Kat Barry: Gluten-free baking takes some experimentation

Published 12:48 pm Friday, March 29, 2013

As much as it pains me to admit it, being a fan of wheat and all things derived from it, I’ve been trying to steer clear of wheat and sugar. These two ingredients are tough to avoid, especially if you have a sweet tooth like I do. I love desserts so much, but I’ve noticed an almost instant negative effect on my body when I indulge. I’ve been sticking to a diet of clean, unprocessed whole plant foods, and very few grains for over a year now and feeling great. I’ve been using maple syrup, agave and molasses even more than ever and really cutting down on the higher glycemic cane sugar. The bloating that sugar and wheat cause are worth it for a delicious pastry now and then, but, nonetheless, I decided it was time to try my hand at some gluten-free baking.
Over the past year, I’ve experimented with quite a few recipes, none of which I feel have been good enough to pass along. The issue I’ve had with gluten-free baking is two-fold. First, there is the issue of the texture, then there is the issue of getting your baked goods to rise properly. Figuring out what to substitute for an egg was always the hardest part of vegan baking, so it makes sense that, when you take out the traditional flour, too, it makes for some interesting experiments: the hemp flour, cornmeal upside down cake I made was far too grainy and ended up being a total waste of a pint of organic peaches. The seven seed bread I attempted was a dense rock you could have chipped your teeth on. The cornbread muffins tasted like sand. The list goes on.
After a year or so of trying, I finally have a recipe I’m willing to share. These little cookies are totally delicious and not too far off texturally from a tea cookie. Sweeteners aren’t hard to replace, but flour is. I found the key to successful GF, SF vegan baking to be using a gluten-free flour mix that contains xantham gum. This seems to be crucial for achieving a bit of fullness in your pastry. Xantham is a common natural food additive used as a thickening agent. It’s made from the fermentation of glucose or sucrose and then ground into a fine powder. If you read gluten-free recipes, you will note it is essential for binding and volumizing.
Instead of using potato starch-based egg replacer, as most of the recipes I’ve read suggest, I advise using milled flax seed and water. In my experience, the egg replacer causes over rising or over fluffing resulting in a cake or muffin that’s trying too hard to overcompensate for being “different.” Milled flax seed and water on the other hand, is a fairly foolproof egg replacer, resulting in just the right amount of fluff while adding Omega 3s and fiber. 1 Tbs milled flax + 3 Tbs water is the equivalent of 1 egg.
I highly suggest checking out “The Allergen Free Bakers’ Handbook” by Cybele Pascal for lots of delicious gluten free and vegan recipes as well as detailed tips and instructions.

GF SF maple coconut bites

2 cups gluten-free flour mix
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. allspice
½ cup coconut oil
¾ cup maple syrup
¼ tsp. almond extract
1 Tbs. milled flax seed + 3 Tbs. water
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Whisk together dry ingredients, make a well in the center and set aside. Meanwhile, combine the wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry and mix until just combined, stirring in the coconut last.
Heat oven to 350, using a 1 tsp. measure, scoop out small balls and place them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutess or until golden brown. Excellent served with coffee.
Yields: 3 dozen small cookies