Goodies Free of Gluten

Does this grain-based protein upset your system?
Relax—you can still enjoy your holiday treats.

By Lisa James

November-December 2012

Even more than gifts and decorations, the holiday season means food, especially homebaked cookies, desserts and other tempting creations. But while many of us need only worry about gaining weight from all the extra calories, many others have to keep a sharp eye out for foods that contain gluten.

More than 2 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, in which gluten—a protein in wheat and other grains that gives elasticity and structure to baked goods—triggers an intestine-damaging immune response. Countless other people have found that avoiding gluten has eased symptoms ranging from digestive distress to brain fog.

That makes the holidays problematic for those who can’t tolerate gluten and similar grain-based proteins. But there is good news: Not only are there more gluten-free goodies on store shelves than ever before, it’s also possible to bake up a storm at home without this common troublemaker.

Gluten Be Gone

The first step is to eliminate all traces of gluten from your kitchen. Besides disposing of such obvious pantry offenders as flour and cake mix, check labels on other items. Many products, especially processed foods that contain more than one ingredient, include gluten sources such as barley malt and wheat in various forms. Also check everything in your refrigerator except fresh produce, eggs and meat. (For a list of what to avoid, visit

After going through the supplies, it’s time to wash down all your cabinets and pantry spaces with soapy water. The same goes for all pans, cookie sheets, bowls, cutting boards and utensils, along with such small appliances as blenders, toasters, mixers and food processors. Items that can’t be cleaned thoroughly should be replaced.

Satisfying Substitutes

Once you have scoured the kitchen, it is time to restock. “There are many quality commercially prepared flour blends available on the market today,” says Amy Green, food blogger and author of Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free (Ulysses Press). “Each one functions a little differently because of the flours used and the amount of xanthan gum included, if any.”

You can also create your own blends. Gluten-free ingredients include:
• Bean Flour: garbanzos, white beans and others; provides protein

• Blanched Almond Flour: almonds stripped of their skins; should not be confused with the coarser almond meal, which cannot be automatically substituted for almond flour

• Buckwheat Flour: completely wheat-free, despite the name; provides a rich, nutty taste

• Coconut Flour: helps produce light, fluffy cakes; absorbs a lot of moisture, requiring an increase in liquid ingredients

• Cornmeal: good for muffins and waffles; available in coarsely and finely ground forms

• Potato Starch: not to be confused with potato flour; helps thicken batter

• Rice Flour: available in brown and white varieties; glutinous (sticky) rice flour is actually gluten-free and readily absorbs liquids

• Sorghum Flour: a grass-like grain with baking qualities similar to wheat; provides fiber and protein

• Soy Flour: high in protein; good for baked goods that contain fruit or nuts

• Tapioca Starch: imparts chewiness and structure; should be odorless (return it if it isn’t)

Other ingredients make for easier gluten-free baking. Both xanthan and guar gums help give baked goods the structure and texture usually supplied by gluten. For a rich chocolate taste use organic unsweetened cocoa powder (the Dutch-processed type is more flavorful); for chips use the dark kind with 70% or more cocoa (or unsweetened carob chips if you’re sensitive to sugar). Sugar alternatives include stevia, an intensely sweet herbal extract; yacon syrup, with a flavor similar to that of molasses; and agave nectar, which helps keep baked goods moist.

Gluten-free batters and doughs tend to be stickier than the wheat-based kind, and so need to be handled differently. It starts with correct measurement; always stir the flour then spoon or scoop into a measuring cup and level it with a straightedge. Make sure all the dry ingredients, including spices and additives such as xanthan gum, are completely blended together before adding the wet ingredients. To avoid throwing off cooking times, use the size baking or muffin pan that’s called for in the recipe. And be patient. You may have to experiment, especially when retrofitting a standard recipe, to get the results you’re looking for.

“Invest in an oven thermometer. Most ovens aren’t calibrated correctly,” Green suggests. She also recommends using silicone baking mats—the first one she purchased “worked so well I immediately bought a second”—and parchment paper for lining cake pans and baking sheets. If you bake often, a food processor can not only mix dough but also purée or chop ingredients.

Going gluten-free this holiday season? An array of alternative ingredients will allow you to stay happily busy in the kitchen.


Pecan Pie Cupcakes with
Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup blanched almond flour
2 tbsp coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
1/2 cup yacon syrup
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

3/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup agave nectar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 11 muffin cups with paper liners.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking soda and cinnamon.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, yacon and vanilla.
Blend the wet ingredients into the flour mixture with a handheld mixer until
thoroughly combined, then stir in the pecans.

3. Scoop 1/4 cup of batter into each muffin cup. Bake 15-20 minutes,
until a toothpick comes out of the center of a cupcake with just a few moist crumbs attached.
Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 1 hour.

4. In a deep bowl, whip the cream with a handheld mixer until stiff peaks form.
In a separate larger bowl, whip the cream cheese and agave nectar
until well combined. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream
into the cream cheese mixture. Use immediately or store in a
glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Yield: 11 cupcakes, 2 cups frosting.
Analysis for 1 cupcake with 1 tbsp frosting:
221 calories, 5.5g protein, 18.5g fat (3.5g saturated),
2.5g fiber, 14.5g carbohydrate, 55 mg sodium

Reprinted from Gluten-Free Cupcakes:
50 Irresistible Recipes Made with Almond and
Coconut Flour by Elana Amsterdam, © 2011.
Published by Celestial Arts,
an imprint of Ten Speed Press and the Crown
Publishing Group.

