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If you know what to look for, whipping up gluten-free baked goods is as easy as sneaking a treat from the cookie jar. 

By Madison Matous

Having an ingredient intolerance, food allergy or bearing the weight of a strict diet can be an especially hard circumstance to endure during the holidays. To avoid letting any of your guests feel left out, try using gluten-free flour in your baking this season. Gluten acts as a binder, the effect of which gives traditional baked goods their elasticity, a texture that can be tricky to replicate. For this reason, it’s good to know which gluten-free flours to have on hand.

Eat this: gluten-free flour

Not that: white or wheat flour

Says who: Jennifer Fisher, founder of The Fit Fork blog (thefitfork.com) and a self-described health-food enthusiast

Why: Traditional white and wheat flours are bleached, contain gluten and can be difficult for the digestive system to process. “Going gluten-free isn’t for everyone,” Fisher says, “but gluten-free flour is a great alternative for those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, as well as for those who are on a low-carb or Paleo diet.”

Make the switch: The type of flour you should use mainly depends on the reason you are using gluten-free flour.

If you are celiac or gluten-intolerant and looking for a more convenient option, Fisher suggests buying an all-purpose flour blend like those made by Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur. Unlike most other gluten-free blends that can be a tad high-maintenance when making substitutions, these flours allow for cup-for-cup substitution.

Flours like almond and coconut are popular and a great fit for people on a Paleo or low-carb diet. The most important thing to be aware of when using these types of flours is how they differ from regular flour. Often, to get the flour to behave as similarly to white or wheat flour as possible, several different types of flour may be needed. Coconut flour, which has high levels of healthy saturated fats, is very dense, so it should be used for three-fourths of the amount called for, with another flour making up the rest. Almond flour, packed with nutrients like magnesium, copper, calcium and potassium, is richer and gives baked goods a moist consistency.

Sometimes, gluten-free flours—which also include oat flour, rice flour and chickpea flour, in addition to many other varietals—can cause baked treats to lack a fluffiness that gluten would normally add. To make up for this, Fisher recommends using a starchier gluten-free flour, like tapioca flour, which has little to no fat or sugar.

Most gluten-free flours can be stored at room temperature and have a shelf life of as long as six months.

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