Are you one of the growing number of Americans who has to avoid gluten? The editors of Epicurious.com are here to help! Check out their ultimate guide to wheatless eating and recipes that aren't flavor-free but flavorful!
A rapidly growing number of Americans avoid gluten, the protein in wheat, rye and barley, because of an allergy or sensitivity, or because they feel its absence promotes digestive health. For some, gluten-free eating is a serious concern: Roughly 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune response to gluten that can only be treated by avoiding all traces of the substance. And some parents and doctors suspect that consuming gluten can exacerbate autism symptoms. Thanks to increased awareness of the gluten-free lifestyle and a dramatic improvement in gluten-free flour blends and other products, it's now possible to avoid gluten and still eat deliciously.
Obviously, cutting out gluten is a major lifestyle change, but happily, there's no need to write off sandwiches and birthday cake forever. Check out our advice on baking without gluten and our gluten-free versions of pizza, muffins, bread and cake — these are treats that everyone will love, whether or not they eat wheat.
Anyone who's sampled enough of the wheat-replacement products out there knows what gluten does: It gives elasticity to baked goods that no other single grain can replicate. Without gluten, baked goods can be gummy, leaden lumps, or, as described by one gluten avoider, "tasteless" and "like eating sand." The most satisfying gluten-free recipes employ a mixture of grains, as well as some texturizing ingredients like tapioca, in order to mimic wheat flour and the chewy mouthfeel of products made with it. There's no question that baking without gluten can be a challenge, but armed with our tips, you'll be turning out perfect goodies in no time.
- Avoiding tough dough
Overbeating wheat dough can cause toughness (because the gluten bonds become too strong and elastic). But with gluten-free dough, beating for several minutes is often desirable — it lightens the dough by aerating it. Be sure to beat for the full time called for in our recipes — using a heavy-duty stand mixer (rather than a handheld) will make the process easier.
- Sticky situations
Wet or oiled hands are often the best nonstick utensil when working with gluten-free doughs and batters, which can get very sticky — they don't have the body and sheen of wheat dough.
- Creating crispness
Gluten-free baked goods can become mushy if the recipe emits too much steam while cooking — gluten-free doughs are often moist, so this can happen easily. Pizza stones help remedy this and are essential for baking crisp breads and pizza crust. Another method is to remove breads from their loaf pans when they are firm enough to hold their shape (about two-thirds of the way through baking) and then finish baking on the oven rack or a preheated pizza stone. In addition, baking breads in smaller loaf pans encourages a higher rise and more tasty crust.
- Balancing flavors
Recipes calling for a blend of flours tend to have a more balanced flavor than those that rely on one type. Experiment and taste as you cook to learn the flavors that different flours contribute.
- Beware of flying flour
If you make wheat recipes in the same kitchen as wheat-free ones, devote a cabinet and set of tools to gluten-free cooking and keep surfaces thoroughly clean.
- Preserving freshness
Many gluten-free flours, including those made with legumes, nuts and whole grains, are higher in fat than regular flour so can spoil easily. Check expiration dates and store flours that contain fat in the freezer to prolong freshness.