Gluten is a protein substance that is found in wheat and grain products and serves to give dough a pliant consistency. It also helps the dough to rise and maintain its form. Gluten-free baking is simply baking foods without gluten. Certain people are allergic to gluten and it can sometimes cause a condition called celiac disease. This is when the small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged due to an allergic reaction to consuming gluten.
Preparing and baking food without including gluten can be a little difficult because the properties in gluten help to hold the product together. For those that choose to attempt gluten-free baking, there are gluten-free products available that they can use without diminishing quality and taste. Gluten is responsible for creating the light and fluffy texture of cakes and other confections; however, using gluten-free flour and products such as xanthan gum can go a long way to duplicating the texture of food products that contain gluten. Gluten-free baking often takes a little practice before finding the correct mixture and consistency. Sometimes a blend of flours can be used to create the right mix for baking bread and cake.
Eggs are typically used, along with xanthan gum, to help maintain consistency when gluten-free baking. One teaspoon of xanthan gum in a cup of substitute flour will usually be sufficient to keep the form of most baked products. There is a wide variety of substitute starches and flours that can be employed and some of these can include buckwheat, corn flour and millet. Nut flour and tapioca are also good substitutes. There are a host of other products that are available and a certain amount of mixing and experimentation should yield positive results.
Certain products that seem to be gluten-free on the surface do still have traces of gluten in them. Rye and barley can also contain gluten. Some sprays used to coat baking trays sometimes include gluten as well. It is typically up to the manufacturer to list whether or not the product contains any gluten and it can get confusing as the ingredient lists are sometimes deceptive. The best way to be certain is to carefully read the product label and check with the manufacturer if in doubt.
For those suffering from celiac disease, it may be prudent to check into the preparation process that any given manufacturer employs. Flour containing gluten can be used to dust and lubricate the process of producing gluten-free products. Cross-contamination can also occur in the home kitchen when bowls are not thoroughly cleaned and traces of flour containing gluten could cause an unwelcome allergic reaction.