Holiday Baking Without Gluten

Gluten intolerant? You can indulge and stay safe.

November/December 2014

By Linda Melone

As a woman with celiac disease, author and editor Chelly Wood, 47, used to dread the holidays. Her daughter, Annie, 11, also cannot tolerate even a small amount of gluten. The abundance of food at every function increased the risk of both of them ending up ill.

“When we were first diagnosed, my daughter would get sick every time we traveled for Christmas,” says Wood, who lives in Twin Falls, Idaho. “Family members think they know how to cook gluten-free, but they really don’t.” Gluten-free food prepared in a pan that was just used to fry up French toast would trigger symptoms, for example. Wood developed a plan that has kept both of them healthy.

Awareness Counts

The biggest pitfall in baking truly gluten-free is often lack of knowledge.

People who think they’re cooking gluten-free usually don’t realize their pans are contaminated with gluten in the corners. Further, their counter space is dusted with crumbs from toast and grains of flour from earlier baking projects. “Even their cutting boards have minute bits of gluten in them,” Wood says. To avoid these problems, Wood says she spent a lot of time in the kitchen during holiday visits watching food preparation to avoid any slip-ups.

Flour Options

Knowing the properties of various gluten-free flours can help you decide which ones to use. Caroline Shannon-Karasik, author of Gluten-Free for the Holidays (Skyhorse), offers the following options and says, “It’s not a complete list of gluten-free flours; however, it includes my favorites for baking.” Karasik suggests using a gluten-free mix if you need a last-minute alternative.

Brown and white rice flour: These can be used interchangeably in recipes. White rice flour typically costs less than brown rice flour, although the whole grain of the latter may be preferable.

Almond flour/meal: This flour adds moisture to baked goods along with protein and fiber. Made by grinding blanched almonds, it requires balancing with a starch or whole-grain flour such as brown rice. Too much almond flour can cause baked goods to fall flat.

Tapioca starch/flour: Made from the root
of the tropical cassava plant, tapioca flour works well in a blend that also contains whole-grain flours.

Potato starch: While other gluten-free flours use the terms “flour” and “starch” interchangeably, potato starch and potato flour are not the same. The starch adds moisture to baked goods and works well as a thickener.

Arrowroot starch: Pricier than other starches, arrowroot’s mild flavor makes it a favorite.

Coconut flour: Although it adds moisture to baked goods, it requires trial and error. The general rule: for each 1/4 cup of coconut flour you’ll need to add one egg. So if your traditional recipe calls for a cup of flour, and you’re substituting 1/4 cup of flour with an equal amount of coconut flour, you’ll need
to increase the eggs in the recipe by one, Karasik says.

Quinoa flour: High in protein and with a nutty taste, quinoa flour can become too noticeable unless you balance it out with somthing else, like brown rice flour or almond meal.

In addition, Wood plans ahead one week before her family leaves for their annual holiday trip. She and her daughter bake gluten-free goodies, including holiday cupcakes, gingerbread men, sugar cookies and more. Stored in the car, this ensures they have goodies within reach during their travels, whether they end up at a restaurant or at someone’s house.

They also pack a tub of necessities: gluten-free bread, peanut butter, miniature jars of gluten-free jelly (for emergency PB & J sandwiches), canned fruit and mayonnaise, as well as gluten-free substitutes for foods likely found at family functions such as baking mixes. “That way if grandma’s making her chicken-broccoli casserole, I've got a little gluten-free cream of mushroom soup to make a smaller version of the same casserole without the gluten,” Wood says.

She also packs her own toaster and a thin, plastic cutting board. She credits this approach to keeping herself and her daughter free from gluten-related illnesses for the past four years.

Baking Rules

Avoiding gluten involves staying clear of all wheat flours, including white flour, whole wheat flour, durum wheat, graham flour, kamut, semolina, triticale, spelt, wheat germ and wheat bran, says Leigh Tracy, RD, a dietitian at The Center for Endocrinology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Barley and rye also contain gluten.

Oats may or may not be safe. “Some commercialized oats have been in contact with gluten,” Tracy says, “but those that have not will be clearly labeled gluten-free.” Be wary of bulk bins for purchasing gluten-free ingredients, as they may be cross-contaminated.

Baking without gluten involves more than simply substituting another ingredient in place of wheat flour. “You cannot just replace one type of gluten-free flour for an all-purpose flour. You must use a flour blend,” says Kendra Peterson, a private chef in Chicago and owner of Drizzle Kitchen.

“Different flours lend themselves to various purposes, whether it’s structure, nutrition or leavening power” (see box).

Include a starch as part of your flour blend. Tapioca, potato or cornstarch should typically be about one-third of the total mixture, advises Peterson. And be sure to mix your ingredients well. “Because you don’t naturally have the gluten bond, you need to mix the other flours with the liquid enough to build up the stretchy bond that replaces gluten strands,” Peterson explains.

