How to Make Any Recipe Gluten-Free
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When I first married my husband Tyler, who has Celiac, in 2012, I don’t think I realized how different my day to day cooking was going to change. Although I knew the logistics of gluten-free cooking (hello cross-contamination and food labeling) and was comfortable in the kitchen, I also loved the comfort foods I grew up with. And they were not naturally gluten-free. The thought of “relearning how to cook” was so overwhelming! As I searched gluten-free recipes in cookbooks and on Pinterest I suddenly I had a realization. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel—I can make any recipe gluten-free by just modifying the ingredients!
What started out as a super daunting process quickly became simple as I learned what ingredients work where! While the recipe may not taste exactly the same when finished, you may even discover that the recipe may even taste better! Keep on reading for 4 simple steps to make any recipe gluten-free, PLUS a free printable checklist to use when analyzing your favorite recipes!
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1. Identify What Ingredients Need to Change
The first step to make any recipe gluten-free is to identify the ingredients that contain gluten. Beyond looking for the specific ingredients of wheat, barley, and rye, look in your recipe for the ingredients on this list as they likely contain gluten. While the ingredients on following marked with an asterisk* list do not always contain gluten, they often do—so check labels carefully!
- BBQ Sauce*
- Oats* (if using oats, make sure you are using oats processed under a purity protocol like Gluten Free Harvest Oats)
- Pasta* & Orzo
- Salad dressing*
- Soy Sauce/Teriyaki
Beginner tip: start with recipes that only need 1-2 minor ingredient swaps!
2. Find Your Substitutions
For most recipes, you can find an EXTREMELY similar (if not identical) substitution. Just make sure you read labels to be sure that your ingredients are gluten-free. If it’s not a whole food ingredient, I like to look for products labeled “certified gluten-free.” Below are common substitutes when trying to make any recipe gluten-free.
- pasta: there are SO many kinds of gluten-free pastas, but it may take some experimenting to find one that you love. My personal favorites are gluten-free pastas with a combination of ingredients (corn, rice, quinoa) such as Barilla and Aldi’s. I also prefer shorter pasta shapes (such as penne or macaroni) over long strands like spaghetti or fettuccine. In my personal experience, the long strands tend to stick together really terribly and I have a difficult time getting it to cook evenly.
- condiments: Worchester sauce, soy sauce, vegetable oil, and other condiments may contain gluten! These are super easy swaps—just make sure to read labels and ONLY purchase gluten-free versions.
- bread crumbs: Probably the yummiest solution is to make your own from your favorite gluten-free bread, however there are countless other gluten-free substitutions for bread crumbs! Some stores sell gluten-free bread crumbs. One option is to grind gluten-free cereal, gluten-free crackers, or gluten-free chips in a food processor until desired consistency. Sometimes you can even sub grated Parmesan cheese or a coarser ground almond flour. It really depends on the recipe and the desired outcome.
- flour: If your recipe calls for flour for dredging, I recommend using a basic gluten-free all-purpose flour. If it calls for flour for thickening (i.e. gravy or a roux) you can sub corn starch or arrowroot powder.
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3. Special tips for Baking
In addition to the above 2 tips, baking requires its own bonus section. Baking really is a science, and mastering gluten-free baking is like graduating with a PhD.
If new to gluten-free cooking (or if you just aren’t that adventurous—like me) I HIGHLY recommend that you stick with gluten-free box mixes for baking. These companies have experimented, taste tested, and mixed flours like crazy to get them to come out right. I’ve even tried a bunch out and written reviews throughout my blog.
But if you just have a sweet spot for baking from scratch or have some amazing family recipes you just can’t spend the rest of your life without, here are my special tips for how you can make any recipe gluten-free when baking.
Choose the right flour (or flour blend).
Not all gluten-free flours are equal—nor do they behave like regular all-purpose or wheat flour when baking. Mimicking an all-purpose flour requires mixing all kinds of different flours together to make any recipe gluten-free. The best recipe for all-purpose gluten-free flour I’ve tried is the on in the How Can it Be Gluten-Free Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen.
However, mixing your own flour blend is time consuming, not to mention being fairly expensive up front due to buying such a wide variety of specialty flours. Therefore, I recommend beginning with a good quality all-purpose cup-for-cup gluten-free flour blend like King Arthur.
Measure by weight instead of volume.
Instead of measuring your gluten-free all-purpose flour in a measuring cup, weight it on a food scale for more precise baking. One cup of all-purpose flour equals approximately 125 grams.
Add additional ingredients to improve the texture.
Even when using a premixed gluten-free all-purpose flour, you might still need to add special ingredients to get the composition of the batter or dough correct. Try adding a tsp of xanthan gum to thicken or help the dough hold together. Add an egg to help ingredients bind if it seems too dry. Is the mix too wet? Add some more flour. Is it super sticky? That’s probably normal—haha!
Tip for working with super sticky dough—if it’s too sticky to work with you have a few options: a. wet your hands before mixing or patting down (this will keep the dough from sticking to your hands), b. spray plastic wrap with a gluten-free cooking spray and work with the dough underneath the plastic wrap (this is great if you’re working with pizza crust), or c. refrigerate the dough!
Let the batter sit for 15-30 minutes BEFORE putting it in the oven.
GF flours are often coarse, letting it sit allows the flours to absorb the wet ingredients which will help eliminate grittiness.
4. Write Down Your Modifications
Make sure you write down what you tried for a substitution and review the finished product. Analyzing the recipe right after you eat it is a great way to keep experimenting. For example, did you like gluten-free cornflakes for breading on chicken? Why or why not? If it was too crunchy, maybe you need to grind into finer crumbs. If it was too sweet, next time try kettle chips or tortilla chips.
Reviewing what worked, and what didn’t, will set you up for greater success modifying recipes in the future. Download and print the free template below to record your modifications and your review, then store it with your recipe for the next time!
Are you ready to do gluten-free living totally STRESS-FREE? Download the free template for modifying any recipe to be gluten-free, PLUS get FREE instant access to my online library designed to make your gluten-free lifestyle totally easy!
Do you have any tips on how to make any recipe gluten-free? Share them in the comments below!
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Looking for recipes or more tips on living gluten-free? Check out these posts:
- Homemade GREEK SEASONING
- Top gluten-free LUNCHES for kids
- Best tips for SIMPLE gluten-free living
- Gluten-free PIZZA quesadillas