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Gluten-free substitutions help many enjoy the holidays

The holidays are especially difficult for people who cannot eat common foods.

Take wheat — it’s in pies and other pastries, dinner rolls, marinades and salad dressings, and turkey stuffing and gravy.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, 1 percent of the American population (approximately 308 million people) suffer from celiac disease, a condition in which the mixture of proteins in wheat and related grains — called gluten — damages the small intestine. Another .4 percent have a doctor-diagnosed wheat allergy, which can cause skin rashes as well as respiratory and gastrointestinal problems. In addition, as many as 18 million Americans have a sensitivity to gluten.

One of the people I know who has to avoid wheat is Cathy Rohr of Springboro. She’s an amazing home cook, so I asked her to take a look at a new book, “The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook Volume 2” by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen. The cooks at ATK outside Boston are tasked to come up with the very best way to make a dish, and they revise a particular recipe until they are confident it can be replicated at home.

Rohr loved the idea of trying some new recipes. When I arrived one afternoon, she showed me the Pecan Pie and Whole-Free Dinner Rolls she’d just made out of the book.

But the baking wasn’t done for the day. While Rohr got to work on Blueberry Cobbler With Cornmeal Biscuits as well as Rosemary Focaccia, I sat there in her kitchen, enjoying all the wonderful aromas and learning more about her gluten-free lifestyle:

Q: Why do you cook gluten-free?

A: For health reasons. There are more doctors telling their patients to go off wheat and they’re feeling better.

Q: You have a husband and two children. Was it difficult to get them on board with eating gluten free?

A: They are aware that the smallest amount of wheat makes me sick. But it really hit home one day when we made homemade pretzels out of wheat, and just touching the dough made my hands turn red and start to itch. My family said, “Let’s get this wheat out of the house!” They wanted a safe environment for me. Whenever we go out to eat, they have whatever they want. We just don’t have wheat at home. They know it’s not a choice for me.

Q: What are your favorite sorts of gluten-free dishes?

A: Baking is something I really enjoy. A family favorite is Monster Cookies, which are made with peanut butter and gluten-free oatmeal. I’m still searching for a really good red velvet cake.

Q: What is challenging about a gluten-free lifestyle?

A: Texture — getting your breads, cakes or pies to come out similarly to ones made with wheat. Another one: overcooked noodles. There’s such a fine line between al dente gluten-free noodles and mushy ones. I love making my noodles out of zucchini — “zoodles.” They’re healthier and surprisingly good.

Q: What’s the hardest part of gluten-free cooking?

A: The holidays because they’re about traditions and many of those center around food. But there are simple solutions. For gravy, substitute rice or tapioca flour as the thickening agent. For stuffing, just follow your family recipe and substitute with gluten-free bread. I have yet to encounter a recipe that I couldn’t work with to make it gluten free.

Q: What else do you think people need to know?

A: Following a gluten-free diet has its challenges, but you do not have to go without. If there’s something you want, you can find or make a gluten-free version. Even grocery stores have bakeries making phenomenal gluten-free food.

While I was visiting, Rohr’s two sons came in after school. So I asked them:

Q: What do you think about eating gluten free?

A: Collin, in the ninth grade: It’s normal now.

A: Ethan, in the seventh grade: Sometimes I see other people eating whatever they want and I wish it was that easy for us — but we manage!

And manage they do. Collin and Ethan helped us with some taste testing. If you weren’t told you were eating gluten-free, you would never know — the flavors are rich and delicious, and the textures, very satisfying.

BLUEBERRY COBBLER WITH CORNMEAL BISCUITS

Biscuits

5 ounces (1 cup) cornmeal

4 ½ ounces (1 cup) America’s Test Kitchen All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend (below)

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon xanthan gum

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces and chilled

¾ cup buttermilk, chilled

Filling

2 1/3 ounces (1/3 cup) sugar

4 teaspoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

30 ounces (6 cups) blueberries

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice

1. For the biscuits: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Pulse cornmeal, flour blend, 2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum in food processor until combined, about 5 pulses. Scatter butter pieces over top and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with few slightly largest butter lumps, about 10 pulses.

