“The only stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” –Julia Child
With that quote in mind, I dove into my very first gluten-free baking project!
I have to admit that after decades of baking experience, my stomach was in knots at the thought of gluten-free baking. I had heard so much about needing a healthy sense of humor and to expect many failures before you achieve success that I was downright scared. I just knew that no matter what I tried to make, it was going to be a huge struggle and likely take two to three attempts before I could get a product that would be good enough to share with you.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Of course, being the cooking fanatic that I am, I did my homework. When I was diagnosed with gluten-intolerance, I hit the Internet and read everything I could find on the disease and gluten-free baking. I knew savory cooking was going to be simple, so I didn’t bother reading much about that. It was baking with all its chemistry that was going to give me a headache. I bought six books, three of them specifically about baking and proceeded to do my research. After clearing out my pantry and cupboards of all wheat-containing products, I bought and ordered all of the ingredients I would need.
All of a sudden I had a huge stack of all my new flours; white rice, sorghum, potato, tapioca, almond, amaranth, etc. And of course xanthan gum and guar gum. It takes a lot of ingredients to make up for the lack of gluten in traditional recipes.
The easiest thing is to mix up a gluten-free version of all-purpose flour and use that in place of regular flour in your favorite recipes. The more I read though, I quickly realized that I would most likely need at least two version, one that mimics white all-purpose flour with little to no flavor of its own, and a second one that would be close to whole-wheat and better for savory cooking.
The Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour from Bob’s Red Mill will be perfect for most of my savory cooking and baking, but I went with Silvana Nardone’s blend from Cooking for Isaiah and one of her recipes for today’s cookies. A smart choice if I do say so myself because I would proudly put these cookies up against any I have made with regular flour in the past. The Artist’s father stopped by and tried a couple of the cookies. He is one of the pickiest people I know, especially about desserts. Without knowing that they were gluten-free, he declared the cookies absolutely delicious and took a few home to eat later!
I first met Silvana at the annual IACP conference in a presentation on regular and gluten-free bread baking. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to the gluten-free recipes, but when they passed around the mini corn muffins that Silvana had baked for us, I couldn’t stop eating them. I even got up and went to the back of the room where I could sneak extras! I couldn’t believe that anything that delicious could be gluten-free.
Silvana is a delightful, confident, compassionate, loving mother who took her experience as a cookbook author, food editor for Food & Wine and Every Day with Rachael Ray, and bakery owner to relearn how to bake, accommodating her son’s dietary restrictions. Isaiah is allergic to both gluten and dairy products, so she had to completely start from scratch. Her story of what she did to make Isaiah feel “normal” is heartwarming.
She didn’t want Isaiah to have to give up any of his favorite foods and she wanted to nurture him with foods that wouldn’t hurt him. This was a lifestyle change for the entire family. As a mother she knew she needed to be able to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the table quickly and easily without cooking separate meals for different family members. She wanted to create foods that were just as delicious and luscious looking as their gluten-full counterparts.
After reworking all of her family’s favorites, she expanded her repertoire and eventually wrote her cookbook in honor of her son. You can make any recipe from this book, serve it to your family and friends without telling them it is gluten-free and they won’t know the difference. It is a remarkable feat of ingenuity, skill and patience.
Silvana covers the whole spectrum of recipes, from appetizers through breakfast, salads, soups, rice and pasta, sandwiches and pizza, main dishes, sides, baked goods, and of course desserts. There is certainly something for everyone.
If you are gluten-intolerant, have celiac, or are cooking and baking for people with sensitivities, I would highly recommend you buy Cooking for Isaiah. It is easy to substitute Silvana’s all-purpose blend for the flour in any of your favorite recipes. The only thing I would recommend is to make up a large batch of the blend, store it in an airtight container with a tight lid, and make sure you shake it well before each use. Some of the gluten-free flours have a tendency to clump a bit and with the xanthan gum included in the mix, you want to be sure everything is well blended and evenly distributed.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
The original recipe made just enough cookies to tease me so I doubled it for you. If you don’t want to make the whole batch at once, chill the dough about 20 minutes to firm it up, roll it into a log and wrap tightly with parchment paper. Notate the required oven temperature and baking time on the parchment and then wrap with plastic wrap. Freeze logs of dough up to 3 months. When ready to bake, slice logs into disks and bake about 12 to 15 minutes or until done.
