This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Recipe Modification: Perfect Thick-Crust Bready Pan Pizza (and Cheese Bread)

While a gluten-free thin crust pizza is fairly simple and easy to buy or make from scratch, one of my real challenges has been a perfectly bready, crusty, chewy, thick crust.  They either turn out gummy or crumbly.  But I have finally broken through and created what is close to a perfect crust.  It is crispy on the bottom, chewy and bready in the middle. 

I started with Simply Gluten Free's recipe for easy gluten-free french bread (it is my go-to bread recipe, and turns out an amazing loaf). 

I left out the xanthan gum and added 3 teaspoons milled chia seeds mixed well with 6 teaspoons hot water.  See my post on substituting chia for xanthan gum for details on this substitution.  The chia gives the crust a chewier texture without the "gum" aftertaste. 

Use a 12" cast-iron pan, if possible, or a 12-inch cake pan will do (but won't get the bottom as crispy).  Don't use a teflon coated pan; it can't take the heat.  You will need an additional small loaf pan or 8" cast-iron pan as well.  The original recipe makes too much batter, so I turned the leftover into cheese bread.   You can, of course, make two small pizzas in 9" cast-iron pans. 

Prepare the bread recipe as above to the point where you are mixing the dough for several minutes in the stand mixer.  Then come back to this page. It's okay, I'll wait....


 Keep the mixer going for about 5-6 minutes total for a lighter crust.

While it is mixing, melt 2 Tablespoons butter in the larger pan.  Add 2 Tablespoons olive oil.  Grease the smaller pan with shortening, or coat bottom and sides with olive oil.

Spread the batter in the larger pan to approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep (depending on how thick you want your crust).  Dipping your fingers in olive oil will allow you to spread the batter without it sticking to your fingers.  You will use the olive oil later for the cheese bread anyway, so pour about 1/3 cup into a bowl and use it for spreading.

Spread the leftover dough in the smaller pan.  

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Set the pans in a warm but not hot place (I put them on the top of the oven away from the vent) to rise.  Let them rise about 20 minutes. 

Bake at 450 for 25 minutes.

While it is baking, mix 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/8 teaspoon grated garlic powder, and a pinch of fresh grated black pepper and sea salt to the leftover olive oil and mix well.  This gives the flavor some time to emerge. 

Add pizza sauce, cheese and toppings to the larger pizza.   Brush the smaller crust with the olive oil/cheese/spice mix and sprinkle with a thin layer of mozzarella. 

Bake both for an additional 15 minutes.  The larger pizza may need an additional 5 minutes if you added a lot of toppings. 

Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Product Review: Prairie Bread from Whole Foods' Gluten-Free Bakehouse

There are two kinds of manufacturers of gluten-free baked goods.  The old-school is stuck in the era where if it has the same vague shape and color as the thing it's imitating (say, a loaf of bread), then it's good enough, no matter what it tastes like (and then charges $12 for a crappy loaf of bread). 

The new-school realizes that they have a lot of competition these days and that there have been innovations in gluten free cooking that improve texture and taste to where it is almost indistinguishable from the real thing (and then charges $12 for a good loaf of bread). 

Clearly, the Gluten-Free Bakehouse at Whole Foods is old-school.  Their Prairie Bread, visually, resembles plastic foam with bits of seed embedded in it.  It is not only dry, mealy and crumbly (even after toasting), but somewhere between tasteless and gum-flavored around the various seeds. As a bonus, it made me really sick all night.  They must put whole tablespoons of xanthan gum and half a dozen eggs in it to create the binder-overkill that it is.  I suppose the upside is that they only charge $6.00 for it, so when I throw the rest into the trash it won't hurt as much.

The lesson?  Unless you can get it same-day from a gluten-free bakery (and one that lets you try a sample first) it is probably better to take the time to make your own. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Recipe Review: Quick Pão de Queijo (gluten-free cheese bread)

This was the first version of the Pão de Queijo I made, and it was mighty tasty.  I have since learned the wonder of a more traditional recipe, which takes longer but is well worth it in taste and texture!  But sometimes, you just want some Pão, and you want it now. When that happens, this blender recipe works beautifully:

(photo from

They were scrumptious, but need a few notes and modifications.  A lot of the reviews were from people who lived in or visited Brazil, so I give those reviews much more weight.

The biggest complaints in the reviews were from Americans who were expecting these to turn out like bread or biscuits.  Tapioca starch has two textures:  crispy and rubbery.  You can make them more airy by using a stand mixer for four minutes before scooping, but the super-chewy center is how it is supposed to turn out.  Make them smaller than the recipe calls for (1-2 tablespoon scoops instead of 1/4 cup) to balance out the crunchy/rubbery textures.

I also had to bake them for 20 minutes instead of the 10-15 called for.  They probably could have stood another 5 minutes after that.  But don't mistake the dense center for underbaked; as said before, it's supposed to be like that.

Because it is, essentially, a super-chewy bread, I might leave out the garlic next time and use it to satisfy my bagel cravings.  I have yet to find a really good gluten-free bagel recipe... one that doesn't turn out to be sandwich bread baked in a bagel shape.  I can imagine that these pao de queijo with a little cream cheese might just hit that bagel chewiness I miss. 

The reviews generally agree that these do not freeze well, and should be eaten the same day.  Tapioca starch does funny things when it sits, so it doesn't surprise me a bit that they turn into inedible rubber balls.  Since they are so quick to make, however, they make a good side for a big dinner, or a non-perishable snack for a picnic.  The recipe is easily halved for serving one or two.