Ask Carol Fenster

Gluten-Free Cooking & Baking Tips

3 Comments 02 October 2008

As you requested, I’ve edited the Q & A with Carol Fenster and listed here all of the 25 questions that she answered.

I’ve also linked to several of the different products Carol mentioned in order to make shopping easier for you. I know I’m going to buy a bacon splatter guard for the tortilla warming tip and at times it is easier for me to buy specialty flours online rather than traipse around town looking for them.

Do you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share? Feel free to share them in the comments section.

Enjoy!

KITCHEN TOOLS
What are the five gluten-free cooking items every gluten-free baker/cook needs in their kitchen?

ANSWER
The top 5 must-have ingredients in my kitchen are: sorghum flour, potato starch, tapioca starch (aka tapioca flour), xanthan gum, and sweet rice flour. With those 5, I can make virtually anything. Of course, I would also like to have whole grain flours on hand like amaranth , quinoa, teff, Montina, and buckwheat to add important nutrients. As for appliances, I use my food processor to make bread dough, cookie dough, and grind nuts, plus I love my KitchenAid stand mixer for heavy dough, and I also use the little Bullet blender for quick jobs like salad dressings.

WHOLE GRAIN BREAD
Is there a "whole grain" equivalent for gluten free bread? One that is healthy and not too fattening for those of us who want to be healthy but have our sandwiches too!?

ANSWER
I, too, prefer the heartier breads over the plain white types. If I buy bread, I prefer Whole Food’s Prairie bread and sometimes I buy the multi-seed varieties from Food for Life or Kinnikinnick. But if I really want hearty, "whole-wheat" type breads I bake my own, adding sesame seeds, chopped nuts, perhaps whole grain teff, cooked whole grain amaranth, or the Creamy Buckwheat cereal by Bob’s Red Mill. Therea are several hearty bread recipes in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes, but it you want to adapt your own, add no more than 1/3 cup of the aforementioned grains to your own recipe and perhaps add more liquid as needed to compensate for these added dry ingredients. You might also see if there are gluten-free bakeries in your area that bake heartier breads.

CREPES
What’s the secret to a good gluten-free crepe?

ANSWER
Crepes are actually quite easy to make. Use my recipe in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes, or your own. The batter should be quite thin (thinner than pancake batter) and pour very easily. Heat your crepe pan, following manufacturer’s directions. The first crepe is usually a "dud", so that’s the cook’s treat. Crepes cook very quickly and should be turned when the outer edges turn brown and then lightly brown on the other side. You can stack them between wax paper or plastic wrap as you’re frying them and then freeze them, or eat them right away. I use crepes for sweet dishes like Crepes Suzette, or Jam-filled crepes, or fill them with savory fillings such as Smoked Paprika Beef in Savory Crepes (all from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes).

BREADING
I truly miss fried chicken cutlets. I have tried gluten-free breadcrumbs, flours, potato chips, and concoctions mixing them, but nothing gives that slightly thicker batter feel of real fried chicken.
I have stumbled upon a new gf breadcrumb that has a great consistency, but it dose not stay on the chicken. as soon as i star to cut the cutlet it breaks off. Any tips or ingredients I’m missing?

ANSWER
I make my own bread crumbs by simply whirling torn gluten-free bread in my food processor until it looks like bread crumbs. They’re far better than any store-bought crumbs; freeze them in a plastic bag and you’re always ready. I make gluten-free fried foods (like Chicken-Fried Steak and Pork Schnitzel) by first dipping them in flour (such as cornstarch or white rice flour works great) and then in beaten egg, and then in the bread crumbs. Fry them in oil, turning only once, or the breading falls off. Eat immediately!!!

RICE FLOUR SUBSTITUTE
Is there a substitute you would recommend for rice flour?

ANSWER
My favorite is sorghum flour; it can be used 1:1 in place of rice flour and doesn’t have the grittiness, plus it is more nutritious and has a great flavor. You can find it at natural food stores, usually by Bob’s Red Mill or Authentic Foods.

SPRITZ COOKIES
Do you have a good gluten-free spritz cookie recipe?

ANSWER
My mother-in-law has made these for years during the holidays, and I finally bought a cookie press and learned to do it myself with gluten-free flours. The recipe is in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes and the secret is to keep the dough quite soft, softer than you might think, so that it moves through the cookie press smoothly. Also, don’t refrigerate the dough before putting it in the cookie press. The cookie work best with real butter, but you can also use Earth Balance. Finally, don’t over bake the cookies and use a very thin metal spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet or they will break.

FLOUR BLENDS
What is your favorite gluten-free flour blend?

