Having lots of friends who care about their health means that many are acutely aware of the impact of diet on well-being. Nowdays, there seems to be a growing awareness of the way gluten can have a negative impact on some people’s health. Aside from the other reasons people might need or choose to avoid gluten, the Canadian Celiac Association estimates that 1/133 people are affected by Celiac disease. They simply must not have gluten. How can someone, like me, who is not on a special diet make gluten-free friends feel cared for and welcomed in her home?
While making goodies without gluten can be intimidating to those of us used to eating whatever we want, I actually find it a fun challenge to make special treats for my friends who are gluten-free. As a basis for my baking, I stick to two basic things that I keep in stock at home: coconut flour and ground almonds. I like both of these because they are relatively ‘normal’ foods and since I know very little about special gluten-free flours, these have been a fairly safe bet for me.
Almonds are something I would keep in stock in reasonable quantities for our own family, anyway. When I want to make a gluten-free goodie, I simply grind up what I need in the food processor.
Coconut flour, though, is not simply ground dried coconut. It is actually a by-product of coconut-milk making. For recipes calling for coconut flour, it is important not to substitute ground dried coconut or you will not get good results. Coconut flour soaks up tons of liquid, so you will notice that recipes using this ingredient will actually call for very little of it compared to the number of eggs and other liquids. Definitely don’t simply substitute coconut flour for wheat flour in a favourite cookie recipe! A gluten-free friend of mind did this and she said when she served her family the dessert, it was like eating the desert! With each bite, she said if anyone breathed in, they would start coughing. Ha ha!
Ground almonds, also, cannot be substituted directly for wheat flour. If you are looking for something that can be substituted directly, you’ll have to do some homework and visit a baking or health food store. There are flour blends available that will allow you to create gluten-free options with your favourite wheat recipes, but I haven’t used them. I’d like to share with you two of my favourite recipes. Both of these treats are eaten enthusiastically by my non-gluten-free children and taste very ‘normal’.
Thumbprint Cookies adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
1 1/2 cups almonds
1/2 cup softened butter or coconut oil
1 cup arrowroot powder (sometimes called arrowroot flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 t. sea salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. almond extract
1/4 cup naturally sweetened jam; raspberry is especially good
Place almonds in food processor and process to a fine meal. Add remaining ingredients, except jam, and process until well-blended. Form dough into walnut-sized balls and place on buttered* cookie sheets. Bake at 300 degrees for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, press cookies down slightly to make an indentation and fill with jam. Return to the oven for about 15 more minutes, until set and slightly golden. Let cool completely before removing to cookie jar. Store in refrigerator.
Chocolate Brownies adapted from Cooking with Coconut Flour by Bruce Fife
3 T. butter or coconut oil
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 T. coconut or whole dairy milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. vanilla
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 t. baking powder
In a saucepan at low heat, blend together butter and cocoa powder. Remove from heat and let cool. In a bowl, mix together milk, eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in cocoa mixture. Combine coconut flour with baking powder and whisk into batter until there are no lumps. Pour batter into greased mini-muffin cups.* Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes until set. Makes about 24 brownies.
* For all my baking, if I am not using my stoneware pans (that generally require no greasing), I use a miracle combination of 1 part oil to 1 part liquid lecithin. I keep it in the cupboard in a jar and give it a quick stir before brushing it onto my pans. You only need a very small amount and it works beautifully to keep almost everything from sticking.
Well, I’m off to get my haircut and then I need to get baking for my gluten-free friend who will be blessing me with a visit today!