Jewish Adventures in Gluten Free Baking

I realized I might have a gluten allergy about two years ago. While many of my friends were already on the gluten free or GF train because of serious health issues like celiac, I joined more because an intolerance rather than a health risk. Despite my partner’s urging, I haven’t been tested for celiac and try (try being the key word) to cut gluten out of my life. It’s a lot harder than I expected, especially when I’m out of the house, but it’s also posed interesting challenges for me as a home baker.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve perfected pancakes, cookies, bread and rolls. But a delicious, light and golden challah still eludes me.

So when “Nosh on This” and “Gluten Free Canteen’s Book of Nosh,” two new Jewish cookbooks, appeared on my desk I thought I had found the Holy Grail, the answer to my deep urges for Shabbat challah.

I looked them over. Both were authored by the creators of the blog Gluten Free Canteen, Lisa Stander-Horel and Tim Horel. Great, gluten free bloggers, I was getting more excited by the minute. But when I cracked the spines of the books, I was instantly disappointed.

Let me explain. Gluten free baking is all about flour supplements. In regular baking, it’s the gluten in wheat that makes many baked goods what they are, light, slightly chewy and with that perfect elasticity (think about how a perfect croissant pulls apart).

Like most gluten free baking addicts, I keep a large supply of various flours in my pantry: There’s teff flour, a staple in Ethiopian cooking; garbanzo bean and garbanzo/fava bean flour, both popular in Middle Eastern cooking, and sorghum flour to name just a few. When a variety of gluten free flours are mixed together, a skill that I will admit, requires a bit of finesse, they create wonderful baked goods that people often mistake for wheat.

As I sifted through the pages of the Gluten Free Canteen books, I saw recipe after recipe call for brown rice and white rice flours mixed with tapioca starch. My heart fell like a good soufflé. These are the bottom of the totem poll when it comes to gluten free baking.

One of my favorite GF bakers, Karina Allrich of Gluten Free Goddess tells it straight, “Rice flours are rather blah and can bake gummy while potato starch generally bakes up nice and fluffy, tapioca starch when not mixed with another starch, like corn starch, can bake up tough.”

I wanted to bake from these books, I really did, but I couldn’t bring myself to make a brownie recipe with so much rice flour. So instead I went back to Katrina, my ever-faithful GF baking guru to make her recipe, which is below.

This means, of course, that I’m still on the hunt for the perfect challah recipe, preferably something that I can knead and braid like the challah I used to bake. I realize this is a tall order, but a girl can dream.

Cooking Note: If you’ve taken on a Gluten Free diet to take a step back from wheat products I would recommend “The Gluten Free Bible.” It’s a thorough and easy-to-use cookbook filled with beautiful pictures of amazing-looking food. If, however, you have been diagnosed with Celiac or have a wheat allergy I would invest a bit more money on a wide variety of gluten free flours (Nuts.com and Bobs Red Mill offer quality flours online). If you live in a large city or a city with a diverse population you’ll find staples like teff, millet and sorghum in African or Indian markets.

The Gluten-Free Goddess’ Dark Chocolate Brownies
Slightly adapted

5 ounces high quality 60-70% cocoa dark chocolate or ¾ cups cocoa
1/2 cup organic coconut oil
1 cup light brown sugar (not packed)
1/2 cup almond meal
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 organic free-range eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon bourbon vanilla*

Optional:

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired
Dark chocolate chips for the top, if desired

1) Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line an 8x8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

2) Melt the dark chocolate and coconut oil in a saucepan over low heat, gently stirring. (Or melt in a microwave safe measuring cup and stir together to combine.)

3) In a mixing bowl whisk together the brown sugar, almond meal, sorghum flour, fine sea salt and baking soda. Make a well in the center and add the beaten eggs, vanilla extract and melted dark chocolate mixture. Beat on low-medium in a mixer for two minutes, until the batter begins to come together. At first it will seem thin, like cake batter, but keep beating until it thickens and becomes smooth and glossy.

4) If you are adding nuts, stir in the nuts by hand and spread the batter into the prepared baking pan. Even out the batter with a silicone spatula. Stud the top with some dark chocolate chips and press in slightly.

5) Bake in the center of a preheated 350ºF oven for 32 to 35 minutes, or until the brownies are set. The top will crack, like a flourless chocolate cake.

6) Cool on a wire rack; and remove the cooled brownies from the pan by gripping the foil edges and lifting the brownies out as a whole.

Chill for an hour before cutting

Yield: 16 servings

Jewish Adventures in Gluten Free Baking

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