Hello No Meat Athletes! It’s Christine here for Sweet-Tooth Friday, and this week’s edition is totally gluten-free.
I’ll start with a step-by-step intro on how to take the gluten (and animal products) out of your favorite baked goods, and then we’ll give it a whirl with some fabulous chocolate chip cookies!
The Gluten-Free Invasion
By now you’re probably aware of the multitude of gluten-free products creeping into the health section of your grocery store. Celiac disease affects about 3 million Americans, and though many go undiagnosed, it means this condition is just as common as peanut allergies.
Celiacs have a hereditary autoimmune digestive disorder that lets gluten, a protein, into the bloodstream without first breaking it down. This has a toxic effect that can seriously damage the small intestines and lead to a zillion other problems from malnourishment to cancer.
So what? I don’t suffer from Celiac disease. What’s this doing on NMA?
Well, take a glimpse through the ‘Staple Foods’ section of Brendan Brazier’s Thrive: You’ll notice that many of his recommended foods, from brown rice to chickpeas and almonds to quinoa, are the same foods that replace wheat in gluten-free baking. So while gluten itself may not be bothering you, this is a way to exchange your empty carbs with nutrient-dense versions.
These high protein flours have a lower glycemic load, which will teach your body to run on your stored fat instead of relying on the less efficient sugar rush from what you just ate.
Finding gluten-free recipes that are yummy is hard enough; finding gluten-free recipes that don’t rely on animal products is even tougher. I’m here to show you how to get great tasting desserts by reworking recipes yourself to remove the gluten and animal products.
7 Steps to Gluten-Free Vegan Baking
1. Mix and match alternative flours
My favorite flours for gluten-free baking are chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour for its creaminess and almond flour for its richness. Brown rice flour is also popular, but as I learned from Allergy-Free Desserts, its gritty texture works best in things like graham cracker-style pie crusts instead of fluffy cakes. Some other nice flours are millet, amaranth, buckwheat, and fava bean. You can even whiz some unsweetened coconut in the processor for coconut flour!
Be sure to mix different types of flour so that no taste or texture dominates; for example, amaranth should only be about 1/4 of your total flour because of its strong flavor. Also, when using bean flours remember that the taste of raw beans is pretty gross— the batter won’t taste too yummy until it is fully cooked.
2. Take the edge off with some starch
Gluten-free baked goods are known for their weird textures—save yours by working with tapioca and potato starch. As I learned from The Gloriously Gluten-Free Cookbook, tapioca is a little sweet and helps your treats brown in the oven, while potato starch contributes a “delicate crumb.”
From all the recipes and mixes I’ve researched, recipes work best when the starch-style flours are mixed with other alternative flours in a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio. So for every cup or two of mixed alternative flours you use, you need at least 1 cup of mixed starches.
Every fifties housewife knows that to make cake flour in a pinch at home you just sub in 2 tablespoons of corn starch to your cup of flour and sift, sift, sift! This works in the gluten-free world too, so when a recipe calls for cake flour increase the ratio of starches to alternative flours by throwing in corn starch as well.
3. Stick together!
You took the gluten out, now you need to put some chew back in. The most important ingredient in gluten-free baking is the gum. Xanthan gum and guar gum are used for both their volumizing and thickening effects.
I always see guar gum mentioned, but have yet to see it called for in a recipe, so stick with the xanthan gum. If you’re curious, it’s a microorganism that is found feeding on corn or soybeans plants, but I have no idea how it gets a cookie so chewy. Use 1/3 to 1/4 of a teaspoon for every cup of flour.
4. Don’t undermine the structure
So many gluten-free recipes rely on eggs and fat for their richness and structure. When transforming recipes yourself, be careful not to substitute too much. Leave in most of the fat that’s called for; this isn’t the place to use a can of black beans in place of the eggs and butter. For shortening and butter, go with a palm oil shortening and coconut oil, or canola oil if the recipe calls for melted butter.
When it comes to eggs, flaxseed is a good exchange because of its fat content. Mix a ‘flax egg’ by stirring together 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 2 tablespoons of liquid. Coconut milk and almond milk work well in place of whole milk. Check out my post on how to veganize and healthify your baking for more ideas.