ANSWER
I use a blend of 1 1/2 cups sorghum flour, 1 1/2 cups potato starch (corn starch works also or arrowroot, in the same amount), and 1 cup tapioca flour, whisked together and stored in an air-tight container that I buy at the Container Store. You can refrigerate or freeze the blend, but bring it to room temperature before using. I use this blend in much of my baking and then add other flours (perhaps sweet rice flour for pastries) when I’m assembling the batter or dough. There are also several flour blends on my web site, but for my home baking I use the sorghum blend the most.

SALT
Why is it that so many gluten-free products, specifically breads, lack salt? When I bake breads from mixes and other recipes, I try to compensate but still end up not being enough.

ANSWER
I also notice that many gluten-free foods lack salt and I’m not sure why. You’ll notice that I put plenty of salt in my bread recipes. But salt inhibits yeast and that could be why more isn’t used. When you purchase bread for sandwiches, you might spread it with something that’s salty and flavorful such as pesto or garlic-mayonnaise, etc.

LEMON POPPYSEED MUFFINS
Moist, delicious Lemon Poppyseed Muffins is what I am missing! Any good ideas?

ANSWER
You’ll find gluten-free Lemon Poppyseed Muffins in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes and also a gluten-free Lemon Poppyseed Coffecake. They’re perfect for everyday and are also great for entertaining. Enjoy!!!

POPOVERS
Do you have a recipe for gluten-free popovers?

ANSWER
Gluten-free popovers are one of my favorite breads to serve to company. There is a great recipe in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes, but if you use your own here are my secrets: Start with room temperature ingredients. I like using the modified tapioca starch, Expandex, to give them extra-crunchy crusts. Use a popover pan, grease it, and heat it in the oven for 5 minutes while it’s preheating. Once the popovers start to bake, don’t open the oven door until they’re done. You can eat them plain, with butter, or filled with your favorite sandwich filling such as tuna salad, etc.

FAT SUBSTITUTIONS
What do you recommend as the best fat substitutes in recipes? For example, many gluten-free recipes call for a significant amount of added fat (margarine, oil, etc.) I have had success with applesauce and fat-free yogurt but are there other suggestions?

ANSWER
Fat plays an important role in baking by softening the crumb plus it is a flavor-carrier. It’s a good idea to substitute no more than half of the fat in a recipe. Try draining the applesauce through a coffee filter for an hour before baking with it. Also, many of the baby foods that are fruit-based work well
such as prune baby food. One of the chefs at last weekend’s Gluten-Free Culinary Summit used pureed beets in a chocolate cake and it was excellent.

XANTHAN GUM
Is there a rule of thumb of how much xanthan gum to add to a certain about of gluten-free flour or blend? Is there a difference in amount of xanthan gum for a sweet or "other" recipe?

ANSWER
Xanthan gum is a miracle ingredient really improves the texture of our baked goods and prevents crumbling. I typically use 1/4 teaspoon in a cookie recipe, 1 teaspoon in a cake recipe, and 2 teaspoons in a bread recipe. It’s never a good idea to increase the xanthan gum over what the recipe says to use because it can make baked goods too hard. I also like to use a pinch in salad dressings to give them body. I accidentally learned that a combination of xanthan gum and guar gum works better than either alone. A scientist at Kansas State University verified that this is true, so now I often use the two together and that’s why you’ll see them used together in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes.

BREAD
My gluten-free bread recipe says to bake it to an internal temperature of 200 degrees. I’ve done that twice and both times the bread was doughy in the middle. So what should I do instead to insure that the bread is done?

ANSWER
I would bake it to 205 degrees and lay foil over the top if it browns before it’s done inside. The chief reason for fallen bread is under baking and bread may appear done on the outside, but still be wet inside. Make sure your oven is baking at the correct temperature. Our gluten-free dough is wetter, so this is also a contributor. Bread can also be doughy if you’re using high-starch flours such as rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch and rice milk. Adding some protein (maybe dry milk powder) would help or use higher-protein flours and higher-protein milks.

PASTRY DOUGH
We want good gluten-free pastry dough and phyllo dough, etcetera!!! Help us, Carol!

