Sometimes I get a bug to write about something that has nothing to do with writing.
Yep. Boring, plain ol’ white rice flour. It’s my magic gluten-free ingredient in all baked goods containing wheat flour — pies, pasta, cakes, muffins, cookies, breads.
You know: All those delicious things those with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity (like me) pine for and drool over but just can’t (or shouldn’t) have.
So, why am I riding first class on the rice flour train today? Well,
I want to purge the presumption that gluten-free baking is complicated, confusing, and/or expensive.
I’d like to start off by saying this:
Down with gluten snobs!
You know them. The people who assume everyone knows what Celiac disease is, what gluten is, and who will whip you with their wands of shame when you don’t.
I witnessed a minor gluten-shaming a few weeks ago at a social gathering. Someone asked why I wasn’t having a beer like everyone else. “Is it that gluten thing?” they said (inoffensively, I might add). I nodded, sheepishly, “Yeah, but I don’t make a big deal of it. I just have wine instead.” Then they spoke about their co-worker who couldn’t have gluten and yadda yadda yadda…
Then someone else in the troupe piped up, obviously irritated: “What the heck is gluten?!” I didn’t blame them. I hate it when people start yapping about stuff that I don’t know about and they don’t courteously fill me in. It makes me feel stupid. Nobody likes feeling stupid.
I helped that person out. So, I’ll help you out:
Gluten is a protein found in some grains (mainly wheat) that those with Celiac disease can’t digest due to an autoimmune response. In gluten sensitive non-Celiacs, eating gluten-containing foods cause a wide variety of adverse health effects (e.g. mind fog, mood swings, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, depression).
There. Done. You’re safe from a gluten snob’s punishment.
Unfortunately, that’s not all a gluten snob does. They also presume to think the more kinds of flours they use in their baking, the more important they are.
How many kinds of flours can there possibly be, you ask?
Here’s the short list:
- white rice flour
- brown rice flour
- coconut flour
- almond flour
- corn flour
- tapioca flour
- garbanzo bean flour
- fava bean flour
- sorghum flour
- potato flour (potato starch)
- oat flour
Yeah. Nobody really knows what to do with all that mess.
So when some gluten-free know-it-all says they use five kinds of flours in their chocolate chip cookies, politely smile and walk away. Why?
Making things unnecessarily complicated is stupid.
Okay, so this really applies to SO many things in life, but, right now, it applies to gluten-free baking, because when someone tells you gluten-free baking is really complicated, ignore them, because IT’S NOT.
They’re either lying (i.e. don’t listen to them) or they have no idea what they’re talking about (i.e. don’t listen to them).
You don’t need five kinds of flour to bake gluten-free. Serious. You don’t even need two kinds. You especially don’t need to buy pre-mixed, mystery blend, all purpose gluten-free flour or flour mixes for $4+ a pound.
No. That’s all stupid. ALL of it. Don’t buy it. If you have it, throw it out because it likely tastes disgusting and is the whole reason you’re thinking, “Living gluten-free absolutely SUCKS.”
One more surprise: You don’t even need a special gluten-free cookbook. *gasp!*
Listen to me:
You need ONE KIND OF FLOUR. Which kind?
That’s right: Rice flour.
The magic gluten prescription: Rx = YUM
There’s this powder called Xanthan (pronounced Zanth-an) gum. It gives rice flour some sticky, replacing the gluten that isn’t in rice. (That’s gluten’s job in regular flour, after all: To make the dough gummy and sticky and to help it hold its shape.)
I like to buy the Hodgson Mill 21 packet box because I don’t bake a whole ton and I like how the individual packets keep the unused product stored safely.
Then there’s the flour itself. Don’t get ripped off. If you’re paying over $3 — heck, if you’re paying over $2 for one-pound of white rice flour, you’re doing it wrong.
Again, don’t buy that kind. Listen to me.
I buy one-pound bags of Erawan brand white rice flour from the Oriental section of Cub foods (aka Albertson’s in California) for about $1.50. On Amazon you can get 6 bags for $6.30; that’s $1.05 per pound.
Are you starting to see the magic now?
In recipes, 1 cup wheat flour = 1 cup rice flour. It’s really that simple: pound for pound to regular wheat flour.
Just follow the box instructions for using the Xantan gum (anywhere from 1/4 to 1 tsp per cup of rice flour, depending on what you’re making), mix it up, and then follow the directions on the recipe — ANY recipe — and you’re good to go.
Note: Rice flour has a tendency to be drier than wheat flour, but that only matters with some recipes like breads and doughs that can be fairly dry even when using wheat flour. In that case, add a little extra oil, milk, or water, depending on the recipe. It won’t take long to get the hang of rice flour’s special moisturizing needs!
No weird aftertastes like bean flours. No strange textures. Just delicious yumminess in all its gluten-free glory.
I’ve used this magic prescription several times in many recipes that call for plain wheat flour and I’ve found the results to be delicious. Even my non-gluten-sensitive hubby couldn’t tell the difference when I used it to make batter for popcorn shrimp, homemade egg noodles for beef stroganoff (though I like the earthy taste of brown rice flour for this), hearty crusts for beef pot pies, or spongy blueberry muffins (that a gluten-loving banker-friend really loved).
I even used it with a rhubarb chive flat bread recipe from Better Homes and Gardens to make a quick shareable treat to bring to a church BBQ. The result? The bread disappeared pretty swiftly.
I think they liked it.
Going gluten-free won’t hurt you, and may help.
This diet isn’t a “fad”. It isn’t going away, and for good reason. I’m one of many, many non-Celiac’s who have discovered that giving up wheat and other gluten-containing grains has helped me
If you could use some help in any of the above areas, maybe it’s time to try going without gluten for a while. It won’t hurt you and you may find yourself accidentally eating more fruits and vegetables and (whoops!) accidentally getting more fiber into your system!
Have a wheat flour recipe you want me to try? Send it my way and I’ll post about it after putting it to the Magic Gluten Prescription test!