Jeanne Sauvage is the woman behind the popular blog, The Art of Gluten-Free Baking. Her philosophy for gluten-free baking: The recipe needs to be delicious or what's the point? She will be at the store on Wed., Dec. 12, 7pm for her latest book, Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays: 60 Recipes for Traditional Festive Treats.
I am often asked how to successfully (and happily) negotiate the winter holiday season as a gluten intolerant person. This is a time of celebrations. And a large part of the celebrations during this time center around food and on sharing that food with other people. Whether the sharing comes in the form of a potluck, a cookie decorating party, an office cocktail and nibbles party, or an extended family dinner, food plays a major role. And it’s easy for those of us with food sensitivities to feel left out or overwhelmed about how to cope. Below are some strategies that help me make the season merry and bright for myself as well as for the other people in my life.
- Note that the spirits of the season are gluten-free.
Wine, champagne, and distilled alcohols are gluten-free. This means that most cocktails are gluten-free. The only common alcohol that is off-limits is traditionally-made beer (because it is made with barley and it is not distilled). And nowadays, there are even gluten-free beers on the market that are not too shabby, so if you are a beer lover—you are in luck. Please note that there is a lot of misinformation around about distilled alcohols. Be aware that even alcohols made from gluten-containing grains (like a wheat vodka or a rye whiskey) are gluten-free because the gluten proteins are too big to get through the distillation process. So, unless there is “mash” added back into the alcohol after the distillation process, it is gluten-free.
- Focus on what you CAN have versus on what you CAN’T have.
This sounds simple, but it took me a long time to learn and internalize this bit of wisdom. In the first few years after my diagnosis, it was so hard for me not to concentrate on the things I couldn’t have—I felt like the world was made up of breads and sandwiches and pizza and cookies. But you know what? In reality, there is more food that I can eat versus food that I can’t eat, including: meat, poultry, fish, beans, cheese, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and gluten-free grains like rice, corn, and quinoa. And at food gatherings there always seems to be a meat tray, a shrimp platter, a cheese plate, and a veggie or fruit platter. There is just so much out there that we can eat—keep your eyes and your attention on these things!
- Bring your own crackers to restaurants, parties, and dinners
This sounds a bit crazy, but everyone I know who has been gluten-free for a fair amount of time (including me) does this. And don’t be embarrassed—every time I pull out my package of gluten-free crackers, my hosts or my dining companions comment on how smart I am to have thought of it. And often, there is someone else in the group who was too embarrassed to bring their own crackers who asks if I would share—which I am always happy to do! And this way, I (or we, as the case may be) can enjoy the dips and cheese plates that otherwise would be awkward to eat (although I have been known to eat a small spoonful of dip on occasion). Just be careful about cross contamination issues—select the cheeses that are away from the wheat cracker side of the tray, or jump on the dips and put a selection of them on your plate before anyone else gets to them.
- Take some time to check out the gluten-free options at your local grocery store, co-operative market, organic market, and even at the local bakery.
There are so many more options of good gluten-free foods and treats available now than were available when I was first diagnosed 12 years ago. When I was first diagnosed, there were only a few things that were gluten-free, and most of them were horrible: dry, crumbly, hard, flavorless—yuck. But, nowadays the “yuck” is getting to be much less common and the “yum” is much more common.
- Offer to bring the dessert and/or bread to the party, dinner, or potluck.
This is one of my favorite party strategies. I am an avid baker and I love to bake for gatherings. And with recipes for gluten-free baked goods that are indistinguishable from their wheat counterparts, no one knows (or cares about) the difference. Of course, my book, Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays: 60 Recipes for Traditional Festive Treats, is perfect for this situation. I have included everything that I could think of that folks would want during this season. Below is a recipe for Cheese Crackers from the book.
Cheese Crackers or Straws
From Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays: 60 Recipes for Traditional Festive Treats (Chronicle Books, 2012), by Jeanne Sauvage
Cheese crackers and straws are terrific party snacks, especially for New Year’s Eve. They are simple to prepare and get rave reviews from guests. Sometimes I make them with cheese only, and sometimes I add a pinch of cayenne for a little kick. You can also experiment with your own choice of herbs and spices. The recipe here calls for both cheddar cheese and Parmesan. If you like, you can use cheddar alone, by replacing the Parmesan with the same amount of cheddar.
Yield: 60 or more crackers or straws
1⁄2 cups/210 g Jeanne’s Gluten- Free All-Purpose Flour (recipe attached)
1⁄4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1⁄2 tsp dried herb such as thyme or rosemary or ground spice such as cumin (optional)
6 Tbsp/85 g cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
21⁄2 cups/175 g grated cheddar cheese
1 cup/70 g grated Parmesan cheese
1 extra-large egg 1⁄4 cup/60 ml milk
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, cayenne (if using), and dried herb (if using). Pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and the cheeses and pulse until evenly mixed with the dry ingredients, about 1 minute. The dough will look like wet sand with pebbles. Add the egg and pulse until incorporated. With the processor running, pour the milk through the feed tube and blend until the dough forms a ball. Alternatively, you may mix the dough by hand, using a pastry cutter to combine the dry ingredients and the butter and cheeses. Then, with a wooden spoon, stir in the egg and milk. The dough will be very stiff. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and follow instructions for making cracker rounds or straws.
TO MAKE CRACKER ROUNDS / Place a portion of the dough between two pieces of waxed paper and roll to 1/8 in/3 mm thick. Using a 2-in/5-cm cookie cutter, cut out as many rounds as possible. Using a spatula, place the cutouts on a prepared sheet, spacing them at least 1 in/ 12 mm apart. Roll out the dough scraps and repeat the process until all the dough is used.
TO MAKE STRAWS / From the second portion of dough, pinch off a marble-sized piece of dough. Roll into a ball and then put on a piece of waxed paper and roll into an evenly shaped cylinder about 5 1/2 in/14 cm long. Place on a prepared sheet. Repeat until all the dough is used, spacing the cylinders at least 1 in/ 12 mm apart.
Place the sheets on the middle and lower oven racks. Bake until the crackers or straws are brownish around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. They will be moderately crunchy. Let the crackers or straws cool on the cookie sheets until you can pick them up, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Refresh by baking at 200 degrees for about 10 minutes.
Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
makes 4 ½ cups / 630 g
11⁄4 cups / 170 g brown rice flour
11⁄4 cups / 205 g white rice flour
1 cup / 120 g tapioca flour
1 cup / 165 g sweet rice flour
2 scant tsp xanthan gum
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown and white rice flours, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, and xanthan gum thoroughly. Transfer the mix to an airtight container. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 weeks or in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.