Monday, January 24, 2011

Ready?

One more thing we should cover before we begin is equipment.  Most of the list is pretty much standard baking equipment, but a few things are more vital for gluten free baking than for conventional baking.

   A silpat, or parchment paper.  Gluten free doughs and batters are sticker than their standard counterparts.  Prevent sticking wherever possible.

   A stand mixer.  No, this isn't an absolute necessity.  But for a few things, it comes close.  Since gluten free doughs and batters do not (by definition) contain gluten, it's nearly impossible to overbeat them.  However, a lot of them - especially bread doughs - require a long beating period to incorporated enough air to be successful.  As some batters are also heavy, a hand mixer may not be up to the challenge.  And your arm certainly isn't.

   Various baking pans.  Arm yourself with the standard arsenal:  An 8- or 9" square, a set of 8- or 9" rounds, a 9"x13", a bundt pan, a tube pan, loaf pans, cookie sheets, a springform pan, and a "jelly roll" 1/2 sheet pan.  It's my tactic to usually acquire pans as I need them.  Especially specific shaped pans that I might not use often.  A pie pan (or three) is also a basic requirement.  I prefer glass for filled pies, and metal for blind baking.

   Piping bags and tips - One or two vinyl piping bags and a couple basic tips should get you in position to manage macarons, eclairs ,and other pastries.  Plus, they make frosting cupcakes and filling cookies super easy.

   Dishers in various sizes - these ice cream scoop-like tools range from melon-ball to 1/2 cup capacity or more.  I use them in multiple sizes.  You cannot believe how sticky some gluten free cookies and cake batters can be.  This will make portioning them SO much easier.

  Mixing bowls in multiple sizes.  Especially one really big bowl for mixing flours.  This will allow you to make up a batch of flour to store, making baking-on-the-fly a lot easier.  Which leads us to:

   Cannisters for flour storage.  I like the Oxo ones with the push-button lids.  It's not a bad idea to store gluten free flours and mixtures in the fridge or freezer to prevent them from spoiling.

   Measuring spoons and cups.  Two sets are a big help.  Because of the various adjuncts, gluten free recipes can be more complex.  And accurate measurement is essential.

   Silicone spatulas and a bowl scraper.  See above reference to the general stickiness.

   An instant-read probe thermometer.  Gluten free baked goods don't always brown or respond in the same way that their wheat-based counterparts do.  Sometimes you might want to check the internal temperature (especially with breads).  They're also handy for candy-making, in lieu of an actual candy thermometer.

And that should be enough to get us ready to go...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Getting Started in Gluten-free Baking

If you're already familiar with the ins and outs of gluten-free baking, go ahead and skip over this post.

If this is all rather new to you, and you're regarding the whole thing with a "deer in the headlights" sort of expression - here are some starter tips.

There are all sorts of gluten free flours.  You can buy commercial blends (King Arthur, Namaste, Bob's Red Mill, just to name a few).  Or you can stir up your own.  There are all kinds of recipes out there for other blends.  Most tend to be some combination of rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, and corn starch.  Their properties vary slightly, but it's not too hard to experiment with what you like best.

When it comes to all those flours, there are a few things to know.

First, you don't need them all.  And you certainly don't need them all to start out with.  Flours are made from pretty much every grain known to man.  Quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, the list goes on and on.  To start with, try recipes that use a blended flour, then add the various "whole grains" one at a time as you become more comfortable.  Each has its own distinctive flavor and working profile.  You'll find that you prefer some to others.

Second, it is important to pay close attention to the exact flour specified in your recipe:

   Potato flour and Potato starch flour are two different products and not interchangeable.  Both are used in gluten free baking, but for different purposes.

   Rice flour and Sweet Rice Flour are not interchangeable.  Sweet Rice Flour is made from glutinous rice, and has a higher carbohydrate content.

  Rice flour is often gritty and objectionable.  Potato starch, corn starch, and tapioca starch all help to mitigate this problem.  Now, the white rice flour available from Asian food stores is ground more finely and yields a better product BUT - it isn't guaranteed to be gluten-free.  It may be processed on equipment that also processes wheat products, so trace quantities of gluten may be present.  Be aware.

  The lack of gluten will require the use of some sort of binder.  Most often, xanthan gum or guar gum.  Some recipes will even call for both.

Also, shop around.  Prices for gluten free products can vary widely.  The price on a specific brand of mix or one kind of xanthan gum will vary by as much as $3 from store to store.

So - get ready, gear up, and we'll be ready to start baking!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Welcome!

Hello to all who have surfed in to join me.  For what it's worth, I'm a mother of two children and I work outside the home full time.  My oldest daughter is on the Autism Spectrum.  On finding that her behavior and progress improved markedly on a gluten-free diet, I set out modifying our lifestyle to accomodate her needs.  Since one of my hobbies is collecting vintage cookbooks, I started adapting those recipes for my daughter.

After sharing some of the results on Facebook or other media, it occurred to me that it would be easiest to set up a dedicated blog for those who were also interested in these things.  Now, since I have a Beaker-like mad scientist streak, I'm much more fond of baking than I am cooking.  Expect a preponderance of baked goods to appear here.  I'll also occasionally make forays into reviewing commercial gluten-free mixes and published cookbooks, and sharing hints and tips.

As things develop, feel free to leave me messages about what you'd most like to see.  If there is a specific "old favorite" recipe that you can't eat since beginning your gluten-free diet, share it with me and I'll see what I can do.

                                                                                                           Holly