Friday, December 20, 2013

Gluten Free Baking

Gingerbread Cookies
Maybe it’s just the time of the year (the Holidays!) but I’ve gotten into several discussions about baking lately. It’s no secret that I’m gluten free and people are often shocked that what I offer doesn’t wind up tasting like a door-stop. Part of what works for me is using good ingredients and making things fresh. I also do a crazy amount of research and am always trying out new things. In an effort to share what I’ve learned, particularly what works and what doesn’t as well as where to get specialty ingredients, I’m putting together this post for reference.

One of the biggest obstacles people face when going gluten-free is getting used to new ingredients and their often higher prices. They are also sometimes harder to find. However, once you get the hang of it, baking is just as easy (or difficult) as it always has been.

Mint Milanos
A note about the expense: going gluten free is like any other kind of dietary change. It’s very easy to get caught up in the one-to-one replacements and wind up with an even less nutrient dense (and more expensive) diet. It’s important to note that most wheat products like bread, pasta, etc. are all fortified with vitamins and minerals – this minimum dosage is just enough to keep us from severe diseases of deficiency, but are in no way the optimal way to get these nutrients. That being said, switching from wheat-based processed food to gluten free processed food, which is not usually fortified, can lead to disaster. If, instead, you choose to switch the base of your diet away from grains in general in favor of fruits, vegetables, and high quality proteins and fats, you’ll be significantly improving your overall nutrient intake. This way of eating is also much cheaper than buying all the gluten free packaged food available these days.

All of this is to say that baking is not the answer to changing your diet and not noticing a difference. There should be a difference. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to say goodbye to age old traditions like baking cookies on Christmas. There is just something lovely about making and sharing yummy treats with friends and family.

Since this particular brand of oven-baked joy is my cup of tea, I’d like to share my go-to ingredients and favorite recipes (found for free online!) I buy quite a bit online, mostly on Amazon, but some things can be bought in stores. I will include affiliate links where applicable, but also mention when you can probably get items locally.


Almond Flour
This is my preferred brand for a fine, light texture perfect for cookies and cakes.
Almond Meal
I buy this at my local Trader Joes and it includes the almond skins and is very course – cookies baked with this come out more like oatmeal cookies than regular chocolate chip. It’s also good for making buns or “bread” for a more whole grain texture.
Coconut Flour
This can also be found at my local Wegmans, Whole Foods, etc. I’m not as picky about brand with this stuff. I haven’t tried one that didn’t work as of yet. 
Grade B Maple Syrup
This has to be my secret weapon ingredient. Using this recreates the right flavor profile for chocolate chip cookies, which traditionally would use white and brown sugar. I buy it at Trader Joes and find the Grade B is way better than the thinner, less rich Grade A.
Coconut Oil
This can also be bought in most stores and is great for replacing butter, if you are very dairy intolerant. It works surprisingly well.
Palm Shortening aka Vegan Shortening
Somehow this isn’t a trans-fat nightmare and is considered a safe alternative. I don’t use it much, but have on occasion when you need a completely neutral flavor. You can also use this as a sub for things like butter or lard.
Swerve Confectioner’s
This is a low carb product that I use in icings and as the sweetener in homemade ice cream (it keeps it from getting rock hard). I use this powdered version in all applications, sometimes cutting the suggested amount (the granular version doesn’t taste as sweet to me and I get more bang for the buck with this).
This brand is great in my coffee and I can sometimes get away with using a little bit in place of caloric sweeteners but doesn’t generally work that well in baked goods all by itself. You only need the tiniest bit of this – I use the undiluted version so it doesn’t measure like sugar at all. I prefer not to pay for the bulking agents.


