Tag Archives: gluten free


Small tapioca pearls

Bless the Mayans. Besides predicting the world will end this year, leaving behind impressive pyramids and playing a sort of basketball game with the heads of sacrificial victims or enemies, they were also responsible for  discovering and utilizing a multitude of foods we still enjoy today.

Cacao, for one, makes me forever indebted to the Mayans, who used to drink it pretty much the same way we drink cocoa nowadays (minus the sugar part); chia seeds, that have taken the health food community by storm, were also known to the Mayans who might not have been aware of the omega 3 fatty acids and the fiber the seeds contain but they knew they were mighty nutritious. And then there is tapioca, a by-product of the cassava root. Indigenous to Brazil and most of South America, the Spanish and Portuguese managed to spread it to the four corners of the world, and now cassava is grown pretty much everywhere.The Mayans, though, figured out how to remove the poisonous toxins before eating it, a process still required today.

Tapioca comes in many forms but in this country it’s mainly found as small or large pearls and flour.  Being gluten-free, the flour is ideal for baking, mixing it with other gluten-free flours. Tapioca lacks any protein but it does contain vitamin B and it is a decent source of fiber.

I like using tapioca as a thickening agent (in flour form) in any dessert where fruit needs to be cooked – it’s much gentler on the palate than cornstarch.

For that old staple, tapioca pudding, small pearls are recommended as large ones require overnight soaking.

Here is my true and tried Tapioca Pudding Recipe, which is adapted from Bob Red Mill’s .

1/3 C Small Tapioca Pearls

3 C Milk (you can use rice or almond milk too)

2 Eggs, separated

1/2 C Sugar

1 Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise, seeds removed (or 1/2 ts vanilla extract)

1/4 ts Salt

  1. Soak the tapioca pearls in water for 30 minutes.
  2. Drain, place in a sauce pan with the milk, add the salt and heat on medium heat until boiling.
  3. Break up the egg yolks with a fork in a small bowl. Add a ladle of the hot tapioca mixture and whisk vigorously, then pour into the pan and keep on whisking. Simmer, uncovered, for 10/15 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Beat the egg whites with the sugar to soft peaks. Fold about 3/4 cup of hot tapioca into the egg whites, then gently fold the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir over low heat for about 3 minutes.
  5. Remove from the stove and scrape the vanilla seeds into the pudding. Serve warm or chilled.

You can serve it as is, or add fresh or dried fruit. Cocoa powder added before folding the egg whites in, will make a great chocolate tapioca pudding.

You can even make it without sugar and fold agave syrup to taste at the end.

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Filed under cooking, desserts, gluten free


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Because of my pastry background, I am often asked for baking advice and, lately, more and more of such requests have had to do with gluten-free baking. Whether intolerance to gluten has really increased over the last few years or whether this has become a bit of a trend, I couldn’t say. Once the domain of celiac sufferers, now gluten-free products abound – it is true that gluten can be hard to digest and laying off of it, from time to time, is not a bad idea.

My friend Lin, who needs to follow a gluten and sugar-free diet, asked me for tips for  making a strawberry pie. Unlike other gluten-free products, such as cakes, muffins, cupcakes etc which require alchemic combinations of different flours (none of them excellent tastings), pies are an easier proposition, especially when vegan needn’t be a recipe’s component.

Lin had purchased a crust starter that required butter or shortening added to it. My preference would be for a nut crust, with almonds being the cheapest. Alternatively, gluten-free frozen crusts are available at specialty stores, such as Wholefoods, and all you have to do is slide them in the oven.

Even without sugar, with berries coming into season, it’s possible to achieve a great tasting filling. For this recipe, I am recommending agave syrup, but stevia or honey (not my favourite) will work too.

Agave syrup – it’s the nectar of the agave plant and, for North America, it is mainly sourced from Mexico. It’s become very popular in vegan cooking circles as a sugar substitute. More mildly flavored than sugar or maple syrup, it’s mostly sold as light or amber agave, with amber having more of a caramel-y taste. Raw and dark agave are also available but harder to come by. Nutritionally, agave is 92% fructose and 8% glucose.

Stevia – Extracted from the stevia plant, it’s available in liquid or granular form. Despite some controversies, mainly stemming from the lack of available studies, the FDA finally approved it as a dietary supplement after many years of wrangling. Stevia has been known to be 300 times sweeter than sugar for a long time. It has no calories or carbohydrates and it is safe for diabetics. It can be used in baking in either form although it’s hard to give a conversion chart when used to substitute sugar. Tasting as you go along is the only rule of thumb I can suggest. Although it is much sweeter than sugar, its sweetness is a lot less cloying.


