Read all about the 11 ingredients that every gluten and dairy-free culinary enthusiast should always have on hand! They will make a world of a difference in navigating the terrain of home recipe conversion.
I know, I know. You're probably thinking, "Really?!? Another article about what to have on hand in your kitchen??" but hear me out! As a fellow busy person, I get that you don't want to spend hours shopping for ingredients every week, and meal kits don't always supply you with the essentials. It's especially true when you're gluten and/or dairy-free! This list of 11 items you should always have stocked in your kitchen will save you from late night runs to the grocery store or bad substitutions that leave you wanting more.
So, here they are:
1. Arrowroot Starch
Arrowroot starch is a very popular ingredient these days, but not many people know what it does! Starches are designed to absorb water and therefore thicken whatever it's added to. Arrowroot starch is a close cousin of corn starch but it's a little stronger in its thickening power and has a bit more nutritive value. If you’re going to substitute it for corn starch, I’d suggest using a ratio of 3/4:1.
Pro tip: When adding any type of starch to a sauce, mix it with a little bit of water first to make what’s called a “slurry”, or highly concentrated starch solution. We do this to break up the starch molecules a little bit so that it spreads through your sauce when it’s added rather than simply clumping together in it and staying that way! Once clumps appear in the sauce, it’s almost impossible to work them out without an immersion blender.
2. A Good Gluten-Free Flour Mix
This is especially true during the holiday season when you’ll be baking up a storm! For most home baking uses, I highly suggest Robin Hood’s Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour. In my opinion, it has the best texture (which is really hard to come by) and structure building properties (even harder to come by). Most flours available to buy these days have some combination of rice flour, starches, and gums. Right now, it’s definitely your best bet!
I caution you against flour blends that contain some type of bean flour, or really anything except rice flour, as the first ingredient. Starches and bean flours are great for helping things stick together, but as the first ingredient (aka making up the majority of the blend) it’s too much! You’ll end up with a dense, tough, and chewy treat.
3. A Good Butter Substitute
This one I’ve touched on a little in my “How To Make a (Dairy-Free) Buttercream Cake” article. Everyone has their own preference for a butter substitute, and depending on what you’re making, the range of substitutions can be pretty big! Here are some tips I have for choosing a butter substitute to suit what you’re making:
Match Solids and Liquids
Generally, if you need solid (albeit softened) butter for a recipe, use a solid fat or butter substitute. Liquid oils can be used when your finished creation doesn’t need to be a solid, or will be baked in the oven as a batter, but otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it! The difference in melting points will turn solid things and creams into soups.
Diversify, Diversify, Diversify!
Even in cases when you have an amazing butter substitute that can do no wrong, I’d still recommend putting at least one other type of fat in the recipe. Butter is a very difficult flavour to properly replicate, and tongues will easily notice if there’s only one flavour coming through that isn’t it! Trick the tongue with many oils. Also, you’re more likely to reach an average melting point that is more similar to real butter.
This is a bit of a weird one. Have you ever tried a vegan, soy free, or dairy-free baked good that was just oozing oil? I certainly have! The reason for this is that gluten-free flours require more oils to moisten, and not overcompensating for that in some way can have dire consequences. Lecithins are responsible for making sure that the oils and water don’t separate out of the mixture and/or final product. Soy lecithin is by far the most effective, but if you don’t eat any soy products, sunflower lecithin is another choice that can help with this problem. Generally, the more lecithin the better!
4. A Heavy Cream or Whipping Cream Substitute (Non-Dairy Milk)
Ok guys, this one is tricky. You might be tempted to use one of the new Silk Coffee Creamers (which I am addicted to, by the way), but these creamers weren’t meant for baking! Dairy-free creamers are thickened by heavy gums, which will be amplified when heated and won’t make a structure when whipped.
In fact, no releases of these types of substitutions have been commercially successful, and that’s because they don’t really work.
A popular solution that most people use is coconut cream, and that’s because it has a much higher fat content than other non-dairy milks. Unfortunately, this is also a great way to make sure that the entire recipe turns tropical! I’m going to be a dairy-free and vegan REBEL here and tell you to skip the coconut cream unless the other flavours are really strong or you actually want your dessert to be coconut flavoured!
I suggest using a mixture of your favourite non-dairy milk substitute and a solid (softened) fat of your choice. Heavy cream and whipping cream usually has a fat content of approximately 36-40%, and so you’ll want to match this as closely as possible!
Step 1: Look up the fat content of your milk substitute.
Step 2: Look at the total amount of heavy cream your recipe calls for.
Step 3: Figure out what 40% of that total amount is. For example, if the recipe calls for 200g of heavy cream, you would need 200g x 0.4 = 80g of fat.
Step 4: WAIT! You also need to take the amount of fat that’s already in the milk substitute into account. Let’s say that your milk substitute is already at 2% fat.
200g x 0.02 = 4g
This means that you can subtract the amount of pre-existing fat from the fat that you need to add.
Fat = 80g - 4g = 76g
So, to substitute for 200g of heavy cream, you’ll need 76g of fat and 124g of your favourite milk substitute.
I always have three different kinds of vinegar on hand: regular, balsamic, and apple cider. These are really great for balancing the flavour profile when you need a little extra “tang”. As an added bonus, it also helps to activate your baking soda or baking powder so that you get a little more lift.
6. Eggs (or Flax Eggs)
Eggs are an incredibly useful ingredient and they have so many applications! They’re really a must-have when working with gluten free recipes. Plus, they make a fantastic pastry cream. That being said, if you choose not to eat eggs or you’re allergic to them, there are other ways to make sure that your recipes stay together. Basically, that’s starch and flax eggs. So, if you need to have something else on hand instead of eggs, grab yourself some ground golden flax.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potato purée is an awesome way to moisten darker batters without using too much oil! Don’t go too overboard - a little goes a long way.
8. A Good Yogurt Substitute
Good yogurt substitutes can add a lot of creaminess to recipes, and can even be used to make a non-dairy sour cream. As I mentioned before, I wouldn’t go with a coconut-based yogurt due to the low melting point. Instead I’d go with some sort of oat, almond, cashew, or soy base.
9. Gluten Free Soy Sauce
This one is critical. It’s a must-have for takeout sushi, and for SO many sauces. I don’t know why they can’t just make every soy sauce gluten free! It’s such a small ingredient it could easily be replaced by a thickening starch! Let’s start a petition.
10. A Neutral Oil (i.e. Olive Oil, Canola Oil)
Neutral oils make the culinary world go ‘round. Sometimes a flavourful oil can make a dish come to life, but unless you have something very specific in mind I would stay away from them. Unless it’s very well matched to the recipe it’ll only detract from the flavours you want to showcase!
11. Instant Coffee
I know, it seems odd. Coffee is not only an aromatic delight, but it can also be used as a spice and has the power to enhance the taste of chocolate! Now that’s a superpower if I’ve ever seen one. Its flavour profile is truly unmatched and can be surprisingly delicious in just about anything from steak rubs to liqueur.