The Food Philosopher: Gluten-Free Recipes, Health and Nutrition, Diet and Weight Loss



A Baker's Dozen

  1. Why doesn't my bread rise well?
    • Are you warming the liquids to the proper temperature? Maybe your water wasn't really 110°F (I recently had a thermometer —one of my usually dependable cheap ones — that was 10 degrees off).
    • For bread that sinks or for bread with a crater in the middle: Are you measuring the liquid correctly? Too much liquid can cause your bread to fall. If everything else on this list is correct, try reducing the liquid by 1 tablespoon (two, if necessary). This might be done instead of or in addition to adding more flour (see below).
    • For bread that sinks or for bread with a crater in the middle: Were you so careful about spooning the flour into the measuring cups that you ended up a little short of flour (either when you made the bread flour mix, or when you measured it for the recipe)? If you think this might be the case, try adding a tablespoon of flour to the dough. If that works, try not to spoon the flour into the cup as lightly the next time you are mixing and measuring flours.
    • Too much flour will contribute to a denser and slightly less high bread as well. If you think your bread is too dense, try adding one tablespoon less of the flour mix the next time you make it.
    • Are your eggs at room temperature (and are they really large and not extra large)?
    • Are you mixing all the dry ingredients together first before adding the liquid?
    • Are you letting it rise in a warm place? Set your oven to 80°F for a good rise. Too warm and it will rise too fast and you risk it falling. Too cold and nothing will happen.
    • You didn't wait until the dough had really risen a little more than double (especially for the artisan breads)- because you figured it was enough time.
    • Are you using a non-stick bread pan for sandwich breads? Although many people (myself included) are able to successfully use non-stick pans for my sandwich bread recipes, I sometimes find that people who do have problems are using a non-stick pan. Interestingly, the problem goes away when they change to a regular shinny metal or Pyrex glass pan. It appears that all non-stick pans are not created equally. So, in general, I do not recommend non-stick bread pans for sandwich breads. However, most of the French bread pans sold are nonstick, and they will work.
    • If you made your bread when it was raining and the house was humid, the flour mix might have absorbed more moisture than it needed, and then, that extra water in the dough would have weighed the bread down. My bread never rises as well on really humid days (unless the AC is on and working really well and my kids haven't been going in and out all day and letting the humidity in). As in wheat baking, moisture in the air affects the rise. Try adding a little less liquid on really damp days.
    • Did you make sure to test the bread temperature to see if it’s done (195-200°F for sandwich and 205ºF or more for French). If you use the instant read thermometer, you won’t have to guess.
    • Bread recipes baked at sea level usually need less water/milk.
  2. Why is my bread lopsided?
  3. It is lopsided because you have a hot side in your oven. The high side of the bread was baked in the hottest area (probably the back of your oven?) the lower side was baked in the cooler spot (maybe the front- at least that's how my oven works). My breads can look the same way unless I put my bread in the perfect spot.

    If your hot spot is in the back, push the bread a little further to the back of the oven (works for me). If you're not sure where your hot spot is, bake a tray of cookies that are the exact same size and see which cook fastest. Those cookies are in your hot spot.

  4. How can I adjust your recipes for high altitude baking?
  5. I cannot give you a specific set of guidelines because, as you are probably well aware, every recipe is different and may or may not require adjustment, just like in wheat baking. My high altitude testers usually make a new recipe as it is written the first time and adjust from there. But if it is a recipe in a category they've already tested (cakes, cookies, bread), and they know the adjustments that have worked for them in the past, then they use their adjustments. For brand new recipes categories-they make half the recipe when possible and adjust it as needed.

    In general, my recipes very often have extra leavening, so you may want to reduce it a bit. You may want to reduce sugar a bit. You may need to reduce fat by a tablespoon or two. You may need to adjust oven temperature to keep whatever you are baking from rising too fast (which makes it more likely to collapse). In particular, this means you may have to lower it for some cakes and perhaps, some breads. Several of my testers have needed to add a bit more flour or take away a bit of liquid for certain recipes.

