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Gluten-Free Baking 101: Prepping Your Kitchen

Many of us have fond memories of spending time in the kitchen creating home-baked treats – pies and cookies, bars and squares, and anything else you can bake in the oven.

Bread slice marked with gluten free stamp isolatedHowever, whether it’s for a family get-together or a cookie exchange at work, there are a number of allergies and food sensitivities you should to be mindful of when you bake for others.

According to the Canadian Celiac Association, about one in 133 Canadians are affected by celiac disease, while Crohn’s and Colitis Canada says one in 150 Canadians live with Crohn’s disease or colitis. At the heart of these disorders is the body’s inability to process gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains.

Gluten Hurts

Close up of buscuitsGluten gives baked goods like bread or brownies their crustiness, holding them together. But for those with gluten-based disorders, gluten wrecks the digestive tract. Even a small crumb of wheat or other glutinous grains can cause immense stomach pain, disabling a person for days and setting off a range of side effects including:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplainable weight loss
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Anemia/iron deficiency

Even a small crumb of wheat or other glutinous grains can cause immense stomach pain…

The primary way a person with celiac disease, Crohn’s or colitis can manage their disorder is through a strictly gluten-free diet. So if you have a co-worker with Crohn’s or a friend who is newly diagnosed with celiac disease, ensuring your tasty treats won’t harm them will take a little more preparation. After all, no one wants a cookie to send their loved ones on a trip to the hospital.

Make Your List, Check Labels Twice

Man holding a jar at the supermarketAs gluten intolerance becomes mainstream, more Canadian grocery stores are selling gluten-free flours, baking powders and more. Some stores will have these in a special display in the regular baking aisle, while others may put these ingredients in the natural foods section. Make sure the product has a “gluten-free” label, or read the ingredients list while keeping an eye out for these gluten offenders:

  • Wheat flour
  • Wheat starch
  • Wheat gluten
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein

Check here for a full list of potentially harmful ingredients in everyday grocery staples.

And if you see a product marked “wheat free,” don’t assume that means it is gluten free. There are other grains used in food production which produce gluten, such as spelt, kamut, bulgur and durum.

If you are having trouble locating gluten-free products, try a bulk food or health food store – they often have a small selection of gluten-free items, which a salesperson can help you find and explain how to use. If your recipe calls for products your family often uses, such as butter or margarine, buy a fresh supply to prevent sandwich or toast crumbs from sneaking into your gluten-free treats.

When you bring home your gluten-free ingredients, tie them up in grocery bags and keep them in a cupboard separate from the rest of your baking supplies. Don’t bring these out until your baking space is clean and ready.

More Than Just Gluten-Free Flour

Homemade gluten free flour blendCross-contamination is one of the easiest ways to accidentally introduce gluten into a gluten-free diet. Before you buy a bag of gluten-free flour or check your pantry to ensure your ingredients are safe to use, you need to clean your cookie-making space.

Start by moving all your gluten products, like flour and bread, into cupboards and drawers that will stay closed. If someone really wants bread while you are baking gluten-free foods, just move the products to another room in the house.

Inspect Your Tools

Get all your baking tools out and on the counter – all the bowls, whisks, wooden spoons, mixer parts and even the rolling pin. One by one, check over each piece to ensure there aren’t old dough bits stuck in the nooks and crannies. If you find some, scrape them into the garbage and give the baking tool a good wash in hot water with soap. If the dough bits are hard to remove or the tool’s surface is too porous to clean properly, choose another tool from your baking drawer or get a new one from your local dollar store.

If you want to be certain your equipment is sterilized after you’ve removed all traces of wheat, use a dishwasher with a Sanitize setting.

Wash Your Counters

Woman hand with yellow sponge cleaning ceramic hob.While you may not think much about the toast crumbs from breakfast, it’s very easy for these small, gluten-bearing traces to cause problems for your celiac friends. Once you’ve cleared everything you don’t need for baking off the countertop, give it a good scrub with hot, soapy water.

With a good cleaning, your counters should be clear of any potential for gluten contamination. Make sure you use a freshly cleaned washcloth or a brand new sponge to avoid leaving other crumbs or gluten traces from previous uses. Dry off the counter with paper towels or a freshly cleaned dish towel – again, the goal is to avoid cross-contamination.

Don’t Forget Your Appliances

inside-oven-close-upDid cake batter spill in your oven? Did your blender send pancake mix all over itself? If any of your appliances came into direct contact with wheat or other gluten grains and there are still traces of it, these need a good cleaning too. If your oven comes with Self-Clean, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure your oven cavity is sparkling and wheat-free. For other appliances without Self-Clean, hot water with soap and a clean washcloth will work just fine.

While it may seem like a lot of work for a little bit of baking, your gluten-sensitive friends will appreciate the effort you’ve gone to for their health and comfort. We want to share our sweet labours with our friends and family, and there’s no better feeling than seeing someone indulge in their favourite baked goods without worry.

Next time on Gluten-Free 101 – easy and tasty gluten-free cookie recipes!

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