Photo Credit: Annabelle Breakey.


More Gluten-Free Desserts

Some nut-based flours, such as the pecan flour used in two of the recipes below, may be difficult to find commercially. That’s not a problem, say Peter Reinhart, master baker, and Denene Wallace, authors of The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking (Ten Speed). “If you have a seed or coffee grinder, making your own nut and seed flours is easy, though you may have to make several small batches,” they point out. They suggest you pulse a few times then grind continuously for five seconds before checking consistency; if the product is uneven, break it up with a spoon and scrape down the grinder walls before giving it a few more seconds. However, “don’t grind any longer than it takes to create a fine meal. If you do, you run the risk of making nut or seed butter, not flour,” they warn. (A food processor with a metal blade will also work, but the result will not be as finely ground.)

Reinhart and Wallace also recommend the use of specific sweetening products in their recipes to avoid the effects on blood glucose caused by sugar and other high-glycemic index sweeteners, such as maple syrup. Splenda is a combination of sucralose and maltodextrin; for a more natural option, Reinhart and Wallace suggest using stevia, an herb-based product, as either Stevia Extract in the Raw or New Roots Stevia Sugar, a blend of stevia and sweet plant-based fibers called fructooligosaccharides (FOS).

Seriously Chocolate Pecan Cookies

2 cups (8 oz) pecan flour
1 cup (4 oz) almond flour
2 cups Splenda or Stevia Extract in the Raw, or 1 cup New Roots Stevia Sugar
3/4 cup (2.25 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutch process
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1.75 oz / 50 g) pecans, coarsely chopped
3 eggs (5.25 oz)
1/4 cup (2 oz) salted butter or margarine, melted
4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp liquid stevia

1. Position two oven racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Mist two baking sheets with spray oil, or line them with parchment paper or
silicone mats and then mist the surfaces with spray oil.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, sweetener, cocoa powder, baking powder,
and salt and whisk until well mixed. Stir in the pecans. In a large bowl, whisk the
eggs, butter, vanilla and liquid stevia together until thoroughly blended.
Add the flour mixture and stir with a large spoon for about
two minutes to make a thick, sticky batter.

3. Drop the batter onto the prepared pans, using about 1 heaping tbsp per
cookie and spacing them about 3 inches apart.
4. Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate the pans, switch racks and bake for 6 to 8 minutes,
until the cookies are firm to the touch and crispy. Immediately transfer to a wire rack
and let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: 24 cookies. Reprinted with permission from The Joy of Gluten-Free,
Sugar-Free Baking
by Peter Reinhart & Denene Wallace, copyright © 2012.
Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.


Almond-Pecan Piecrust

1 cup (4 oz) almond flour
1 cup (4 oz) pecan flour
1/4 cup Splenda or Stevia Extract in the Raw, or 2 tbsp New Roots Stevia Sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup (2 oz) salted butter or margarine, melted
3 tbsp unsweetened soy milk (or other milk)
11/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. If you’ll be baking the crust before filling it, preheat the oven to 325°F.
Lightly mist a 9- or 10-inch pie pan with spray oil.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, sweetener, and baking powder,
and whisk until well mixed. Add the butter, milk and vanilla, and stir with a
large spoon for 1 to 2 minutes. The dough will be stiff, like playdough.

3. Put the dough in the prepared pan and lightly mist the top with spray oil.
Spread the dough with your fingers, pressing it in an even layer to line the pan.
Prick the bottom and sides with a fork to help prevent bubbles and air pockets.
If you’ll be filling the pie before baking it, it’s ready to go.

4. If prebaking the crust, cover the edges with aluminum foil, then
bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for 7 minutes, then remove
the foil and bake an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the dough is firm to the
touch and just starting to brown.

Yield: one 10” piecrust. Reprinted with permission from The Joy of Gluten-Free,
Sugar-Free Baking
by Peter Reinhart & Denene Wallace, copyright © 2012.
Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.


Pumpkin Pie

1 unbaked piecrust
3 eggs (5.25 oz)
1 can (15) unsweetened pumpkin purée
1 cup (8 oz) unsweetened soy milk (or other milk)
1 cup Splenda or Stevia Extract in the Raw, or 1/2 cup New Roots Stevia Sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground allspice or 1/4 tsp ground cloves
11/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp liquid stevia

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Have the piecrust ready.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the remaining ingredients
and whisk to make a smooth, pourable batter.

3. Put the crust on a baking sheet and pour in the filling.
Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning. Bake for 25 minutes,
then rotate the baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the center
of the pie is slightly springy to the touch. Remove the foil and bake for about
10 minutes, until the edges of the crust are golden brown and a knife or
toothpick inserted into the middle of the pie comes out clean.

4. Let the pie cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving. Keep refrigerated.

Yield: one 9- to 10-inch pie.

Reprinted with permission from The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking by Peter Reinhart & Denene Wallace, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

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