The Four Steps This Cordon Bleu Chef Uses To Hack Her Gluten-Free Baking Routine
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I first discovered the wonders of baked goods when I was nine. That year, I was diagnosed with Hyperactive Thyroidism and Graves’ disease. These two autoimmune disorders changed not only how I felt, but also how I looked: Hyperactive Thyroidism, which speeds up the metabolism, left me weighing less than 45 pounds. Graves’ disease, which can cause inflammation of muscles and tissues around the eyes, left me with one eye protruding out way further than the other. I was no longer Camela at school: I was “Skeletor” or “Bug Eyes.” It was through baking that I was able to stay mindful and positive amidst countless doctor's visits and encounters with unknowing, often insensitive classmates. Baking brought me great joy and granted me a much-needed sense of structure during a period in my life marked with uncertainty. It remains my most trusted outlet for stress and greatest source of positive self-expression to date.
More recently, I have turned my focus to gluten-free baking. Managing my thyroid health is an important part of my daily routine since the thyroid regulates so much of my well-being: not just my metabolism but also my energy production, my brain, heart, skin, mood, bowels and body temperature. Even if a person receives formal treatment for his or her thyroid condition, there’s a possibility that he or she might still experience thyroid issues in the future. I learned this firsthand during my doctoral studies when I started feeling off-balance and learned that my thyroid levels were off. I then learned that even though I don’t have Celiac disease, gluten consumption can affect processes in my body’s track towards establishing good thyroid health. This motivated me to started integrating more gluten-free sweets into my baking routine. Here’s how I’ve been able to maintain my love affair with baking, sans gluten:
Take an inventory
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a new gluten-free pastry lifestyle won’t be either. One way to integrate less gluten into your diet in a more manageable manner is to first take stock of how much gluten you are consuming at present. The reason why I feel this step is really helpful is that it helps you manage expectations and set clearer goals for yourself: you can’t fix what you can’t see.
At first, the thought of integrating more gluten-free options into my diet was overwhelming. Only when I actually started paying attention to my eating habits did I realize that I wasn’t even consuming that much gluten. Taking an inventory of inherently gluten-free pastries that you already enjoy is also helpful in providing inspiration for the types of sweets you might enjoy exploring in the kitchen.
Break it down
By this, I mean break down your baking steps ahead of time. The French phrase for this is mise en place: it means to gather and arrange all of the ingredients and tools that you will need for your baking (or cooking) session. First, find gluten-free recipes that break down exactly what you need. A great resource for this is America’s Test Kitchen Gluten Free Cookbook: it even explains why certain ingredients work as substitutes. Another approach is to try your hand at baking pastries that you already love and are inherently gluten-free (like my favorite cookies from childhood, nan-e nokhodchi). Then, mise en place. Measuring out all of the ingredients that you’ll need for a baking session ahead of time (sometimes the morning of or even the night before) makes baking on a consistent basis way less stressful.
Nan-e Nokhodchi (Persian Chickpea Cookies)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 ½ teaspoon finely ground cardamom
- ½ tablespoon rose water
- 1 ¾ cups fine chickpea flour
- 15 pistachios, roughly chopped or ground
- Hand Mixer (or a lot of mixing muscle)
- Parchment Paper
- Plastic Wrap
- Pour vegetable oil, sugar, cardamom, and rose water into a bowl. Mix together with a hand mixer on medium speed until batter is light and creamy (approximately 3 minutes).
- Dust your working surface with chickpea flour and knead the dough for 10 minutes until it is workable. The dough will be very crumbly (and this is ok!).
- Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and allow to rest of 1 ½ - 2 hours. Do not refrigerate.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and line baking tray with parchment paper.
- Roll out dough on a chickpea flour-dusted work surface until it is approximately ½ - ¾ inch thick. Cut out cookies using a 1-inch clover-shaped cookie cutter and place the cookies on the baking tray (make sure there is around 1-inch space between them). Repeat this step for the remaining dough.
- Sprinkle chopped pistachios on top of the cookies.
- Place baking tray in the middle of the oven rack and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies achieve a nice, light golden color.
- Remove cookies from the oven and allow to cool on a tray for a few minutes. Then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
These cookies are really crumbly so be careful when transferring them from the baking tray to the cooling rack. The crumbliness is actually one of the things that I love most about them. I hope that you enjoy!
Make it a team effort
In the same way that having a workout buddy can keep you motivated towards and accountable to a fitness goal, so can having a baking buddy! Mine is my mom, who, as my biggest supporter, has also taken an interest in gluten-free baking. If you embark on this journey with a partner, try making a private Instagram account that you use exclusively for sharing photos of your latest baking triumphs. Building a visual history of your progress in this culinary journey together is very motivating.
Keep Emergency (Gluten-Free) Sweets on Hand
A day will come when all you want is something scrumptious and sweet and you’ll be too tired to bake or be missing a key ingredient. It’s helpful to keep some tried-and-true, gluten-free treats on hand to avoid veering off track in these situations, especially when you’re just getting into the groove of gluten-free baking. For me, it’s French macarons (they keep well in the freezer and need just 15-20 mins to get back to room temperature before they’re ready to eat).
If you’re not a big baker but love sweets, having something on hand that doesn’t even require much “baking” per se, but that can satisfy your sweet tooth, like gluten-free oats with your favorite fruits (fresh or frozen). A bowl of warm oats with blueberries, with a light sprinkling of brown sugar and coconut always does the trick for me.
Adopt this Ritual for yourself
Dr. Camela Logan is a user experience researcher at Facebook. In her role, she travels the world to attain a rich, deep understanding of people and what matters to them most - a dream for anyone with a strong conviction in the power of cross-cultural communication like herself (she speaks five languages and has traveled to over 40 countries). Previously, she was a user experience research consultant in NYC, where she conducted research for a wide range of companies, from innovative startups to Fortune 500 companies like eBay. She's also a Cordon-Bleu trained and James Beard scholarship-winning French pastry chef. When she isn't learning from people or baking her signature French macarons, she is searching for gifts (material and non-material) that truly touch others. Thoughtful gift-giving tops her list of passions, alongside research and baking. A Ford Fellow of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, she received her PhD from the University of Michigan in contemporary Francophone African Expressive cultures and undergraduate and graduate degrees from Brown University and the University of Oxford, respectively.