Holiday baking: Gluten-free and at high altitude

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For many people that are gluten-intolerant, the holidays can be a difficult time. Holiday goodies such as cookies, cakes, pies, etc., usually contain some amount of gluten that is found in wheat and wheat flour.

Baking without gluten can be a challenge because gluten contributes important properties to baked goods. Gluten proteins in wheat flours make dough elastic and stretchy, and trap gas within baked goods, providing a light, airy structure. Gluten-free baking options include replacement products and using flour blends.

A wide variety of gluten-free flours, starches and baking aids can be used in combination to produce high-quality baked goods and pasta.

Recipes calling for 2 cups of flour or less are more easily adapted, especially those that use cake flour, because they contain lower levels of gluten. Many of the alternative grains and pseudo-cereals commonly found in the marketplace are derived not from grasses (as are true cereals), but come from other plants that have seeds that can be used in the same manner.

Baking books and online resources frequently offer gluten-free flour blend formulations for use in making cookies, cakes, quick breads and yeast breads. The formula might include three or four different types of flours and starches and make 2 to 12 cups of blended flour. Flours with stronger flavors typically make up no more than 25 percent to 30 percent of the total blend and are balanced by neutral flours and starches. Stronger tasting flours (such as bean flours) generally are used in small quantities in recipes that feature delicate flavors.

A higher percentage of these flours can be used in baked goods that include nuts, chocolate or a high level of spice. Flour blends for quick breads often contain 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum per cup of flour while yeast breads contain 3/4 teaspoon per cup of flour blend.

The most common binder in gluten-free baking is eggs. Eggs can replace many of the functions that gluten provides, such as binding, enhancing texture and helping set the structure of the final product. Besides eggs, which are protein-based, two starch-based products often used to bind and thicken gluten-free baked products are guar gum and xanthan gum. These products are largely interchangeable and are used in small amounts to add volume and texture to baked goods. Both are also commonly carried in large grocery chains, either in the baking aisle or natural foods section of the store.

High-altitude, gluten-free baking

Baking at high altitude can be challenging when using traditional wheat flour recipes. Liquids evaporate faster and gases in cakes and breads expand quicker, requiring adjustments to ensure a good final product.

When wheat flour is replaced with gluten-free flours, these same challenges remain, although there are no set guidelines on how to successfully compensate for the altitude change.

The home cook is advised to experiment with recipes, first making any necessary adjustments for the altitude change and then altering the recipe further as needed to adjust for the properties of the gluten-free flours. For assistance with high-altitude baking, see the Colorado State University Extension brochure “High Altitude Food Preparation Guide,” available at www.ext.colostate.edu.

Gluten-free baking can be a trial-and-error process. Here are some tips that can help achieve successful results.

To increase nutrition:

• Use a variety of gluten-free flours in combination to maximize nutrition.

• Use whole grain or enriched, gluten-free flours.

• Substitute up to 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds plus 1/4 cup water for 1/4 cup flour in a recipe.

To increase moisture:

• Add gelatin, extra egg or oil to the recipe.

• Honey or rice malt syrup can help retain moisture.

• Brown sugar often works better than white.

• Dough enhancers improve tenderness and staling resistance.

To enhance flavor:

• Add chocolate chips, nuts or dried fruits.

• Double the amount of spices.

To enhance structure:

• Use a combination of gluten-free flours and mix together thoroughly before adding to other ingredients.

• Add dry milk solids or cottage cheese into recipe.

• Use evaporated milk in place of regular milk.

• To reduce grainy texture, mix rice flour or corn meal with liquid. Bring to a boil and cool before adding to recipe.

• Add extra egg or egg white if product is too crumbly.

• Do not over-beat; kneading time is shorter since there is no gluten to develop.

• When using a bread machine, use only one kneading cycle.

Leavening:

• Starch flours need more leavening than wheat flours.

• Rule-of-thumb: start with 2 teaspoons baking powder per cup of gluten-free flour and adjust downward as needed for altitude.

• If baking soda and buttermilk are used to leaven, add 1 1/8 teaspoons cream of tartar for each 1/2 teaspoon baking soda used to neutralize acid.

• For better rise, dissolve leavening in liquid before adding to other ingredients or add a little extra baking powder.

Texture/lightness:

• Sift flours and starches prior to measuring. Combine and sift again (together) after measuring to improve the texture of the product.

• Hold gluten-free dough at least 1/2 hour (up to overnight) in the refrigerator to soften and improve the final texture of the product.

• In products made with rice flour or corn meal, mix with the liquid called for in the recipe. Bring to a boil and cool before adding to recipe to help reduce grainy texture.

Baking pans and utensils:

• Bake in smaller-than-usual portions at a lower temperature for a longer time (small loaf pans instead of standard size; use mini-muffins or English muffin tins instead of large muffin tins).

• Use dull or dark pans for better browning.

• Keep a separate sifter to use with gluten-free flours to prevent cross-contact with gluten.

Freshness:

• Gluten-free baked goods can lose moisture and quality quickly. Wrap them tightly and store in the refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container to prevent dryness and staling.

• Refrigerate all flours for freshness and quality, but bring to room temperature before measuring.

The above information was taken from the Colorado State University Fact Sheet No. 9.376, “Gluten-Free Baking,” written by F. Watson, M. Stone and M. Bunning and can be downloaded in its entirety at www.ext.colostate.edu. It also contains a table of alternative grains and pseudo-cereals with their characteristics.

CPR and first aid 

CPR and first aid certification classes are now being offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. This month, the classes will be on Dec. 8 and Dec. 10.

We will also schedule classes on additional dates with 5 or more registrations.

Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for individual CPR or first aid. The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience. Group rates are available.

For more information or to register, call the Extension office at 264-5931.