Ask Shelley Case: Converting Recipes to Gluten & Dairy Free

Question: Before my household became gluten and dairy free I baked all sorts of traditional holiday favorites. I would love to bake again –but need help on where to start? Shelley, can you help?

There’s nothing as special as homemade baked goods during the holiday season. But those concerned with a gluten or allergen free diet often struggle with “relearning” how to bake and adapt to these special dietary needs. By understanding a few basics in gluten-free and allergen-free baking, using a gluten-free flour mix and using your imagination when it comes to creating desserts, you will find that piping-hot cookies, cakes and other goodies can once again be enjoyed… even when on a restricted diet.

Here are the answers to a few of the most common questions I am asked about gluten-free baking.

Do you know any good gluten-free flour blends? It seems so overwhelming, and confusing!

Making your own flour blend for gluten-free baking does not have to be complicated or expensive. Carol Fenster, the President and Founder of Savory Palate, Inc., author of several best-selling gluten and allergen-free cookbooks, and an internationally recognized expert on gluten-free cooking developed an extremely versatile blend of flours that can be used as the basis for many gluten-free baked goods. Keep the following blend in a tightly sealed container in your pantry so you’re always ready to bake whenever the need arises. Here’s Carol’s recipe:

Carol’s Sorghum Blend
1 ½ cups sorghum flour
1 ½ cups potato starch or cornstarch
1 cup tapioca flour
Whisk ingredients together until well blended. Store, tightly covered, in a dark, dry place for up to 3 months. You may refrigerate or freeze the blend, but bring it to room temperature before using. You may double or triple the recipe.

For more of Carol’s gluten-free flour blend recipes using different flours check out this link.

Are there any tricks to convert my favorite recipe to be gluten and dairy free?

To answer this question I turned to Jean Duane, gluten-free, dairy-free (GFCF) expert and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Gluten-Free Cooking”. Jean shares with us her secrets learned from years of GFCF baking trials and errors. What follows are general guidelines to convert a traditional wheat-flour recipe packed with dairy into a gluten-free and/or dairy-free version.

How to Convert a Traditional Recipe to Gluten and/or Dairy Free:
1. Start with a combination of flours in these ratios: 50% grain flour (brown rice or sorghum), 25% starch (cornstarch, tapioca or potato starch) and 25% protein flour (navy, fava, garbanzo, soy, gafava flour) or different grain flour. One cup of wheat flour translates into 1/2 cup of grain flour, 1/4 cup of bean flour and 1/4 cup of starch.
2. Add 25-50% more leavening (baking powder, baking soda or yeast) than the original recipe.
3. Add 1/2 to 1 tsp. acid (vinegar, citric acid, ascorbic acid dough enhancer, cream of tartar or citrus juice) to the original recipe.
4. Add 1/2 tsp. of either xanthan gum to the dry ingredients or guar gum to the wet ingredients for every cup of flour, or 1/4 tsp. of each. For smaller baked items, gums can be omitted.
5. Substitute butter with oil, cow’s milk with nut or rice milk (ideally with the same fat content).
6. Let the batter sit for a few minutes to absorb liquids before baking.

After you get the hang of it, it really is easy to covert your favorite recipes to a gluten-free and dairy-free version. For an example, check out Jean’s blog to see how easy it is to covert a simple brownie recipe.

Why do gluten-free recipes often contain xanthan gum or guar gum? What are they? Why are they needed in gluten-free recipes?

Gluten plays a big roll in the composition of flour. Specifically, gluten helps make dough more pliable, stretchy and “doughy”… all the attributes that is associated with gluten-containing flours.
While creating recipes with gluten-free flour blends, adding in a small amount of xanthan gum or guar gum will give the flour blend the elasticity that gluten would normally add. These gums, in essence, make the dough sticky!

Shelley, do you have any other ideas of baking without gluten?

There are plenty of delicious recipes that don’t use any flours at all. Recently, there have been many “flourless” cake recipes popping up in even the fanciest of restaurants. Other gluten-free and flourless recipes include Crème Brulee, meringues, custards, puddings, flans and desserts that include fruit as the main feature.

Experiment while baking and before you know it you’ll become a master patisserie baking up delicious and mouth-watering holiday favorites in your very own kitchen!

Note: A special thanks to Carol Fenster and Jean Duane for their contributions to this feature blog…

Carol Fenster, PhD, and President and Founder of Savory Palate, Inc., a gluten-free publishing and consulting firm. As well as being an internationally recognized expert on gluten-free cooking, she is  also the author of nine gluten-free and food-sensitivity cookbooks including 1000 Gluten-Free Recipes; Wheat-Free Recipes and Menus: Delicious, Healthful Eating for People with Food Sensitivities; Cooking Free: 220 Flavorful Recipes for People with Food Allergies and Multiple Food Sensitivities.

Jean Duane, Alternative Cook, LLC produces instructional DVDs (Chocolate, Mexican, Italian and Kids’ Meals), video streams ( and Bake Deliciously! Gluten and Dairy Free Cookbook. She shows how to cook without gluten, dairy and other food-allergens. She has produced several spots for Comcast’s Video on Demand, made television appearances on PBS and has been a featured speaker at the 2009 and 2010 International Association for Culinary Professionals’ Conferences. She has developed recipes for Betty Crocker and for Beautiful Sweets bakery and is featured in the Better Homes and Gardens 2010 Christmas Cookies publication. A regular speaker and magazine writer, she won Kiplinger’s “Dream in You” contest in 2006.

Ask Shelley Case is a feature of It is published the second Tuesday of each month. Shelley Case is a Registered Dietitian, Consulting Dietitian, Speaker and Author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. Visit Shelley and get more gluten-free tips & info at:

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2 Responses to “Ask Shelley Case: Converting Recipes to Gluten & Dairy Free”

  1. Vanessa Hadley Says:

    Hi I just wanted to say that I use pectin or unflavored gelitine instead of xanthan gum I bake almost daily this time of year I hope this out.

  2. Kathleen Reale Says:

    Hi Everyone!

    Please note that the measurements that were originally posted for Jean Duane’s flour ratios were incorrect… The correct flour ratios noted above are now the CORRECT measurements!

    Thanks to all of the BeFreeForMe members that caught the error!

    Be Free!

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