07/21/2015 03:16 EDT | Updated 07/21/2016 05:59 EDT

Sisters behind hit quinoa cookbooks shift to gluten-free desserts

TORONTO - The sisters who helped make quinoa an increasingly popular food choice are back with another cookbook. But while No. 4 focuses on sweets, the ingredients, as always, are healthful. And the recipes are also gluten-free.

Carolyn Hemming and Patricia Green's new book, "Sweet Goodness: Unbelievably Delicious Gluten-Free Baking Recipes" (Penguin Canada, 2015), is their response to readers' wishes for gluten-free desserts that "don't taste like processed cardboard," says Hemming.

They've revamped old favourites and created new treats. But you don't have to be following a gluten-free food plan to enjoy these recipes. Neither sister is gluten-intolerant.

"This is stuff that Patricia and I would bake, but it's got the ancient grains in it, so if you want to bake something for a treat but you want it to be a little bit healthier than your average baked treat, add these ancient grain flours and these alternative ingredients and you can get something ... your body can use," said Hemming during an interview from London, Ont.

Gluten is a protein that can trigger allergies and digestive issues in some people and is the main culprit in celiac disease.

Though manufacturers have produced a plethora of gluten-free items, many are often full of starches, sugar, fat and additives, which can lead to weight gain and constipation, say the authors.

"It's very easy to make a gluten-free baked product that tastes great when you jam it full of ... a combination of starches and some other poor ingredients and a lot of sugar," says Hemming.

"But there's so many problems with that, especially for people like diabetics and people with all kinds of other health concerns or even lifestyle desires — they want to eat well, or they work out, or they're athletes. You want to have something that offers nutrition.... That's the big deal for us. We're not going to make a book that's just got recipes where everything is sweet and lovely but just garbage food. We would never eat that ourselves."

The authors urge shoppers to read the ingredients list before purchasing gluten-free flours because many are processed.

"It's probably going to work really well because it's mostly starch, but don't be impressed by that because it's going to be bad for your health," says Hemming.

"It is easy to buy three different flours — sorghum, teff and millet — and combine them and get the same results as opposed to using sugar and starch, which is the manufacturer's easy answer."

They use the least amount of sweetener possible and their favourites are organic cane sugars, maple syrup, honey and lightly packed brown sugar.

The sisters took nine months longer with "Sweet Goodness" than when developing their other books: "Quinoa 365," "Quinoa Revolution" and "Grain Power." Some recipes were tested 10, 15 or even 20 times.

Because gluten helps bind and stabilize ingredients, reduce crumbling, and add volume in traditional baking, they had to seek alternatives. Chia, ground flax seeds and psyllium husks can make gels or binders to make up for gluten's absence. Xanthan and guar gum also hold ingredients together. These ingredients are increasingly available in grocery and bulk stores.

"It's got the most healthful ingredients and the right amount of ingredients that will hold it together and make it real as well," says Hemming.

"It's a real balancing act. It's definitely just purely chemistry."

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