Going Gluten-Free with Xanthan Gum

I cook gluten-free. My sister, some nephews and nieces and I all have negative reactions to gluten.

One thing that’s frustrating about gluten free cooking is trying to make dishes that need flour. Gluten glues flour-containing products together so that they have body and don’t collapse and are fluffy.

A gluten-free recipe doesn’t have that available.

The way I solve that problem is to add either xanthan gum or guar gum. They are sticky and help hold things together. I’m pretty generous with how much I use, so my recipes end up costing more if you’re counting such things.

bottle of xanthan gum

One of the brands of xanthan gum available.

Yesterday and today I had been making cupcakes with my Great Grandma Lake’s recipe. It is a very fragile recipe. It is not very forgiving of mistakes. Although it is totally not PC, when my grandma would make cakes with the recipe that failed in some way or another, we would call them cripples. A sign that it is a hard recipe is that even after years of making the recipe for holidays, she still often made cripples.

The first time I made cupcakes several years ago, everything was cool. It seemed to work like a regular cupcake recipe. Today and yesterday, not so much.

I made a bunch of mistakes. The first batch didn’t have any xanthan gum and the cupcakes collapsed before they were done cooking–it was awful — a few ended up in my stomach but most went in the trash.

Today’s batch went better. But here is where I learned something….

The first pan of cupcakes today fell pretty badly. The second pan was a little better and the third was pretty close to normal. As the batter aged and I waited for the first pans to cook, the batter got thicker and thicker which correlated with the cupcake’s falling less and less.

I have noticed the batter getting thicker when I used xanthan gum to make waffles, but I thought that was just what pancake batter does. Now, I believe that if I let a dish rest before cooking it, I might need less xanthan gum and also the recipe will act more like it was made with whole-wheat flour from the start.

So, in summary, my conclusion is that when I make a dish with xanthan gum, I should let the dish age for 20-30 minutes for the xanthan/guar gum to begin to be sticky and then start cooking.

Here’s the recipe for the brave and curious Grandma’s Cake. The recipe gets really dry if you overcook it at all. I use a lot toothpicks when I’m cooking this.

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