Gluten-free but still tasty
There are more and better options for avoiding wheat.
For the enthusiastic eater, going gluten-free is more than a lifestyle change. It's a paradigm shift.
Simple meals become complicated. Staple foods of bread, pasta, pizza, bagels, cakes and cookies are no longer feasible; their wheat-free replacements can be completely inedible. And it is downright shocking how many salad dressings, sauces, and processed foods contain some traces of the verboten wheat.
But as more people are diagnosed with celiac disease - and increasing numbers choose to exclude gluten for health reasons - food manufacturers have responded.
At the National Association for Celiac Awareness' Appetite for Awareness event, held recently at the Wachovia Center, aisles of vendors showcased the fact that it's easier than ever to avoid the perilous protein these days - what with Maggiano's Little Italy's corn pasta, and Redbridge beer from Anheuser Busch, and Bell & Evans pre-breaded chicken tenders available for the tasting.
A major obstacle to gluten-free eating is the cost, with most gluten-free foods 242 percent more than their glutinous counterparts (on average per unit), according to a study published by the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research.
But perhaps the biggest challenge is finding foods that truly don't taste like a consolation prize. Despite advances in flourless science, some foods just can't be replaced, and remain, madeleine-like, a ghostly memory on the gluten-free eater's palate.
The holy grail of gluten-free baking, of course, is bread, and it remains difficult to find a convincing one. Forget crusty French loaves, at least for the time being, as so many gluten-free versions that look perfectly golden on the outside and bubbly white on the inside simply don't hold up to slicing and fall into tasteless white crumbs on knife contact. There may be hope, though: The Journal of Food Science reported last spring that a French team was working on optimizing a new gluten-free formulation.
Then there are the supermarket's frozen gluten-free sandwich breads, with their dry, joyless slices shrunken to Lilliputian proportions and a texture that could be satisfying only to someone who has never known the pull of true bread.
"Breads are tough," says Michael Savett, whose 8-year-old son is celiac. Savett pens the blog Gluten-Free Philly (glutenfreephilly.com), which keeps a watchful eye on gluten-free resources and products in the region, and says he can't find a great locally produced bread, though he enjoys Udi's and French Meadow products.
The granddaddy of local gluten-free bakeries, Mr. Ritts (formerly of Passyunk Avenue, now in Millville, N.J., 856-825- 8770, mrritts.com), makes a tasty mock rye loaf ($9.25), and it's now available not only at Ritts' Millville store but at Poppy's Seed Bakery stands in the Chestnut Hill Farmer's Market (215- 242-4252). Lancaster-based Amaranth offers thick-sliced cheddar herb and multigrain loaves woven through with brown rice, millet and coconut flour that cost $8 a pop but are moist and wholesome (Rittenhouse and Headhouse Square farmers markets, spiceoflifelancaster.com).
Savett says his family uses a bread machine on the rare occasions it has time. Another way to go is Kinnikinnick's Kinni-Kwik (say that three times fast) Bread and Muffin Mix ($5.79, glutenfree.com), which, with the addition of water or milk, can be poured directly into a pan and produces a loaf or rolls that are as airy and springy as white bread should be.
In her Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2009) the ingenious celiac Elana Amsterdam offers another possible approach, a sandwich bread made from finely milled almond flour (do not use Bob's Red Mill brand) and almond butter that is nutty and versatile. Amsterdam's recipes are refreshingly simple, as the almond flour reduces the need for the expensive and obscure mix of flours other gluten-free recipes require. (Though, truth be told, the almond flour itself, listed for $26.99 for a 5-pound bag at honeyvillegrain.com, is no bargain.)
But the ground nut has other virtues, including high amounts of protein and vitamins and low glycemic impact. Amsterdam employs it in a range of dishes, from shortbread cookies and carrot cake to a savory tart with kale. Her snappy herbed crackers, which are a welcome change from commercial nut-thins and dry rice crisps, are equally easy to make and delicious.
On the bagel front, Glutino makes a decent little halo of chewiness (plain, poppy seed, sesame and cinnamon raisin, $5.99, Wegman's). When defrosted thoroughly before toasting, it takes on a nice crust and a pleasingly sweet flavor, and while it may never be mistaken for the New York standard, H&H, it can support a schmear as ably as a Lender's.
Pizzas are another problematic area. Savett buys his locally at Pasta Pomodoro (856-782-7430, pastapomodoronj.com), or when in Bucks County, at Jules Thin Crust (julesthincrust.com), and both are appreciated by his discerning son.
In the freezer aisle, gluten-less pizzas abound with varying degrees of deliciousness; Amy's makes a decent Organic Rice Crust Spinach Pizza that's dairy-free to boot ($8.69, Whole Foods).
The gluten-free pastas on the market tend to be made from rice, quinoa or corn. DeBoles' rice and corn pastas ($2.59, Wegman's) are the supermarket standard bearer. But Tinkyada's fettuccine ($2.99, ShopRite) has a starchy tenderness that would seem to transcend its gluten-less nature.
]Hot breakfast cereals on the whole tend to yield better results than cold cereals. Gluten-free oats are easy enough to procure, and Pocono buckwheat cereal ($3.19, Whole Foods) and Bob's Red Mill Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal ($3.89, glutenfree.com,) made from brown rice, corn, buckwheat and sorghum, are good choices. No need to buy gluten-free granola, which is always texturally disappointing, when you can you make a great one at home very easily.
On the other hand, EnviroKidz' Peanut Butter Panda Puffs ($2.69, Wegman's) will please kids and adults alike with all the sweetness of Cap'N Crunch but a virtuous, additive-free ingredient list. And six varieties of Chex cereals (in flavors ranging from honey nut to chocolate, $3.79, ShopRite) are completely safe for the celiac population.
Staples for a gluten-free pantry include Hol-Grain brown rice bread crumbs ($7.49, Whole Foods), which does the trick for meat loaf, casseroles and fried chicken. Pamela's Products Baking and Pancake mix ($8.09, ShopRite) serves as an all-purpose solution for breading, cakes, cookies, muffins, and pancakes so good that even the gluten-tolerant have been known to keep a stash on hand. On the savory side, Ener-G pretzels ($1.99, Whole Foods) are good enough to sate a conventional pretzel addict's cravings. And Blue Diamond Almond Nut-Thins are a crispy, buttery cracker that will ably accompany your favorite cheese ($2.49, Wegman's).
Greatest hits for the gluten-free freezer include Sunshine vegetarian burgers ($3.49 for three, Whole Foods), which are made from only rice, carrots and sunflower seeds, but are full of flavor and toothsome texture. Princeton's Twin Hens Artisan Comfort Food produces a lovely little beef pot pie ($6.99, Whole Foods) with organic ingredients and a polenta crust. And Julie's Ice Cream Sandwiches ($4.99 for six, Whole Foods) are a respectable replacement for the childhood favorite.
Indeed, sweets are another matter altogether, as it's relatively easy to produce a gluten-free dessert. For the ambitious at-home baker, the secrets of New York's celebrity-endorsed allergen-free bakery Babycakes are now available in cookbook form in Babycakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York's Most Talked-About Bakery (Clarkson Potter, 2009).
Founder Erin McKenna's recipes require a certain resourcefulness to track down their exotic flours and thickeners. (Here, Bob's Red Mill products are firmly recommended; bobsredmill.com.) McKenna's breezy attitude and knack for making an apron look glamorous might also help. But the fudgy chocolate cupcakes and cinnamon-kissed blueberry coffee cake will earn enough accolades to justify the money and time spent. After all, a crisp layer of crumbs on top of a tender cake is every gluten-free eater's fantasy.
More instant gratification for, say, the celiac child at home with the babysitter comes in the form of Betty Crocker mixes for gluten-free brownies, chocolate chip cookies and vanilla and chocolate layer cake (around $4.49 each at ShopRite). These offer the taste and the approximate texture of the Betty Crocker originals, and there's something to be said for the convenience of simply adding eggs and butter to pre-sifted powder. Whole Foods has introduced its own line of baked-good mixes, and the company's simple muffin mix ($3.69) has a spongy, sweet believability. Then, of course, there are a growing number of packaged cookies to be purchased, like Pamela's Dark Chocolate Chunk cookies ($4.49, ShopRite) and Glutino's chocolate sandwich cookies ($4.99, glutenfree.com), a reasonable facsimile of an Oreo.
