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Gluten Free - My Story 

Last year I was asked to make foods for a “Princess Party” at the local museum.  It was to be for young girls from tiny tots to teens (with an accompanying “Queen”) to learn about what it meant to be a princess in real life.  Things they were shown were pictures of real princesses from past and present, and talks presented on the rigors of growing up a princess.  The little budding "princesses" were taught how to curtsey and wave. 

Any little girl hears the word “Princess” and goes dreamy-eyed.  There are so many princesses in fairy-tales: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, to name just a small handful.  All the little girls wanted to dress up and come to a Princess Party.

My task – making the princess treats – took me to making some delicious, as well as beautiful little foods.  At the last minute, I found a recipe for “Chocolate Mice”.  

Little PrincessLearning to Curtsey
Little Princess           |             Learning to Curtsey    

Gluten Free Chocolate Mouse
The new and improved Gluten-Free Chocolate Mouse

They seemed so cute; I just had to try them, so I made just a few.  Mice seem to figure prominently in some fairy-tales, like Cinderella.  I thought they would be very appropriate.  I used them to decorate plates and the table, but there were not nearly enough to give one to each little princess in attendance.  Still, they were received well and exclaimed over, and everyone wanted one.  I filed that success away for use at a later date.

However, in the course of that party, I found out that one of the little Princesses, and her accompanying Queen (who is one of the museum employees) have gluten-intolerance. 

That little Princess, though she wanted one of the little mice as much as all the other Princesses, could not have it because it was not made gluten free. I felt heartbroken. I love to cook and bake, and all the pretty little foods were a great success, but not for that little Princess and her Queen. This was unacceptable. I had to learn about this problem!

The first Princess Party was such a huge success that a few weeks later the museum held another one, so some of the little Princesses that hadn’t been able to attend the first party would now have a chance.  The Queen who works at the museum would again be in attendance with her little daughter.  This time I would pay more attention to the foods served!

Starting the Learning Process

At this point in time, I knew about wheat containing gluten.  I had no idea about some of the other things that might contain wheat, or even about cross-contamination. I came across a new recipe for chocolate covered mice.  It used a basic cake mix recipe (using gluten-free flour), baked, then crumbled with some frosting to form a dough for the bodies, formed and dipped them in chocolate.  I used almond slices for ears, and red licorice for tails.  I was all set.  I made the little bodies.  I got my package of licorice to make the tails.  Something made me look at the ingredients.  It contained wheat!  Oh good grief!  Now what?

My husband, always ready to solve a problem, looked online and found a place that sells gluten free licorice, ordered some there and then, and it arrived a few days later.  I finished making the little mice, in smaller size than the first time, and they were so cute I could hardly wait for all the little Princesses to enjoy them – this time, including the little Gluten-Intolerant Princess!    

I kept the concept high in my mind throughout the creation of all the little goodies made for that party, and was careful to have plenty of alternatives.  Everything I made was delicious, and enjoyed by all, and that is exactly as it should be. 

Gluten Free Princess Poofs
Gluten-Free "Princess Poofs

Continuing Education

After that event had passed, I continued to be curious about what all could be done gluten-free.  I help out at the museum very often, making goodies for events, as well as just to share.  My sister-in-law also works at the museum and I have become an extension of the museum family.  The young woman who is gluten-intolerant is a very sweet person, and I did not want to have to exclude her from enjoying some of the things I do there, so I started looking online to see what all this gluten-free stuff was all about.

This was when I found out that aside from the obvious wheat, barley and rye also contained gluten.  Oh, my.  Okay, that really started feeling a bit crippling, in reference to making a recipe!  I talked to my best friend in the world (since 2nd grade!), also named Chris.  Some years ago she decided to go gluten-free because she felt she was possibly gluten-intolerant to some degree.  Knowing this, I asked her what she did on her journey to gluten-free?  What did she bake?  How good was it in comparison to wheat-based recipes?  Did she ever make bread?

She gave me lots of good ideas, as well as more knowledge.  She told me about the cross contamination issue, about not using anything wood, as it could never be completely cleansed of wheat; how much all this could affect a person who was gluten intolerant.  It was daunting.  Scary.  Frustrating. 

Young Princess
"Young Princess"
Next Steps

I thought about all this a lot.  I thought about how glad I was that gluten-intolerance was not one of my issues!  But I also thought about what would it be like to actually have to face this issue, as so many people do?  What would it mean to me?  I was determined to learn.

