Thanksgiving went off without a hitch, in part thanks to my mom teaching me well but also because most everything was already gluten-free by design, and therefore didn’t require a lot of messing about. The turkey had legs the size of a small chicken and we didn’t sit down to eat to eight-thirty, but this was a great meal. I realized while baking a few pies the day before that the ratios that work so well in normal baking are similar in gluten-free baking. The main difference is this: wheat flour has many qualities that make it right for the job, and when you remove it, one must replace it with not one or two other flours, but sometimes as many as five or six. This actually bothers me quite a bit, as when looking up a recipe for something, the last thing anyone wants is to be faced with a list of obscure flours that are expensive and exhausting to find. When I work on recipes here, I try to work out a way to use only a few flours and pinpoint the qualities that each one lends to the recipe, so that later I can decide whether I need it or not if I find it in another recipe.
The things I consider paramount, akin to an even-baking oven and a really great spatula (geek! I know!):
~~Almond Flour/Meal (amandes en poudre): This is basically finely ground blanched almonds. It has a great feeling to it, fluffy and moist from the oils in the nuts. Which means exactly that, that it will impart a light, moistening quality to whatever you use it in. While it isn’t inexpensive, it truly is one of the cornerstones of gluten-free baking, and is really quite good for you as well. I used a mostly almond meal pie crust for my pies the other day and was excited how easy and delicious they were.
~~Ground Flax Seeds (graines de lin moulues): We love flax seeds in California. They became very popular a few years back for providing omega-3 fatty acids in a seed that can be sprinkled on salads, baked goods, breads etc. I didn’t pay it much attention until I began to try gluten-free bread recipes and stumbled upon one from Gluten-Free Girl (glutenfreegirl.com). Shauna had tried to find a way to hold her bread together (gluten is what would do this in a wheat bread, like many little fibers making a web of support all in your slice of bread!) without the use of guar gum or xathan gum. These are technically natural derivatives that aid in holding together particles when there is an absence of gluten. (To read more about these gums, this is good info:http://www.theglutenfreelife.com/xanthanguar-gum/) I didn’t want to use these gums in my bread for two reasons, expense and the fact that people have complained of how they feel after eating them. If the whole idea behind gluten-free bread is to allow someone who feels ill after eating regular bread to feel better after eating mine, then what gives?! I had read that ground flax mixed with boiling water makes a very thick slurry that can hold particles in baking together, much like those above gums. Voila! I tried it, loved it, and never looked back. They serve a physical purpose in my bread but also are delicious and good for you and add an earthy nuttiness to the flavor.
~~Petite Epeautre: This is a grain grown here in France that I have yet to find in the states. It is a form of wheat but is different in its makeup: In contrast with more modern forms of wheat, there is evidence that the gliadin protein of einkorn (its English name) may not be as toxic to sufferers of celiac disease. It has yet to be recommended in any gluten-free diet. Einkorn wheat does contain a most minute amount of gluten but is different from most wheats in that it contains only 14 chromosomes as opposed to 42 in modern wheats. This alters the gluten structure which may be why it does not affect those with gluten intolerance as much as other wheats. So, that being said, the celiacs I know can eat this, but we are here in France and perhaps more tolerant to it than in other countries. Basically, this is just a disclaimer to say that you won’t find any kind of stamp on this product that says it is certified gluten-free. But it is commonly excepted here in gluten-free baking and I am going to run with that, because it bakes beautifully and it a whole grain.
There are a few more things I like in my breads, but I won’t go on with this like its been the best read of the day. Although as I further educate myself about it, I hope others are too. This seems to be a malady that goes undiagnosed and is so easily remedied. There is no stark, torturous life ahead. On Saturday we had a massive table of twenty plus eating a spectacular meal, and that meal was gluten-free without much change to any recipe that my family ever used. And to think before this, my dad probably thought gluten was a construction adhesive. Bon Appétit!