  6. Where do I buy French bread pans and the pizza pans?
    • You can buy French Bread pans in better quality kitchen supply stores like Chef Central, The King Arthur Flour Company website and catalog, Williams Sonoma, and online sellers like at Sur La Table and Amazon.
    • For 12-inch pies — I use inexpensive foil pizza pans that I buy at my grocery store.
    • For 9" pies (even thinner crust), I use two 9" bottoms from inexpensive spring form cake pans — they have a kind of ridged, quilt-like bumps (not on the underside, on the top where the dough would go) — just like the foil pizza pans. The bumps make the crust a little more crisp and makes it easier to spread the dough. You can find these pretty much everywhere. (On the Sur La Table website, the pans are called Kaiser Springform pans. You can see the picture so you'll know what to buy. They were also on Amazon — but no picture. They are really inexpensive.) But even if you can’t find ridged pans, the pizza will still be delicious.
  7. Can I substitute white rice flour for brown rice flour mix?
  8. Yes, ... BUT—

    • White rice is not a whole grain and is, therefore, not as nutritious (it is more of a starch).
    • Baked goods stay fresher, longer with brown rice flour because it has more complex proteins (it is a whole grain); the starchier white rice will dry out faster.
    • Brown rice flour gives baked goods a slightly more complex taste (which I actually try to mask a bit with extra flavoring). However, white rice gives an "empty" taste; it is transparent, like the other starches in the mix.
  9. Can I use sugar alternatives?
    • I haven't developed recipes for baked goods using sugar alternatives because originally, my recipes were all for classic, more traditional baked goods.
    • Molasses is too strong a taste for most of the cakes, pies, cookies and muffins in my book (although my gingerbread and pumpkin bread recipes include it), and maple syrup is also a strong flavor. Remember, GF flours are fairly transparent in flavor, so what ever else you use in the recipe shines through.
    • Since sugar acts as a liquid in baking, and since substitutes have varying amounts of liquid, each recipe would have to be recalibrated for dry/wet proportions, cooking time, maybe even baking temperature, based on the substitute you use.
    • You could try substituting with your sub of choice — I know of someone who successfully used rice syrup and another who used Stevia — but they had to alter the amount of other ingredients a bit. Bakers have also been able to substitute Agave Nectar in some breads, muffins, 12 batch cupcakes, and cookies at a ratio of ¾ cup Agave for 1 cup sugar.
  10. Can I use egg substitutes?
    • Egg yolks add richness, texture, color and structure. If you use an egg-white substitute, it might be more difficult to get your baked goods to rise well, but it is possible.
    • Ener-G-Replacer and another homemade remedy (1½ tablespoons water, 1½ tablespoons canola oil, 1½ teaspoons baking powder) can produce a good but not always ideal result in some recipes. When using egg substitutes, try to use milk that is higher in fat in order to compensate for not having yolks. It will improve mouth feel and help keep the baked good fresh.
    • And most recently, there are growing ranks of people (including Claudia, my sister) who have successfully substituted pureed silken tofu in my sandwich bread recipes (both for the oven and bread machine), and in various cakes, including the coffee cakes.
  11. Can I use dairy substitutes?
    • Yes, almond, soy, and rice milk have been used successfully by others. If the recipe calls for whole milk (most of my recipes use skim milk, however), you may have to thicken it a bit with cornstarch. I think the rice milk adds less aftertaste (unless you like the taste of soy). Remember that the GF flours are a bit transparent in flavor.
    • Readers (and several of my testers) have also successfully used butter flavored Crisco, Crisco, and the higher fat versions of Smart Balance successfully in my recipes.
    • To make 1 cup Dairy-free Buttermilk: combine 1 cup rice, almond or soy milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or distilled vinegar. If a recipe calls for 1 cup buttermilk, use only 1 cup of the combined liquid in the recipe.
  12. I don't like to use gelatin (in the bread). Do I need to use it?
  13. Although most of my bread recipes don’t actually use gelatin, there are a few that do to add extra body. You can make it without, if you can't use it or don't like it. You can also add an extra egg yolk to give it the extra body it needs.

