People, we love you.
Last week, when we posted a recipe for kalamata olive-rosemary bread, we asked you to share something you have learned about baking gluten-free.
That chorus of voices taught us, entertained us, and mostly reminded us of this: we are not alone.
When you are first diagnosed, it’s easy to believe that no one else is struggling with the reading of labels, the relinquishment of favorite foods, and the failed baking attempts in the kitchen. The batches of bread that didn’t work out feel huge, an indictment of you as a baker and what your eating life will be like from now on.
Believe us (all of us here, writing and reading) when we say: it’s not just you. And believe us, it grows better and better.
“For me, the journey into and through gluten free baking has been about setting aside my attempts to recreate what we could eat before. Once I started to respect the ingredients for what they could bring, rather than how close to the “real thing” they could get me, my baking improved.” the newstead6
“There are a lot of failures in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, it opens up a whole new baking arena. When there are so many different types of flour, you get to experiment forever!” Iris
“I haven’t learned much yet about how to bake GF except to let go of all I knew of gluten baking. It’s like learning to walk all over again.” Susan
“Being able to share meals with great friends is something I treasure, so modifying/finding good recipes and turning them into great gluten-free fare means lots of research and experimentation…but it’s well worth it.” Taverenus
“I’ve learned (and am still learning) to let go. To let go of the idea that everything has to be perfect (the first time, of course). To let go of the idea that the flours and breads and cakes are something to be rationed or hoarded. Some expensive things may need to be occasional indulgences ’cause they’re pricey, but this is how I eat now – it’s not some strange and unusual experiment to be kept off to the side.” Alice
We were so moved by what you wrote and how much you shared of yourselves that we’re doing a little primer here, a community gathered together to help each other with gluten-free baking.
What we know (in part) about gluten-free baking.
Dont be afraid to fail.
“i’ve learned to experiment. i write down adjustments i make, the different flours i substitute and just bake. sometimes the bread comes out great, sometimes it’s just ok. but it’s all bread that my gf husband can eat and it’s all more yummy than store bought.” babyjenks
“I have learned to be humble as not everything works out the first time. I have learned that you can recapture that moment of your youth when mom was making cinnamon buns on Christmas morning and you thought you would just die from wanting to eat them while they were cooking.”
“GF bread baking has taught me one thing I usually have a severe shortage of…patience. I’m not the type to relax, follow instructions, and breathe. I at least have to some of the time while cooking gluten free.” Lily
“The most important thing I’ve learned about gluten free baking is that the failures do not make you a bad cook – the zillions of loaves of not-quite-right or horrendously-wrong gluten free bread that have ended up as breadcrumbs (or in the compost) are a testament to our unwillingness to give up. Perseverence is the most important thing for us glutenfreeders!” Katie
“When I get discouraged about the failures in my gluten free baking, I remind myself that I know more today than I knew yesterday, and get back in the kitchen and try again.” gfpumpkins
“I’ve learned that gluten free baking takes risk-taking and the ability to try things and fail. While regular baking has a long history and precedent, those of us baking gluten-free are really breaking ground and forging the path to finding amazing recipes. It’s pretty cool I think!”
I love Devon’s point. How long have people been baking with gluten? Thousands of years. How long have people been trying to create authentic, memorable loaves of bread without gluten? Maybe 50 years?
We’re pioneers, people. Pioneers.
You see that apple-rosemary bread up there? The one so moist and smacking of apples on the lips that we put it in our cookbook? That recipe took at least a dozen different creations before we found the ratio of flours to fats to eggs that worked, and tasted the way we imagined it. At least a dozen.
Nothing is a failure.
Some practical tips.
“I have found that if you are using eggs to separate them, beat the egg whites and fold them in last minute to get a “fluffier” product. I use this in muffins, angel food cake and pancakes (I know… pancakes are not really baking – but it is good).” GF Crumpette
” One of my tricks is to remove the paddle from my bread machine..GF bread does not like to be kneaded too much, and I also give it an extra 30 min. rising time.” Ina
“I have learned that potato flour and potato starch are NOT the same thing.” Krysta
“Bring all ingredients to room temp…and take your time.” Aiti
“The best thing I have learned recently about gluten free baking is almond flour! I’m trying it in a bunch of things I could never get quite right before, and it’s helping.” Jennigma
“One thing I’ve learned about gluten-free baking is that good gluten recipes can be converted successfully, but it takes several tries to get it right. I find that usually more liquids are needed. More eggs, more butter. To make things lighter, and to hold everything together.
