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Cookies – What Flour to use?

It has been a while, but the first six posts pretty much covered all you really need to know about quickly getting your family to the gluten free (GF) balance needed.   Though I have had great luck with Arrowhead Mills GF flour for all my fruit breads, cornbread, fried chicken crust and cream gravy, my famous chocolate chip cookies are still not as satisfying (look, texture & taste) as they were with traditional wheat flour.

I decided to do a cookie bake off with the 4 most commonly available GF all purpose flours, in the Dallas, Texas area. I wanted to test not only for the taste, but also lack of crumbliness, overall texture and cup for cup conversion effectiveness in the recipe. This last part, cup for cup conversion effectiveness, is a hard part of going GF, if you are not an experienced cook.

Early on I was always adding GF flour or liquid, based on the recipe, to get the right amount needed. They are not all exact cup for cup conversions to wheat flour, as their boxes claim. Also, on texture, gluten free flours are a fine but grainy powder compared to wheat flours which are more of a silky powder, so this is always part of the difference in texture over wheat flour versions of the same cookie. How much this adds to the crumbliness, is based on the other ingredients in the all purpose GF flour. For more on this see my earlier post – Getting Started.

If you don’t want to read all the getting there details below, the winning flour was Arrowhead Mills.  But, after the testing batch, as I finished baking the 4 doughs, a tip was discovered….you’ll have to read the details to get to the tip.

I rarely stick to a recipe exactly, but did so this time, to insure an accurate comparison.  Below is the recipe I used; my adaptation of a Better Homes & Gardens, New Cook Book, Bantam – 4th printing 1981, for Chocolate Chippers.  This recipe is the same as it was in BHG New Cook Book-1963, the one I used growing up.  My only change back then and still, is to swap the measurements of the brown sugar and white sugar…I just think the extra moisture in the brown sugar keeps the inside of the cookie softer.   Interesting enough, I went to the BHG recipe website before starting this post and this recipe is not there but their new best Chocolate Chip recipe (which looks good) uses the swapped sugars measurements, as well.

Chocolate Chippers, adapted

Cream together:

1/2 C Shortening   (I use Coconut Oil)

1/2 C  Brown Sugar

1/4 C Granulated Sugar

Add and mix well:

1 Egg, beaten

1 t  Vanilla

Add and mix thoroughly:

3/4 t Salt

1/2 t Soda

Add and continue mixing dough:

1 C GF All Purpose Flour

Finish the dough by adding:

1 C Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or pieces (6 oz)

1/2 C broken Pecans (optional, but makes for a chunkier cookie)

So, I made 4 of the above small batch recipe, each with one of these flours:
Gluten Free Pantry Flour Arrowhead GF Flour Bob's Red Mill GF Flour GF Cafe Flour

I did not put the pecans in for the test batch. I wanted to easily determine the effect of the dough spread, when cooking. I rolled two cookie balls of each dough and placed them on parchment paper atop an insulated cookie sheet. My cookie balls are bigger than a quarter but smaller than a golf ball – whatever. By having all 4 on the cookie sheet I could insure exact cooking similarity.

Surprisingly, all four cooked evenly and were all ready at the same time.

Here is a picture of the final results:
Begin of Taste Taste

I had my husband and daughter do the testing. And, they both agreed the Arrowhead tasted the best and most closely resembled my old wheat flour version of the recipe. Though it did not stop them from continuing to taste the four.
After Taste Test

That all said, here are some of my notes with ratings of 1-5 with 5 being the highest rating:
Gluten Free Cafe: 2nd best, overall

Taste: 3.5
Texture: 4
Cooking Spread: 4
Cup for Cup: 5
This flour already has baking soda added, so this ingredient could probably have been eliminated.

Bob’s Red Mill: 3rd, overall

Taste: 3
Texture: 3
Cooking Spread: 3.5
Cup for Cup: 3.5, probably needed a bit more liquid but worked

Arrowhead Mills: Best, overall

Taste: 4
Texture: 4
Cooking Spread: 4
Cup for Cup: 5

Gluten Free Pantry: 4th, overall

Taste: 3.5
Texture: 2
Cooking Spread: 2.5
Cup for Cup: 2.5, (would need about 1/5th cup more to match 1 Cup of Wheat Flour)

However, to finish up the cookie baking, I mixed the remainder of the Arrowhead Mills- top rated, and the Gluten Free Pantry- bottom rated (added 1/5 C more GF Pantry flour after test), doughs together and added pecans. This combined cookie had a great texture, great flavor and made a thicker cookie (spread less while cooking). So, if going for the best looking and textured cookie, I would double the recipe of other ingredients and use 1C Arrowhead Mills and 1 1/5th C Gluten Free Pantry.

I also combined the remaining two batches -Bob’s Red Mill & Gluten Free Cafe, did not add pecans (my youngest is crazy and does not like pecans in his cookies), before cooking them. This mixture also cooked up better than the individual versions. But, did not taste quite as good as the Arrowhead Mills version or the Arrowhead combined with Gluten Free Pantry version. This really complicates the results and I’m all about simple.

I was kinda hoping to find one of the other flours worked better with cookies which traditionally don’t use milk or water in the recipes, like breads. But the results are in, though the combined flours produced a overall better cookie, I’ll probably stick to just using Arrowhead Mills for cookie baking. Also, after 20 months of GF eating. The GF versions of all these rare treats are tasting better and better.

In summary, Arrowhead Mills All Purpose Gluten Free Flour is the best cup for cup wheat flour substitute when baking cookies. I also like that most of the Arrowhead ingredients are organic.

Next Up: GF Beverage Adventures

Pizza – Yummy!

When the kids are hungry and your getting home late from work, you just need to be able to order a good gluten free pizza and have it delivered.  So, ask your local pizza store, you’d be surprised how many of the boutique and locally owned stores have a gluten free crust available now.  This works for gluten intolerant folks but not for someone with Celiac’s…it is impossible for a kitchen to handle wheat flour and gluten free flour products with out some small amount of cross contamination.

But, once you get the basics down on going gluten free, it is easy to make yummy pizza at home.  I found this product and was amazed at how good it is.  It originally was not even marketed as gluten free.  Read the story on the origins of this type of flatbread that is perfect gluten free pizza crust.

OK, here is my recommendation…add an additional 2 T of melted butter or olive oil to the mixture.  Other than that, top with your favorite toppings and cook for 15 – 20 minutes per the box.  It takes longer to cut up the toppings than it does to make the crust, so make it a family affair.

We have a favorite long time Dallas area pizza joint that makes the most amazing pizza.  They do have gluten free crust but it is a bit dry and tastless.  However, their pizza sauce and toppings, cut up really small, are what make it great. And, I believe their amazing pizza sauce is just spiced up tomato paste.    So, I top my Chebe crust with a layer of organic tomato paste, sprinkle some oregano, garlic powder and a few other italiano spices and then add the browned sausage, veggies and cheese.   My picky last teen at home (17 yrs), was very complementary of this pizza; indicated it was as good as our favorite Pizza joint and then almost choked because even he was so surprised at his overwhelming generous complement – usually he is a bit of a complainer or just says nothing, because there is nothing good to say.   So, there you go…can’t get a better endorsement than from a picky 17 yr old.   My college age daughter and friends were home for spring break a few weeks ago and helped me make two of these pizzas…not a piece was left.

Other tips:

1) I use a 9 x 13 glass pyrex casserole dish rather than a 14 inch pizza pan.  The last thing I need is another special pan.

2) Just top it with your favorite cheese to make super cheese bread to go with salad.

3) Tomato Cheese bread: Cook the crust and allow to cool. About an hour before dinner, brush the top of the crust with olive oil,  sprinkle some garlic powder, salt & pepper to taste, then add fresh tomato slices, basil and Italian cheese blend for tomato cheese bread. Cook just long enough to heat through and lightly melt the cheese.  Perfect bread side and no will even know, it is gluten free.

It can be found at most natural food stores and is available at some Walmart locations.


Bread – GF staples for the family

I know! You have kids that need healthy lunches and sending a green salad with roasted chicken is just not going to work.  Well, maybe some can get away with it, but if you have teenagers and you are converting your family, you need bread for sandwiches at lunch and pizza on Friday night when they show up with their friends.   So, what do you do?

