X is for Xanthan

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stenciled-xanthan-stars photo by vsimon

Texture is the biggest challenge in gluten free baking. Gluten free bakery has evolved from gritty, crumbly, and dry, to nearly indistinguishable from the glutinous original. You can thank xanthan for that.

Xanthan creates structure in the batter that traps gases from yeast, baking soda, or baking powder. The batter can rise, so a muffin is taller and easier to chew than a hockey puck. Yeast bread rises over the edge of the pan and becomes a work of art.

Xanthan also improves the “crumb” of your baked treat. You get a tender product that does not crumble on your fork, and in your lap, before you can get that bite into your mouth.

Xanthan is sold as an off-white powder that is surprisingly expensive per ounce. But it is powerful stuff; small amounts make a big difference in the final texture. And it is shelf stable. So you may only need to replace that $10 bag of xanthan every few years. I consider it a good investment in happy eating.

Mixing xanthan and water is a bit like oil and water. It does not work. Only in this case, xanthan absorbs water so quickly that it will form slippery little clumps, with dry powder on the insides when you try to mix it directly with any liquid.

For best results, thoroughly mix xanthan into the dry ingredients in a recipe. That way each powdery bit can absorb its own liquid without lumps.

Maybe you have a favorite gluten filled recipe you want to convert to gluten free. Here are some guidelines on when to add xanthan.

When do I need it?

No need

Flat things like pancakes. Crusty things like waffles. Crumbly things like the toppings on fruit crisps. Or little things like small cookies.


Size matters. If the item is taller than an inch, or bigger than 3 or 4 inches in diameter. Examples include muffins, cakes, big cookies, or quick breads.

Other ingredients matter too. If there are many eggs in the recipe, as in angel food cake, they can give the necessary structure and you might not need xanthan.

Lots of flax seed meal can make xanthan unnecessary too. See vegan millet muffins for xanthan free recipe.

Fruit and vegetable purees like banana or pumpkin might add enough structure so you do not need xanthan.

And using whole grain gluten free flours in place of highly refined starches may reduce the amount of xanthan needed. Some whole grain gluten free flours have protein contents similar to wheat. This helps with the desired texture.

For sure

Yeast breads. Don’t you love an artisan looking loaf of bread? And you might even want to make a sandwich. A simple sandwich must be the ultimate gluten free luxury. You need bread that is structurally sound and tall enough to slice. Xanthan will save the day here.

Pizza crust. The best pizza is hand held. You need xanthan for a sturdy crust.


tart-cherry-pie-slice photo by vsimon

Piecrust. Again, structural strength is important. Xanthan makes the dough stretchy enough to roll out. You may still need help from two pieces of parchment paper, but it can be done. You want a clean cut of the finished piecrust without excessive crumbling. And a slice that will come out in once piece. Well, maybe not the first slice. But wheat piecrusts sometimes have the same problem.

Crackers. It is a rare person who makes their own crackers. But if you do, you will need xanthan. It really is just like rolling out very thin pie dough.

How much do I need?

It depends on what you are making. This is just a general starting point. If the finished item is too crumbly, add more xanthan to the next batch. If it is too gummy or leaves a slimy feel on the tongue, use less.

Per cup of flour

½ to 1 teaspoon in muffins and cakes and quick breads

1 teaspoon in yeast breads, piecrusts and crackers

Metric measure: 1 teaspoon xanthan equals 4 grams.

Why not guar gum?

Good question. Guar serves the same purpose as xanthan and is less expensive. Some recipes may use larger amounts of guar, though still small. But some people note that they react to guar. Since xanthan is inexpensive over the long term, xanthan won out.

I would love to hear your comments on xanthan or other alternatives.

11-30-09 This post was submmitted to the December edition of the Gluten Free Lifestyle Blog Carnival. Hosted by Kim Hopkins, The Food Allergy Coach. Product reviews, tasty recipes and useful tips are included.  Thanks Kim!

M is for Millet- Muffins Two Ways

It looks like birdseed, heck, it is birdseed. Other than being gluten free, what is so great about millet? It makes great crunchy muffins for one thing. Today we do two, one with buttermilk, one vegan.

I started with a wheat flour and whole grain millet recipe from Cooking Light. Imagine millet in a mainstream magazine like Cooking Light. They were delicious, so I had to experiment. Both versions of these whole grain gluten free muffins are equally tasty.

You can substitute only millet flour for the wheat flour. Or use a gluten free flour blend. The straight up millet flour version has more whole grain flavor. The blend is milder. Do not omit the millet seeds though. They give the muffins the fun crunch.