ANSWER
Those are some of my favorite foods, too.!!! I have a terrific pie crust dough in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipesthat is so supple that you can drape it over your hands. It is rolled between plastic wrap and is used in many recipes in that book. The secret is to roll the dough as thin as possible, but that also means it is more delicate. Also, to avoid sogginess, I bake the pie crust on the bottom rack of the oven for the first 10 minutes to brown it and then finish baking it on the middle rack. Pie crust of any kind takes practice and patience, so don’t give up. Just keep trying. I now make pies regularly and, if I make the dough ahea
d of time, roll it out in a circle, and then freeze it I can defrost it in the fridge overnight (still tightly wrapped) and make the pie very quickly.
I also developed a "sort-of" phyllo dough to make Baklava, one of my all-time favorites ( also in the new book) It uses a pie crust dough, with a little modified tapioca starch (Expandex) and yeast. Baklava takes lots of patience, but it’s worth the effort.

FRITTERS & BEIGNETS
What about gluten-free fritters, beignets, etc.?

ANSWER
My new book,1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes, has recipes for gluten-free Corn Fritters, Beignets, and other fried food such as Sopaipillas, Funnel Cakes, Hoe Cakes, Crullers, and cake Donuts (sorry, no light raised donuts). i have a baked-donut recipe which is healthier than fried. There are also gluten-free Aebleskiver , which are fun. In case you’re wondering, there are also marvelous Cream Puffs, Eclairs, and Apple Strudel. In reality, fried gluten-free foods are fairly easy to make, so give them a try.

PASTA
What is your favorite gluten-free pasta or pasta recipe?

ANSWER
My favorite store-bought brands of gluten-free pasta are Tinkyada and Pastariso because they have lots of shapes to choose from and they hold their shape in baking. In fact, these store-bought pasta are so terrific that I rarely make it from scratch. However, there is a recipe in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes for making it at home and it is really quite easy. You can quickly make the dough in a food processor and roll it out by hand. Or, you can make pasta with an electric pasta maker, following the manufacturer’s directions. The hand-crank machines are hard to work with our delicate gluten-free dough, so I don’t recommend them. Tips for cooking: use LOTS of water and LOTS of salt and eat the pasta right after you cook it. It gets gummy and sticks together if it sits too long.

TORTILLAS
I miss mexican food most of all. I miss a big messy burrito, soft flour tortilla oh yeah. do you have a recipe for this? All the premade ones don’t roll well, aren’t soft, and I just have not mastered homemade.

ANSWER
The store-bought gluten-free tortillas become soft and supple if you put them on a bacon splatter guard, place it over a skillet of simmering water, and put a big lid on top to capture the steam. This only takes about 5 seconds, and they’re ready to roll into wraps, burritos, etc. It’s best to eat them right away after steaming. I use them almost daily as a quick wrap, filling them with tuna salad, or peanut butter, or any other sandwich filling.

WHOLE GRAINS
What are your favorite gluten-free whole grains?

ANSWER
One of the easiest and fastest is quinoa, because it takes only 20 minutes to cook and can be eaten as a side dish, dressed up with Tabbouleh ingredients, eaten as porridge for breakfast with brown sugar, cinnamon, etc. and treated like couscous in side dishes. It’s one of the most nutritious grains on earth and I heartily recommend it.
I’m also a fan of brown rice, and it is foolproof to cook but takes a longer time (around 45 minutes or so). A rice cooker is a great way to cook these whole grains, too.

EASY MEALS
I’m all about fast and easy when it comes to gluten-free cooking. I’m overwhelmed with my schedule and trying to feed my family. Any suggestions for a busy mom?

ANSWER
Many of you asked about quick-fix meals for busy families: I see a real need for quick, healthy meals so I partnered with the creators of www.relishrelish.com to create www.gfreecuisine.com, which offers weekly online gluten-free menu planning. You choose 5 of the 10 easy-to-assemble meals, print the shopping list, and you know what you need to buy at the store and what you’ll eat each weeknight. The meals emphasize ease of preparation, are kid-tested and approved, and use healthy ingredients (OK, I toss in a Chicken Fried Steak and similar meals now and then, but we gotta live, right?).
An example of a quick meal is chicken pieces, tossed in lime juice and Jerk Seasoning (Durkee or Tones is gluten-free ) and then grilled or broiled. It’s fast, healthy, and v
ery tasty. Use less of the Jerk Seasoning for kids. I keep spice seasonings on hand all the time in various flavors (Southwestern, Italian, or Greek… check McCormick or Durkee) and you can quickly prepare meat, chicken, poultry, or fish with just a dusting of these mixed herbs and they taste great.

KIDS
What do you suggest for a kid friendly gluten-free meal?

ANSWER
My favorite recipe is any of my pizza crust recipes. But here is my secret: Bake the crust ahead of time for the first 10 minutes, then cool and wrap it tightly and freeze it. (Now it’s like having Boboli crusts in your freezer.) You can use store-bought pizza sauce for convenience.

