The success of cooking is as much dependent on how well one follows the directions of a good recipe as it is on being able to add a personal element – either to suit your tastes, your current pantry, or just to give a recipe a little bit of flair to help you make a dish become a part of you. And that’s why I’m going to be embarking on a little project. Over the next month or so, I’m going to make for you a guide. A guide to GF ingredients, a guide to knowing when you can switch one thing for the other – in the hopes of giving you more tools to enjoy your gluten free cooking. I’m going to aim for a month to put it together, and I hope it will help you.
One of the hardest facets of gluten free baking is making the right decisions about substitutions – When does it matter what flours are in a recipe? When can you just substitute a box mix? Is it really necessary to own 20 different types of ingredients to make something? If you are like me, you probably have a base of 4-5 flours that you use regularly, and when you see a recipe with someone else’s gluten free flour mix, you do your best to make do with what you own rather than going out to spend even more money at the store – cause let’s face it – gluten free ingredients often bring a whole new definition to pricey groceries. I think about substitutions almost every time I bake gluten free – sometimes I am sure the end result will come out great and other times I’m praying to the gluten free baking gods that whatever is in the oven will turn out edible. As you probably well know, baking is not my original area of expertise, and even I am prone to a mess-up or two.
Being a scientist, ideally I like to have a little “lab-book” of sorts for recording what I try, so that I have a place to start if it turns out that I need to alter my recipe. However, as nice and organized as that makes me sound, in reality, it’s more likely that I just jot down notes as I bake on a random piece of paper, like the back of some receipt from the store.
I don’t do this just to remember what I’ve done (though that’s certainly a goal), but also to be able to look back on a recipe and be able to make changes. Sometimes, general baking rules like those you’d find out of Ruhlman’s Ratio just don’t apply to gluten free cooking – one often needs to alter amount of liquid to dry ingredients, add more eggs, etc. Gluten free ingredients change the rules a little bit, and it’s just a bit of a process figuring out how. But, in the end, if one can figure out how to change a recipe, or even just fit an already gluten-free recipe to suit your current ingredients, it can be quite freeing, and give back the chance to be creative again in the kitchen.
Creativity is something I missed for a long time when it came to baking. I always felt so tied to following recipes exactly as planned that it was hard for me to think of something as mine vs. a well executed product of <insert GF cookbook author here>. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to play, and even I am still figuring it out. Just as with any skill, cooking is all about knowing what tools are at your disposal and how to use them. I’ve tried to collect this knowledge from the interwebs and put it all in one place in my Gluten Free? page, but what I really want is to give you these tools to make yummy GF foods your own – so that you aren’t left wondering how jeopardized your recipe is because you didn’t have teff flour on hand or really can’t stand the taste of chickpeas or trying to figure out if a packaged all purpose mix will really work for the recipe you want to make.
As an example of a work based on substitutions, today I am sharing with you a quick-bread that I made for breakfast one weekend, adapted from two awesome recipes that I saw come out at around the same time. Quick-breads are really well suited to being gluten free, and I’ve always had great success with them. This particular bread combined three of my favorite flavors – strawberries, bananas, and chocolate chips, and I did a rather unorthodox thing by baking it in a giant springform pan so that it came out looking more like a cake than a quick-bread. But it was moist and flavorful, using sweet ripe Swiss strawberries – oh I’m going to be so sad when strawberry season is over…
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/3 cup quinoa flakes
1/3 cup hazelnut meal
1/3 cup rice flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. guar gum
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten
1 banana, mashed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a baking pan (I used an 8″ springform). Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, lemon juice, eggs, banana, and oil.
3. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring until all is incorporated.
4. Stir in the fruit and chocolate chips, and pour into baking pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until passes the clean knife/clean toothpick test.
5. Let cool and eat!