Introduction: Adapt Recipes for Gluten Free and Other Intolerances...

About: Making things inspires me. When I'm in a creative space I feel really alive, whether I'm painting a portrait or renovating a kitchen, and learning new things from the generous example of others inspires me eve…

These days its a lot easier to get Gluten Free food, or Dairy Free, and less so Sugar Free as it's seen as a 'fad' to be sugar free (or perhaps the cane sugar industry really does have a massive conspiracy and vested interest in convincing the world there's nothing really wrong with a cup of sugar a day...)

But if you, dear reader, have more than one sensitivity/allergy/intolerance going suddenly you are in my boat and we seem to be up the creek without a paddle.

If you throw in the inflaming types of foods which those of us with inflammatory conditions like arthritis try to avoid, it goes from bad to much much worse.

Wanna hear the list of things i don't eat? My friends have to get me to email them this list before they think of inviting me to dinner.  I don't go to many dinner parties!

Anyway - for various health reasons, I can't eat cane sugar, honey, any gluten flours including wheat and rye, dairy, red meat or pork, duck, non-fish seafood, the deadly nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant), citrus fruits, and assorted odd things like pistachios!

If i do, i get strong pain symptoms ranging from disabling arthritis to headaches lasting weeks at a time; constipation, woohoo, depression and irritability! Feeling sorry for me is optional here!

So rather than jump off a tall building, which I've considered just about every time i discover something else i can't eat, I've found that a little bit of creativity with recipes takes one a long way. I'll preface this by saying I am NOT much of a cook either, but i LOVE my food and am not prepared to eat celery and tuna the rest of my life.

So, here are some of the things I've discovered along the way.

Step 1: Explore, Invent, Try Things Out...

Here is where it helps if you see this as a journey of discovery. Desire, a willingness to experiment, curiosity, and Google, will all come in handy as your guides.

Let's say I get a yen for something I can't eat without serious consequences - for example I see lovely blueberry cake at the bakery - I search for a cake recipe that looks like what I want, think about how I can modify it to suit my various intolerances. I might also search for recipes that are gluten free, dairy free, sugar free or whatever else i can't have, and see what other people have used in place of wheat flour/milk/butter/etc. Once in a while you'll find a recipe that's perfect and you can just use that. But otherwise you have to be creative - and you'll get to try it for yourself in the next step!

First, look around for the pre-made items you can buy - check out what your favourite gluten free products use and think about replacing your recipe's ingredient with that.

But with multiple intolerances, it's tricky - for example I cannot use most ready made gluten free flour mixes as they often contain potato flour, which is a deadly nightshade so that's out. I've then experimented with red or brown rice flour, buckwheat, coconut flour, almond meal, hazelnut meal, amongst other things, and found that for some recipes one or another works best, and for cakes I want to resemble a wheat based cake, I might use a combination of flours like 1 part buckwheat, 1 part red rice flour, and 1 part almond meal.

Make a list of your own tolerances and tastes, and have some patience for making big gluggy messes, and the courage to try again. It also helps me to write down what i've substituted here and there, the quantities and outcomes as well, for future reference.

The key things in terms of adapting recipes is really quite scientific, when i think about it:

1. Think about it - form a hypothesis about what might work as well as the evil ingredient you need to avoid.

2. Research it - see if anyone else has done a similar experiment before you and found a solution you can live with or build on.

3. Work out an experiment to test your theory - remember it's an experiment, so don't trial it for an important occasion where you want to really impress everyone!

4. As you are making it, see if it LOOKS right, FEELS right, SEEMS right. Oh and of course SMELLS and TASTES right! You've cooked before, you probably kind of know what it should be like - if it doesnt seem right, adjust the quantities, but in small increments.

5. Document your steps - quantities, timing, variations. It will help you work out afterwards what you did right or wrong. And it's great to be able to recreate an unexpected winner.

