Gluten-Free Holiday Baking

Christmas, Featured Article, Holidays, Ingredient
on November 21, 2011
Shauna James Ahern

The holidays are the one time year when it is perfectly acceptable (and practically encouraged) to indulge in a plate-full of baked goods. Consider “throwing caution to the sugar-filled wind” a gift of the season—alas, a gift not everyone can easily receive. The gluten-sensitive know what we're talking about. To those who must forego the glutens, Mom’s wheat-heavy cookies and Aunt Marge’s gingerbread seem nothing more than cruel temptations.

So what’s a gluten free-er to do?

Shauna James Ahern, gluten-free guru and the talented blogger behind Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, says taking the wheat out of baking is much easier than people think—the flour is easier to replace than most people realize.

Weigh Your Dry Goods: “There is nothing elemental about flour,” Ahern says, “buy a scale and learn to bake by weight.” For example, when mixing gluten-free flours, a cup of ground sweet rice isn’t the same density or weight as a cup of tapioca. Weighing takes out the guesswork and keeps your mix balanced.

Flour has Flavor: Create your own gluten-free baking mix by experimenting with all types of ground whole grains, potato starches and sweet rice, shooting for a ratio of 60% starches and 40% whole grains. Ahern is always tweaking her own custom blend; currently her favorite combo is the following:

  • 200 grams millet flour
  • 200 grams sorghum flour
  • 300 grams potato starch
  • 300 grams sweet rice flour

Simply mix ingredients until you have a baking mix of uniform color.

Worried this sounds like a lot of work? “Mix up large batches ahead of time,” Ahern suggests, “it will psychologically change your view on its difficulty because during the season you’ll be reaching for only one mix.”

Gluten-Free Breads: “In baking bread, gluten is really helpful,” Ahern admits, “it gives the necessary elasticity that cookies don’t necessarily need.” To combat this, be careful not to over-mix your batter. Add xanthan gum, psyllium powder or chia seeds to build structure.

Evolve Traditions: If you aren’t doing the majority of the cooking at a holiday gathering, make those who are aware of your gluten-sensitivity. If they are not in the position to mix flours, bring your own or suggest store brands such as Bob’s Red Mill or Cup for Cup. Volunteer to help out by providing plastic chopping boards and ceramic pins to avoid cross-contamination. No one should put up a fuss in adjusting old recipes as Ahern reminds us, “This is about love! Traditions are great, but being accommodating at a gathering and celebrating together is what’s most important.” 

—By Emily Arno