Epicure: Gluten-free cooking | May 2, 2008 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Living - May 2, 2008

Epicure: Gluten-free cooking

by Jacqui Love Marshall

More and more people are choosing to go gluten-free in their culinary regimens - either because of allergies and other sensitivities (e.g., the hereditary autoimmune condition called celiac disease) or because they believe eating without gluten is healthier for their digestive systems or the health of their autistic children.

However, if you've sampled a few gluten-free or wheat-alternative products, you know what goes missing. The gluten in wheat offers elasticity to baked goods that no other ingredient can totally replace. Without gluten, baked goods can be gummy, heavy or tasteless. Tasty gluten-free recipes use various grains and textured ingredients to mimic the lighter, chewier taste of products made with wheat-based flour.

While baking without gluten can be challenging, gluten-free cooking need not mean flavor-free. Rice flour - with its gritty texture and low nutritional value - used to be the primary ingredient for gluten-free cooking. Today, it has been augmented with a wide range of gluten-free legume and grain flours. (See list below.)

In addition to acquiring the freshest gluten-free products, cooking without gluten will go easier by adopting a few essential tips:

* Try blended recipes: Recipes using a blend of gluten-free flours will offer more balance of flavors. Experiment with different flours to determine your preferred blends.

* Apply sticky fingers: When working with gluten-free ingredients, wet or oiled hands will help in handling gluten-free dough, which can be very sticky.

* Put things under wraps: If you cook both with gluten and gluten-free, maintain separate pans, tools and utensils. Be sure to keep work surfaces very clean.

* Beat it well: We've been taught to avoid over-beating wheat batters but hearty beating of gluten-free dough can help lighten the dough by adding air. Using a heavy-duty mixer is preferable to hand beating.

* Crispy is good: Avoid too much steam when cooking with gluten-free products, lest they get mushy. Try baking with pizza stones for added crispness. Baking smaller loaves and removing breads from their pans once they are firm and cooking them on open oven racks can also help enhance crispness.

* Keep it fresh: Gluten-free flours contain higher levels of fat and therefore can spoil easily. Freeze flours to preserve freshness.

Eliminating gluten may be a major lifestyle change but shouldn't result in a boring, unappealing diet. With a little extra effort, you can find gluten-free recipes for tasty cakes, breads, muffins, pizza, appetizers, snacks and entrees. And gluten-free living means more than no-wheat breads. Vigilantly check labels on salad dressings, candy, medicines and other consumable products; ask specific questions when dining out. And for starters in experiencing new tastes in gluten-free cooking, try this delicious recipe for Gluten-free Coconut Layer Cake!

Jacqui lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at jlovemarshall@yahoo.com.

Gluten-Free Products

* Flours: almond, amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice, chick pea, coconut, corn, millet, potato, quinoa, sorghum, soy, tapioca, white rice

* Meals: corn, flaxseed

* Arrowroot powder

* Gelatin

* Xanthum gum


Gluten-Free Coconut Layer Cake

For white-chocolate whipped cream frosting:

3 cups heavy cream, chilled

9 oz. white chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 tsp coconut or golden rum

1/8 tsp fine sea salt

For coconut layer cake:

1-3/4 cup almond flour

2 Tbsp coconut flour

10 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 Tbsp coconut or golden rum

2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

1/4 tsp fine sea sal

To assemble cake:

2 cups (3 oz.) unsweetened coconut flakes, for coating

Make frosting:

1. Chill bowl of stand mixer and whisk attachment or large metal bowl and beaters for at least 15 minutes.

2. In small saucepan over moderate heat, bring 1 cup cream to simmer. Transfer white chocolate to medium heatproof bowl, pour hot cream over, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in rum and salt. Let cool at room temperature until thickened slightly, about 1 hour.

3. In chilled bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat remaining 2 cups cream at moderately high speed until whisk leaves marks but cream does not quite hold soft peaks, 6-8 minutes. Turn mixer off, then add white chocolate mixture and beat just until stiff peaks begin to form, about 5 minutes. (Do not beat too long or cream will curdle.) Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours. Frosting can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, up to 8 hours.

While frosting is chilling, make cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees; line bottoms of three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.

2. In large bowl, whisk together almond and coconut flours.

3. In electric mixer bowl, fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg yolks at high speed until pale yellow and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to moderately low and beat in rum and all but 1 Tbsp confectioner's sugar. Scrape down bowl, then increase speed to high and beat until pale and thick, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and gradually add almond and coconut flour mixture, scraping down bowl and folding in last of flour by hand. Set aside.

4. In clean dry bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites on moderate speed until very foamy, about 1 minute. Beat in cream of tartar, salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp confectioner's sugar. Increase speed to moderately high and beat until whites hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Fold 1 cup beaten egg whites into yolk mixture to lighten; gently fold in the remaining whites.

5. Divide batter between pans, smoothing tops, and bake until layers are golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Invert pans onto wire racks and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Run knife around cake layers to loosen, invert onto rack, and peel off the parchment.

Assemble cake:

1. Layer cake, using 1 cup frosting between each layer, then frost top and sides with remaining frosting. Press coconut flakes onto the frosting. Refrigerate until frosting is firm, at least 3 hours or overnight. Tip: To keep the plate clean while frosting the cake, tuck four (3-inch-wide) strips of parchment paper under the edge of the cake. Pull the parchment off just before serving.


1. Plan to make the cake at least several hours or up to a day ahead so the frosting firms up and the flavors meld. The frosting needs to chill for several hours, so make that first and bake the cake while frosting is in the refrigerator. When making the frosting, be sure the heavy cream is cold and the bowl and whisk attachment chill for at least 15 minutes.

2. Consider substituting lightly sweetened whipped cream, sliced strawberries and chocolate shavings instead of white-chocolate whipped cream and coconut flakes. Or fill the cake with a half recipe of lemon curd and only using two-thirds of frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake.