Gluten Free Baking – Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

The other day I had my first call from a concerned customer.  I have spoken with many great customers in person, but this was a call about an item I sold to a coffee shop that I wasn’t handing over with a face-to-face interaction.  The young man called and asked about whether the ingredients on the label for a gluten-free muffin were correct and what I could tell him about the gluten-free aspects of the snack he wanted to eat.  My heart jumped into my throat. “OK.Tell me more,” I asked, “and where are you and what did you order and what does it look like?  Do you mind me asking if you are allergic or if you have celiac?” I probed and then I listened…

Whole Grain Muffins

He and I had a great conversation about how I bake, the  ingredients that are used and how he was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  I was so glad to be able to answer all of his questions and talk about preparing, baking, and serving gluten-free products.     Though I am not certified gluten-free, I was so glad to be helpful in making the right decision about his choice to eat the muffin or not.  He was unsure because of the label and because it looked so much like real muffins!

Often because I write GLUTEN FREE on my products and signage at the market I become a spokesperson for eating a gluten-free diet and people frequently ask me to explain my process or techniques for baking both. I myself do not have Celiac disease or am allergic to anything, but I have learned a lot from my friends and family.  When they have eliminated gluten from their diet they not only feel better but reduce more autoimmune issues down the road. Some are so sensitive that even using the same toaster can set off their body to react and then they feel terrible for days.

It is important to keep the two kinds of baking as separate as possible and to be clear about how you did what and what could be cross contaminated.  So, I make the necessary precautions with baking to keep cross contamination from being a problem. So here’s the deal.  I like to bake gluten-free goodies that taste so good that you cannot really even taste the difference.  I enjoy playing around with whole grain, whole wheat baking too. But, I have to be careful and methodical for those who eat a gluten-free diet.  

Here are some tips I have collected and I am humbled and so grateful for all my friends, family, and customers turned friends who sampled my baking.

1. What to do in a shared kitchen – Minimize cross contamination and hidden gluten

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  • New equipment for gluten-free! Trace amount can be embedded in cutting boards, bowls, wooden spoons, and so on.Yes, it makes for twice as much stuff in an already full kitchen but it makes me feel safer.
  • Divide and conquer.  I have two work spaces for mixing and two spaces for cooling and packaging.  The other trick is to house your gluten ingredients on the lowest possible shelf (in the cabinet, fridge, pantry or freezer) so that when you open or move the packages, they don’t accidentally spread down into or on a gluten-free product. I like to keep them in opposite corners of my kitchen too and on separate ends of the table at farmers’ market.
  • Anything that is in between, like counter tops, have to go through rigorous cleaning and sanitizing.
  • I also wait 24 hours.  If I am baking both gluten-free and whole wheat then I have two baking sessions and get all the gluten-free baking done first. Or, if I have to do them back to back, I make sure the gluten-free can wait until 24 hours after the wheat flour has settled and been cleaned up properly.  Imagine throwing pizza dough in the air and you’ll see what I mean.

2.What to do out in the world

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  • Look for signage and A “Gluten Free Certified Kitchen” means it has been through a third-party certification and is really REALLY great!
  • ASK.  I don’t mind talking about the baking I do and most people will talk for hours about their passion.  But in other scenarios, do not hesitate to speak to managers and just tell them your story and concerns.
  • Practice caution.  As with any allergy or food sensitivity, you know your body best and you know what will happen when you “get glutened” or eat the wrong thing.  If you don’t know and you’re feeling unsure, hesitate to hurt yourself.

3. What can you do when ordering for a friend who is Celiac, Gluten Intolerant, or Allergic to Wheat.

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  • Ask your friend where THEY are comfortable buying or ordering food. It is sweet to surprise some one with gluten-free treats, but it can be a terrible stomache ache if they aren’t a trusted source.  I have had people call me because their friend lives nearby and has sampled my muffins, and that feels safe for them.If they already know, trust and LIKE a source for ordering takeout, baked goods, or eating a meal out, then trust their gut – pun intended.
  • Ask and ask and ask again. Your friend, the baker, the waitress, the manager.  It’s not annoying, it will save everyone from worrying or doing unintended damage to your friend.
  • Read up on Celiac Disease and how getting “glutened” affects your friend or family member.

What else do you do if you are eating gluten-free?

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