Baking the Low-FODMAP Way


As someone who very much enjoys cookies, cakes and other confections (I was a pastry chef, after all) this whole no wheat thing really had me concerned–especially when so many gluten-free baked goods are gritty or crumbly or just plain miss the mark. And since we started the testing portion just after Thanksgiving, I wanted to make sure I could make desserts and sweets that family and coworkers would enjoy that were also safe for me.

It was, thankfully, a lot easier than I thought it would be, and it’s mainly due to a book I’ve mentioned before: the Favorite Brand Name Gluten-Free 3 Books in 1 put out by Publications International Ltd. As I mentioned before, I picked it up on the discount rack of Marshalls or TJ Maxx, so it might be tough to find in your regular store, but if you see it, it’s definitely worth picking up.

That said, here’s the two most important things I got from that book: replacement flour blends, one for quick breads and cooking making, and one for yeast breads.

Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend

1 cup White Rice Flour
1 cup Sorghum Flour
1 cup Tapioca Flour/Starch
1 cup Arrowroot
1 cup Coconut Flour

Mix together and store in an air-tight container. Refrigerate if you bake infrequently.

Gluten-Free Flour Blend for Breads

1 cup Brown Rice Flour
1 cup Sorghum Flour
1 cup Tapioca Flour
1 cup Arrowroot
3/4 cup Millet Flour
1/3 cup Instant Mashed Potato Flakes

Mix together and store in an air-tight container. Refrigerate if you bake infrequently.

The original recipes list cornstarch but I use arrowroot because it’s easier for more people to digest and it dissolves and thickens faster, so I like to have it on hand anyway. You can use almond flour in place of coconut flour if you’re just looking for gluten-free, but almonds were recently found to be even higher in FODMAPs that originally thought, so really should be used sparingly. Same goes for bean flours–Bob’s Red Mill, for instance, has an all-purpose gluten-free baking mix but it’s primarily bean-based, which would make it high in FODMAPs, and not a good option for this particular lifestyle.

The thing about these flour blends and why they work is that each ingredient performs a certain function that wheat flour does on it’s own. The grains alone (rice, sorghum, millet) won’t really give you the same results without the addition of some sort of starch (tapioca, arrowroot, cornstarch) and even those two components together aren’t doing much in the way of protein (which the nut flours contribute). The other benefit to these blends is that no one ingredient takes center stage in either texture or flavor. So even though coconut flour tends to be very coconutty on it’s own, when it’s in the blend it’s not very noticeable, and when the baked goods are finished you can hardly tell it’s there at all (unless you’ve got sensitive taste buds, like me).

What about commercially available blends? So far the only gluten-free and Low-FODMAP flour blend I’ve been satisfied with is Gluten-Free Bisquik, and even then it tends to be a little more on the gritty side than I prefer. More times than not I use the blends above and have far better results than any of the mixes or pre-fab products I’ve tested.

collection of Bob's Red Mill products on a kitchen counter

Not all of these go into my flour blends, but many do!

Now, when I go to put together batches of these flours, it tends to look like a Bob’s Red Mill love-fest on the counter. Simply put, they are the best resource for these specialty flours and I’ve been known to hunt through 4 grocery stores to find all the components I need on any given shopping trip. That said, they are not the only resource for certain flours as I’ve recently discovered that our local Indian market carries bags of white rice and millet flours for a fraction of the cost of BRM. Granted, BRM takes every precaution to prevent cross-contamination of their flours and other products so if you’re concerned about that, stick to them. But if you’re less concerned about being strictly gluten-free (as gluten itself is not a FODMAP), then that might be an option for you. Plus, they carry powdered coconut milk, which is fabulous if you’re wanting a substitute for powdered milk that is lactose-free and isn’t heavy on the soy. (I’ve searched for a good powdered rice milk but all the ones I’ve found have FOS or other high-FODMAP additives.)

There’s one other thing you need in order to successfully bake gluten-free and/or Low-FODMAP: Xanthum or Guar Gum. Gums get a certain amount of smack talked about them, but they are the best way to prevent the crumbly, mealy texture so common in wheat-free baked goods. Xanthum gum is usually made from corn while guar gum comes from a bean. Both are used in such small amounts that neither are likely to impact digestion to any large degree, but use whichever you feel most comfortable with. I use xanthum gum because I had it on hand from a previous ice cream experiment (it’s commonly found on low-fat or fat-free dairy products to improve texture, though too much will make the end product more slippery than anything else).

