and will try a batch of biscuits next. I’ll post these to the recipes section as soon as I find a variation that’s edible (though check back, as I may change the recipes as I experiment).

I know that there are a lot of recipes and products available on the market already, but I’m a little leery of them after the first few I saw. Many of the recipes were trying to do too much at once — making something low fat and gluten free (we’ll worry about making things low fat once we can make them gluten free and edible), or invoving combinations of dozens of ingredients (mixtures of a half dozen flours plus additives to replace the flour). We went out to a gluten free bakery in town and the grocery store, and tried some of the products on offer. The bread was, in the words of the proprietor of the gluten free bakery “not bread. It’s toast. You have to toast it to eat it.” She also sells a “surprisingly good” loaf that’s fairly expensive, but it actually wasn’t too bad. (I think it was a little too soft to make a good sandwich, but then the piece I had was freshy microwaved to make it warm & soft). They had some brownies and pretzels that were quite good (and brownies was one of the things I figured would be easy to do). Then we tried some cookies that started off tasting pretty good with a decent texture… and they turned to ash in our mouths. They left behind this nasty, gritty texture and aftertaste that even a whole can of coke couldn’t get rid of. I’m hoping I can do a better approximation of a cookie than that. FYI: Avoid “Enjoy Life” brand health/alt food products.

3 Responses to “Gluten Free Cooking”

  1. Ben Says:

    I have a kick-ass cornbread recipe if you want it. It calls for some white flour, but I’m sure that could easily be substituted with corn flour.

  2. Netbug Says:

    And again, talk to Sue and Steve.

  3. Netbug Says:

    One more thing, since you’re revamping your recipes anyways, it may be a wise choice to start doing some general health research as well. I know I’m at the extreme end of the scale, but cutting out some of the sugars in addition to the starches wouldn’t be a bad idea.