Scrumptious Sandwich Bread
Makes 1 loaf or 6 two-slice servings
Grapeseed oil, for greasing pan
Almond flour for dusting pan
3/4 cup creamy roasted
almond butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs
1/4 cup blanched almond flour
1/4 cup arrowroot powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground flax meal
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 7-by-3-inch loaf pan with grapeseed oil and dust with almond flour.
2. In a large bowl, mix the almond butter with a handheld mixer until smooth, then blend with the eggs.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot powder, salt, baking soda and flax meal. Blend the almond flour mixture into the wet ingredients until thoroughly combined.
4. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven, until a knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for 1 hour, then serve.
Note: This bread works well for sandwiches and French toast. After it cools, wrap the bread in a paper towel, place in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate. It will keep for up to six days.
Per serving: 430 calories, 14 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 36 grams fat, 141 milligrams cholesterol, 318 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 20 three-cracker servings
31/2 cups blanched almond flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 large eggs
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set aside 2 large baking sheets. Cut 3 pieces of parchment paper to the size of the baking sheets.
2. In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, rosemary and thyme.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil and eggs. Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
4. Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Place 1 piece of dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper and roll to 1/16-inch thickness. Remove the top piece of parchment paper and transfer the bottom piece of parchment with the rolled-out dough onto a baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining piece of dough. Cut the dough into 2-inch squares with a knife or pizza cutter.
5. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly golden. Let the crackers cool on the baking sheets for 30 minutes, then serve.
Per serving: 120 calories, 1 gram protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 9 grams fat, 21 milligrams cholesterol, 106 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 24 cupcakes
13/4 cups garbanzo-fava bean flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup arrowroot
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup coconut oil
1 1/3 cups agave nectar
3/4 cup homemade applesauce or store-bought unsweetened applesauce
3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup hot water or hot coffee
Chocolate frosting (see accompanying recipe)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 standard 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, potato starch, cocoa powder, arrowroot, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt. Add the oil, agave nectar, applesauce, vanilla and hot water to the dry ingredients. Stir until the batter is smooth.
3. Pour 1/3 cup batter into each prepared cup, almost filling it. Bake the cupcakes on the center rack for 22 minutes, rotating the tins 180 degrees after 15 minutes. The finished cupcakes will bounce back when pressure is applied gently to the center.
4. Let the cupcakes stand in the tins for 20 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack and cool completely. Using a frosting knife, gently spread 1 tablespoon chocolate frosting over each cupcake. Store the cupcakes in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Per cupcake: 197 calories, 2 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams sugar, 10 grams fat, no cholesterol, 268 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Makes frosting for 24 cupcakes
1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk
1/2 cup dry soy milk powder
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. In a blender or food processor, combine the soy milk, soy powder, cocoa powder, coconut flour, agave nectar, and vanilla. Blend the ingredients for 2 minutes. With the machine running, slowly add the oil and lemon juice, alternating between the two until both are fully incorporated.
2. Pour the mixture into an airtight container and refrigerate for 6 hours or for up to 1 month.
- From Babycakes (Clarkson Potter)
Per cupcake: 108 calories, 3 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 10 grams fat, no cholesterol, 19 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Kale Tart With Cranberries
Makes 6 servings
1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or scallions (white and green parts)
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon water
For the tart filling:
2 cups coarsely chopped kale
1 tablespoon thinly sliced shallots
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 large eggs, whisked
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pine nuts
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Make the crust: In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, and rosemary or scallions.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil and water. Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Then press the dough into a 9-inch tart pan.
4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. remove from the oven and let cool completely before filling.
5. Make the filling: In a large pot with a steamer basket, wilt the kale over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until bright green.
6. Place the kale, shallots and salt in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Transfer the kale mixture to a bowl and stir in the eggs, cranberries, and pine nuts. Pour the mixture into the cooled crust.
7. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until browned around the edges and cooked through. Let the tart cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then serve.
- From The Gluten-Free, Almond Flour Cookbook (Celestial Arts)