Game of scones: Gluten-free treats pack punch

Gluten-free lemon scones are a unique treat. BY JACK CLEMONS
May 26, 2014

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting with 80 members of a women’s service organization. The day included lunch, surrounded by introductions, presentations and speeches. As one of the planners for the event, I was surprised when almost 15 percent of the participants asked for a gluten-free meal.

While a few of these requests may have been because of the weight-loss claims made popular by Hollywood stars, most of these women suffer from an autoimmune condition that makes it impossible for them to eat gluten. For people with celiac disease, gluten damages the lining of their intestine and causes serious problems with nutrient absorption.

By way of definition, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten is the element of the grain that provides leavening and texture in baked goods. You’ll find it in foods such as bread, pasta, crackers, cookies and cereals. The more unlikely places where gluten is used for its emulsifying properties are a wide range of prepared foods such as salad dressings, soups and sauces.

One of the daunting challenges to eliminating gluten from your diet is the prospect of not eating many of the more common sources of carbohydrates, some of which are perennial favorites on the menu both at home and at restaurants. And, there are some surprising ways gluten can hide in your kitchen.

For example, household items that can harbor gluten include Teflon pans, wooden cutting boards and spoons. Because of their porous nature, these items may retain gluten molecules even after being washed. If you suffer from celiac disease, you’ll want to start with a brand-new pan or wooden spoon and use it only for gluten-free dishes.

Now that you’re ready to cook gluten-free foods, what do you use as a substitute for wheat flour? The answer is, it depends. For breading, use corn flour or crushed gluten-free cornflakes to avoid forming a burned crust when frying foods. Potato flour and potato starch are excellent thickeners for gravy or sauces.

Look for commercial gluten-free baking mixes for foods such as bread, muffins or brownies. These mixes are typically a combination of several different flours, including: tapioca, fava, garbanzo, sorghum and rice flours. Any recipe for gluten-free baked goods will also call for xanthan gum as a thickening and stabilizing agent.

Although it sounds exotic, xanthan gum is a plant-based powder derived from sugar fermentation and used as a gelling agent. In baking, gluten gives dough its familiar texture; xanthan gum provides a similar function, giving dough both elasticity and the ability to rise.

More and more supermarkets and specialty shops carry prepared foods and mixes that are gluten free. Both Good News Natural Foods and Good Earth Market in Rehoboth carry Canyon Bakehouse gluten-free breads. Superfresh and Food Lion offer a variety of gluten-free pastas from Barilla, Schar rolls and Udis frozen breads.

If you’re interested in making your own breads and muffins, look in the flour aisle for Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free cereal and baking mixes. King Arthur Flour’s catalog has a wide range of gluten-free products as well as xanthan gum.

The lemon scones in the photograph were the delicious result of whisking together a Sticky Fingers mix from Lewes Gourmet. These baked up tender and fluffy, with a delicate texture and bright lemon flavor - perfect for breakfast or teatime. I’ve included a recipe for gluten-free scones that can be studded with dried cherries of sweetened dried cranberries. You’ll never miss the wheat.

Gluten Free Scones*

1 3/4 C King Arthur GF flour
1/4 C sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t xanthan gum
1/4 t salt
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 C butter
3/4 C dried cherries or craisins
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1/3 C milk

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease a divided scone pan or line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift together the flour or flour blend, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, and nutmeg into a large mixing bowl. Work in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the dried fruit. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla till frothy. Pour liquid into the dry ingredients, stirring until blended. Place the dough into the sections of the scone pan. Or, form the dough into a ball, place on the parchment and pat down to flatten; cut through the dough to create 8 wedges. Bake until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.

* Adapted from King Arthur Flour