Choc Chip Macaroons
I am an avid collector of online recipes and you can follow me on Pinterest, if you want to keep up to date with stuff I’m trying. However, I think it’s important to start with the tried and true, especially when you are just starting to buy new ingredients. There is nothing worse than throwing out a whole batch of something that just didn’t work. It’s also important to follow the instructions carefully – the ingredients and method are what the recipe writer used and found to work. Changing it up is fun, but can result in flops. I recommend finding something that appeals to you, you have or can get ALL the required ingredients, and then follow it exactly the first time. Not every suggestion is going to meet that set of criteria, so I say skip the ones that aren’t a perfect match for your needs and abilities and just try something you can do as described. I cannot stress this enough – you cannot determine if a recipe works unless you actually follow it! That being said, I DO sometimes tweak things (I’ve been at this for some time) and I will note things that I’ve tried successfully along with the links, in case those alterations appeal to you, too. I mostly just want you to have a good experience out of the gate!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
I should also mention that gluten free baking IS different from its wheat-laden, more ubiquitous pastry-cousins. You cannot simply swap out the regular flour in a beloved recipe with a gluten free alternative and get the same result. When starting out, choose a recipe already developed and tested by someone else before trying to adapt old favorites. There is a learning curve and it takes a bit of experience to get a feel for how different flours behave.

All the recipes are Paleo-friendly, but not necessarily Low Carb (LC). I’ve noted the ones that use non-caloric sweeteners as LC, in case you want to especially use those to avoid as many carbs as possible or avoid them due to the questionable ingredients. For me, I’ve determined that Swerve and Stevia are within my comfort zone of safety, but I do not use or advocate the use of aspartame, Splenda, or other more widely available artificial sweeteners. I also avoid Truvia, which is neither True, nor Stevia. And, it tastes bad. BAD.

On to the links!!!!
The Wonder Bun

My version of the Wonder Bun
I don't eat a lot of bread-like things anymore. They simply aren't worth the time or energy, most of the time. But when I just need something, this does the trick! I use these mostly for open faced melted cheese to go with Tomato Soup and as croutons in French Onion Soup. I don't usually bother for burgers anymore, but it works well for those, too.
The Food Lovers
Chocolate Chip Cookies
I often use melted butter in place of the coconut oil (both work well!) and sometimes swap white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts for the chocolate chips. If you use chocolate chips, any brand will work. They just list the allergy-friendly type for sensitive folks. The Enjoy Life ones are awesome, just a bit pricier, if that’s not a concern for you.
Pumpkin Cookies
These are a huge hit every fall and have the added benefit of being vegan - everybody can enjoy them!
Gingerbread Men or their Updated Version
I’ve made the original version as instructed with cookie cutters, but also made them without rolling them out, using my cookie-disher, and smooshing them down before baking. I make royal icing either with organic powdered sugar or powdered Swerve. I either pipe it on all fancy-like when using the cookie cutters or just slather it on when doing the regular cookies. Both ways taste incredible. I haven't tried their updated version, but I'm sure that's wonderful, too. Maybe better since they revised it? Hard to imagine since I LOVE the original.
Sticky Bun Cake
Comfy Belly
Cinnamon Bun Muffins (almond flour)
Cinnamon Bun Muffins (coconut flour)
Sticky Bun Cake (my adapted version of the above) (LC)
I make some version of the above three recipes quite often. So easy and delicious!
The Paleo Parents
Chocolate Chip Macaroons
The salty-sweet combo of these is off the charts good. If you use dairy free chocolate chips, these are completely vegan (and autoimmune Paleo compatible without the chips).
The Urban Poser
These are incredible. That is all.
All Day I Dream About Food
Cinnamon Rolls
Nutella Loaf (LC)
This has to be hands-down the best completely low carb cake I've ever made. It tastes a lot how I remember those marble poundcakes at Starbucks.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins (LC)
Also Starbucks-inspired. Hmm...
Maria Emmerich
Cinnamon Rolls (LC)
This recipe uses a somewhat controversial ingredient called Psyllium Husk Powder. Please read this post about its safety – this is why I use it. It makes gluten free baked goods have the right doughy texture for things like this recipe. Just don’t buy a huge thing of it, like I did! You need very little per recipe. I also generally just use royal icing made with Swerve on these, too (like the gingerbread cookies). This Brown Butter Icing recipe is also amazing, though.
My Mint Milano Creations
This recreation went amazingly well and hit on some deep childhood memories. The originals were always my favorite cookies and I could easily eat a whole box of them all at once. Making them from scratch with better ingredients staves off the urge to binge on them.

There are so many great recipes out there but these are my favorites that I go back to over and over. I hope this helps you get started and have some success right away. I would also recommend browsing the websites I linked to above for more recipes – they are generally trusted sites with great content. For more recipe ideas, follow me on Pinterest!

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