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buttermilk-millet-muffins photo by vsimon

Buttermilk Millet Muffins Yield 12                                                             Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

1/3 cup oil

¾ cup dark brown sugar

1 ½ cup millet flour or gluten free flour blend

2/3 cup millet seeds

2 tablespoons ground flax seed meal

1 ½ teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small boil, whisk the wet ingredients well. That is the buttermilk, egg, oil and dark brown sugar. Sugar, any sugar, is considered a wet ingredient in baking. Weird, I know. Brown sugar does mix better with the wet ingredients than the dry ones.

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine all the dry ingredients. That is everything else.

Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir until completely mixed.

Mixing ingredients like this, wet into dry, is called the muffin method. I learned that in 7th grade Home Economics.

Allow the batter to sit for 5 minutes. The xanthan gum and the ground flax seed will hydrate, or soak up some liquid. The batter will get thicker and the muffins will rise better. That is newer knowledge, I did not learn that in 7th grade Home Ec.

Put 12 muffin papers in muffin pans. Fill the papers about ¾ full. Sprinkle tops with raw sugar crystals if desired. They are big and sparkly, a nice touch. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.


millet-seed-heads photo by Shi_Yali

Did you say you wanted those muffins dairy free, egg free, vegan? Can do.    I have recently discovered Amazake, a fermented rice beverage. During fermentation, the starch of the rice is broken down into sugar, naturally sweetening the drink. These muffins are a bit sweeter than the buttermilk version. Personally, I could reduce the sugar here to 2/3 cup. But my husband likes them with the ¾ cup amount.

Amazake is as thick as buttermilk. It might be a bit hard to find, and it is more pricy than buttermilk. Still, it is a great ingredient.

To replace the egg, I increased the ground flax seed meal. This adds structure just like xanthan. The first trial of these muffins, I left the xanthan in. Wow, that batter could stand alone. I cooked it anyway. The muffins were certainly edible, but they sure did not need the xanthan.

The second batch is xanthan free. Worked like a charm. And since there is no buttermilk, there is no need for baking soda either.

Also, I think this is funny, our cats LOVE these vegan muffins. One is very big and will eat any dairy, or anything with dairy, that she can get at. The other is very small and it seems she rarely eats anything. To our surprise, both cats want these muffins. They want more than just crumbs. These are just simply good, as good as the dairy version.

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dairy-free-egg-free-soy-free-millet-muffin  photo by vsimon

Dairy Free, Egg Free Millet Muffins  yield 12                                            Preheat oven to 425 degrees

1 cup amazake

¾ cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup oil

1 ½ cup millet flour or gluten free blend

2/3 cup millet seeds

½ cup ground flax seed meal

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, mix amazake, dark brown sugar, and oil.

In a large bowl, mix everything else. Let this batter sit for 5 minutes too, it will thicken. Fill muffin papers ¾ full. Top with raw sugar if you like. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Oh, and did I mention, nutritionally, millet is rich in the B vitamins, niacin, B6 and folic acid. And it is a good source of fiber.

Please let us know how you use millet. Or if you are familiar with Amazake.

10-21-09 This post is submitted to the GF Lifestyle Blog Carnival for November, host by Sustaining Health Holistically, a gluten free, vegan, raw blog.

I is for Iceberg Lettuce

Umm. The much maligned iceberg lettuce is not very nutritious you say. I completely agree. If iceberg lettuce is your primary vegetable, you need to explore the colorful world of greens. But we will save that for another post.

Since iceberg lettuce is naturally gluten free, how many times has it been suggested as a substitute for a bun? I see many eyes rolling. A greasy burger between two slippery iceberg leaves is just not the same.

The best use of iceberg lettuce is a decorative vessel for salads. In the 60’s when my mom wanted to serve something fancy to bridge club, she served squares of fruited Jell-O. They were usually red, with fruit cocktail, made in a 9×13 pan. The squares were placed on a leaf of iceberg lettuce, and then topped with a dollop of mayo. Mom still loves that, I still think it is awful.

Or, the also retro, salad of a wedge of iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island Dressing comes to mind. This is still offered at some steak houses. It is tasty with a juicy steak and a baked potato. And easy enough for the restaurant to make gluten free. Here is a recipe to make your own dressing and treat yourself at home.



photo by vsimon

Thousand Island Dressing

Adapted from my marked up 1973 edition of Joy of Cooking.                           This version is chunkier.

1 cup mayonnaise (Hellmann’s and Best foods brands are gluten free)

¼ cup catsup (Heinz brand is gluten free)

¼ cup minced stuffed green olives

¼ cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped green pepper

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 diced hard cooked eggs

Mix it up. Serve over wedges of iceberg lettuce or hard cooked eggs. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Note: products change from time to time. Always read the label to determine if it is still gluten free. At the time of this posting, Hellmann’s, Best Foods, and Heinz websites have helpful gluten free listings.