Lastly, weighing ingredients works better for accuracy than measuring because gluten-free flours can vary in density; your gluten-free flour substitutions must weigh the same as the weight of the flour you’re replacing so the ratio of dry to liquid and fat remains the same.

Peterson recommends starting by baking gluten-free cookies if you’re a newbie. “Try a simple sugar cookie or chocolate chip cookie and jazz it up with a drizzle of extra chocolate or gluten-free sprinkles,” she says. “Complex cookies can take more time to adjust to a gluten-free version, so leave those for after you’ve mastered the basics.” (You can check for gluten-free recipes online.)

At a party, ask the host if the bread is made from scratch or from a box labeled gluten-free, or if it was bought pre-prepared, says Tracy. “If the bread is made from scratch, ask what type of flour was used. In the end, if you are not 100% comfortable that the item is gluten-free, it may be best to stay clear of it.”


Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

The easiest way to make gluten-free sweets at the holidays is to keep it simple, says Jordan Porter, founder of “People think it has to be super complicated. What about the simplicity of a beautiful medjool date filled with some almond butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon?”

Aside from stuffed dates, Porter recommends an easy holiday bark to give as gifts: Melt your favorite dark chocolate (look for 70% or above on the ingredient label) in a double boiler and pour the chocolate onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with chopped nuts and dried fruits as you desire and set in the refrigerator. Break up, package in decorative jars or boxes and enjoy. She also recommends the following recipe.

2 cups blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
1 tbsp Great Lakes Gelatin (optional)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup honey
6 tbsp melted unrefined virgin coconut oil
3/4 cup mixture of raisins, chopped nuts and dark chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, sifting
until finely blended.

2. In a separate bowl mix wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry and add fruit/nut mixture.

3. Roll dough into tbsp-sized balls and press flat onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in the middle of oven for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on a cookie rack.


Yields 22 cookies. Source:




Gluten-Free Baking for Non-Bakers


Gluten Free Sundried Tomato
and Olive Quick Bread

Just because you’re not a great baker doesn’t mean you can’t create your own gluten-free goodies. For example, this quick bread “may be the simplest gluten-free bread recipe I have ever come up with. I am talking seriously simple. Even if you don’t bake at all, you can make this bread,” says Carol Kicinski, author of Simply Gluten Free Desserts and Simply Gluten Free Quick Meals (both fromThomas Dunne) and Simply Gluten Free Cupcakes (Simply Gluten Free).

Kicinski, who started developing gluten-free recipes after learning about her own gluten intolerance, says this bread can be served with olive oil for dipping or as a “killer appetizer or snack” with cream cheese and more of the tomato pesto.



Gluten-free, non-stick cooking spray
3/4 cup rice milk (or milk)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp sundried tomato pesto (store bought or use the recipe below)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
11/2 cups white rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil

Sundried Tomato Pesto:

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
3 tbsp of the sundried tomato oil (or use olive oil)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8” by 4” loaf pan with cooking spray.

2. Combine the rice milk and apple cider vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the pesto and egg.

3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the rice flour, tapioca starch, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, Italian seasoning and salt. Add the chopped olives to the flour mixture and toss them well to distribute the olives throughout. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk to combine.

4. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Brush the top of the loaf with the olive oil. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling or serve warm.

Sundried Tomato Pesto

Put all ingredients in a small food processor or blender and process until almost smooth.
Yield: 1 loaf


Gluten Free and Grain Free

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

Kicinski says she was inspired to create these muffins after reading about peanut butter and banana pancakes on a blog post, which “started a craving I couldn’t seem to satisfy. The peanut butter taste is subtle but the texture it adds to these muffins is terrific.” She says they freeze well.


4 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 ripe medium bananas, sliced ½” thick
¼ tsp kosher or fine sea salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp agave syrup or honey
1 ½ cups walnuts, chopped


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place muffin baking papers in muffin pan.

2. In a large mixing bowl beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

3. In another large mixing bowl beat egg yolks with electric mixer until they start to lighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add peanut butter, sliced bananas, salt, vanilla and agave syrup or honey. Mix until well blended and the bananas are incorporated. Some small chucks of bananas are OK.

4. Take a large spoonful of the egg whites and mix into the peanut butter mixture with a rubber spatula. Add the peanut butter mixture into the egg whites and fold in well. You want to mix until no more white streaks are visible. Fold in 1 cup of chopped walnuts if using.

5. Fill muffin baking papers until almost full; if using nuts sprinkle additional 1/2 cup over the tops of the muffins. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and set. A toothpick inserted will come out clean.

Yield: 12 muffins
Recipes reprinted with permission of Simply Gluten Free (


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