When I was first out there eating gluten-free, I found a lot of companies were just swapping white-rice flour for wheat flour,” said Lauren Arcomano, who altered her diet in an effort to address symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. “I wanted to keep baking with whole grains but without gluten.”
This yen for healthful baked goods led Arcomano and her friend Janet Villani Garratt to start Bearsville Bakers, which supplies gluten-free brownies, biscotti, scones, cookies, coffee cake, and other goodies to local farmstands and health-food stores. The expanding year-old business is meeting the needs of people who find a gluten-free diet helpful in treating food allergies, wheat sensitivity and celiac disease. Arcomano said her rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are much improved by the diet.
Garratt, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, waxed enthusiastic about the creative process of adapting recipes to meet the chemistry of gluten-free baking. “I’ll look at a recipe and think, Okay, what might work here? What can I substitute? It usually takes two tries — occasionally three or four.”
Gluten is a binding material that maintains the texture of wheat-based products, and it’s tricky to find a substitute that has the same “gluey” properties. White-rice flour works, but its nutritional value is low, while brown-rice flour has a gritty quality.
Another option is certified gluten-free whole oats. “Oats don’t have gluten, but a lot of people can’t eat them because of cross-contamination from growing in fields where wheat was grown,” explained Arcomano. “They are often processed in facilities that also process wheat.” Arcomano and Garratt grind their oats in-house to avoid contamination.
They sometimes use more expensive ingredients such as hazelnut and almond meals, ground millet, or flaxseed. Egg makes a good binder, but they have to avoid it in their vegan products, which many customers request.
Brownies are a little easier. “Cocoa has a non-wheat starch, so chocolate has a binding property,” Garratt noted.
Some of their products contain white sugar, which is cheaper than sweeteners such as agave, xylitol or stevia, which they buy for their sugar-free creations. Other vegan treats are made with vegan white sugar.