Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Five Tips on Converting a Conventional Baking Recipe to Gluten Free, Dairy Free, and Sugar Free.

Peanut Brownies - Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free

I am becoming aware of more and more people feeling the need to become gluten free, dairy free and sugar free, or any one or these. Usually it’s because of an ongoing health issue that can be helped by a diet change. If you’re one of these people, or even if you’re thinking about it, you may wonder how to go about baking.

Recently I committed to make more home-made biscuits for my family. There are quite a number of good recipe books with gluten/dairy/sugar free recipes, but I particularly wanted to reproduce an old favourite from my childhood that my mum used to make. 

Sometimes converting a recipe from a conventional recipe book can be quite tricky, and yes over the years I have had many failed attempts, but have learnt a few basic things. Here are some ideas about how it can be achieved reasonably successfully.

Tip #1 - Don’t compare the old with the new.

The first thing to realize is that your gluten free, dairy free and sugar free baking won’t always result in the same shape, texture and flavour as your favourite baking from the past –when you used  butter, milk, sugar, and wheat flour. 

So get used to a whole new set of shapes, flavours and textures. It may also be a good choice if you renamed your converted recipe with something different than the traditional name. This helps with getting acceptance from family members who might complain that “It is not the same!”

My recent experience involved wanting to convert an old favourite from my childhood - Peanut Brownies. The  recipe was from the cook book “Edmonds Classics New Zealander’s Favourite Recipes”.  Anyone who can remember back as far as the 1950’s will also remember some version of the Edmonds Cook Book. I don’t remember my mum ever having more than two recipe books. One was the Edmonds recipe book and the other her own handwritten school exercise book with recipes handed down through the family generations, or those shared among the members of the local Women’s Institute group, or gardening club.
Getting back to the Peanut Brownies... my “new” version was nothing like the slightly crunchy, large, peanut brownies that my mum used to bake.  My gluten free, dairy free and sugar free biscuits were small, softer, and not as sweet.  However they were still quite acceptable.

Tip #2 - Find the right combination of gluten free flours.

There are many gluten free flours to choose from: rice, soy, buckwheat, potato, tapioca, quinoa, almond, chestnut etc. Most will also need some kind of vegetable gum such as guar gum, or xanthan gum to bind the mixture together. The vegetable gum serves a similar purpose as the gluten in regular wheat flour. About half a teaspoon of vegetable gum to one cup of flour, seems to work well.

More recently I have also used finely ground linseeds or finely ground chia seeds, or a combination of both, to act as a binder. Depending on the recipe, I would use about a tablespoon of ground linseeds/chia seeds to a cup of flour.

Some gluten free flours, such as buckwheat flour, do not need a binding agent. In my early days of gluten free baking I used a combination of brown rice flour and buckwheat flour in a 3:1 ratio (roughly). I find buckwheat flour on its own to be rather bitter, however it can be used successfully in pancakes especially with a sweet topping such as raw honey.

I sometimes also add a small amount of one of the more high protein flours, such as quinoa, or almond, to the mix.  Even a small amount such as one tablespoon added to a cup of other flour can make an improvement in flavour and nutrition.

I prefer to mix my own flour so that I know exactly what is going into the mix. However there is a large variety of ready mixed packaged gluten free flour available in the supermarket, and health food stores. In particular, I have used several of the mixes from Gluten Free Store and have found them to be good.

Tip #3 - Substitutes for dairy – butter, milk, and cheese.

When I first began creating my own recipes, I simply replaced butter with a good cooking oil. I would never use margarine, because it is too processed.  The use of a good cooking oil did not always result in a successful outcome, and more recently I have used a combination of mashed avocado and avocado oil. I have found that this gives a nicer texture and flavour.  I frequently use sliced avocado as a substitute for butter on toast or in a sandwich, and that also works well, giving that satisfied feeling after consuming a good healthy fat.

While they are in season I buy avocados in bulk direct from the grower  Avocados To You  Although these avocados are not certified organic, they are fresh and of a good quality and size.

With regard to milk, there are dairy free options available in supermarkets and health food shops - rice milk, almond milk, and soy milk. I usually buy these packaged milks when I don’t have time to make my own, however be aware that most packages are lined with aluminium, which is not ideal, when you’re trying to avoid aluminium.  So the healthiest way, is to make your own milk.  

When I first began making rice milk I simply cooked a tablespoon of brown rice in a litre of water, and then processed it in a blender with a dash of salt and a chopped date for sweetness. So easy!  Almond milk gives a richer milk than rice, but does require straining the mixture through a cheese cloth. 

Here is a great video on how to make almond milk 

I have never really found a satisfying substitute for cheese.  There is nothing quite like that real cheese texture and flavour. So, most of the time, I do not use cheese or cheese substitutes when preparing food.  I have seen recipes using tofu, cashews, chick-peas, or pine nuts and miso for the salty yeasty flavour, however I don’t tolerate these ingredients, so unfortunately for me, I go without.  This is one of the sacrifices that I make for the sake of my health.

Tip #4 – Replace processed sugar with honey, dried fruit or stevia.

I simply do not have processed sugar in my home. I do not buy foods with sugar in them. I avoid food items which have sugar in disguise, such as corn syrup, listed in the ingredients. 
When it comes to baking, honey is a reasonable alternative to sugar, although when honey is heated the enzymes are destroyed when heated at a temperature greater than 40 degrees Celsius. I use honey from time to time, but I prefer to use dried fruit – probably dates are my favourite. There are other options such as stevia powder for sweetening. Only a very small amount of stevia should be used as it is many more times sweeter than sugar. Read the instructions on the pack, but from memory about a half teaspoon to one cup of flour is plenty. Too much creates a bitter taste.  When using stevia your mixture will have less volume, and you might have to compensate by using less liquid in your recipe.

Tip #5 – Experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.

You will probably find that the amount of liquid that works best may vary from the original recipe, and also with the type of flour that you use.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, and write down your recipe as you go, specifying the amount used of each ingredient. Only by doing this, and modifying your recipe with time, you will find ways of achieving something really good. 

Here is my converted recipe for peanut brownies:

large avocado flesh
4 tablespoons avocado oil
2-3 tablespoons liquid honey
Juice of half a lemon or lime
1 egg
1½ cups gluten free flour (for example: 1 cup brown rice flour, ¼ cup commercial gluten free mix, ¼ cup quinoa flour)
teaspoon cream of tartar
⅓ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cocoa/carob/cacao powder
Pinch salt
1 cup blanched peanuts, roasted and cooled

Mash avocado flesh in a mixing bowl; add avocado oil and liquid honey. 
Mix together.
Add egg and beat well.
Sift flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, carob/cacao together, mix into avocado and honey mixture.
Add cold peanuts and mix well.
Roll spoonfuls of mixture into balls, place on greased oven tray, flatten with a fork.
Bake for 20 – 30 minutes at 180˚ C (350
˚ F)
Time could vary depending on oven. I used a bench-top oven with a small batch, which took about 25 minutes.

Happy Baking!

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