When you want pizza, remove the crust from the freezer. It will thaw as you asemble the toppings on it. Then bake the pizza for about 20 minutes. No kid can resist pizza!!!

SPECIAL OCCASIONS
What is the best way to make gluten-free stuffing?

ANSWER
Many of you are thinking ahead to our favorite dishes for special occasions, like stuffing and the infamous, green bean casserole. You can use any plain gluten-free bread or cornbread and I provide stuffing recipes in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes, such as Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage and Fruit. I also offer a Bread Pudding Stuffing, which I now make every year. It’s a softer stuffing, more like a custard-based bread pudding and my guests love it. I often cut it into squares, rather than scooping it out of the dish. Because it is so soft, it’s better not to stuff the bird with it.

I made the Green Bean Casserole with Onion Topping by thickening it with sweet rice flour (my favorite thickener) rather than using Cream of Mushroom Soup, and dredging the onions in cornstarch (or white rice flour) before frying, rather than using the store-bought fried onions. (see the recipe in my new book)

TAPIOCA FLOUR
What are some uses for tapioca starch?

ANSWER
My flour blend that I posted earlier today uses tapioca starch, but you might try the Cheese Bread Balls in my book, Gluten-Free 101. They’re based on a Brazilian bread and use lots of tapioca flour and cheese. They’re fabulously tasty, super-simple to make, and we often serve them at family gatherings because the whole family loves them.

ROUX
How can I make a good gluten-free roux?

ANSWER
Rob, there is a gluten-free roux in 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes in the Shrimp Etouffee and I found it surprisingly easier to make than I expected. I use a bechamel (white) sauce in Macaroni and Cheese recipe in that same book. Thickening it with sweet rice flour sweet rice flour is a great way to get that silky smooth texture.

HIGH ALTITUDE
What should I do different when baking at high altitude?

ANSWER
High Altitude Issues: We blame altitude more often than we should. I bake all over the nation, have testers all over the nation, and I have found that the chief difference is that bread takes longer to rise. I don’t make any other changes to accommodate altitude at all. Our gluten-free bread is wetter and "erases" many of the issues with baking. I bake cakes in smaller 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans, rather than 13 x 9-inch pan. I love Bundt pans for gluten-free cakes. Cupcakes work just fine. If they "peak" too much, turn down the heat by 25 degrees and see if that helps. If not, try 25 degrees lower again, but you might need to bake a bit longer.

CONVERTING RECIPES
What is your rule of thumb when converting regular recipes to gluten-free?

ANSWER
When I use my Sorghum Flour Blend (posted earlier today) my approach is to start out using the same proportions as the original recipe. If the dough or batter is too wet, add more flour blend at 1/4 cup at a time. If the dough or batter is too dry, add liquid a tablespoon at a time. Write down what you do so you know how to make the recipe next time.

If you’re using a rice flour blend, you might reduce the flour by 2 tablesoons in a 2 cup-flour recipe. This is because rice flour is heavier and more dense than other flours.

As with all recipe conversions, there is some experimenting that needs to be done. I wish you the best!

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Your Comments

3 Comments so far

  1. 1
     
    Katy Springer says:

    Hello,

    I love to write, travel the world, and cook pastries. Sad thing is that I have gluten intolerance, and this makes it very difficult to travel. I might add that all the recipes for gluten free food are complicated and require a million things for one recipe, not to mention that I have to be careful when I make it. For example, mixing all the wet ingredients separately from the dry, then fold in the dry ingredients quickly.

    I know that eating and cooking non-gluten food is a challenge that I’ll have to face the rest of my life. As the traveling and writing go how is that possible? Can I somehow combine all three?

    Thanks,
    Katy

  2. 2
     
    lisa says:

    I’d like to add on to the ‘breading/breadcrumbs’

    Cornflakes.

    I popped cornflakes in a blender to get a fine powder and it acts exactly like breadcrumbs and tastes exactly like them. I’ve used it in meatloaf and breaded chicken in it, it tastes just like the real thing.

  3. 3
     
    Maria says:

    My cupcakes (when I make them from scratch) usually have an elastic look to them – when you pull them apart and they sink in the middle. It drives me insane as I really want to bake from scratch and I want to add some raspberries as well. What am I doing wrong?


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Kelly Courson

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Thanks for stopping by! I'm Kelly Courson and this is where I've shared my gluten-free finds since 2003. The world has been my gluten-free oyster for 14 years now and I love sharing what I've learned in order to help others adapt to a gluten-free diet. Have a look around and feel free to leave a comment. Connecting with people like you is what has kept me going this long! Seriously.
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