Remember not to mess too much with the sugar either. You might get away with maple syrup and agave when there is a gluten framework in place, but this time you need the real deal so your cookies don’t end up like pancakes. However, it is okay to reduce the amount of sugar by a quarter to account for the sweetness of tapioca flour.
5. Do your research on secret gluten key words
Just because something is labeled wheat-free doesn’t mean it’s gluten free. Gluten is also in barley, rye, malt flavoring, and triticale. Look out for modified food starch and grain alcohol.
Oats are another trouble ingredient— they are technically gluten-free but are often contaminated during processing. Even if uncontaminated, the protein in oats is very similar to gluten, and still effects some Celiacs.
Remember, not every specialty flour is gluten-free—spelt flour is a reduced-gluten ancestor of wheat, but it definitely still contains gluten. Baking sprays made just for baking usually contain flour to prevent sticking, so choose a plain version.
6. Ask the package, ask the manufacturer, ask yourself
Ask the package by looking for a “certified gluten-free” label. The FDA is in the process of setting up a gluten-free standard label, but for now it is up to the company. Double check ingredients lists because some tricky foods with gluten-free main ingredients, like Rice Krispies, are not actually gluten-free.
If something isn’t labeled gluten-free, ask the manufacturer by calling to see how it is processed. For example, maybe flour is sprinkled on a conveyor belt to prevent sticking. The internet is full of lists of safe and unsafe ingredients.
Finally, ask yourself about cross-contamination. The last time you used your sugar bowl, did you dip your measuring cup in wheat flour first? What about that brown build up on the corners of your glass brownie pan? Start with new ingredients and clean equipment.
7. Showcase the glory of gluten-free, not the pitfalls
Cookies and bars are a lot easier to pull off in their gluten-free versions than fluffy, sky-high layer cakes. You don’t need to make only copies of wheat-filled desserts. For easy success, whip-up some naturally low-gluten desserts like fruit tarts, bananas foster, rice pudding, and poached pears that will only need minimal substitutions.
Got it? Let’s get those ovens revvin’!
Just so you know my steps aren’t complete hogwash, I did an experiment to remove the gluten and animal products from a standard recipe. And guess what? I gave these Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookies the NMA treatment and they were amazing!
If you compare the recipes, you’ll see that instead of 3 cups of wheat flour, I added 1 1/2 cups of alternative flours (chickpea and almond) along with 1 1/4 cups of starches (potato and tapioca). I added a 1/3 teaspoon of xanthan gum for each cup, making 1 teaspoon total. I reduced the fat slightly by subbing in a banana, but used palm and coconut oil based shortening for the rest. I increased the salt a little bit to trick the tongue into tasting butter. With the sweetness of the banana and the tapioca flour, I nixed the 1/2 cup of white sugar all together. The almond milk and flaxseeds stand in the for the eggs, and the double dose of extract and dash of cinnamon provide some flavor insurance. See for yourself how yummy these turned out!
NMA Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
- 1/4 cup warm almond milk or water
- 3/4 cup palm oil based shortening, like Earth Balance or Spectrum
- 1 very ripe banana (just over 1/4 cup)
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp alcohol-free vanilla
- 1 cup chickpea flour
- 1/2 cup almond meal
- 1/2 cup potato starch
- 3/4 cup tapioca starch
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 10 oz package (about 1 3/4 cups) of gluten-free vegan semisweet chocolate chips, like Tropical Source
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the flaxseed and almond milk and set aside to thicken.
Mix together the dry ingredients: the chickpea flour, almond meal, potato starch, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
With a mixer, beat together the shortening, banana, and brown sugar until smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides, then beat in the vanilla extract and flax mixture. Stir in the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides, and stir in the chocolate chips.
Line an insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper. Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the sheet a few inches apart (I fit a dozen on each cookie sheet) and bake for about 15 minutes, turning around halfway through. Makes 3 dozen cookies.
These cookies are fantastic! Nobody will miss the gluten or animal products– heck, nobody will even notice! Give them a try to get the ball rolling on your new gluten-free vegan baking skills. As you experiment, I’d love to hear what recipes you have made your own. And feel free to shoot me any questions too!