As the weather cools down and the urge to bake starts ramping up, I jump into my gluten-free baking techniques lecture to the students in my Advanced Baking Principles class. After a general introduction about the medical aspects concerning celiac disease, gluten intolerance and related issues, I ask the class a few basic questions.
First, I write a list of product names on the board in order of the importance gluten plays in manufacturing each one. I then ask the students, “Are there any gluten-free ingredients in the formula that help sustain the structure of the product?” This is typically met by some puzzled faces.
So, we discuss the two questions. Initially, we look at the gluten perspective, thinking about the gluten-free ingredients that contribute to the structure (“stabilizers”). This helps us when it comes time to determine a gluten-free ingredient strategy. These conversations are pivotal to the baking-pastry student’s ability to realize how we take gluten for granted and how to implement an effective gluten-free approach. I also remind them to accept and understand the role of the additional stabilizers in the formula. This enables them to truly grasp how a gluten-free ingredient application can function.
We all realize that baking is somewhat scientific—formulas, reactions triggered by ingredients, and various mixing and baking techniques. Unfortunately, this means that some products are extremely challenging to convert into gluten-free versions. Of course, many such difficulties are based on the role that gluten plays and selecting, for example, the best combination of gluten-free flours to use in each instance.
I also ask my students to think about whether gluten-free versions of all the products they have made are available in the market. If so, what form is it available in—fully baked, fresh, par-baked, raw-frozen or in a dry mix? Much of the variety now available is driven by manufacturers’ desire to offer more of their products to the expanding gluten-free market. These companies also need to consider achieving a maximum shelf life. This factor, along with the inherent manufacturing dilemmas that companies face, forms a big puzzle in need of solving.
Sure, the demand for products has led to better competition and, thus, more high-quality options. But solving the main “puzzle” involved in producing gluten-free items takes time. You might not realize it, but bakers adore gluten and tend to take it for granted. And now, thanks to its tendency to trigger a variety of problems for many consumers, they have to find new methods and ingredients that are safer without compromising product quality.
The below graph helps clarify the dilemma that bakers, pastry cooks and chefs face when preparing a gluten-free dish. Be patient with us, and stay patient when you are experimenting. Bake well…bake gluten free.
Richard Coppedge Jr. is an award-winning chef and professor of baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America. He is the author of Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America: 150 Flavorful Recipes from the World’s Premier Culinary College and Baking for Special Diets.