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Ask the ChefsAug/Sep 2013 Issue

In the Kitchen: Gluten-Free Flours, Chia Seeds, Tapioca Flour & More!

What’s the best way to store gluten-free flours? How long do they keep?

It all depends on the type of flour. Refined white flours and starches contain almost no oil; these can be stored in tightly sealed containers in your kitchen cabinet for several months. Whole-grain flours, such as amaranth, millet, brown rice and quinoa, contain more oil and have a shorter shelf life. Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 6 months, in the freezer for 9 to 12 months. Nut flours can go rancid very quickly due to their high fat content. Keep these in the refrigerator up to 3 months or in the freezer up to 6 months. Always be sure to bring your flours to room temperature before using them in baking recipes.

How long do I bake a gluten-free pie that I’ve frozen? My regular apple pie bakes for about an hour.

Photo of Beth Hillson by Oksana Charla

Photo of Beth Hillson by Oksana Charla

Beth Hillson

To help your pie bake evenly, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator or for 2 hours on the counter before baking. Then bake it in a preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes. To determine if your pie is done, insert a knife in the center. When you pull it out, the knife should be very hot to touch. In addition, juices should be bubbly. If not, bake it a bit longer, an additional 10 minutes or so. If the crust begins to brown too quickly, tent the pie loosely with foil.

I’ve noticed that more gluten-free products are being fortified with chia seeds. How much chia can I add to a packaged gluten-free bread mix or a bread recipe without disturbing the structure of the bread?

Chia seeds, also called salba seeds, are a wonderful source of nutrients and fiber. You can add 2 to 3 tablespoons to your bread mix without any impact on your loaf other than increasing its nutritional count. If the dough seems too dense or dry, add additional warm water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the dough becomes smooth and shiny.

I have seen many recipes that specify canned coconut milk, rather than coconut milk sold in cartons in the dairy section of the grocery store. Is there a difference?

Canned coconut milk, both full-fat and “lite,” is generally used exclusively for cooking and baking. It is normally richer and thicker than coconut milk in a carton, which has the consistency of dairy milk and is sold as a beverage. This difference in consistency can impact baking results so follow your recipe’s instructions as to which product to use.

I want to make pizza crust but I can’t digest tapioca flour. This dreaded ingredient seems to be in every gluten-free baking recipe. What can I use instead? I also have problems with casein.

You can replace tapioca flour, also called tapioca starch, with an equal amount of potato starch, cornstarch or arrowroot powder (or a combination of these). Note that all of our recipes are dairy-free (i.e., no casein) or they offer dairy-free substitutes.

Can butter be substituted for shortening when making a gluten-free piecrust?

Yes. Be sure the butter is very cold and cut into small pieces before you work it into the flour. The purpose of cutting fat into flour is to create a flaky crust. A food processor is ideal for this. Just mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of the food processor. Then sprinkle the pieces of cold butter on top and pulse several times until the mixture achieves a uniformly coarse crumb. Butter browns more quickly than shortening. If necessary, tent the edges of your crust halfway through baking to prevent over-browning.

I’ve been hearing that people could have a gluten cross-reaction to grains like millet. I always thought millet was safe for those with celiac disease.

Cross-contamination with any gluten-free grain can occur if it is milled or packaged on equipment that is shared with wheat products. Many smaller milling facilities process both wheat and gluten-free grains, which can account for cross-contamination. To be safe, purchase millet and all other gluten-free grains from manufacturers that you trust. Look for products that bear a label that they have been certified gluten-free by one of the national celiac organizations, such as GFCO certification conducted by The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG).

Can a person with a corn allergy eat a bakery item made with baking powder that contains cornstarch?

It all depends on how sensitive the person is. Cornstarch makes up a small component of the baking powder; some mildly corn-sensitive people find they can tolerate it in a baked product. If this is a concern for you, try corn-free Featherweight Baking Powder, available from Hain Pure Foods (hainpurefoods.com). It’s made with potato starch.

My 8-year-old daughter is allergic to half a dozen common foods (wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame). She just passed a food challenge for baked egg and I now find myself in the odd but good position of having to “reverse engineer” recipes to include eggs that were created without them. Is there a general rule for making this work? I tried adding 2 eggs to a muffin recipe but it didn’t turn out quite right.

You’ve raised an interesting question and one for which I can’t offer a hard-and-fast rule. Simply adding 2 eggs to an egg-free baking recipe is likely to negatively alter the ratio of wet to dry ingredients. Eggs definitely improve structure and texture in baking but you have to remove or replace some liquid in your existing recipe to achieve maximum success. For instance, if your recipe calls for flax meal and water, back those out, using the following formula: Replace each 1 tablespoon of flax meal plus 3 tablespoons of hot water with 1 large egg.

Alternatively, remove some liquid from the recipe following this formula: 1 large egg equals 3 to 4 tablespoons of liquid. Start by reducing the liquid by 3 tablespoons for every egg you add and see how your recipe turns out.

Finally, take a close look at your recipe. Many egg-free recipes call for extra baking powder. If this is the case, reduce the baking powder by 1 teaspoon.

Fine-grind rice flour is expensive. I’d like to know how I can grind it myself. I’d also like to know if I can make my own almond flour.

It’s easy to grind your own flour. Grain mills are available in a variety of price ranges. For finely ground rice flour, you can use a clean coffee grinder. Just place regular rice flour in the grinder and process it until the flour is finely ground. To make flour out of items that are higher in oil, such as almonds, I suggest you use a food processor with the blade attachment. Just be careful not to over-process or you’ll have nut butter.

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