The local grocery (a hometown grocer and a fabulous store) carries five different varieties of gluten-free flour blends.  They also carry most of the different single type flours that can be used to create a gluten-free mixture of your own.  For starters, I bought Namaste brand gluten-free flour blend to try out.  Next day I made pancakes for breakfast, using my normal pancake recipe, but substituting with this gluten-free flour, plus a half teaspoon of Xanthan Gum.  I love peaches in pancakes, so I added in peaches to the recipe.  They were completely delicious!  I put a couple on a plate with some maple syrup and gave them to my husband to try.  He loved them!  Okay, I was on a roll!

I used that same flour mixture (in a regular wheat-flour recipe) to make a cake, again adding Xanthan Gum.  It turned out perfect.  The texture was slightly different, but the flavor was great.  I don’t think anyone would know the difference, if I didn’t tell them.

You may wonder about Xanthan Gum.  I did.  I read about it, and it is a thickener.  It adds cohesiveness to recipes that are gluten-free.  It is a pricey ingredient, but you don’t need much at a time.  I have been just guesstimating, mainly.  If I am making a recipe with 1 cup of flour called for, I may use ½ teaspoon of the Xanthan Gum.  If it is a larger recipe, such as a two-layer cake, I might add in 1 teaspoon of Xanthan Gum to the whole recipe.  I sift it together with the flour and whatever other rising agent is used normally in the recipe.  I also read recently that more top chefs are using Xanthan Gum these days, as it thickens things without the need for heat.  Making a salad dressing that is runny can gain a little body by mixing in Xanthan Gum, for example.  I have not yet tried this – but I will!

Branching Out

A great majority of the recipes I have made gluten-free in my testing phase are ones I have made many times in the past with regular all-purpose (wheat) flour.  Most of them have been cakes or coffeecakes, plus pancakes.  I wanted to see what happened, using recipes I knew well.  In general, I find that the cakes are moister, and I like that aspect a lot!  Now I felt it was time to try a different flour combination.  The King Arthur Flour catalogue had their own blend of gluten-free all purpose flour, though they also supplied the combination of the flours, plus they sell the 3 different flours used to make that blend.  I bought the three flours and proceeded to mix up my blend.  I made pancakes.  YUM!  Okay, that was a go, so I went on to another cake.  A success!

I have tried to take some of these cakes to the museum, so the gluten-intolerant young woman working there can give me her opinion, along with all the others there.  I even set up a time to talk with her, just to pick her brain a little and see if there were other pitfalls I was unaware of.  I got more tips from her, plus sharing with her yet another coffeecake that was so delicious. I feel I have a much better handle on the whole thing.  I went online, searching for recipes and I just fell in love with one website in particular.  I found many recipes out there that I want to try.  I have tried quite a few, from various sites.  So far though, my greatest successes have been with old tried-and-true recipes I have just substituted the flour (and Xanthan Gum).

Gluten Free Crusty Boule
Gluten Free Crusty Boule
(no olives or my husband wouldn't taste!)
What about Bread?

I wondered about bread.  I read about it online, and how it does not function like normal wheat bread dough.  I talked to my friend Chris again.  She said she tried making bread way back when, and “made enough bricks to reface the front of my house.”  She said she gave up on bread.  Okay.  I know what a good cook and baker she is, so that was a little daunting to hear.  Still….  I have been making bread for over 40 years. Granted, regular wheat breads, but I do have a lot of bread-baking experience.  I have printed numerous gluten-free bread recipes from online.  I haven’t tried them yet.  Except one.  I found it on Shauna Ahern's site, www.GlutenFreeGirl.com.  And oh my, was it good!  I told my friend Chris about it.  I don’t know if she’s tried it yet, but I did take some of this bread I made to the young woman at the museum and she loved it! 

I have also been making Pesto for over a year and using it on my No-Knead Bread (not-GF).  I slather it on, sprinkle on some grated Parmesan and broil a few minutes until the cheese is all melted.  It is fantastic.  I did this with a slice of the gluten-free bread I made and it was just wonderful.  I also took a slice of the bread with Pesto for the woman at the museum, and she brought tears to my eyes when she said, “That has got to be the best thing I have tasted since I had to go gluten-free!”

I now know how careful one must be when starting down this path.  I also know that I cannot give things I bake to anyone with a severe gluten-intolerance, because my kitchen is regularly used for baking and cooking with wheat flours.  I do understand better what works and what not. 

I have tried scones.  Not a success.  Yet.  I have tried biscuits.  Not a success.  Yet.  I will get there.  You can, too!

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Crusty Boule with Pesto
Crusty Boule, with Pesto