Gluten-Free Baking for Beginners. Photo by Wendy Gregory
“For all those who said goodbye to gluten and were told you would never break bread across the table again, I’ll meet you at the table.”
Gluten-free blogger, advocate, and activist for the gluten-free community, baking teacher and grocery store guide, and now cookbook author Johnna Wright-Perry has been active in the online gluten-free community for over a decade. Her upbeat can-do approach to living and cooking gluten-free has been an inspiration to those just starting down the gluten-free path throughout those years. All her experience, knowledge, and cheerleading encouragement are now packed into her new cookbook, Gluten-Free Cookbook for Beginners.
Her first chapter guides beginners through the basics of gluten-free baking and the science of gluten and gluten substitutes that mimic the structure and support that gluten gives to baked goods. Her goal is to give bakers a manageable and affordable list of ingredients that can produce satisfying results. I remember our pantry stuffed full of exotic and expensive ingredients I combined in what felt like failed science experiments as I tried to reproduce family favorites after the celiac diagnoses came in. Johnna’s years of baking and experiment can save this generation the frustration and expense that those of us in the early years of growing celiac disease and gluten issue awareness faced when few mixes or prepared foods were available, or they were just plain awful, and we looked to create our own baked goods. Her flour blend recipes take away the science of combining just the right blends and balance of flours and starches to give successful results.
A decade ago, we were all just waking up to the realization that gluten wasn’t the only issue facing our community. Online or in local support groups gluten sensitivities and celiac were also traveling with dairy issues, egg allergies and nut allergies. Finding ways to get the bite, the tooth, and the tastes we craved as we had to omit crucial ingredients led to more failed science projects. Johnna has also lived through those years and found ways to substitute and still get results. She lives a mostly plant-based life and has vegan tips as well. Throughout her cookbook you will find substitutions that take the overwhelm and anxiety out of baking.
The handholding, cheerleading, and gentle friendly guidance that has been the trademark of Johnna’s online presence doesn’t end in the introductory chapter but is written into every recipe with helpful tips and things to watch out for as you gather and combine ingredients. This isn’t just a collection of delicious gluten-free baked goodies, it is a tutorial and a friendly chat with an experienced and caring friend who wants you to succeed and find the memories and ways to celebrate in life with lovingly prepared good food—even without gluten.
Using a kitchen scale for gluten-free baking. Photo by Wendy Gregory
My last baking ‘without a mix’ experience was a batch of lemon bars using a store-bought gluten-free flour blend. The lemon bars turned out heavy and gummy and sad. I was entering this baking with dread and hesitation since my last gluten-free baking was such a fail. I ordered the flours and xanthan gum from Vitacost where the prices were lower overall and new customers get an extra discount to make Johnna’s all purpose flour blend. I also hesitated on that initial expense. (note: As a returning customer, if I left my items in the cart overnight, Vitacost sends an email with an additional 10% to finish the order.) I did use my scale to make a half batch of the flour just in case it all went wrong again. All that worry and hesitation was for nothing. These bars turned out light and delicate and very close to the shortbread of my gluten days. They are not super sweet and perfect for with afternoon cup of tea. I like that I can change up the fillings with different flavored jam and that they go together quickly for an easy dessert.
Johanna has graciously shared her recipe for Raspberry Shortbread Bars using her all-purpose flour blend. I made these dairy free by using Earth Balance as a substitute for butter.
Gluten-Free Raspberry Shortbread Bars Photo courtesy of Johnna Wright-Perry
Raspberry Shortbread Bars
Prep Time:10 minutes; Bake time: 33 minutes; Plus 20 minutes to cool
Makes 9-12 bars
Dairy-Free Option-substitute an equal amount of dairy-free butter (such as Earth Balance)
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 8 Tablespoons (1 stick: 112 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup (55 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 1 ½ Johnna’s Favorite Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend
- ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
- ½ cup (160 grams) raspberry jam
- 2 tablespoons (15 grams) powdered sugar (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with the cooking spray.
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the butter, granulated sugar, and vanilla bean paste until creamy.
3. Add the flour blend and the xanthan gum and mix until crumbly.
4. Firmly press half the mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking pan, forming a crust.
5. Carefully spread the jam over the crust. Crumble the remaining half of the crust mixture over the jam.
6. Bake for 31 to 33 minutes, or until the top starts to lightly brown. Cool completely on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before cutting into 9 or 12 squares.
7. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (if using) before serving.
8. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.
These bars are delicious with other flavors of jam. Try strawberry, apricot, or blackberry.
The cost of creating Johnna’s gluten-free flour blends may be daunting up front. But when you calculate how much a loaf of gluten-free bread or desserts cost and you add in the satisfaction of baking your own, the cost comes out to less than purchasing. Using a kitchen scale helps to half the recipe and the flours can also be frozen. Having some frozen gluten-free treats ready in the freezer also adds to the savings.
I also tried Johnna’s gluten-free challah and cut out cookie recipes. Posts will follow about these gluten-free holiday and special occasion treats.
Note: I do not have an affiliate relationship with Vitacost. It was just cheaper to use them than other online sources. I purchased Johnna’s cookbook for my own personal use.
Wendy Gregory spent her career working with children as a culinary and gardening teacher in an arts-based summer camp for at-risk children in Nelsonville, Ohio, and as the director of a children’s museum in Lancaster, Ohio. She is a freelance writer exploring the ways seniors can contribute, grow, and reinvent themselves in a new chapter of life. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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