Dining

Where Has All the Flour Gone?

With gluten allergies abounding, we've got the goods on cooking without wheat.

October 2007

MONICA POOLE has come a long way since Lakota, the family dog, refused to eat one particularly bad experiment with her gluten-free bread. "I didn't know he could spit things across the room," chuckles Poole, owner of Deby's Gluten-Free Bakery & Café in south Denver and developer of more than half of the restaurant's recipes. "I'm thinking, 'Gosh, a dog will eat anything, this must really be rubber brick bread.'"

She can laugh now, but Poole's journey hasn't always been funny. When her twin sons, Michael and David, were young they were diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder originating in the small intestine. Shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, along with her daughter Deby. Suddenly she found herself immersed in the complex world of gluten-free living, where preschool staples such as chicken nuggets and Goldfish crackers were out. The requirements are hard enough to follow for an adult, much less a picky preschooler. The only store-bought item she could find was bread—so bad, she says, "I'd bring it home and my sons would cry."

A self-described "at-home-mom kind of cook," Poole bought gluten-free cookbooks, invested in alternative ingredients like tapioca flour and potato starch, and made 20-step recipes in hopes of finding ones her children would like. "I'd carefully follow the instructions, and then it would explode or pop open in the middle...and catch fire on the bottom of the oven," says Poole. "But it costs too much to throw away the food, so we'd eat it anyway."

Poole's quest for a flour substitute took nearly four years to complete; chocolate cake recipe, six years; yellow cake recipe, seven years. That's a lot of false attempts and bad recipes—and a lot of patience. After six years of experimenting with pizza, Poole remembers her husband's pronouncement: "Honey, this is an amazing crust." The crust is now served at her cafe, as well as at Abrusci's in Wheat Ridge and Beau Jo's Pizza locations.

That a pizza chain is catering to people with celiac disease shows how far awareness of the disorder has come. And yet, with celiac disease affecting an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, it seems that Safeway and King Soopers should have entire aisles devoted to gluten-free goods. Why hasn't the food-service industry caught up to this hungry market? "Gluten-free baking is difficult," surmises

Jessica Rayfield, a co-manager and cake specialist at WaterCourse Foods who was diagnosed two years ago with celiac disease. "When you're working without [gluten], batters are really temperamental. It takes a lot of care and a lot of eye." Ingredients, she says, are "fickle" and must be treated gingerly. That's hard to do when working on a commercial scale, causing gluten-free baked goods to be crumbly or soggy.

In keeping with WaterCourse's vegan philosophy, not only have the bakers eliminated gluten from recipes, they've also shed standard baking ingredients such as butter, milk, and eggs. "The main challenge is in texture," sighs WaterCourse bakery co-manager Kristin Martinez. "When you have bread and it gently pulls apart, that's because of gluten. The question is, how do you replace it so a muffin isn't heavy and dry and grainy?" To solve that puzzle, bakers scoured the Internet, cookbooks, and local stores, finding success with ingredients often overlooked in Western cuisine, such as green bean starch and coconut powder.

While most home recipes won't stretch your pantry quite that far, they do require a few unusual items. Fudge brownies? You got it, just throw in some xanthan gum.

Deby's Decadent Fudge Brownies

  • 1 cup butter 
  • 1 cup shortening 
  • 4 cups powdered sugar 
  • 2 cups gluten-free flour blend (use your favorite blend) 
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if using Deby's Gluten-Free Flour Blend) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using Deby's Gluten-Free Flour Blend) 
  • 1 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder 
  • 6 eggs 
  • 1 tablespoon gluten-free vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup hot water 
  • Parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 340°. Line a 9x13 pan with parchment. In a small saucepan, heat butter and shortening to boiling. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add butter and shortening to dry ingredients and stir well. Add eggs two at a time and mix thoroughly. Add vanilla extract and water and mix well. Pour into the pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until firm. Cool completely before cutting.