Gluten Free Baking for the Holidays

Some grains are naturally gluten-free.

At the holidays, many of our traditions are grounded in the holiday baking we indulge in this time of year: cookies, special breads, pastries. Why, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie or apple pie. It wouldn’t be Christmas without Grandma’s cookies, a Buche de Noel, or that favorite coffee cake on Christmas morning, right?

But for some, how to enjoy our traditional baking but not get a dose of gluten in the process is the problem.

Quite some time ago, Happy Bradford in Belfast and I had a conversation about how to do baking with gluten-free ingredients. Several others among you have asked me about gluten- free cooking because you have family members or friends who avoiding wheat, so, even though, thank goodness, I don’t personally have to worry about this, I know some of you do.

Some among us experience dietary distress when we eat wheat, rye, oats, and other grains which contain gluten, the protein that helps these grains make strong, spongy doughs. Some others among us are celiac, which means they have definite allergy to gluten, particularly in wheat, that results in the inflammation of intestine linings and prevents absorption of nutrients.

Because of a great deal of recent media attention, and an increased number of gluten free products, lots more of us are aware of gluten intolerance. Information on the Internet also has led many to diagnose themselves as gluten intolerant, though it is wise to check with a doctor to make sure that the cause of physical symptoms are actually gluten-caused. Gluten is not always the culprit.

I did a little digging around to see what one can do to substitute gluten-free grains for wheat flour, the one we use most in baking. It appears that there are a great many cookbooks dedicated to the proposition, and even more material available on the Internet. In fact, blogs and websites are going to be the gluten-intolerant’s best friend, not just because of the recipes, cooking and technical advice, but because some of the harder-to-find ingredient substitutes are more easily acquired on the web than on a grocery shopping trip, especially for those of us in rural places. For example, rice flours, xanthum gum, tapioca flour, and similar ingredients are sometimes found in whole food or natural food stores but can be easily ordered on-line.

Among websites that help gluten intolerant cooks are Simply Gluten Free at and Jeanne Sauvage’s blog Art of Gluten Free Baking at

Ms. Sauvage also has a cookbook by the same name, Art of Gluten Free Baking, and another titled Gluten Free Baking for the Holidays: 60 Recipes for Traditional Festive Treats.

Some flour substitute mixes are available, but they tend to be a little pricey. Many gluten intolerant people will prefer to mix their own. Several formulas appear on line: brown and white rice flours, tapioca flour with potato starch, and xanthum gum, and sometimes ground beans in various proportions.

The mix that follows is one developed by Jeanne Sauvage that can be used cup for cup as a substitute for wheat flour. She writes that the sweet rice flour called for below is also called glutinous rice flour and is sometimes sold as the brand name Mochiko. She uses her mixture even in making pie crust.

P.S. This Saturday, December 15, at 1:30 in Searsport I will give a talk about “Keeping Warm with Maine Cooking” and sign copies of my book Maine Home Cooking , which is full of recipes and anecdotes from so many of you who wrote in and contributed to Taste Buds. This event is part of an opening for the Penobscot Museum’s exhibit “Keeping Warm” which will feature quilts, mittens, ice boats and more. Stop by the Gallery and Store at 40 East Main St. and say hello.

P.P.S. Next Tuesday, December 18, I will be at the Camden Library at 7 p.m. for a talk and signing for Maine Home Cooking. It would be wonderful to see any of you in the Camden area with time to stop by.

Flour Substitute for Gluten Free Baking

1 ¼ cup brown rice flour

1 ¼  cup white rice flour

1 cup tapioca flour

1 cup sweet rice flour

2 scant teaspoons xanthum gum

Blend and store in a jar in the fridge. Use one cup of this for each cup of flour called for in a recipe.

Makes 4 ½ cups of flour substitute

Looking for…Divinity Fudge. Patsy Carlson from Presque Isle wrote to say she hoped I could find a recipe for Divinity fudge (and a couple other things, but we’ll do this one at a time). I’ll be anything there are some Divinity makers out there, perhaps making some as we speak for the holidays. Anyone?

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.