6. Check the results - small bites first, or on a relative or pet with a strong stomach.

7. Review the results - was it delicious but soggy inside? was the texture nice but it tasted bland or like dog biscuits? Go back to your methodology and think about what might work better, or if you like, Google the symptom (e.g. cake too tough) and see what other people say. Some examples of symptoms and fixes are -

Too tough (but not dry or burnt)  - try less flour, or reduce the amount of buckwheat which is quite a strong flour and increase the lighter, brown rice flour .

Dry - try cooking at lower heat, or reducing cooking time. If that doesnt work, increase the liquid, eg  extra oil, a couple of tablespoons of prune paste, extra palm syrup, or add frozen fruit to bring in  moisture . Or to improve a dry cake you have slaved over already, you can make a syrup (eg 1/3 cup palm/maple/ rice syrup, microwaved with a little lemon or orange juice, vanilla, blueberries or whatever you fancy) then drizzle it over the dry cake and let it soak in - heat and serve with whatever creamy stuff you can tolerate, coconut cream, soy cream etc.

Too sweet/not sweet enough - decrease/increase sweetener, or try a milder alternative like rice malt syrup.

Too boring - try out diferent spices, herbs, fruit, nuts,  or vegetables - cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, caraway, mint, blueberries, lemon zest or juice, vanilla, pecans, well the list is endless.

8. Try again with your revised theory.

So here are some examples of substitutions and adaptations:

A chocolate cake without gluten, cane sugar or dairy - see next step.

Sweet potato mash  for those avoiding the deadly nightshades - wonderful with fried garlic and ginger, olive oil instead of butter, and a drizzle of sesame oil...

Rice or mung bean noodles instead of wheat pasta - or even teeeny strips of zuccini lightlly blanched and used as spaghetti!

Coconut cream or tofu cream or almond cream  - or my latest discovery, cashew cream - instead of dairy cream.

Next is my most successful variation on an old recipe to date - the most yummy, super moist berry cake you've ever eaten!

Step 2: Yummiest Ever, Moist Almond Berry Cake: Gluten/Cane Sugar/Dairy Free

I've been experimenting with this recipe for a while now, trying variations on a theme, and seriously guys, this one takes the cake! In every way.

I haven't managed to get all of the photos up yet, but wanted to share this recipe because its the best so far.


¼ cup rice bran oil
¼ cup margarine
1/2 cup almond meal
½ teaspoon bicarb soda
¼ cup palm syrup or maple syrup or mix of the two
1/3 cup palm sugar or fructose
2 large eggs or 3 smaller ones
1 tablespoon vanilla (alcohol free)

1/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup frozen blueberries or raspberries

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. This is a low enough heat not to dry your cake out inside, and high enough to get a nice crispness to the outside if you like that by leaving it in the oven an extra few minutes.

Very important: test your eggs to make sure they are fresh enough to cook with. Put them in a glass of water and see if they float. If they do throw them away being careful not to break them or you could have a very smelly kitchen. Rotten eggs fill up with hydrogen sulfide which causes them not only to be supremely odoriferous, but to float, which is handy because you don't have to crack them to see if they will stink you out.

Melt oil and margarine in sauce pan. When melted remove from heat. Add palm syrup and palm sugar. Add almond meal and stir well. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix until shiny and smooth.

Cut together with a knife or fork, or if you have time, sift the flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

Add to the batter. Mix well by stirring with a wooden spoon, until there are no lumpy bits.

Add 3/4 -1 cup (more or less to taste) of frozen (or fresh if you have them available) berries and stir in quickly. My absolute favourite for this recipe is blueberries, but any berry will do and I've also had success with tinned or fresh peaches and pears - but note that the frozen berries seem to keep the cake a lot more moist.

Spray your pan with a light oil coat to aid removal, unless you have a nice non-stick flan pan you can use. Alternately you could line the pan with wax or oven paper.

The larger the pan, the thinner the cake and the less time it will need to cook through. For this recipe, a round cake pan with a diameter of around 10 inches will produce a cake about 2 inches high at the middle.

