Baking is temperamental enough. One little mis-measure or a few extra minutes in the oven and you can toss that dish in the garbage.
Now add gluten-free to the equation and you've got an even tougher job ahead of you. There is definitely a know-how to ensuring your gluten-free dessert doesn't come out tasting like crap, because let's face it, a lot of them do.
So if you've been curious about gluten-free baking ever since you heard about Chelsea Clinton's wedding cake, and think you might want to try to tackle a recipe, you're in luck.
Here are 7 essential tips from gluten-free experts. Master these, and no one will know it's not the real thing ...
1. Mix up your flours.
"It turns out that with gluten-free baking, a mix of flours is necessary to create a baked good that is indistinguishable from a wheat item," says Jeanne Sauvage, the blogger behind the Art of Gluten-Free Baking.
She says one common pitfall is using flours that taste too strong, such as bean flour.
When you're using a recipe that calls for all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour, Alexis Colantonio, chef and owner of Pure Natural Kitchen -- a private chef and catering company in New York -- recommends a combination of equal parts sorghum flour, tapioca flour, and rice flour. (A basic recipe follows below.)
2. Try a nut-based flour.
Using almond flour is also delicious and nutritious, Colantonio notes, because it is made from ground blanched almonds.
Lindsay Spencer, marketing and communications specialist with the National Peanut Board (and a celiac), says, not surprisingly, that she likes peanut flour because "it's a natural and simple ingredient to add in products to keep them firm and packed with flavor. The secret is the amount of protein in peanut flour that holds products together. Just think of how peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth -- except with this it holds all the ingredients together."
3. Add even MORE health.
Alice Bast, president and founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, says you should incorporate ingredients that boost the nutritional profile of your baking.
"Nut flours (like almond) and coconut milk can be nutritious base ingredients. You can also use healthy add-ins or toppings like dried fruit or nuts," she says.
4. Take the easy way out.
Buy your flour pre-mixed.
Maya Bradstreet, a holistic nutrition coach and cooking instructor in St. Louis, suggests mixes instead of multiple flours. That way, she says, the work has been done for you and you don't spend a fortune on expensive gluten-free flours. However, if you do buy flours, she recommends you store them in the freezer so the shelf life is much longer.
5. Beware of baking powder.
"It's also important to note that some baking powders might contain gluten (although most don't) because they are ‘cut' with wheat starch," Sauvage notes.
6. When baking, you need gum.
Gluten creates a certain texture, Sauvage says. "This is why [gluten-free] bakers use some sort of gluten replacer, if you will. The most popular ones are xanthan gum and guar gum. I use xanthan gum."
7. Use more butter.
Jen Voss, public relations manager at Buffalo Communications (and a celiac), says she tends to use more butter in gluten-free baking "because regular flour sticks better, so the added butter helps. It also helps add moisture as gluten-free food can sometimes be a little drier."
8. Mix it all at once.
Karen Morgan, author of the forthcoming Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free: 75 Recipes for Irresistible Desserts & Pastries, says the key to creating a moist crumb in gluten-free baking is by using a technique she calls "reverse baking," in which you combine all the dry ingredients -- including the sugar -- with whatever fat you're using -- such as butter, vegetable shortening or oil -- instead of creaming the butter and sugar before adding the dry ingredients.
Colantonio's flour recipes:
For cupcakes, cookies, cakes, muffins, and bread:
For breakfast muffins, cookie bars and bread:
Image via Muffet/Flickr