Welcome to Gluten-free Baking.

I have, at long last, given in to the apparent diagnosis of Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance (NCGI– sounds like another police procedural TV show!).  After a few months of testing, I’ve determined that my peripheral neuropathy seems to be connected to the presence of gluten in my diet.  For the fortunate uninitiated, gluten is the protein in wheat, rye, and barley that gives the wonderful toothy, stretchy, chewy quality to breads.  And cereals.  And pizza. And cookies, cakes, pastry, pasta, breakfast cereals, and anything fried (since fried foods are inevitably either breaded or battered). And beer.

I am aware that I have a reputation as a “foodie,” but the truth is I’m really an “eatie,” since I love to eat every bit as much as I love to cook.  The prospect of never again  eating anything containing gluten is discouraging, to put it mildly.  If, however, it means a diminishment (or even, please God an end) of the constant pain in my extremities, it will be worth the sacrifice.

No, wait.  I’m lying.  It’s not worth the sacrifice. Do you mean that on top of the chronic pain in my hands and feet, I also have to give up eating everything I love the most?  Members of Weight Watchers ™ and OA may now open their hymnals to the chapter entitled “Reward Eating.”  Yes, when everything else seems to hurt, I can always count on chocolate chip cookies to help me feel better.  Why should I give that up?  Because that’s what CAUSING THE PAIN.

OK, so I know I can’t live a life of total deprivation, because I’m not that courageous or strong-willed.  I can give up cheeseburgers (forbidden bread), buffalo chicken wings (battered), beer (barley malt), pancakes (flour), doughnuts (flour), etc., if I can sometimes eat the things I love because I’ve made them myself, and I know they’re safe.Gluten-Free Baking with the CIA

Enter Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America, by Richard J. Coppedge, Jr., CMB.  This neat little book was recommended to by my friend Wayne’s friend, Hollister.  Thanks, Hollister!!!  Mr. Coppedge, who is on the pastry faculty at the CIA, spend years researching how to recreate the recipes we know and love, but without the gluten we (OK, I) cannot have.

You know how that nice young woman in “Julie and Julia” decided to bake every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking?  That’s how I feel about Coppedge’s Gluten-Free Baking with the CIA.  He’s covered a wide variety of baked favorites:  Basic white bread.  Pie Crust.  Pizza dough.  Linzer Tort.  Chocolate cake.  Chocolate chip cookies. Banana Bread.  Sour cream coffee cake.  [Sidebar: For many years when I was a kid, my mom would make us whatever cake we wanted for our birthdays.  My sister Judy requested a peach pie at least once.  I wanted sour cream coffee cake.  The kind with the streusel topping that ran through the center like a vein of gold. Oy.]

Entry into Coppedge’s promised land flowing with cookies and pastry does not come without a price.  His ingenious system relies on five non-wheat flour blends that vary their ingredients depending on the protein and fiber content needed for each recipe.  Those non-wheat flours aren’t cheap.  [$2.97 for eight ounces of tapioca starch?  I may have to get a second job….]

Those different flour blends shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Really expert baking requires more than all-purpose wheat flour.  There’s pastry flour, and bread flour, and whole wheat flour, and cake flour, and …. you get the idea.  In place of these, Coppedge blends white rice flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, soy flour, guar gum, dried egg whites (albumen), and unflavored whey protein. Armed with a shopping list of these exotic flours, I headed to my local Whole Foods store, which had everything I needed.

Alternatives to Wheat flour

So, I spent the early part of this afternoon mixing up the Five Magical Flour Blends.  Hint for beginners: buy more white rice flour and potato flour than you think you’ll need.  Another hint– really more an absolute requirement– is to get a good digital kitchen scale.  Coppedge’s charts list measurements in both volume (e.g. cups) and weight (e.g. ounces).  Professional bakers always measure by weight, to account for variations in the moisture content in the flour, as well as other variables.  As I was weighing my ingredients, I noticed that many of the volume measurements were WAY off.  Someone should warn people that egg white protein should be measured “packed” like brown sugar when you’re working by volume.

Finished flour blends 1 - 5

So now I have my Five Magical Flour Blends in matching air-tight containers, with perfect matching labels.  Someone should investigate the connection between gluten intolerance and OCD.  I’m just sayin’.

My first Actual Recipe from the book was the 3-2-1 pie crust.  I worked really well, although if I had used all 2/3 cup of water that the recipe called-for, I would have had pie crust soup.  Like any pie crust, only add as much water as you need to make it pull together.  Also, the recipe wants the dough to rest for an hour in the fridge so the flours can absorb the moisture.  Don’t skip that step.

What? Oh!  The pie I made was my sister Linda’s pecan pie that replaces the corn syrup with maple syrup.  It’s a great recipe, and not as gooey as most pecan pies.  I’ll attach the recipe below.  Bottom line:  the pastry was quite good, and I don’t have to live the rest of my life without pecan pie.  Or any pie.  Thank you, Chef Coppedge.

As I make other recipes from the book, I’ll post the results here.  You can order Gluten-Free Baking with the CIA from Amazon.com.


From Cook’s Country magazine, Oct/Nov 2009

Regular or mild molasses tastes best in this pie.

1 cup maple syrup

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream (I used light cream)

1 Tbsp molasses

4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 tsp salt

6 large egg yolks, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped (5-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven)

1 unbaked pie shell, chilled in pie plate for 30 minutes


Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 450 degrees.  Heat syrup, sugar cream, and molasses in saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes.  Whisk butter and salt into syrup mixture until combined.  Whisk in egg yolks until incorporated.


Scatter pecans in pie shell.  Carefully pour filling over.  Place pie in hot oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Bake until filling is set and center juggles slightly when pie is gently shaken, 45-60 minutes.  Cool pie on rack for 1 hour, then refrigerate until set, about 3 hours and up to 1 day.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Serves 8-10