I’ve also learned how absolutely crucial it is NOT to accidentally forget xanthan or guar gum. If people think it’s some gimmicky additive, just try making a batch of cookies without it and you’ll see that you have just made cookies that are simultaneously a pile of goo and crumbly.”
Allison the Meep
“I’ve learned that a stand mixer and plastic wrap are life savers!” Michelle
“I just hate altering recipes so your suggestion to do things by weight was a real light bulb. I now have a scale.” Elle
“I have learned that you have to make sure yeast is alive before you use it. That gluten free dough puts up a battle against a hand held mixer. ” Katya Kosiv
“I do have a few tips. Pick your favorite gf flour blend and keep a lot of it (pre-mixed) on hand. Then you can whip something up really quickly.
Always use xanthan gum (or a substitute) to help your flours/starches stick together.
Rice milk is an excellent substitute if you have to avoid dairy and soy.
If you are also baking without eggs, try adding 1 tsp lemon juice in 1 C. cold water (substitute for some of your liquid ~ adjust quantity if your recipe calls for less liquid) and be sure your recipe calls for baking SODA (or add 1 tsp). The lemon juice and baking soda will react and it will help your baked goods rise and be fluffier.
If you are at high altitude you can also increase your baking powder.”
“One of my favourite GF-baking-breakthroughs: use buttermilk in place of milk. Creates a tender, moist crumb and a ridiculously gluten-y mouthfeel. (Especially in cakes.)” kemenloth
“I have learned that if a recipe has 1/2 cup or less of flour (as the amazing cocoa brownies on Smitten Kitchen do), I can substitute the same amount of Gluten Free Pantry all purpose flour, and the final product is indistinguishable from a gluten-filled baked good! So I can have brownies again. A small thing, but a triumph.” sam carter
“i have also learned that garbanzo bean flour is usually not my favorite.” Janaya
I bake in the high desert, so there are some challenges in dealing with both the altitude and the dry climate. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1) You almost always need to add more liquid than the recipe calls to ensure a moist cake/bread/cookie/etc. I sometimes add an extra egg, more oil, or more liquid, depending on the item and the desired consistency/texture.
2) Baked items take longer to cook at altitude, so they often need to be cooked higher up in the oven so the edges don’t burn while the center finishes cooking. (Or, depending on the item, covered in tin foil. i.e. Pies with a gluten-free pie crust must be covered in tin foil or you end up with a very burnt crust!)” Codabelle
“A 9×5 inch loaf pan REALLY IS double the volume of an 8×4 inch pan! 8 cups vs 4 cups. If any of you are struggling with getting a BIG/big rise loaf in a 9×5 out of a 3 cup recipe, well… either double it or try a smaller pan!(There may be others out there! Maybe… How to measure your pan: inside to inside. Seemingly across the top, though if you measure across the bottom, a 9×5 will often measure 8×4! The key if you forget this is measure the DEPTH: 8×4= 2″ deep, 9×5= 3” deep.) Mels Kitchen
“One thing I’ve learned over 10 years of GF baking is that when I find a recipe I like, I set up a row of zip-lok baggies and measure out all the dry ingredients at once. Then I zip and store. When I want to make that item again, I grab a bag and proceed with the recipe. Saves a lot of time getting out all the different flours and gums……. And quite easy to vary the final product with different herbs, nuts, seeds, etc.” Mary
“i’ve learned to appreciate croutons and bread crumbs— why waste a good failed bread?
i made up a huge batch of delicious meatballs last week that transformed past bread disappointments into tasty treats.” Valerie
I love all of these, and learned from them too. (Buttermilk, eh? I’m going to try that soon.) We could write an entire book together of these helpful tips. Keep them coming.
Following recipes and finding joy.
“I’m new to GF baking, but I’ve learned that I have to keep doing it over, and over, and over to get it right. I made the pie crust recipe 4 times before I felt like it turned out.”
“The one thing I have learned about gluten-free baking is to try, try, try. It is so rare that I try out a new recipe and it works. I can’t imagine if I quit trying after one failure. Bread would never be in my life again, pies would be out of the question, and cookies would be gone forever if I did not keep at it. Gluten-free baking has taught me to never give up and to accept that everything is not perfect.” playfood
“I’ve learned to take endless notes! I was never a recipe follower until I started baking GF – then I quickly realized that not only do I need a recipie, but I MUST actually follow it at least once and take careful notes of any later changes, otherwise madness and tasty crumbs are the result, instead of whatever yummy concoction I was going for.” Dorian
“I have learned that a kitchen covered in a dozen types of flour and two friend covered in dough eating a fabulous new gluten free, sulfate free creation is worth more than anything in the whole wide world.” Krysta
“Make gluten free baking fun by embracing gluten-free baking as a new challenge. Cooking with limitations is, I think, actually more exciting because it takes some backbone, dedication, and willingness to fail. When something turns out, and you are able to exceed your own and others expectations, it’s all the more gratifying and tastes just that much better.” Mish Piece
“I think the main thing I’ve learned cooking GF is that even the failures aren’t failures. They’re a way to learn how the different flours work together. I love that GF baking is a challenge and I know more about different ingredients and techniques than I did with gluten filled baking.”