2. Transfer cornmeal mixture to medium bowl, add buttermilk and stir with fork until dough gathers into moist clumps. Using greased 1/4-cup dry measure, scoop out and drop eight 2 ¼-inch-wide mounds of dough onto prepared sheet, spaced about 1 inch apart. (Do not make biscuits wider or they won’t all fit in pie plate when baked.)

3. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over biscuits and bake on upper rack until biscuits are puffed and lightly browned, 25-30 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let biscuits cool on wire rack. (Cooled biscuits can be held at room temperature in zipper-lock bag for up to 2 hours.)

4. For the filling: Stir sugar, cornstarch and salt together in large bowl. Gently stir in blueberries and lemon zest and juice until evenly combined. Transfer to 9-inch deep-dish pie plate, cover with aluminum foil, and place on rimmed baking sheet. Bake on low rack until blueberries are beginning to burst and the juices are bubbling around the edge, 40 to 50 minutes, stirring halfway through the baking.

5. Uncover blueberries and stir gently. Arrange biscuits on top of fruit and continue to bake until biscuits have warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN ALL-PURPOSE GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR BLEND

24 ounces (4 ½ cups plus 1/3 cup) white rice flour

7 ½ ounces (1 2/3 cups) brown rice flour

7 ounces (1 1/3 cups) potato starch

3 ounces (¾ cup) tapioca starch

¾ ounce (3 tablespoons) nonfat milk powder

Whisk all ingredients together in large bowl until well combined. Transfer to airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 months, or freeze for up to 6 months. Bring to room temperature before using.

ROSEMARY FOCACCIA

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

10.6 ounces (1 1/3 cups) warm water (110 degrees)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 large egg

10 ounces (2 ¼ cups) ATK All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend (recipe above)

2 ounces (2/3 cup) oat flour

1 tablespoon powdered psyllium husk

Kosher salt

½ teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. As soon as oven reaches 200 degrees, turn it off. (This will be warm proofing box for dough. Do not begin step 2 until oven has been turned off.) Brush 8-inch square baking pan with 1 tablespoon oil.

2. Combine warm water, sugar and yeast in bowl and let sit until bubbly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 3 tablespoons oil and egg. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix flour blend, oat flour, psyllium, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and xanthan gum together on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Slowly add yeast mixture and mix until combined, scraping down bowl as needed, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until sticky and uniform, about 6 minutes. (Dough will resemble cookie dough.)

3. Using rubber spatula, scrape dough into prepared pan. Using wet hands, press dough gently into corners and smooth top. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, place on upper rack in warmed oven, and let rise for 10 minutes; do not let plastic touch oven rack.

4. Remove pan from oven and let sit on county until loaf has risen by 50 percent, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place baking stone on lower rack and heat oven to 475 degrees.

5. Remove plastic and sprinkle loaf with rosemary and ¼ teaspoon salt. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, place loaf on upper rack (not on stone), and bake until golden brown, 60 to 70 minutes; do not open oven door during baking.

6. Remove bread from oven, brush with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Unmold bread onto wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Serve. (Cooled bread can be wrapped in double layer of plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

PECAN PIE

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

7 ounces (1 cup packed) dark brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

¾ cup light corn syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

8 ounces (2 cups) pecans, toasted and chopped fine

1 recipe Prebaked Pie Shell, slightly cooled (recipe below)

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees.

2. Melt butter in heatproof bowl set in skillet of water maintained at just below simmer. Remove bowl from skillet and stir in sugar and salt until butter is absorbed. Whisk in eggs, then corn syrup and vanilla, until smooth. Return bowl to hot water and stir until mixture is shiny and hot to touch and registers 130 degrees. Off heat, stir in pecans.

3. Pour pecan mixture into slightly cooled pie shell and bake until filling looks set but yields like Jell-O when gently pressed with back of spoon, 50 to 60 minutes.