The general rule I follow when working with a new recipe or substituting the above flour blends is this:

  • For Yeast Breads or Pizza Dough use 1 tsp of Xanthum Gum per cup of replacement flour
  • For Cakes, Muffins, and other Quick Breads use 1/2 tsp of Xanthum Gum per cup of replacement flour
  • For Cookies or Bars use up to 1/2 tsp of Xanthum Gum per cup of flour

I didn’t write down where I found that but it’s come in handy as I’ve converted old recipes to my new lifestyle. Xanthum gum is also the only ingredient I keep in the freezer to preserve it as it’s one of the more expensive ingredients and gets used up so slowly.

Did I succeed that first Christmas in making delectable goodies for friends and family? Yes. So much so that most didn’t realized they were eating anything out of the ordinary. I’ve continued to bake with these flour blends, and use them in stove-top preparations like roux and gravies, for the last half a year and my friends routinely comment that if the commercial products came out like mine, no one would mind going gluten-free (or whatever) when necessary.

Confection with confidence!

Baking By the Numbers


This weekend I needed to check out a recipe I’d concocted awhile back, a bread recipe that I’d adapted from various sources and while it worked, I wasn’t 100% happy with it. Thinking the blame might lie equally with the method as well as the ingredients, I decided to just start over and then compare the two recipes.

For the second trial I went back to my Professional Baking textbook from school. Deceptively thin, this book has just about everything you need to know about baking in it, but the recipes aren’t exactly what you’d call standard.

Baking is, for the most part, chemistry. All cooking is, to an extent, but while you can thicken a runny soup or bump up the seasoning of a stir-fry at will, baking is one of those things that if you’re ratio of wet to dry or leavening to mass is off, then you might very well end up with hockey pucks instead of rolls.

And no one wants hardtack on their plates.

So there’s math involved. Especially if you only want to make 1 small loaf of bread and not 12 of them.

Professional Baking is pretty much geared towards a production kitchen, after all.

But because baking is chemistry and science and math all rolled up into a tasty loaf of fresh bread, it’s fairly easy to figure out how much of everything you need if you use baking ratios.

Ratios, for those whose math skills are a little more than rusty, are a way of comparing items based on a single unit of measure. Think 4 parts flour to 1 part sugar, where part can be grams, ounces, or pounds depending on how much of something you’re trying to make.

Baking ratios are determined be considering the total weight of the flour as 100%, and all the other ingredients in relation to that. So if you only want to make a loaf of dough that uses 2 cups of flour, you can use the ratios to find out that you then need 1.2 cups of water, .075 cups of yeast and so on and so forth.

White Pan Bread baking ratios from Professional Baking with lots of margin notes

Cookbooks are the only books I regularly write in

Granted, having to figure out what .075 cups is equal to in the real world is a bit of a pain (.6 ounces or, roughly, 1 Tbsp + 1/2 tsp), having a scale with a metric function is incredibly helpful when doing any sort of baking conversions. Just weigh the flour you want to use in grams and base the rest of the ingredients off of that (also in grams, very important!).

Of course, it’s not a perfect system, mostly because there’s plenty of opportunity for human error.

Like when I figured out I needed 56% of something only I wrote it down in the wrong spot, thought it was the total grams needed of flour and ended up with a 3 oz “loaf” of bread dough. Oops. But, hey, if I ever need to make only 1 or 2 dinner rolls, now I can!

And that’s kind of a neat trick in and of itself.

Portion Perceptions


Since part of getting back into the swing of things this year meant watching what (and how much and when) I eat, I’ve been paying more attention to labels so that the info I’m entering into is as accurate as possible.

And while I always knew, and understood, the idea that we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths, it really hit home over these first two weeks with my occasional afternoon snack of chips and queso.

One week we had the large, restaurant-style chips in the house and a portion of those is approximately 7 chips. The next week, having run out of the larger chips (they were left over from holiday entertaining and snacking), I ended up buying the smaller bite-sized rounds.

Imagine my surprise when the same calorie count (140, for the curious) translated to 24 round chips.

Why is this relevant? Well, while quality should always trump quantity, sometimes the hand-to-mouth comfort of larger portions makes us feel better than the righteousness of a smaller portion. In this case, though, the portions are equal, it’s the perception of the many pieces in one versus the few in the other.

(Yes, there’s plenty to be said on meeting emotional needs with food–this isn’t a post about that and I sympathize with those in Overeaters Anonymous who struggle with just this issue.)

In fact, 24 of the rounds almost felt like too much. I’ve even been known to only have 12 (yes, I counted) and been perfectly satisfied. But there’s very little chance that I would have settled for only 3.5 of the larger chips. I mean, come on, would you?


Tortilla Chip Comparison--big triangles vs little rounds

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘your eyes are bigger than your stomach’?

It’s not your eyes that are the problem, it’s your mind. Taking the chip example and putting into dinner mode, think about the size of  your average dinner plate: 10+ inches.

Now place a deck of cards (for meat/protein), a 1 cup measure (veggies) and a 1/2-cup measure (grains or potatoes) on it.

Swap out that whopper of a dinner dish for the smaller salad plate (8 inches) and place the same representations onto the plate.

10.5 inch dinner plate with portion representations 8 inch salad plate with portion representations

The dinner plate on the left looks positively naked while the salad plate is full. And it’s not unusual to feel short-changed with a small item on a large plate. That perception of being deprived or “gypped”  by a near-empty plate is what leads to loading up double portions or going back for seconds. And soon a habit is formed that a 12 oz steak is a single portion (not more than 2!) or that if you’re plate isn’t filled you won’t be full.

Switch to a smaller plate, though, and a lot of those habits are easier to break.

We still keep our dinner plates around, of course. They’re great for holidays when a little indulging is okay. When you’re having a cookout they’re great for serving kebabs or acting as serving dishes for smaller dinners. Or under a soup-bowl to hold a slice of bread or corn muffin.

But we don’t use them very often for dinner and we don’t miss them, then, either.

Weather Brisk? Try a Bisque!


Crawfish Bisque

I must confess a major pet peeve when it comes to menus that list things like Strawberry Bisque or Sweet Potato Bisque. Why? Because bisque is a specific family of soups–not a generic name for cream soups that you want to make sound uppity!

Traditionally, bisques are only found in the varieties of lobster,  crab, shrimp and crawfish. Notice a theme there? It’s all shellfish. And those shells are what make bisque bisque and not just cream of lobster soup.

Our ancestors were crafty people who didn’t like anything to go to waste. While I’m not certain they new shellfish exoskeletons are rich in calcium, but they did know that after the shells were used to make a rich stock for the liquid portion of the soup, the shells could be ground and used to thicken the soup as well.

Which is why I find the use of “bisque” for creamy vegetable, fruit and other soups a show of the writers ignorance in the history of the food they are selling or supporting.

If you’ve got a mind to make your own old-fashioned bisque, make sure you’ve got a serious food processor handy to do the job. These days, though, it’s seldom you find a bisque recipe that calls for the shells to be used for thickening, instead a roux, rice or cornstarch can be used to lessen the work of the cook while still yielding a rich, smooth soup perfect for a cold winter’s supper.

Over the summer I’d picked up a few pounds of crawfish from our local seafood market and made sure to save the shells for future use. While I didn’t make the New Orleans-style crawfish bisque that takes 3 days and stuffs the heads with some of the tail meat mixture, I did make a wonderful crawfish bisque in the style of lobster, crab or shrimp bisques.

Using the Shrimp Bisque recipe from Ina Garten as my model, I did a few things differently, aside from substituting my shellfish.

First, I made my own seafood stock. Considering it’s tough to find vegetable stock most weeks at our local grocery store, seafood stock was out of the question. Instead, just take your shells and load them up into a big pot with a couple of quartered onions, some celery stalks (the little pale inside ones work great for stocks), a handful of baby carrots and a bay leaf and let it simmer until you’ve captured as much flavor from those shells as you can. (A couple of hours.)

If you’re crawfish were well seasoned to begin with you really don’t need to add anything extra seasoning-wise, it’s bound to be plenty spicy on it’s own. (This also means hold off on adding heat to your soup until the broth is in as you might end up over-doing it.) Also, I had no need to add water to make up the necessary volume. In fact, I’ve got a couple of quarts of very spicy crawfish stock in the freezer, now, ready for the next bisque-y day.

Since your crawfish is already cooked, you’re only going to add the meat at the very end and only long enough to heat it through. Going back to the base recipe, this means I purreed my onions/leeks and garlic with the crawfish tail meat and the other chunky ingredients cold (okay, room temperature), then made the roux and concocted the soup as I would any other soup of that nature, stirring in the liquid ingredients and adding the pureed mixture at the end. If additional thickening is required, a little rice flour works great and fast.

I reserved some crawfish tails, pre-puree, and placed them into the soup plate before ladling the bisque around them. Add a slice of french bread and you’ve got an amazing, filling supper that will show you what a bisque is all about.

All Things in Moderation


It’s a new year and with the starting of a new calendar many folks around the world have all vowed to do one thing: lose weight.

And I saw a statistic the other day that was not all that encouraging for their chances.

Me? While my doctor would love to see that scale go down at my 6-month check-up, I’m not as concerned with the numbers as I might have been before. For me, it’s less about losing weight and more about being healthy.

That’s where moderation comes in.

Todd and I are pretty good about eating the “right” things, 9 times out of 10, but lately we’ve been less concerned about portion size. And if lab rats have taught us nothing, we’ve learned that too much of anything–even the good stuff–can be harmful.

Here’s a for instance for you: A while back I participated in the Game On! Diet challenge with some friends (which was a fun way to do things if you’re competitive and wanting to break some old habits, though I don’t completely agree with the way they categorize certain foods). Since we were going by the instigators instructions and not the book itself–and everything was being done via Facebook posts–there was a slight miscommunication/misunderstanding that led to the idea that each of the 5 meals the plan called for needed to include 2 cups of approved veggies.

Folks, there’s a reason cows have 4 stomachs–1 is just not enough to deal with all that roughage in one day!

It didn’t help that, by no longer having a gall bladder, my body was just not equipped to handle such large meals in succession anymore. Basically, to say I was uncomfortable by mid-afternoon would be a severe understatement.

But before I swore off the challenge I dug around a bit and found where I’d gone astray (for the record, only 2 of the 5 meals–easily lunch and dinner–required the 2 cups of fibrous veggies) and the rest of the 4-week challenge went just fine (I even managed to lose 5 pounds, and our team won!).

Back to the point, moderation relies on one major factor: awareness. What you’re eating, how much of it and what it’s made of all play a part in this sort of healthy lifestyle choice. So how can you be more aware?

First, write everything down that you eat and drink. Really. You can do this in a notebook or use a hand website/app like I started playing around with the latter the week before Christmas and found that if I was committed to writing everything down I was less likely to go grab a cookie from the breakroom because I didn’t want to have to write it down. And the time that I was willing to do so, I really appreciated that cookie a bit more.

Second, think about what really constitutes a portion. A 6 oz steak mike look pretty small on your plate, but it’s technically 2 servings of protein. Some folks like to relate portion sizes to the palm of your hand, the size of your closed fist, etc. but all I have to do is look at the size difference between my hand and Todd’s and know that’s not an accurate guide! If might feel weird, but carry around a 1/2-cup measuring cup for a week or two and visually compare it to the food on your plate will give you a much better idea of what a portion is.

Finally, know what you’re putting into your body. Obviously, if French fries are a regular part of your daily diet, you might want to start substituting something less fried for your side. But even the seemingly “healthy” stuff can do you in if you’re not sure of what’s in it. A salad topped with fat-free dressing might sound like a good thing, until you realize all the chemicals that went into making that dressing could be more harmful than a basic oil and vinegar dressing with, yes, fat (but the good kind of fat). If you’ve got the time to make everything from scratch, more power to you–I don’t and don’t expect anyone else to, either. But educating ourselves about ingredients is a step in the right direction and the Fooducate app is, I think, a great tool for making better choices at the grocery store.

That’s my plan, at least, and if the numbers on the scale go down, that’s great. (If not, you won’t find me boo-hooing, though, because quality of life, to me, is more than a number on a scale.)

Do you have any healthy plans for the upcoming year?