And finally, it’s clear we do all this for more than just the baked goods.
“What have I learned about GF baking? It is one of the greatest expressions of love I can show my gluten-intolerant husband. I have never been a baker, so I want to learn so that he can have delicious breads and sweets.”
“I have learned so many things since my kids and I have needed to eat gluten and dairy free. I think one of the best things to happen though is the need to make the food my kids and I eat ourselves. We can’t just grab a package of cookies at the market. We must take the time to make them. I think it is also teaching us some patience in that we can’t always immediately fulfill every food desire we have immediately. I am also enjoying the time teaching my kids to be able to provide themselves with food. Jenni
“once i got over being really p-oed that i couldn’t eat bread and started opening my mind more and more to the possibilities that there might just maybe be some decent gf alternatives,
i started realizing more and more just how lucky i was to not be able to eat wheat/gluten!
the gf world is full of healthier, more tasty and just plain more interesting alternatives. grains and nice things i don’t think i ever would have tried if i was still a gluten girl.” spilling beauty
“I’ve learned it’s worth all the effort of mixing flours and then baking to keep my kid healthy, happy, and feeling un-deprived. You really just need a good recipe and a little practice.”
“Back before I was gluten-free, I used to rush through a recipe, tossing ingredients together in anticipation of the end result. No more. Now I bake slowly and more mindfully, playing with substitutions, enjoying the journey as much as the destination.” rkdelaney
“I have learned that if I keep in my mind what I ate before I knew about food allergies as the gold standard then I am missing out on a whole other experience. I don’t try to REcreate any more, just create. Eat my food and know that the ingredients are good and nourishing for what they are, not what they are not. In short, I do not set myself up to fail anymore.” e.e. spenner
“What have I learned about gluten free baking? Probably the same thing everybody else has had to learn: you have to change your expectations a little. Gluten free baking can be so delicious (especially now that we have all these fabulous people working so diligently on new and improved recipes), but it won’t have the exact same structure and flavor as foods made from wheat flour. Accepting that and moving in with an open mind to explore these new flavors is everything…and so much more satisfying.” Kate
It’s the look on my brother’s face when he eats a slice of the gluten-free lemon cake I made for his birthday, and it’s much better than he ever expected. It’s the moment I wake up in the morning, after Danny got up early with Little Bean and let me sleep until 7:30, and I smell warm banana bread in the kitchen. It’s the hours spent baking at the kitchen counter with my daughter, who is now so familiar with the routine that she stands at the opening to the kitchen, points, and shouts “BAA!” when she wants to start again. (And puts the KitchenAid bowl on her head.)
It’s the moments together, the feeding each other.
Gluten schmuten. That’s all that matters.
Even with all that, sometimes the failures are still spectacular.
This is the batch of World Peace cookies I pulled out of the oven the other day. Full of hopes of dark chocolate circles with fleur de sel, I opened the oven and found this monstrosity of a mess instead.
Luckily, I started laughing right away. Then took this picture.
These were meant to be wonderful. They were going to be the recipe I shared in this spot this week. Instead, I decided to share your voices. (I’m glad I did.)
And ask for your help.
Listen to this. How could you not want to make these cookies?
“These butter-rich, sandy-textured slice-and-bake cookies are members of the sablé family. But, unlike classic sablés, they are midnight dark there’s cocoa in the dough and packed with chunks of hand-chopped bittersweet chocolate. Perhaps most memorably, they’re salty. Not just a little salty, but remarkably and sensationally salty. It’s the salt Pierre uses fleur de sel, a moist, off-white sea salt that surprises, delights and makes the chocolate flavors in the cookies seem preternaturally profound.”
Let’s adapt a recipe together. How would you make sandy chocolate perfect cookie from Dorie Greenspan into a gluten-free wonder?
Leave your comments and suggestions here. If you make it without dairy or eggs of anything else that might be an allergen, let us know. If you make the cookie of your dreams, write down how you did it, and let us know.
Next week, I’ll publish the best recipes and give everyone credit.
Come on, everyone. We can do it.