Two years ago, I had one of those life-altering, what-am-I-going-to-do experiences, when you end up having to change your life in a significant way.
Story by Manjot Bains
After several tests, I was told I would have to give up gluten (found in wheat and other grains) forever. To help heal my body and immune system, my naturopath suggested I also go dairy-free and egg-free (along with omitting several other common allergens).
Farewell indulgent afternoon teas with scones and clotted cream. Bye-bye pizza, chocolate éclairs, designer donuts, key lime tarts, decadent dark chocolate mousse.
To say that I mourned the loss of wheat and dairy in my diet is an accurate way to describe my experience (I can be a bit melodramatic when it comes to food, especially when cake or cheese are involved). Tears were shed. Would I live on a diet of quinoa, dahl, organic salad greens and grilled chicken forever? Ugh.
Fortunately, there are a ton of gluten-free bakeries (Lemonade Bakery in Vancouver is the only place worth buying bread from) in major cities in Canada and the USA, and many restaurants have gluten-allergy friendly menus. Panago offers gluten-free pizza crusts and gluten-free pasta is available at most grocery stores.
I am also a savvy baker and obsessed with eating dessert, so I set myself to the task of finding ways to adapt my favourite cakes and loaves and muffins. Life was not over yet.
Not everything can be made gluten, dairy and egg-free. Chewy, buttery chocolate chip cookies aren’t an option, although crisp cookies can be made. I can make a decadent chocolate cake with dark chocolate coffee icing that will make you forget there’s no butter or eggs in the cake. I refuse to use soy or tofu in my baking so faux cheesecake is not in my future, but once you’ve had real cheesecake, what’s the point.
But I have found ways to eat well and not mourn the loss of butter in my baking. And cooking with gluten-free flour? Most of the time, my cake testers can’t even tell the difference.
Easy-to-use Gluten-Free Flour Blend
You can buy pre-mixed packages like Knicknick or Bob’s Red Mill, but I like to mix together my own blends depending on what I’m baking.
Sweet brown rice flour
Tapioca or potato flour
Guar gum or xantham gum
Use equal amounts of each flour. For example, if your cake recipe asks for 1 cup of flour, use 1/3 sorghum, 1/3 brown rice flour and 1/3 tapioca flour.
Add ½ teaspoon of guar gum or xantham gum for each cup of flour used. Don’t forget this step! It’s crucial to help recreate the effect that gluten gives to regular wheat flour.
For added health benefit, I like to add 1-2 tablespoons of rice bran to whatever I’m baking. The challenge with gluten-free eating is getting enough soluble fibre so adding rice bran is a good way to help out. Rice bran is often found in the refrigerated section of specialty grocery stores.
For loaves and crumbles:
Sweet brown rice flour
Tapioca flour or potato flour
Quinoa flour (if you can get it at a good price)
Oat flour (I grind wheat-free oats in a coffee blender, but make sure your oats are wheat-free – regular oats are often contaminated)
1 – 2 tablespoons of rice bran (optional)
Mix equal amounts of each flour. Remember to add ½ tsp guar gum or xantham gum for each cup of flour used.
Must-Try Recipe: Gluten-Free Banana Bread
Adapted from Chef Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery in Boston and inspired by Erin Ireland’s It’s To Die For Banana Bread. Makes one loaf or cake, and can be adapted for vegetarians/vegans too.
1 2/3 cups gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar OR pure maple syrup (I use maple syrup)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 bananas, very ripe, mashed
¼ cup almond or coconut milk or rice milk with juice of ¼ lemon squeezed into it OR 3 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream or yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Toasted, chopped pecans, walnuts or macadamia nuts (I like pecans)
Dark chocolate (I buy a bar of Lindt Dark Chocolate)
A sprinkle of sea salt
- Set oven to 365 degrees F. Line the bottom of a loaf or cake pan with parchment paper.
- Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
- In a separate bowl, beat together sugar or maple syrup and oil. Add mashed bananas, almond milk/creme fraiche, and vanilla and mix well. Fold in dry ingredients and half of the nuts.
- Pour into a lined loaf or cake pan and top with chopped dark chocolate, followed by the remaining nuts. Sprinkle sea salt on top and bake for about 35 minutes (if using cake pan) to 1 hour (for loaf).
- After taking the loaf out of the oven, let it sit for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on rack, or cut a piece straight out of the pan and enjoy.
I never had much of a sweet tooth when it came to Indian or Punjabi sweets, but after being deprived of them for two years, I started experimenting and found a great recipe for gluten-free, egg and dairy-free jalebis. I make these once a year at Diwali because it’s a bit of work, slaving over the stove, sweating and grumbling, but then I feel like such a superstar that it’s worth the effort.
For the batter:
1 cup of gluten-free flour (remember to add guar gum or xantham gum if making your own flour blend)
¼ cup corn starch
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
Few drops of yellow food colouring or a few strands of saffron mushed with a teaspoon of water
1 tsp of desi ghee or unflavoured oil, like grapeseed
For the syrup:
1.5 cup water for syrup
1.5 cup of sugar for sugar syrup
4 cardamom pods, seeds removed and grinded up
Few strands of saffron
Juice of half a lemon or less
Vegetable oil or desi ghee for frying
Pastry bag or zip-lock bag
For the sugar syrup:
Mix the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the ground cardamom, reduce to a simmer and let the syrup thicken (about 20 minutes). While the syrup bubbles away, mix a few strands of saffron with a couple teaspoons of water in a small bowl and mush the strands a bit. After the syrup has thickened, add the saffron mixture and let it simmer a bit more. Add a few drops of lemon juice and taste the syrup, adding more cardamom, lemon juice or saffron as desired.
To make the jalebis:
- In a shallow frying pan, add about an inch of oil or desi ghee and warm over medium heat.
- As the oil gets hot, mix the gluten-free flour, cornstarch, baking powder, 1 tsp of sugar, 1 tsp of desi ghee or oil in a bowl with a whisk. Slowly add the water, whisking to ensure there are no lumps. The consistency should be like cake batter. Mix in food colouring or saffron and then let the batter sit for 5 minutes.
- Pour the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip or a zip-lock bag. If using the zip-lock bag, make a small hole in one corner through which you will pour the batter.
- Once the oil is hot, pour the mixture in circular patterns in the oil and let it cook until golden in colour. Flip it over and cook the other side. Note: If the first jalebi drops to the bottom and doesn’t rise, it means the oil isn’t hot enough. If the jalebies are browning too fast, reduce the heat. Be careful of splattering oil and keep paper towels and wet cloths close by. If you’re like me, there will be a big mess when you’re done.
- Take the cooked jalebi out of oil and dunk it in the sugar syrup for 30 seconds so that it absorbs the syrup. Place the jalebis on a cooling rack set over a plate to catch drips of syrup.
Consume with several cups of chai, plain tea, milk or a bowl of ice cream if you’re trying to fast track the diabetes.
Story By: Manjot Bains