4. Let pie cool on wire rack until filling has set, about 2 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

PREBAKED PIE SHELL

3 tablespoons ice water

1 ½ tablespoons sour cream

1 ½ teaspoons rice vinegar

6 ½ ounces (¾ cup plus 2/3 cup) ATK All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend (recipe above)

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon xanthan gum

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen for 10 to 15 minutes.

1. Combine ice water, sour cream and vinegar together in bowl. Process flour blend, sugar, salt and xanthan gum together in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter butter over top and pulse until crumbs look uniform and distinct pieces of butter are no longer visible, 20 to 30 pulses.

2. Pour sour cream mixture over flour mixture and pulse until dough comes together in large pieces around blade, about 20 pulses.

3. Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into 5-inch disk. Wrap tightly tin plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Before rolling out dough, let it sit on counter to soften slightly, about 30 minutes. (Dough cannot be frozen.)

4. Roll dough into 12-inch circle between 2 large sheets of plastic wrap. Remove top plastic, gently invert dough over 9-inch pie plate and ease dough into plate. Remove remaining plastic and trim dough ½ inch beyond lip of pie plate. Tuck overhanging dough under itself to be flush with edge of pie plate. Crimp dough evenly around edge using your fingers. Cover loosely with plastic and freeze until chilled, about 15 minutes.

5. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake crust until crisp and golden, 25 to 35 minutes, rotating pie plate halfway through baking. Remove crust from oven and let cool slightly. (Crust can be held at room temperature for up to 2 day before filling.)

WHOLE-GRAIN DINNER ROLLS

12 ounces (1 ½ cups) 1 or 2 percent low-fat milk, heated to 110 degrees

2 ¼ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast

5 teaspoons sugar

1 large egg plus 2 large yolks

10 ounces (2 ¼ cups) ATK Whole-Grain Gluten-Free Flour Blend (recipe below)

5 teaspoons powdered psyllium husk

Kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and softened

1 tablespoon raw sunflower seeds, chopped

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. As soon as oven reaches 200 degrees, turn it off. (This will be warm proofing box for dough. Do not begin step 2 until oven has been turned off.) Spray 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray.

2. Combine warm milk, yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in bowl and let sit until bubbly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in egg and yolks. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix flour blend, psyllium, 2 teaspoons salt, baking soda and remaining 4 teaspoons sugar together on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Slowly add yeast mixture and mix until combined, scraping down bowl as needed, about 1 minute. Add butter, increase speed to medium, and beat until sticky and uniform, about 6 minutes. (Dough will be very soft and loose.)

3. Working with scant ¼ cup dough at a time, shape into rough rounds using wet hands and place in prepared muffin tin. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, place in warmed oven, and let rise for 10 minutes; do not let plastic touch oven rack.

4. Remove rolls from oven and let sit on counter until dough has doubled in size, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Remove plastic, spray rolls with water, then sprinkle with sunflower seeds and ½ teaspoon salt. Bake until deep golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking.

6. Remove rolls from oven and let cool in tin for 10 minutes. Remove rolls from tin and serve warm. (Rolls can be stored in zipper-lock bag for up to 2 days; they cannot be frozen. To refresh, warm rolls in 350-degrees oven for 10 minutes.)

ATK WHOLE-GRAIN GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR BLEND

24 ounces (5 1/4 cups) teff flour

8 ounces (1 3/4 cups) brown rice flour

8 ounces (2 1/3 cups) ground golden flaxseeds

5 ounces (1 cup) sweet white rice flour

Whisk all ingredients together in large bowl until well combined. Transfer to airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 months, or freeze for up to 6 months. Bring to room temperature before using.

From the book: “The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook Volume 2” by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen; 328 pages, $26.95. Published by America’s Test Kitchen, 2015.

What you get: The book begins with an informative chapter on “Gluten-free Basics.” Subsequent chapters cover grains; comfort foods; bread, pizza and crackers; cookies and bars; fruit desserts, pies and tarts; and cakes.

In their own words: “The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook Volume 2” is a game-changer. It’s food that you really want to cook and eat. It has put the pleasure and the wholesomeness back into a category of recipes that have been sorely lacking in both.” — Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of “Cook’s Illustrated” and “Cook’s Country.”

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