We had some good advice on the bread when we started.  So, we bought Udi’s bread and kept it in the freezer (extras) or in the refrigerator for the loaf we were actively using.   It was crumbly (get use to crumbly GF products) but tasted OK and my 16 year old son went along with it – quite surprisingly, without much complaint.  Since I don’t eat many sandwiches, I really did not pay much attention to the taste, but finally, I said there must be something better.   So, we tried some other products and then my son did start speaking up – No, no, no!   So, back to Udi’s we went.  In most cases, we were paying about $6-7 for a loaf that would get my son through a week of lunch sandwiches.

After months of this, I noticed a product I had always ignored, was on sale…..  Gluten Free Pantry Favorite Sandwich Bread Mix (6 Pack)

It called for adding eggs, butter and milk/water, but when made, I figured it was about a $1 less per loaf.  So, I bought a couple of boxes.  If I was going to take the time to make bread, I was going to make 2 weeks’ worth.   Guess what? My son and hubby loved it!  As did my daughter, home on college break.

What was I thinking? Now, I had gotten myself into a pickle and would be expected to make bread on a regular basis.  Did I mention I travel on business about 70% of the time?  But, I have a large mixer and have found I only make bread about once every 3 weeks, sometimes only once a month, and it really only takes about an hour’s worth of total work spread out over a few hours.  I get caught up on some DVR’d shows, do laundry and make bread.

I bought extra loaf pans and make 3 loaves at a time.  The single box makes a very lofty loaf of bread and does not fit in typical sandwich bags well, so I don’t use all of the dough for loaves.   I make hamburger buns with the extra.

Take 3 boxes, follow instructions (I use half water & milk), fill the loaf pans about 2/3rds full each, reserving about 2/3 cups of the dough, per box.  Cover these loaves to rise.

I’m impatient, so in the winter, I heat the oven to 250, then turn it off and open the door to cool down, as I pour the dough in the pans.  Then I set the pans in the oven with a flour sack cloth covering them and close the oven door for about 30 minutes, as they rise.  In the summer, a 72 degree house will take about 1.5 hours to rise (more energy efficient).  With the remaining dough, I make buns.  I cover an insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper and plop about 1/3 cup dough on the cookie sheet.  Using the spoon/spatula, I move the dough around and pat on it, until it is about a 4 inch circle.  You should have enough to make 6 buns or 2 per box.   Cover these with a towel and add them to the oven to rise.   When risen slightly, move them to a hot oven and cook them per box instructions.   I always have to lay foil over the top, half way through to keep the loaves from getting to brown.

The loaves need to be turned out fairly soon after coming out of the oven or they become soggy with sweat.  When mostly cooled, slice into desired bread slices and prepare for freezing.   I don’t like my foods to touch plastic, so I put my sliced bread loaf into a brown paper lunch sack and then put this in a zip top type plastic freezer bag, and into the freezer.  I use the same 4 freezer bags over and over again.

I have also found, no one wants the humpy end pieces, so I cube these up and place in my ‘for croutons’ bag in the freezer.  About once every 2 months, I make croutons while the new bread is rising.

It is easier than you think and your family will be more accepting of the transition, if they like the GF products.  So, try it, they will like it J.

Next up – Pizza they will love.

Is GF Nutritious?

Just to make sure everyone is clear, gluten free (GF) alternative products are NOT necessarily nutritious.   But, in most cases the wheat version of the product you are seeking a GF alternative for, is also NOT nutritious.    Most breads and pastas are ‘Enriched’ with vitamins & minerals.  It is not the wheat/barley/rye  itself that is providing any type of nutrient but the added enrichment.  And, because of the preservatives, dough softeners and other additives common in today’s processed and mass produced packaged products, I can assure you the net effect is a deficient to your body’s nutritious balance (more junk than nutrient), once these ‘Enriched” bread products are ingested.

On the other hand, many GF products do not have any preservatives or additives added and though not a vitamin or mineral rich flour, the products do provide caloric energy without the negative stress on the body associated with gluten and additives.

I worked for a Swedish company for many years.  One of my colleagues asked me, ” why a package of bread on the counter in their kitchen did not mold, because within 3-4 days in Sweden, it would be molding.”  I had to be honest with him.  When you think about it – YUK!

My family’s GF journey is mostly fresh cooked & raw vegetables, soaked legumes, green leafy things from our garden, fresh fruit, unsalted roasted nuts, wild caught fish & animal protein – as organic, free range, grass-fed  and natural, as possible.   We treat ourselves from time to time with a little natural ingredient ice cream, Kind bars, chocolate and sometimes homemade desserts.  However, like all people we miss the foods we grew up with and have enjoyed – if only on rare occasion, until we went GF.   It is these foods, along with daily staples needed for children’s lunches and snacks, I want to help families transition to GF, in as easy and cost effective a manner, as possible.

Once I have the basics of GF substitution and transition covered, I’ll focus more on the ideal nutritious balance, we all seek.

It’s a Personal Choice

When we first went gluten free, I did not initially clean out the pantry of all gluten products as all of the books suggest.  I figured we would ease into it and replace items with gluten free products as we use them up.  But, within a week or so, it was time, we were committed and we started giving away our wheat based products.  Some went to neighbors, some went to the local food bank and opened packages of crackers etc, went in the trash.   It was personally hard to even give away the wheat based products to neighbors and the local food bank because by then I was convinced no one needed gluten and would be healthier without it.

On the other hand, we had been eating gluten based products, seemingly without any issues, for our entire lives and everyone around us enjoyed these products without issue.  But, the more I learned about gluten, the more convinced I was that our family did not need it.  So, I finally accepted the fact that it is a personal decision for everyone and the sun will rise tomorrow on wheat crops across the country.

I think we all become so passionate about decisions we make, that we look for validation from others to agree with our decision and follow along.   I remember when my friends and I all started having children, sometimes you were thrilled with a friend’s shared experience and recommendations and sometimes you thought – no way, not my child.   Looking back now, all of our children turned out great whether or not they started apple juice at 6 months, 12 months or 2 years, watered down or normal concentration levels :).   So, for those of us with no known issues with gluten, it really is just a Personal Choice to go Gluten Free or Not.

Getting Started – Gluten Free Cooking & Eating

Getting Started…of course, the fastest way is to stop eating bread, pasta, pancakes, muffins, cookies and fried foods with traditional flour crusts.  But ,that is boring and hard on a family – going cold turkey, no flour.   Wheat allergies (really gluten) have been around since I was a young girl.  I babysat for a family down the street whose youngest daughter was allergic to wheat.  My first rice cake with peanut butter was experienced at 14, while baby sitting for their family.  Since, gluten allergies or sensitivities are not new, the marketplace has risen to the occasion/dollar, and there are lots of good products available now.  However, you may find many products are some what tasteless and expensive.  The tasteless part is changing and gluten free alternatives are delicious, if you are willing to make some foods at home.

After researching recipes on the internet and buying all types of specialty flours to mix together to create alternative treats, I realized that some of the gluten free all purpose flours worked good enough and eventually settled on what I believe are the best products.  What I found is with the right gluten free products, you can make all of your traditional recipes but use the gluten free products instead.  No need to get special gluten free recipes, just make your traditional Banana Bread but with a good gluten free all purpose flour.  After much trial and expensive errors, Arrowhead Mills‘ Gluten Free All Purpose flour is the best cup for cup alternative to wheat flour.  It is also made with mostly organic ingredients, which I like.   Many of the other products did not substitute well and more liquid had to be added.  When using gluten free alternative flours, the batter or dough will look different, but the Arrowhead Mills’ Gluten Free flour, will cook up nicely without having to make other recipe adjustments.

Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Mix

My hubby and son think my corn bread is better than ever.  It is the same old family recipe (70 yrs) but I use this flour now instead of traditional organic wheat flour.  I get the same response on my Banana Bread.  Brownies are almost as good and cookies are delicious but more crumbly…that just comes with GF.