Kitchen Skill: Perfect Baking Every Time
There are a few tricks that will make your baked goods turn out perfectly every time. First and foremost, measure accurately. You can fudge a little but not much. This is not like cooking where you can throw in a pinch of this and a handful of that with no detrimental outcomes. Scoop the dry ingredients into your measuring cup or spoon, level them off with a straight edge knife and add to your mixing bowl. Whisking dry ingredients, especially flour, before measuring breaks up any lumps and makes measuring easier.
Preheat your oven thoroughly. For most ovens that means at least 15 minutes beyond when it reaches the required temperature. Never assume that just because it reads that it is at 350°F that the oven is ready for baking. An oven thermometer can help you discover how correct your oven’s internal thermometer actually is. My oven runs cool so I always have to add time to anything I bake.
Assemble and premeasure all of your ingredients before you start. Because you have reactive ingredients in baking (baking soda, baking powder, yeast, eggs, etc.) the speed of getting batters mixed, poured into the baking pans and transferred to the oven can be the difference between a perfectly baked cake and one that is denser without as much lift.
Because there are always hot spots and uneven temperature in ovens, you need to spin your pans halfway through baking. If you are baking more than one pan at a time on different racks, one above the other, you also need to change the top to the bottom and bottom to top. What I do is spin the top rack pan or sheet and place it either on the open oven door or on the stove. Then I spin the lower pan and move it to the top rack. I move the pan I set aside to the lower rack and quickly close the oven door. Don’t forget to set your timer for the second half of baking!
Always use a timer so you don’t forget to take things out of the oven – I carry mine with me when I go into another room because I am notorious for forgetting there is something in the oven. Better yet, don’t leave the kitchen, LOL. And if you are at a critical stage and the phone rings, don’t pick it up. Let the machine take a message and call them back when you are done baking. It is too easy to get distracted with a conversation and forget that you didn’t add the eggs to the batter!
Finally, use all of your senses when baking. You can tell when a cake is done by the way the batter has risen, the smell of cookies coming from the oven let you know they are ready, listen for the sound a pie makes when it is bubbling all the way to the center, and whether the top bounces responds when touched lightly with your finger. Practice truly does make perfect in baking and everyone will appreciate your attention to detail and focus!
Chewy Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies (Regular or G-F)
Slightly modified From Silvana Nardone’s “Cooking for Isaiah”
Yield: about 2-1/2 dozen 2-inch cookies
Silvana’s gluten-free AP flour is a blend of white rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, salt, and xanthan gum. Because it contains xanthan gum, it can be substituted 1:1 in any recipe that calls for all-purpose flour.
1 cup all-purpose flour or Silvana’s All-Purpose Flour blend
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder *
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or all-vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped semisweet chocolate chunks
In a large bowl and using a fork, beat together the shortening, brown sugar and granulated sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes (I used my stand mixer). Beat in the egg and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture and blend until totally incorporated. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a silicone spatula. Stir in the chopped chocolate.
Using a 1-1/2 inch scoop or a rounded tablespoon, drop the dough 1 to 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake in preheated oven, swapping and spinning the trays front to back and top to bottom, until just slightly firm when you gently press the top, 10 to 12 minutes (my oven took about 14 minutes). Let cool for about 2 minutes on the baking sheet. Using a spatula, transfer to a brown paper bag-lined surface or a wire rack to cool.
* Replace cocoa powder with 6 tbsp additional flour if you want regular chocolate chip cookies
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