Our adventure with celiac-disease-inspired gluten-free cooking has progressed in the last month, so I thought I’d share my updated insights.
1. I have done so much web searching that Google now knows to add the words “gluten-free” to any food-related search string.
2. I’ve looked up so many ingredients. If you’d asked me two months ago what guar gum or xanthan gum were, I would have labeled them an evil of the corporate food machine. Now I see them and I rejoice, because it means no wheat flour. But…
3. Nobody agrees on anything. Take maltodextrin. Multiple websites created specifically for celiacs assure me that maltodextrin is fine. Then I run across a reference on a medical office out of Ohio that warns to stay far, far away from it. Really????? Make up your minds!
Then there’s the question of modified food starch. Conventional wisdom promises that in the U.S., modified food starch is GENERALLY gluten-free. But it’s not specified in ingredient lists, so…. What do you do?
And the sausage. MANY SAUSAGES ARE NOT GLUTEN FREE! shout the online warnings. But I have been through the ingredient lists of every sausage we buy, and not one of them is a problem. (Thank God!) But when we went to a Christmas party, the grocery store caterer insisted the breakfast casserole was NOT gluten-free. But I’ll be darned if I could figure out what in that was not gluten-free. My guess is the grocery store caterers are too lazy to read the ingredient lists, so they just play it safe. Not cool.
4. Another thing nobody agrees on: whether 1:1 flour is actually a thing. Some people insist that you can get Bob’s Red Mill, Pillsbury, etc. and simply go forth and bake all your usual recipes. Other people—a LOT of them—insist you need recipes made specifically for gluten-free baking.
In my one month’s experience of gluten-free baking, I have developed a theory: the answer is “it depends on what you’re making.” I substituted Trader Joe GF flour into my Kitchn chewy brownie recipe and it worked fine except the brownies wouldn’t totally bake, so they were gooey. But who cares if brownies are gooey? No one in my family! Score: Kate 1 celiac 0.
However, if you are trying to stack cake layers, or roll out a pie crust (or, say, gingerbread), not so much.
I hypothesize that any flat thing you can serve out of the baking pan (English muffin bread, zucchini bread, etc.) is probably going to work just fine, but not the rest. And I’m unlikely to waste $$ & time testing that hypothesis.
5. I made a batter-style GF bread that everyone in the house wanted to eat. We’d eat it all the time, if the flour weren’t 5-10x as expensive.
6. Speaking of GF flour: There are lots of people who insist on particular formulations for regular baking: cake flour, soft wheat flour, bread flour, etc. I get that, but the reality is, you can use all-purpose flour in any recipe and it will work. It might work better with a different formulation of wheat flour, but it WILL work.
This is not the case with gluten-free flour. I thought it was weird at first but now I understand. I have at least 5 kinds of flour and the textures are wildly different, because the blend of grains is different. Some lead with rice, others with tapioca, etc.
7. The day I discovered that Gerbes (Kroger) has 2-3 “health food” frozen sections of their frozen aisle, I realized my life was going to get way easier (albeit more expensive). I can now offer my daughter donuts, waffles, pizza crust, chicken fingers, etc., etc.
8. You have to watch out for the b.s. monitor. As in the prepackaged microwave meal that shouts, “Gluten-free Mexican rice dinner!” And I’m like, um, that was gluten free to begin with.
Although given the number of things I’ve discovered have gluten in them lately, maybe it’s not a slam dunk that said convenience meal would, in fact, have been gluten-free in the first place.
So clearly I’ve figured some things out. What I have not yet figured out yet?
Cross-contamination. Stay tuned.