Elizabeth McMillan, MS, CNS, LDN
There are so many new diets being advertised these days, including those that focus on paleo, keto, gluten-free and dairy-free options—to name just a few. Although making dietary changes may be a new trend, there are also many health benefits associated with some of these diets. For instance, gluten and dairy are highly inflammatory. This type of inflammation can trigger an immune response throughout the body which can lead to digestive problems, a flare of autoimmune conditions, fatigue, brain fog, weight gain and much more. Choosing to decrease gluten and dairy while baking may be the key to improving your holiday season.
As a quick review, flour that contains gluten comes from barley, wheat and rye, but this can also include spelt, kamut and farro. Gluten is a protein that makes the dough stretchy and works as a preservative. Different types of wheat contain different amounts of gluten. Bread flour has a lot of gluten, while pastry flour has very little.
When it comes to substituting gluten-free flours, there is no specific blend that works for all baking needs, so it is good to consider what the recipe might need for its structure. Gluten-free flour alternatives may include almond, sorghum, brown rice, chickpea or coconut flours. There are also many gluten-free flour combinations on the market as well. Most of the time, one cup of traditional wheat flour can be substituted for one cup of gluten-free flour. However, there are some exceptions and it is important to be flexible in your recipe design. It is also important to keep gluten-free flours in the refrigerator, as they keep best in cooler temperatures. Generally, gluten-free items have a shorter shelf life, so it is important to make smaller qualities or freeze leftovers.
It is also important to consider that gluten-free baked goods need extra moisture and good binders. Eggs are a good binder and that is why gluten-free baked goods may contain more eggs. However, what if there is a sensitivity to eggs? If one is trying to bake egg-free, there are a few options.
“Flax eggs” can be a good substitute, with one egg equal to one tablespoon of ground flaxseed mixed with three tablespoons of warm water. It is best to let these “flax eggs” sit and bind for at least three minutes before adding it to the recipe. Other substitutes for eggs are applesauce or mashed banana. To use applesauce as a binder, replace one egg with a quarter cup of unsweetened applesauce. Bananas also work well but have a distinct flavor. Half of banana mashed equals one egg.
Baking soda and vinegar can also be used by adding the baking soda to the dry ingredients and the vinegar to the wet ingredients. The two mediums need to be mixed quickly and then be placed in the oven immediately, as a chemical reaction will occur. One teaspoon of baking soda with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or white distilled vinegar is all you need to replace one egg.
With a little knowledge, baking dairy-free can be easier than pie. Vegan buttery sticks are dairy-free and can be used as a one-for-one replacement for regular butter. This is ideal for baking cookies and piecrust. Likewise, cow’s milk can be substituted with unflavored, unsweetened nondairy milk—one-to-one. Non-dairy milks may include nut varieties like almond, cashew and macadamia milk, or other types such as coconut, hemp or rice milks. To replace to richness of whole milk, it is best to use canned coconut milk, shaken well, because it has a higher fat content. Nut varieties are best used to replace milk that calls for fat content 2 percent or less. To replace buttermilk, one can create a substitute by adding 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of nondairy milk and let it rest for five minutes before using it in the recipe.
Many bakers go through a period of trial and error when it comes to this type of baking, however, the possibilities are endless when it comes to gluten-free, dairy-free or egg free baking. It is important not to feel limited when making healthy diet changes and one may be surprised how delicious this culinary style can become. Happy holiday baking.
Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDN is a clinical nutritionist at the Rose Wellness Clinic, in Oakton, Virginia. Visit them online at RoseWellness.com.