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How to Convert a Recipe to Gluten Free

There's a little science and math involved, then you play with flavors, you follow your instincts.
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Every week on Food52, Shauna Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef -- and Gluten-Free Girl Everyday -- shares smart tips and smarter recipes that please even the most devout gluten-eaters among us. Come one, come all -- we're going flourless.

Today: To adapt a recipe to be gluten-free, there's a little science and math involved, then you play with flavors, you follow your instincts -- and then you eat. Shauna shows us how while converting a Food52 favorite: Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.

When you bake gluten-free, you can do two things.

1) You can make up your own recipe from scratch, based on the ratios of fats to flours to liquids to eggs. (This pancake recipe came from ratios and playing with flavors.)

2) Or, you can find a recipe you love that uses gluten flours and make it your own.

Let's talk about how to make a recipe your own.

Find a Great Recipe

The first choice is the most important one: find a good recipe.

This one might be tough -- in the age of the internet, the first recipe that pops up from your search might not be a good one. It might be that the team that put it online did whatever necessary to make sure it shows up first in your search. Ever made a recipe online and blamed yourself when it turned out horribly? Don't. It might have been poorly written.

I turn first to the sources I trust. Every baked good recipe by Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz, and Alice Medrich I have ever made has worked. Each of those folks -- as well as the dozens of other recipe writers I trust -- has done the work of baking, taking meticulous notes, and correcting mistakes so you don't have to make them.

A good recipe is written well; it has to be more than just a series of ingredients and steps. You should be able to hear the recipe writer's voice in there, as though he or she is standing beside you, guiding you, standing back when you're doing fine but offering suggestions when something might feel confusing. If I read a recipe that tells me to bake the cookies for 15 minutes, but doesn't offer suggestions about the texture of the cookie or what it might look like to when it's done? I don't make it.

Of course, you might want to make your grandmother's chicken pot pie or your uncle's famous snickerdoodles instead of turning to a cookbook. If it's written in shorthand, this is a great chance to have a family gathering and watch your grandmother make that pie with gluten. Write down everything you didn't know. Then go home and make it your own.

Choose your recipe well and you're halfway there.

140 grams, baby.

I have written here before about the fact that many baked goods are equally good with gluten and without. It's really about getting the ratios right. Use too much of any flour and you're going to create an overly dense banana bread.

So let's turn to the math.

If you weigh out 1 cup of all-purpose flour, you will get...well, it will be different for every cup. Most recipe writers prefer you measure out a cup this way: aerate your flour by whisking it well, then spoon it into the measuring cup, and then carefully scrape off any excess flour with a knife. Or, if you bake anything like I used to bake, you probably just stuck that measuring cup into the bag of flour and scooped some out. The problem is that's a lot more flour than the recipe intended.

A few years ago, when I started to bake by weight, I asked on Twitter for people to weigh out a cup of bleached white all-purpose flour, since that's the flour most baked goods use. The responses flooded in and they were all different -- I had answers from 4.2 ounces to 5.8. It all depends on how you measure your flour.

But if you weigh your flours -- the way pastry chefs do -- every time you weigh out flour you will have the same amount. 140 grams will always equal 140 grams. And it turns out that most recipe writers I trust, including David Lebovitz, use 140 grams as a standard weight for 1 cup of white all-purpose flour. You might see 125 grams sometimes. Or 130. Find the one that works for you. But in our house, we use 140.

So how do you convert a recipe from gluten flour to gluten-free? For every 1 cup of all-purpose flour you use in a recipe, use 140 grams of your favorite gluten-free flour blend. (Here is our all-purpose flour mix.)

Most of the time, that's all you have to do. (Except with breads and pizza doughs -- but that's another story. Today, we're talking about the baked goods most home cooks are making, like cookies, quick breads, and pies.)

Play with Flavors

If you want to convert a recipe, simply, you're mostly done now. You need the right amount of flour and you keep everything else in the recipe the same. But I can only rarely stop there. I like to play with flours and their different flavors when I'm converting a recipe. Most times, it makes the recipe better. Here are a few that are tried and true -- there's more to baking than math, of course.

• If you're making cornbread, throw in some corn flour with your gluten-free all-purpose flour.

• Making oatmeal cookies? Try some oat flour in the combination of flours.

• Chocolate cake or brownies? Teff flour will intensify the taste of the chocolate.

Trust Your Instincts

Once you convert the all-purpose flour to 140 grams of your flavorful gluten-free flours, then you play a little more. Does the dough feel a little dry? Try a splash of milk. Is it crumbling? Try an egg white or a whole egg. Is it missing some flavor? Try a pinch of salt. Or a little more cinnamon. And don't forget to take note of the changes for the next time you bake it. Make that recipe yours.

It's not good enough for a recipe to be gluten-free. It has to be good.

Go on, you can do it.

Almond-Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries

Makes about 18 cookies

You can't go wrong with recipes on Food52. These recipes are crowd-tested and come from the best home cooks I know. So, when I wanted to convert a recipe, I turned to Merrill's oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Here's how I made them my own.

160 grams almond flour

20 grams coconut flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

180 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature

200 grams (1 cup) brown sugar

150 grams (1/2 cup) white sugar (we prefer the taste of the unbleached sugar)

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

250 grams (2 1/2 cups) certified gluten-free oats

250 grams dried cherries (make sure they're gluten-free)

Photos by Shauna Ahern