“There is more to adjusting recipes than simply switching flours,” says Debbie Moose of the News Observer . “Baking is chemistry. For results that won’t disappoint, we’re going to have to science the heck out of this!”
Says The Celiac Scene, “The tips below may overwhelm the casual celiac baker – but adopting even one suggestion is sure to improve your efforts. For the definitive resource on understanding gluten-free baking – and enjoying success every time – look to the New Gluten-Free Resource Guide. Available for purchase online.
The recipe included in this post is no doubt delicious, but it is a complex one. If no-fuss, fail-proof mixes are your preference, see Pamela’s Products’ 28 Cookie Recipes for 12 Days of Christmas! Pamela’s Mixes are versatile, delectable and offer many dairy-free variations.
If you live in Victoria, Lifestyle Markets on Douglas Street carries the most comprehensive selection of gluten-free flours and baking ingredients in all of British Columbia.
“Tradition is a big part of holiday baking,” Debbie Moose goes on to say. “Grandma’s fruitcake, Dad’s coconut cake, decorating sugar cookies with the kids – food memories are powerful this time of year. But what happens when those cherished family treats run up against family members who have converted to dairy-free or gluten-free diets? Often, they get shelved.”
Substituting Gluten-Free Flours
The gluten in wheat flour performs many functions, says Peter Reinhart, an instructor at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte and the James Beard Award-winning author of several baking books. Substitutes such as rice, garbanzo bean or nut flours have many differences from wheat flours that affect the texture, appearance and taste of baked goods.
Says Peter Reinhart, “You can’t just replace it one-for-one. It doesn’t work that way.”
Reinhart explored the issue in his book “The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking” and found that a blend of non-wheat flours worked better than using one kind alone. Also, a starch, such as tapioca starch or potato starch, must be added to provide rich flavor to the results.
He prefers nut flours, such as pecan flour which he grinds himself, to the other flours. Of course, those with nut sensitivities should avoid nut flours.
“Definitely use a combination of flours for a better result,” Reinhart says. “It will taste different from wheat flour, but a combination gives better flavor.”
The food science nerds at America’s Test Kitchen discovered the same thing. In the “How Can it Be Gluten Free Cookbook” by the minds at ATK (who are the same ones behind Cook’s Illustrated magazine), they offer suggestions for converting recipes
▪ Reduce the butter and oil. Gluten-free flours don’t absorb liquid fat as easily as wheat flour, which can result in greasy cookies. To add richness, replace some of the liquid fats with cream cheese or sour cream.
▪ Because gluten-free flours contain less protein, you may need to add a bit more leavening to obtain light results.
▪ Adding nonfat dry milk to the flour will help with browning. It will also help hold moisture and raise the protein level of gluten-free flours, which are usually lower in protein than wheat flour.
▪ Add a little more non-fat liquid to prevent gritty texture. Also, letting the batter or dough rest for 30 minutes or so before baking will give the flour time to absorb the liquid. Additional liquid may mean a bit longer baking time.
▪ Add a small amount of a binder to the flours to keep doughs from falling apart and muffins from being too crumbly. Powdered psyllium husk works well in yeasted doughs, which is why Reinhart prefers it. (It is available online and with the vitamins at Whole Foods stores.) America’s Test Kitchen says xanthan gum or guar gum works better in other types of baking, such as cakes, brownies and pie crust. You won’t need much – start with 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan or guar gum for an average batch and increase if the resulting texture is poor.
Replacing the Dairy
Many nondairy milks are widely available today – cashew, almond, soy, rice, coconut, oat, hemp. However, anyone who is sensitive to nuts should not use nut milks.
Several dairy-free butter substitutes are available, and coconut oil has been used in Asian cooking for centuries.
But simply exchanging a nondairy milk one-for-one for the buttermilk in Mom’s poundcake may not provide the best results because of differences in protein and fat levels, and flavor. Butter substitutes have a variety of flavors, and some aren’t suitable for baking, so read labels carefully.
Fran Costigan has written several books on vegan baking, including, “Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts.” She teaches vegan baking in Manhattan, was trained as a pastry chef at the New York Restaurant School and worked in several restaurants. Her preferred nondairy milk is almond, followed by a coconut milk beverage (not the canned coconut milk) if baking for those with nut allergies.
Soy milk has the most protein of all nondairy milks, at a level approaching cow’s milk.
To replace cream, Costigan uses homemade cashew cream or canned full-fat coconut milk, both of which have good fat levels. To get the cream from the coconut milk, Costigan says to place a can in the refrigerator overnight. Open the can, skim the solid layer of cream from the top and use it in baking or to make whipped cream. Save the thin liquid in the can for other uses.
Costigan says that sometimes manufacturers include additives to keep coconut milk from separating, so purchase two different brands to see which works best. Cans labeled “cream of coconut” are not the same thing. They have sugar added and are primarily used for cocktails.
Costigan avoids butter substitutes.
“I considered margarine an inferior product as a baker, so when I started trying this, I looked for a liquid fat. I found that a neutral-tasting oil worked fine. My preference is a mild-tasting extra-virgin olive oil,” she says.
Since using olive oil instead of butter means swapping a liquid for a solid, compensate in the recipe by using less oil than the butter. According to the “Food Lover’s Companion,” if the recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, use 7/8 cup of oil as a starting point.
Coconut oil works in some cases – Costigan uses it in a nut pie crust. But because coconut oil is solid at room temperature, it can quickly solidify if melted and added to batters, such as pancake batter.
Here are a few more tips for dairy-free recipes:
▪ Try using silken tofu to make cheesecake or cream pies. The silken variety is soft and easy to blend.
▪ If altering a recipe that uses buttermilk, remember that buttermilk has a higher acid content than conventional milk and most nondairy milks. Acid combined with leavening creates light baked goods. To ensure good rising, add a bit of an acid to the milk. Costigan likes the flavor of apple cider vinegar with chocolate desserts, and adds some to most of her recipes to improve the texture. Lemon juice will also work.
The important thing during the holidays is not to look at making recipes gluten-free or dairy-free as deprivation. Use good quality ingredients, such as the best dark chocolate you can find.
If you want to add some new recipes to your holiday repertoire, find one below with classic holiday flavors, plus a gluten-free flour blend that can be used in all kinds of baking.
Moose is a Raleigh cookbook author and former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at debbiemoose.com
Converted Vegan Chocolate Coconut Whipped Cream Cake