Ask the ChefsApr/May 2012 Issue

In the Kitchen: Coconut Cream, Dairy Free, Xanthan in Pastries & More!

Beth Hillson answers your questions about special-diet baking.

I can't get my whipped coconut cream to stay on cakes. It’s gets so runny! What am I doing wrong?

Whipped coconut cream must remain very cold—it will start its meltdown as soon as it touches a warm cake or sits at room temperature. If you’re expecting it to perform exactly like real whipped cream or a commercial whipped topping, you may not get the results you’d like.

We recommend whipped coconut cream for those people who are allergic or sensitive to dairy, soy and nuts and have no other options. If you can tolerate nuts, try MimicCreme (mimiccreme.com); if you can eat soy, try Soyatoo (soyatoo.com). These dairy-free toppings may perform more to your expectations. One of our chefs sweetens Tofutti’s Better Than Sour Cream (tofutti.com) for a dairy-free topping (it contains soy) that resembles a whipped topping and is a great cake filling.

Recipes for cashew cream (a whipped topping made with soaked cashews) and whipped coconut topping are available at LivingWithout.com.

The celiac market isn't the same as dairy free or other markets. I realize you’re trying to accommodate many special dietary needs in your recipes but to me, making things taste good and be nutritionally sound without gluten is challenging enough. To expect me to remove eggs, milk, butter and more from my diet is asking too much.

We hear you. Many of our readers have food allergies in addition to being gluten free. That’s why we provide alternatives in our recipes. If you can eat dairy, why miss out on milk and butter? Use them rather than their dairy-free counterparts. The same is true for eggs. In most recipes that call for eggs, we offer suggestions for egg replacement for all of our egg-free readers.

We want you to enjoy as many choices as possible and to know you can eat deliciously and bake creatively on your special diet.

When I eat pastries that contain xanthan, I get a gummy, heavy feeling in my mouth. What can I use to replace xanthan gum?

Usually, a gummy texture indicates there’s too much gum in the recipe. This is an easy fix—simply reduce the amount of gum. For guidelines, click here.

You can also substitute guar gum for xanthan in equal amounts. Both xanthan gum and guar gum are stabilizers that thicken gluten-free dough and provide some missing elasticity. A very small amount of gum is used in gluten-free recipes but if these bother you, try adding 1 teaspoon powdered gelatin to your flour blend in place of the gum. Mix it well and proceed with your recipe.

Alternatively, you can use 1 tablespoon potato flour to replace 1 teaspoon xanthan gum.

It seems as if the content of gluten-free flour blends is a third to a half starch. I’d like to use more whole grains and less starch. What’s the purpose of starch in gluten-free baking and do you have any tips for using less?

When it comes to gluten-free flours, there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all. No single flour can replace wheat flour. A blend of flours and starch offers a range of different baking characteristics and produces the best outcomes.

Starch is important in creating a successful formula. When heated, it serves as a thickening or stiffening agent in baked goods. Gluten-free flours add protein and elasticity but they tend to be dense. Starches lighten the texture. For best results, you need both flours and starch to create a pleasant texture and good mouth-feel.

A flour blend should not contain more than 30 percent starch or results may be gummy. You can use as little as 25 percent starch if your blend includes a high-protein flour, such as amaranth, sorghum, quinoa or chickpea flour. These flours add wonderful baking characteristics to gluten-free recipes, in addition to extra nutrients, fiber and protein. They also tend to be more finely ground than white rice flour—a plus when it comes to producing a light texture. For flour blend recipes, click here.

Food editor Beth Hillson is a chef and cooking instructor. She is founder of Gluten-Free Pantry, one of the first gluten-free companies in the United States, and creator of Gluten-Free Pantry’s gourmet baking mixes.
Send your questions to Ask the Chef, Living Without magazine, 800 Connecticut Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06854-1631 or editor@LivingWithout.com. Include your full name, address and daytime phone number. Letters become the property of Belvoir Media Group, LLC and may be published in other media. Submissions chosen for publication may be edited for clarity and length.

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