Due to my son’s food allergies, I’ve been experimenting with gluten-free, vegan baking. My failures and successes have inspired me to compile a list of tips for others who want or need to bake without wheat, gluten, eggs, and dairy.
Before I proceed with my tips, let me just say that gluten-free baking, by itself, and vegan baking, by itself, are not very difficult.
When you’re baking without gluten, you simply replace the wheat flour with other flours, such as rice flour, quinoa flour, and bean-based flours. You still get the moisture and richness offered by butter, and the leavening, flavouring and binding qualities of eggs.
Neither is vegan baking much more difficult than regular cooking or baking. Yes, you replace eggs, butter and milk with substitutes, but you still get to use wheat-based flour.
However, when you combine gluten-free with vegan baking, then it gets extremely difficult.
Here are some ways I’ve discovered to make the journey much smoother and more enjoyable:
1. Use tried and true recipes.
Now isn’t the time to be inventing your own recipes — unless you’ve got plenty of time and money for experimentation. Spare yourself some frustration and safeguard your precious dollars by using recipes that have been proven to work.
The first place to find these is in Amazon.com, where you’ll also find plenty of reviews for gluten-free, vegan, and allergen-free baking. I always read the low-rating reviews first. Watch out for reviews from people who’ve never read the cookbook, didn’t follow the recipes exactly (more on that below), or have never tried any dish from the cookbook.
Don’t just rely on Amazon or other online bookstores, though. Look at people’s blogs. By using Google or any other search engine (type “[book title] review” in the search bar), you’ll find reviews from real people who’ve actually tried the recipes in the book. Photos of the finished dishes and comments from other readers are often very helpful as well.
2. Don’t substitute ingredients or mess with the instructions.
Baking is a science. You need to maintain the perfect balance of wet and dry, and have just the right amount of sweetness. Unless you know how to create your own recipes for baked goods, don’t make your own ingredient substitutions.
If you do, expect surprises, usually bad. Don’t blame the recipe creator if your dish doesn’t turn out.
3. Know and follow how the recipe creator measures ingredients.
There’s a right way to measure dry and wet ingredients. What I learned in high school cooking class was to spoon the dry ingredients into dry measuring cups or spoons, and then level the top with a large spatula or knife. As for the wet ingredients, use a wet measuring cup (this is usually glass), and bend down so you’re eye level with the quantity indicators on the measuring cup.
However, not all cookbook authors follow this way. There’s a full cup measure, which is what Super Allergy Girl author Lisa Lundy uses. Erin McKenna, author of the Babycakes cookbooks, uses only dry measuring cups to measure both dry and wet ingredients (this, to me, is the worst method and reveals McKenna’s lack of formal training in cooking/baking). Still others, like renowned vegan author Isa Moskowitz, uses a spoon-tap-level technique.
Whichever way the cookbook author uses to measure ingredients, whether you agree with it or not, follow that method when cooking from their recipes. This makes a big difference, especially in baking.
If you don’t know how a cookbook author measures ingredients, read tip number 7 below to contact him or her.
4. Invest in an oven thermometer.
Never assume your oven’s built-in thermostat is accurate. Buy an inexpensive oven thermometer and see for yourself. My brand-new oven, for example, is 20 degrees colder than indicated on its digital display. When I preheat my oven and it beeps to say it has reached the desired temperature, it’s actually got 40+ degrees more to go. Plus, I’ve noticed that my oven’s accuracy fluctuates depending on the temperature inside my kitchen. So I have to compensate for this when it’s a particularly hot summer day.
5. Avoid dark pans.
I don’t know why manufacturers even make dark pans! They make the dough or batter cook much faster on the outside, and stay undone in the center. I’ve had to throw out banana breads, brownies and cakes, because I used dark pans.
Spare yourself the grief. Look for aluminum or glass bakeware. I know this can be hard. In my local Walmart, for example, sometimes all you can find are dark bakeware. I’ve had much better luck finding them at Michaels. Or, if you have to, order aluminum bakeware online.
If you dark baking pans are all you have, don’t despair. You can still use them. Just remember to reduce the baking temperature by 25 degrees fahrenheit.
Glass bakeware is fine, too. However, I’ve found that baked goods tend to take longer to bake in glass than other kinds of baking pans.
As for silicone, I’m still on the fence. I’ve heard lots of people sing praises of silicone pans. However, many other people say they bake unevenly, give off a toxic smell. And, besides, they say you still can’t be sure that silicone pans are actually safe for our health. So, I’d rather err on the side of caution and avoid silicone for now. I do use a silicone mat for cookies and such.
6. Be open to unfamiliar ingredients.
I’m amazed how many people complain about having to look for weird-sounding ingredients when they’re cooking or baking gluten-free and vegan. Well, duh. You’re not baking the usual way. You’re not using eggs, butter, wheat-based flour, honey and cow’s milk. You can bet you’ll need to use other stuff to replace these familiar ingredients — stuff you may never have cooked or baked with before, much less heard of.
Keep an open mind and be willing to explore the ethnic aisle of your grocery, your local health food or bulk food store. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you discover.
Another thing: stop complaining about how expensive these ingredients are! Your health, and that of your family’s, is worth it. Besides, buying gluten-free, vegan foods in groceries is more expensive and not as delicious.
7. Connect with your favorite authors.
I love how easy it is nowadays to connect with authors. Most of them will have a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account. This makes it super easy to contact them if you have questions about their recipes. They also absolutely love it when you post pictures of your dishes on their Facebook pages, and then tweet a link about it.
8. Expand your horizons with vegan cookbooks.
If you’re looking for cookbooks with recipes that are both vegan and gluten-free, you won’t find very many. However, you could always start with a vegan cookbook and simply replace the flour with an all-purpose, gluten-free flour blend.
I’ve found Bette Hagman’s formula is the simplest with very few ingredients and works very well. Plenty of cookbook authors have used it as a model for their own blends. Here’s the formula:
3 parts rice flour (I prefer brown rice flour for more nutrition. Make sure you use the kind that’s very finely ground so your baked good doesn’t have a gritty texture)
1 part potato starch (NOT potato flour)
1/2 part tapioca flour
Mix up your gluten-free flour and then replace regular flour in recipes, cup for cup.
Remember to add xanthan gum, to make sure your baked good will “adhere” instead of crumbling into bits and pieces when baked. The amount of xanthan gum you need depends on what type of baked good you’re making. You can use this as a guide.
You can also buy pre-mixed all-purpose gluten-free flour. Some are based on rice flours and starches. Others are a blend of bean flours. Use one or the other, depending on your preference (others complain about the taste of bean flours). Or, if you’re on a rotation diet, alternate different types of gluten-free flours. Whichever pre-mixed gluten-free flour you use, double check to see if it already contains xanthan gum. If not, you’ll have to add it yourself.
I’ve had a lot of success with using either a homemade or store-bought gluten-free flour mix. By substituting gluten-free flour in vegan recipes, you’ll open yourself up to so many more possibilities!
9. When using bean-based flour, don’t taste the uncooked dough or batter.
Uncooked bean flours have a bitter, iron-y taste, so never taste the dough or batter! I’ve found the taste disappears in the baked good. Cookbook authors will also usually use more flavorings, such as ground cinnamon, vanilla extract, and cocoa powder to help mask the bitterness.
Those are my gluten-free, vegan baking tips so far. I’ll keep adding to this list as I get more experience.
What are your tips for successful gluten-free, vegan baking? Share them in the comments below and help others who want to eat healthier.
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