Culinary Waves: Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
Gluten-free baking is not a one-flour-fits-all endeavor. But do we really have to keep all those different flours on board? Well, it really does help to have at least a few on hand. They are not available in every port, so I try to keep a variety of specialty flours in the freezer or refrigerator – most GF flours can go rancid in a short period of time because they are not bleached or had chemicals added to extended their shelf life.
There is no need to keep all of the GF flours on board – maybe just three. What works for me is a blend of rice flour and two starches (potato and and tapioca flours), but others might find the flavor profile and texture of the finished products too gritty. See what I am getting at? Some experiment is called for in order to have a great baking product.
Not all of the flours on the market that are GF are good. Generally speaking, a lot of them are gritty. It’s easy now to grab a bag or box of ready-made, all-purpose GF flour and go, but what if it doesn’t work? What if that brand still produces the gaseous, bloating effect of gluten? This indicates cross contamination of the product. As someone who is gluten intolerant, I have found that Udi’s, for example, always has cross contamination.
I suggest buying several flours and making several test batches of cookies, breads and cakes to find the perfect flour combo for your baking needs. That way when a store, say, in the Maldives doesn’t have your particular brand of GF flour, you know cup-for-cup what to use to produce the same results.
Rice (white and brown), sweet white sorghum, teff, amaranth, potato, tapioca, bean, millet and coconut are several of the flours I have on hand at all times. Sounds like a lot, but the bags are small and each one produces a different taste and texture in the final product.
Look for all-purpose GF flour that is made in a facility that is certified gluten-free because it is easy for machinery that processes others items, such as wheat, to contaminate the flour. Store GF products in the freezer or refrigerator to keep them separate from regular flour products and to prevent spoilage.
When baking with GF flours, remember you will need a glue. Just as gluten is the binder that provides stability and texture in regular flour, gums provide the texture, shape and binding power in GF products. Xantham gum and guar gum are a couple I keep on board. The boxed all-purpose GF flours already have this added in. It takes only a pinch or about 1/4 teaspoon of gum in a recipe. Too much and the product will be too thick and gummy.
One charter guest had listed thin, crispy GF oatmeal raisin cookies on his preference sheet. Traditional GF baking mixes in the store are full and fluffy, and they produce a more cakey cookie. He didn’t want that. He wanted crispy and super thin, almost see-through. It took more than 10 batches of trial cookies, but I finally achieved the perfect GF ultra-thin and crispy cookie. Had I not experimented with different flours and starches, I would not have found the combination that truly worked to produce the results he wanted.
These are the boxed flours that I keep on board for breads and cakes: King Arthurs GF flour, Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose GF flour, and Cup for Cup, which can be used cup-for-cup as a substitute for regular all-purpose flour and is found on Amazon. When baking for a severe-allergy diet, go with Haylie Pomroy’s baking mixes.
Be sure to look for GF baking powder as well, because some are not. Always have on hand two starches, such as potato, tapioca or arrowroot. These add thickness to the final product.
Keep ready-made almond meal or almond flour on hand for making delicious muffins and morning breads, or make your own by grinding almonds.
Gluten-free baking has come a long way over the past few decades, and experimenting a bit with GF flour blends will result in baked goods that don’t have to taste like cardboard.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.