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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Gluten-Free Food Made Easy - Bread, Flour, and Thickeners

Gluten-Free Food Made Easy - The Guide 


Ahh, bread; the lifeblood of civilisation. And the scourge of gluten-free diets everywhere. Fresh, crusty, bouncy, soft bread is what the majority coeliacs miss most of all. Now as I said in the introduction GF bread has come so very far but there's still some good and some bad. 

Some ready-made GF breads have to be baked in the oven before eating, this is particularly common with baguettes and crusty rolls. Generally I've found these to be pretty good; I tried a GF baguette from the Sainsbury's Freefrom range that tasted just as good as one from the bakery. Being baked they generally taste fresher and have a nicer texture than some ready-baked breads. 

Now the real hit and miss area is ready-baked loaves. I've tried some shockers in my time, but there are some brands which are getting it spot-on: GeniusGlutafin, and even Warburtons have awesome ranges available from most large supermarkets. 

The best thing about GF bread these days is the variety; you can buy almost any type of mainstream bread you could think of as a GF free alternative. Highlights includes pitta, naan, ciabatta, fruit loaves, and multigrain. So be adventurous and try everything you can! 

Now as for making your own...well I'm not the greatest bread-baker. I can't even really do mainstream bread, I just haven't the patience or the time. But I have been recommended this recipe from Doves Farm (you will hear much of them later on, they're my favourite GF alternatives company). So try it, experiment, and don't worry if it doesn't work out because you know you can go to any large supermarket and buy a loaf instead! 


As with GF bread, flours have come a long way recently; you can now buy a GF version of virtually any flour. The self-raising flours especially are surprisingly good, working in pretty much exactly the same way as mainstream. 

Ready-blended GF flours are a bit of a revelation; they're readily available in large supermarkets, you use them in exactly the same way as mainstream flours, and although they do cost more than mainstream flours they won't break the bank. I thoroughly recommend Doves Farm for GF flours; they're the most common in supermarkets and they're incredibly well done. 

The one major issue with GF flours is elasticity; this is what the gluten gives to mainstream flours. You'll find a lot of specialist blended GF flours have overcome this problem, but if you find that you use a flour which makes your bread too crumbly or your pastry way too short then Xantham gum is your friend. Xantham gum is produced by fermenting sugar and is naturally GF and it comes as a fine white powder. It can be used to mimic the elasticity and thickening properties of gluten, and I'll talk about it quite a lot because it's so very useful. It does cost around £3 for a pot but you only need a little in most recipes so it'll last you quite a while. 

Be careful of adding baking powder to plain GF flour as a raising agent; not all baking powders are GF. Those that are made from cornstarch are, but those made from wheat starch sadly aren't; always check the label! 

Flours made from wheat, barley, or rye are only the tip of the iceberg. You can get a range of flours which are naturally GF: rice, soy, chestnut, buckwheat, corn, potato, and chickpea (or 'gram'). Some GF recipes call for these flours to be used instead of a ready blended variety but I'd be cautious of recipes that request blending 2 or more of these flours together. Quite often only one is necessary or there is a ready-blended GF flour that can be used instead; ready-blended are almost always easier to use and cheaper. 


Thickeners are one of the reasons that a lot of processed foods are a gluteny minefield and a great deal of recipes call for them. So there are some really simple alternatives... 

The most common in savoury recipes is a roux; this is a mixture of plain flour and melted butter. The solution? Use GF plain flour instead of mainstream; one amazingly simple substitution which creates exactly the same thickening effect and the same taste. You can use the same amount and treat it in exactly the same way. 

Another common thickener is cornflour; well with this one you're perfectly safe. Cornflour is naturally GF so if a recipes calls for it, just carry on as normal! You can either mix it with melted butter, like a roux, or slake it in water or milk and pour in (you'll find instructions re. amounts on the boxes). 

Arrowroot is perfect for sweet recipes that need thickening, like fruit compote or sauces. It also keeps liquids clear, as opposed to cornflour which clouds them, so you can also use it for clear soups or clarified savoury sauces. Use it similarly to cornflour and slake it in water or milk before adding. 

And then there's our previous friend xantham gum; it's more expensive than the previous alternatives and won't give you any better results so I would recommend not using this for thickening savoury food, but particular sweet GF recipes do benefit from it. 

There is also guar gum or kuzu starch but these are only available from specialist retailers or online and are frighteningly expensive for what they are so I recommend sticking with the previous four. 

Next up in our gluten-free odyssey; stocks, pizza, pasta, pastry, and noodles...

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