  14. Why do my cakes crack across the top towards the end of baking?
    • Cheesecake sometimes cracks (as do many cheesecakes that are not baked in a water bath at a low temperature). You might have inadvertently beaten the batter a little too much -so it rises too fast and then cracks. But also make sure oven is at the correct temperature.
    • Layer cake should never crack. It is rising too fast.
      • Oven running a bit hot — check with an oven thermometer.
      • Could be that you are using dark pans (dark pans need to be baked at lower temp — absorb more radiant heat).
      • Baking powder wasn't measured exactly — you're using too much.
      • It is very important not to over-beat cake batters (particularly the Chocolate Fudge Cake, German Chocolate Cake, Pound Cakes, Sour Cream Coffee Cake, and Crumb Cake). It will make them rise too fast and then fall in the middle. This happens to a lot of home bakers who are using the professional sized mixers (particularly Kitchen Aid). The pro-mixers are actually too large to make many “home-sized” recipes. The mixing bowl on the mixer is too large for the amount of batter, so it is difficult to beat the batter correctly. Home bakers tend to compensate by over beating the batter without realizing it.
  15. Why do my cookies spread too much when I bake them?
    • Dough too warm — if your kitchen is hot — or the butter or shortening are warm, you can chill the dough before baking.
    • Oven too cool — the cookies will "melt" and spread out. Buy an inexpensive oven thermometer and check your oven.
    • Maybe you were so careful spooning the flour into the measuring cups that you're a little short of flour. If the options 1 and 2 above aren't the cause, try adding a tablespoon or two of flour to the dough. If that works, try not to spoon the flour into the cup as lightly next time when you're mixing and measuring flours because it means you were a little light on the flour.
    • Many people who write to ask me why their chocolate chip, oatmeal, or gingersnap cookies are spreading too much seem to be using Spectrum shortening. When they switch to plain old Crisco, the problem goes away. I am not sure why this is happens.
    • Another big reason the chocolate chip cookies spread too much is that people forget to add the extra 2 tablespoons of brown rice flour mix (remember the recipe calls for 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons).
  16. Can I weigh out the flours to make the flour mixes?
  17. I believe that weighing out the flour makes it easy for people who bake a lot and are used to weighing ingredients. But, most home bakers don't have scales, and so I don't actually have set weights for each of the flours that I use in my flour mixes. I can tell you that 1 cup of the brown rice mix is about 125 grams (4.4 ounces). 1 cup of the bread flour mix is between 4.25 and 4.5 ounces. (The difference between the two numbers amounts to about one tablespoon of the flour mix.)

  18. Why do you suggest storing baked goods in the refrigerator?
    • I like to store baked goods in the refrigerator (and cookies after the first couple days) because they tend to keep fresher.
    • First, the brown rice flour is more fragile than highly processed all-purpose wheat flour and more like whole wheat flour (which people tend to refrigerate in order to keep it fresh). Ever keep REAL homemade wheat bread (not store bought home-style) around for more than a day? It, too, dries out.
    • Second, the tapioca, potato, and cornstarch are processed flours that tend to dry out. So keeping baked goods tightly wrapped in the fridge at a constant temperature tends to slow the evaporation process (I use tightly-sealed containers for cookies).
    • Third, I use as little sugar and fat in my recipes as possible (and much less than you would get in a baked good that has a long shelf life) — but sugar and fat help keep baked goods moist.
    • And finally, except for the xanthan gum (I use as little as possible and, in fact, much less than you will find in most GF recipes), there are no preservatives in the cookies to help stabilize them.