When you go gluten-free, baking from scratch treats soon ends up seeming like mission impossible. Eliminating wheat from baked goods can make the ingredient list quite complicated. But you don’t need to rely on desserts made only with xanthan gum and potato starch. While both ingredients are key to some of the best gluten-free flour mixes, they’re not always essential. Here’s how to skip ingredients you’re not comfortable using or can’t pronounce for whole, unprocessed staples like heavy cream and nuts.
Eggs are instrumental in any type of baking: They provide structure, leavening and binding anything from quick breads to mousse. In gluten-free baking, they’re even more essential. You can separate the yolks from the whites to craft French-style tortes made from chocolate or ground nuts—which use yolks for body and whites for lift and contain little or no flour to begin with. You can use eggs to turn milk into custardy puddings, anything from home-style rice pudding to elegant crème brulée. Lemon curd—made from egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon zest, and butter—is a handy filling for macaroon cookies or meringue layers, two flourless egg white-based confections. When you layer meringue with cream, custard, and berries, you create a pavlova.
A lot of so-called mousses get their fluffiness from whipped cream, in addition to or instead of beaten egg whites. If you make a berry compote, you can fold it into whipped cream to create a bright fruity mousse, ideal for spring desserts. Add gelatin and you’re in panna cotta territory. And remember: Cream is the main ingredient in homemade ice cream.
Beyond a bar, chocolate’s strong taste, substantial fat content, and lack of add-ins make it a strong contender for gluten-free puddings, soufflés, cakes, brownies, and cookies.
You can grind nuts into flour for tortes, tarts, or bar cookie crusts that benefit from a more crumbly texture. Here’s a basic recipe: Combine 1 cup almond meal with 2 tablespoons each melted butter and sugar. Press mixture into an 8-by-8-inch pan and bake 10 minutes at 350° before adding fillings. You can also turn nuts into nut butters. Start with peanut butter cookies made from nothing other than 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Roll them into balls and bake at 350° for 10 minutes to yield chewy, melt-in-your-mouth gems. Experiment with chocolate chips, chopped nuts, and dried fruit.
Don’t overlook the power of using fresh fruit in your gluten-free desserts. Of course, you can serve berries, plums, and apples at their simplest, dipped in melted chocolate or sweetened dolloped with whipped cream, but also consider turning them into sauces and compotes. You can also cook your fruit in the oven: Roasted grapes make a gorgeous topping for cake, baked apples are a must throughout fall, and a gluten free-crumble made from ground nuts, butter, cinnamon, and sugar can top a skillet full of halved plums, mixed berries, or rhubarb for a simple, impressive dessert. Bananas Foster is a brilliant, naturally gluten-free favorite.