Pour mixture into pan. Set oven timer for 15 minutes. While it's baking, lick the pan and spoon. This really is the best bit, but you can't just eat the whole cake batter without baking an actual cake. No, really, you can't. Trust me on this one.

Do not over bake. At 15 minutes check to see if it's getting done by gently touching the top with your finger, if it springs back, then insert a butter knife. If it comes out clean, or with a hint of moisture but no 'batter' then it's going to be cooked just right. If there is batter still on the knife, bake another 3-5 minutes before testing.

Cool, then remove from the pan by slipping a flexible knife or spatula around the edges and underneath a little at a time. If you are using one of those flan pans with the removable bottoms its a bit easier. Place on a suitable serving platter and eat. I find it will store in fridge for 5-7 days but it can get a little soggy after that, so best to eat it all before then.


Step 3: A Chocolate Cake - Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free

So applying this method to a chocolate cake I could eat...

First I thought about it - got a simple recipe (I started with a one pan chocolate brownie recipe from somewhere or other). It called for

1/2  cup Butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup Sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

So I needed to substitute 3 of the main ingredients - sugar, butter, flour.

Second, i googled various things and came up with  buckwheat flour,  which is gluten free, but from making other things with it, i know its a bit heavy and has it's own taste. I also came across rice flour and potato flour as options, but i cant eat potatoes and i knew rice flour can be too light. So then i thought, what if i combine a heavy flour that gives structure with a light flour that balances out the taste? how about half buckwheat and half rice flour? After a few cakes, i realized a bit more buckwheat (say a tablespoon more) than rice flour works best for a more solid structure, but that's one of those taste things.

Then, instead of butter, i started out trying dairy free margarine.Then i got all neurotic about all the chemicals in margarines and experimented with oils, finally settling on rice bran oil. But because it's more liquid than margarine, i reduced the quantity.

And instead of cane sugar, my first attempt was with fructose. As it's quite hard to get lower GI fructose, i've also tried various other sweeteners to see how they work as well as how they impact on my health.

For example, I tried rice malt - it takes a lot to get it sweet enough, but is OK if you dont like things too sweet. As it's more liquid, you have to either bake it longer to have it not too moist, or add extra dry stuff, like coconut flour, to soak it up.

I tried maple syrup, again, quite liquid, but much sweeter so it doesnt take as much. But sometimes its just too high GI for me and can bring on a headache if I have too much.

I also tried palm syrup, which is great, altho quite sweet, but can be hard to source. The local indian grocer however has a good supply quite cheap, so i've stocked up.

There's pear and apple juice concentrate, but i've moved away from that as apple doesnt seem to agree with me any more and it's harder to find the pear concentrate than it used to be.

Coconut or Palm sugar works well too, it's more like sugar in its texture so doesnt have the problem of adding liquid to the mix, but you need to add less than the amount of sugar because it's quite sweet too.

I recently tried Carob syrup, which is quite sweet and apparently quite healthy too, but it's not to my taste - a bit too strong a carob flavour which I'm not a fan of.

If you really must avoid the higher GI fructose type things, and need to know about the artificial sweeteners you'll need to research those more.

What i've tried there is Xylitol - use less than the amount of sugar as it's quite sweet - it leaves a "cool" after taste which you can get used to, but too much may have a "laxative effect". I've never found any Maltitol but i suspect the same applies there too.

So my New ingredients are:

1/2 cup Dairy free margarine e.g. Nuttelex OR 1/3 cup Rice Bran Oil
1/2 cup cocoa
4 squares sugar free chocolate or unsweetened chocolate
1/2 to 2/3 cup fructose or palm sugar or xylitol. Alternatively, try a quarter of a cup plus a quarter of a cup of rice syrup, maple syrup, palm syrup or pear/apple juice concentrate
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup brown rice flour (to lighten the buckwheat )
1/2 teaspoon gluten free baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the full instructions you can check out my instructable here if you like: