What Does Gluten-Free Mean?
This is a guest post from Clayton Curtis of Instawares
The ever increasing awareness of gluten-free foods is a lifeline for those suffering from Coeliac Disease or other health issues that require them to eat foods free of gluten. The availability of gluten-free food in supermarkets, restaurants and health food stores ensures that for those with this special dietary consideration it is no longer such a hassle to find suitable food, and many people now know what gluten-free means generally, although details of Coeliac Disease and gluten are not so well known. It is easy to make gluten-free food at home with the right ingredients, and nothing is tastier than real home baking. You may find yourself needing to bake for family members or friends with gluten intolerance or allergy, and it is worth the effort to make them feel special and to recognize how difficult it can be for them to find the right food. It is first of all important to understand what gluten is and the effect it has on people with an allergy or intolerance to it. With knowledge comes confidence, and the two special recipes below are designed to be reliable, quick, simple and tasty, and most importantly they are free of gluten.
Gluten is a combination of two proteins in grains such as wheat, malts, rye and barley. Because it is present in flours made from these cereals, it is used as a binding agent in dough and provides the elasticity needed to stabilize and hold foods such as bread, biscuits, cakes and sauces together. Gluten-free flours like potato, maize, rice, tapioca and soy lack this binding ability so they are used with guar gum or xanthan gum for a similar effect. Different flours taste different of course, and one challenge in gluten-free baking is to produce a nicely textured product that tastes good too. Gluten is also used in thickeners, flavorings and stabilizers so it is important to read food ingredient labels to avoid these small amounts of gluten, as well as eliminating gluten-containing flours and grains from the diet.
People can have gluten intolerance for various reasons, but a common cause is the genetic disorder called Coeliac Disease. In this case, the finger-shaped projections of the intestinal lining are shortened by the antibodies created when a Coeliac person ingests gluten. This significantly reduces the surface area of the inside of the intestine, thereby lessening the amount of nutrients which can be absorbed. This leads to deficiencies in nutrition generally, and many symptoms such as weakness, tiredness, diarrhoea, weight loss, constipation, abdominal bloating, osteoporosis and headaches.
The inconvenience of trying to live a normal life with such a huge restriction on the types of foods that are suitable to eat can be frustrating and upsetting. The support of friends and relatives, therefore, is important and valued. Using these two tested and successful recipes is a good way to help someone who is gluten-free to feel more understood and to have great tasting food that they know is safe for them. One measure of how good a gluten-free recipe is, is to see if a person without gluten intolerance would also eat the food and enjoy the taste and texture. It might pay to make a double recipe of these peanut butter biscuits or shortbread biscuits, as you may find you want to keep some for yourself!
Gluten-free peanut butter biscuits.
1 cup of gluten-free peanut butter
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking soda
Place balls of the dough on a greased or lined baking tray (these biscuits can stick when cooked), indent the center with your thumb or the end of a thick wooden spoon and put a small spoonful of jam or chocolate (gluten-free) in the center.
10-12 minutes at 350˚F (180˚C) until lightly browned. Biscuits spread and double their size during baking.
Gluten-free shortbread biscuits.
Mix until pale and creamy:
250 grams of softened butter
1 cup of caster sugar
A few drops of gluten-free vanilla essence
1 cup of sifted gluten-free cornflour or cornstarch
2 cups of sifted gluten-free flour mix (containing guar or xanthan gum)
The mixture should form a pliable dough, though it may be crumbly at this stage due to being gluten-free. Roll it out onto a well-floured board (using gluten-free flour), and cut into biscuit shapes of your choice.
At least 30 minutes at 300˚F (150˚C) until just firm to the touch in the center, and no more than the palest brown on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.