How to Convert a Recipe from Gluten-y to Gluten Free
There’s a steep learning curve to following a gluten free diet. You have to learn what foods do and don’t have gluten in them. You need to be able to read food labels so you can determine what products are gluten free. How to find safe spots to go out to eat is also on the learning list. And the dreaded cross-contamination is something you have to be aware of at pretty much all times.
A celiac disease diagnosis means big changes to your diet and your lifestyle. It can be a lot to wrap your head around and it can take a while to adjust. For some people, the adjustment period might be made a bit easier by buying gluten free versions of their favourite foods from the store.
These days, gluten free pizza, cakes, cookies, muffins, etc can be found at most grocery stores. Buying pre-made or packaged foods can save a person time and stress. Instead of having to figure how to convert foods you like into the gluten free version, you can buy them in a package, ready (or nearly ready) to eat.
If you’re still figuring out this celiac thing, including packaged foods in your diet can help you ease into your new lifestyle. It would be unrealistic to expect a person to get all the details of a new diet down pat right away. While you’re in the process of learning about this new dietary pattern, it’s still important to be eating safe, gluten free food. Eating ready-made foods that are certified gluten free can allow your body to start healing during this time of transition.
That being said, the nutrition downfalls of packaged foods shouldn’t be ignored. Highly processed foods tend to be higher in salt, fat, and calories, while also lacking essential nutrients (for example, fibre and vitamins). Eating foods that come from a package once in a while isn’t the end of the world. But eating them on a daily basis long-term can lead to negative health consequences, like chronic disease (ex: diabetes, heart disease). On top of that, ready-made gluten free products tend to be more pricey than the gluten-filled versions.
The thought of figuring out how to do your own gluten free cooking and baking might be daunting, but there are so many benefits! You’ll save money by making your meals because buying the basic ingredients for a recipe (which can be used for multiple batches) works out to be cheaper than buying the finished product. Also, packaged foods are required to have a longer shelf life, which is why they have a lot of salt, sugar, and other preservatives in them. When you make your own food, you’re skipping on those ingredients, making something that’s fresher and healthier.
You’re the master of your own kitchen - you can make any modification you want to change the nutritional value and/or taste of a recipe. Do you need more fibre in your diet? Throw some ground flax seed into your baking or sauces. Do you wish you could have cupcakes that are moist, yet high in protein? Add a cup of Greek yogurt to the batter. Doing your own cooking is healthier for you and allows you to make foods that fit your needs and preferences.
Not only that, doing your own cooking will help you learn the ins and outs of the gluten free diet. Hands-on learning is the best way to apply knowledge! Making gluten free recipes will help you learn what foods are gluten free. It will also help you figure out how to make gluten free substitutions in order to make a recipe celiac-friendly. Becoming knowledgeable of your new diet and skillful at gluten free cooking can be empowering. Take charge of your new lifestyle!
Depending on what your culinary skills were before diagnosis, it might be too overwhelming to make all of your meals. Set a realistic goal for yourself. This could mean aiming to cook supper 3 nights per week. Or you might try out a new gluten free recipe each week. Maybe making your own breakfast every day is manageable. Try what works for you and stick with it for a couple weeks. Once it starts becoming easy, reassess your goal so that you’re cooking more and more often.
If you’re still learning how to do gluten free cooking and baking (or if these are new skills for you in general), there are lots of places where you can find gluten free recipes. I might be biased, but I think blogs are a great source of delicious recipes. There are also lots of cooking channels on YouTube that cater to various levels of skill. And if you’re a cookbook person, there are plenty of celiac authors out there (I personally love April Peveteaux’s books).
After getting some practice, hopefully you’ll become more adventurous and take a stab at converting “regular” recipes into a gluten free interpretation. The skill of being able to take virtually any recipe and make it safe to eat is priceless! You’ll be able to revisit your old favourites. And you’ll be able to tailor a recipe to fit exactly what you want.
Maybe you’re not sure how to go about turning a recipe from gluten-containing to gluten free. Well, you’re in luck. I’ll walk you through how I took a gluten-y cornbread recipe and made it gluten free.
Here’s a screenshot of the recipe I used (https://www.food.com/recipe/cheddar-cheese-cornbread-92359).
Let’s go through this ingredient by ingredient:
You can find gluten free cornmeal in the natural foods aisle or in the baking aisle. I like to use cornmeal from Bob’s Red Mill.