Our family never fried much food at home. It was too much of a mess and you could get good fried food at restaurants everywhere.   But once we went GF, fried foods were just not an option anymore.    However, twice in the last 18 months, my husband has setup the turkey fryer on the driveway and together we have made chicken fried steak and chicken fingers for the family.   The first time, I researched for hours on the best GF fried chicken recipes and after much deliberation mixed together 4 of those specialty flours I had bought early on and followed the recipe for what turned out to be pretty good crust.   But, I’m into easy and all that measuring and mixing together was not fun.  So, the second time, just recently, I decided that the Arrowhead Mills GF flour was working so well on other recipes, I’d just try it for crust.  I put some in a pan and seasoned it like my great grandmother use to and double dipped it  (egg mixed up with some water, then coat with seasoned flour and repeat).   It worked great and was so much easier.  Then my husband asked if I was going to make gravy….I had to think about that one.   He did not seem to understand that GF flour worked with some things but I wasn’t to sure about making gravy.   The first time we fried, I told everyone to be happy with the chicken fried steak and use ketchup.  But, this time I thought, why not give it a try…I’ve thrown away lots of GF mistakes.   I was really surprised. This GF flour cooked up just like regular flour and made great cream gravy.   The family was in Gluten Free Food Heaven.

So, my recommendation is start with the Arrowhead Mills GF All Purpose flour before purchasing 3 types of rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, almond meal flour, etc.  And, just use it with your traditional family recipes substituting this GF flour for wheat flour.

You can purchase this flour at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Market Street and other natural food stores.   My local Walmart carried it until a month ago ($2 less than other stores).  But, they now are carrying another Hain Celestial product, Gluten Free Cafe All Purpose flour (no organic ingredients).  I”m testing it but have not determined, if it works, as well.

Next time – Bread and Pizza…Yummy!

How & Why I’m Gluten Free?

Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine. One of his most famous quotes is “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”.  This became my guiding principle as I became more and more aware of how what we eat impacts our health and well being.  Because so much of what people eat today has no real nutritional value to their bodies, it cannot be called food.  Going gluten free is one of many changes our family has made through the years…mostly due to my incessant reading and digestion of information, various opinions and finally coming to my own opinion of what is logical and right from all of the information available.

It is this overwhelming amount of information and differences of medical opinion most find so confusing and frustrating when trying to make good decisions about eating for both themselves and their families.   I’ve found several sources I trust most and will cite these resources when quoted.  But, this blog site will be focused specifically on what I’ve learned through the years and going gluten free – the fastest and easiest way.

It has taken years, but my husband no longer questions what changes I’m making to our diet as he is convinced the changes are benefiting him.  And, since I am still putting great food on the table, what is there to complain about – right?

As a family, we all went gluten free on Dec 13, 2011.   Hubby and I had attended the Weston A. Price ( conference in Dallas and one of the sessions was about how toxicity in our organs can impact your muscle functioning.  After additional research, we determined our health would be better off without gluten.  Why? Because of the most basic facts:

1) Gluten is a protein in Wheat, Barley & Rye, divinely designed for digestion by a multi compartment/stomach system like those found in grazing animals – Ruminating (cud chewing) mammals include cattle, goats, sheep, giraffes, bison, yaks, buffalo, deer, camels, gazelles, dik diks, mouse deer, hartebeests, wildebeests, etc.  Not ideal for human digestive systems.

2) Wheat, Barley & Rye grains today have significantly more gluten in them than 100 yrs ago.  They have been cultivated to have more gluten, so that your piece of bread’s nutritional information can state it has more protein – my opinion for the cultivation.

3) Because the human digestive system is not designed to handle gluten, it is more an irritant or anti-nutrient to your body.  So, even though your bread label says 2 grams of protein…you can’t use it.

There are a host of studies and opinions, but it is estimated that 75% or more of patients with IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome) are really just gluten intolerant.

My family is gluten intolerant.  We had no specific issues when we made the gluten free decision, but felt we would be better off making the change…and hopefully, head off any problems down the road.

What I miss most after going gluten free, a cold beer after a hot day working in my organic garden… but, I’ll save that for a later post.  Tomorrow –  getting started –  gluten free cooking and eating.