For the crust

1 1/4 C Almond Meal

1/3 C Butter, melted

1 ts Ginger, ground

  1. Combine all ingredients with your hands. The melted butted will bind the almond flour into a paste. Spread it into a 9” pie pan, pressing firmly with your fingers.
  2. Bake at 350F for 5 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool.


For the filling


1 pint Strawberries, hulled and quartered

1 ts Cornstarch

1/4 C Agave syrup (more or less depending on taste and strawberries‘ sweetness)

1/4 C Apple juice

Pinch Cinnamon

Pinch Ginger


  1. Place the strawberries (reserving 1/3 cup), apple juice and cornstarch in a pot. Over medium heat, stir gently until the strawberries start to soften and the juices thicken. Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Add the agave syrup and the spices, stirring to combine. Add the reserved fresh strawberries.
  3. Pour the filling into the cooled crust and serve. May decorate with some chopped mint leaves.


Filed under baking, food, gluten free


Pity the poor person allergic to gluten. In the last few years, an improbable segment of the population has become intolerant to gluten, if not allergic. It used to be that only those suffering from Celiac disease had to stay away from gluten, and their food choices were pretty grim. As only people of Mediterranean descent can be susceptible to Celiac and those who suffer from it amount to only 3% of the US population, gluten allergy and the sprouting of gluten-free bakeries and products is somewhat of a mystery. Gluten free baked goods are the new cupcakes.

The craze might be explained with more and more doctors telling patients that gluten is indeed harder to digest than other foods and that staying away from yeast and wheat does alleviate some minor allergies, as I found out years ago when I abstained from wheat for a few weeks for unrelated reasons and my nose cleared up completely. Which is why I have gotten into the habit of buying some gluten-free products.

A few weeks ago, I found myself discussing the merits of different brands of gluten-free bread with a customer. My personal favourite is made by Rudi’s Organic Bakery, out of Colorado (all gluten-free bread is kept frozen so same day baking or consumption is not an issue). Glutino, an Israeli company whose products for North America are made in Canada, is responsible for some kick-ass pretzels and chocolate covered wafers but they also make bread, bagels, cereals etc. The customer I was talking to suggested I visit The Sensitive Baker in Culver City – their bread is just the best, he assured me. So, on it went on my list of things to do on the week I dedicated to dabbling in gluten-free.

The Sensitive Baker ( thesensitivebaker.com) is a modest storefront operation that makes an impressive array of breads and cakes, cookies and treats. Most of them will not be available when you walk in but they are listed on their online menu and can be made upon request. On the particular Monday I visited it, a very pregnant and very unhelpful lady with whom I tried to engage in conversation about their products was manning the store. She made me sample their bagels which were indeed fluffy and moist but I ended up buying a loaf of millet bread which set me back $8.00. It tasted ok but not as close to the real thing as Rudi’s “Original” which, once toasted, really could pass for Wonderbread.

Gluten free baking is a process of trial and error and bread is usually made with rice flour  or grains like millet or corn. They all incorporate starch in the form of potato or corn starch and some sugar such as honey or molasses. At The Sensitive Baker they had boxes of pretty cupcakes but, being $8.00 poorer, I passed.  Their website also lists some other mouth-watering concoctions.

Instead, I embarked on making my own gluten free treats, having come across a recipe for Gluten Free Sugar Cake Doughnuts by Erin McKenna of famed Babycakes in NY. Unexpectedly, I had most of the extravagant ingredients at home, compliments of a friend who really wanted me to try gluten-free baking and gave me some rice flour and garbanzo and fava bean flour together with some xanthan gum (more about that later).  Coconut oil I had bought to experiment with not long ago  so all I needed was applesauce and other staples.

Baking sweets with no gluten is even harder than making bread. Replicating fluffiness and moistness with flour made from pulses or rice is hard. Xantham gum, more commonly used in the food industry than you might think, is a polysaccharide derived from the bacterial coat of Xanthomonos and it’s used as a thickener and a stabilizer. In the case of gluten free, a small amount of the powder helps aggregate and keep together the ingredients, in the absence of eggs.  Unrefined coconut oil is a good substitute for butter but, as it turns out, its taste doesn’t really match everything.

I mixed all the ingredients, scooped the batter in savarin molds and lovingly put them in the oven – they did make the kitchen smell delicious. When I unmolded the little cakes and sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar,they looked really pretty and appetizing. The texture was perfect – fluffy and moist. The drawback? I am not sure whether it’s because of my extra sensitive palate but, after the first one, I just couldn’t get rid of a bizarre aftertaste of chickpea mixed with coconut oil, not one of my favourite combinations, it turns out. I waited an hour and tried again with not much improvement on my taste buds. Which is why the rest went in the trash and I blessed my lucky star who didn’t endow me with big boobs but lets me eat proper doughnuts whenever I feel like it.



Filed under baking, desserts, gluten free