The substitute you use here depends on your preferences. There are all-purpose gluten free flours made by President’s Choice, Bob’s Red Mill, Robin Hood, and other brands. The major pro of using an all-purpose flour is that the blending has already been done for you and the xanthan gum is already in there. [Side note: xanthan gum is the glue that will hold your baked product together!] It’s a one-to-one substitution. Whatever amount of wheat flour is called for is the same amount of all-purpose gluten free flour you use (ex: 2/3 cup of wheat flour = 2/3 cup all-purpose gluten free flour).
However, there’s a proverbial cornucopia of types of flour you can use. There are flours made from rice, almonds, chickpeas, etc. Each flour will have a different taste and texture. You can play around with various flours to see what you like. Generally, you need to blend a couple of flours together to get a desirable texture. Club House and Bob’s Red Mill are two companies that make all sorts of gluten free flours.
The key thing to remember if you decide to not use an all-purpose flour is that you have to add xanthan gum to your recipe. For cakes and cookies add 1 tsp of gum. Breads and pizza dough usually require 2 tsp.
I like to switch things up; sometimes I use all-purpose flour in my baking and sometimes I don’t. On this particular occasion I had some rice flour to use up. I used 1/2 cup of gluten free rice flour, 1/4 cup tapioca starch, and 1/4 cup cornstarch. I also made sure to add 1 tsp of xanthan gum to my dry ingredients.
Be sure to buy a gluten free brand. I use Fleischmann’s.
This doesn’t have anything to do with making the recipe gluten free, but I wanted my cornbread a bit sweeter. I used 1/4 cup sugar.
Check the label to make sure it’s gluten free.
Pretty much any brand should be safe.
Another preference thing: I used canned coconut creme instead.
I kept this as is. But you can make the recipe egg free by substituting with ground flax seed. 1 egg = 1 tbsp flax seed meal + 2 and 1/2 tbsp water - let rest for 5 minutes to thicken
You can use any type of fat or oil you’d like (ex: coconut oil, margarine, canola oil).
I didn’t make any subs here. However, when I make this recipe again, I’ll be skipping the corn kernels. I just found I didn’t like having them in there.
I kept this as is. If you’re dairy free you can use vegan cheese or just skip the ingredient all-together.
I decided to mince a jalapeno pepper and throw it into the batter. I liked the mix of sweet and spicy. You could also add bacon pieces to your batter.
Now for the instructions:
I wanted a bread-loaf-sized product, so I used a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Changing the dimensions of the baking pan you use will change the shape and size of your product. It will also affect the baking time. A shallow, wide pan will require a shorter amount of time than a deep, narrow pan.
Since I used a deep, narrow pan, I knew I would need a longer baking time. 400F is a bit high for a baked product that’s going to stay in the oven for a longer amount of time. You could end up burning the outside of the product, while the inside doesn’t get fully baked due to it’s thickness. I decreased the temperature to 350 F. Even if I had used a more shallow baking pan, I would’ve played it safe and set the temp to 375 F. You can always check your product for doneness and bake it a bit longer. But once something is burnt, you can’t unburn it!
As I’ve mentioned, the baking pan size will influence baking time. In addition, the time required could vary depending on the flour blend you use. As a general rule, once you see that your product is starting to brown and the sides are pulling away from the pan, your baking could be done. At that point, it’s a good idea to stick a cake tester/toothpick/knife into the centre and check if it comes out clean. If it comes out clean (there might but some crumbs on it, but there shouldn’t be any batter visible), that means your creation is done and ready for the cooling rack.
I baked my cornbread for about 55 minutes. If I had used a different size pan, let’s say 9 x 13, it probably would’ve taken 30-35 minutes.
Besides these three components of the instructions, I followed everything else as written.
So there you have it. I hope you found my step-by-step guide helpful. With some practice - and a healthy dose of trail and error - you’ll be able to figure out how to make recipes gluten free all by yourself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s how we learn! Also, keep in mind that there are lots of resources online that give tips on how to make gluten free substitutions. If you’re trying to solve a food problem, you might be able to find an answer on a blog, YouTube, or a forum like Reddit. There are plenty of celiacs out there who would love to help you out on your gluten free journey :)
Learning how to cook and bake can be a wild ride. Do you have any kitchen catastrophe stories? I have one to share! A few years ago I got a summer job working in a kitchen at a summer camp (you can read about the experience here. I was baking carrot muffins and accidentally used baking soda instead of baking powder. If you haven’t made that mistake, let me tell you - it makes a big difference. My muffins browned way too quickly on the outside, but the inside was raw. When I taste-tested them, they were super salty :( Lesson learned!
For many more gluten free recipes, visit my blog: The Splendorous Celiac.