Gluten-free baked in

The early generation of gluten-free baked goods tended to be imitations, often not very good ones, of cakes and cookies usually made with wheat flour. Kristine Kidd, cookbook writer and former Bon Appetit magazine food editor, is among those trying another tack: She looked at the flours that have no gluten — almond, buckwheat and sorghum among them — and figured out how to bake.

The result is her second book on cooking without gluten, “Gluten-Free Baking” (Weldon Owen, $24.95). Her first was “Weeknight Gluten-Free.”

“I did not want to make copies of things that are better made with wheat flour. That’s just going to be disappointing,” Kidd said.

When she learned her celiac disease had resurfaced several years ago, she began exploring a new world of cooking.

“First I started doing things that were naturally gluten-free,” she said. And those are in the book: meringues with chocolate and ginger, coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate and other cookies that use nut meals rather than flour. There’s a cheesecake and a flourless chocolate cake with dried cherries, a rice pudding and an Indian pudding. There also is a version of the first recipe she ever made, with her grandmother, pecan thumbprint cookies, this time using brown rice flour.

Most people who avoid gluten do so for health reasons; they have celiac disease or other sensitivities to gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Or they believe their diets are generally more healthful without gluten. So it’s perhaps surprising to read the ingredient lists of many gluten-free baked goods on the market.

“I noticed that most of the gluten-free prepared foods and the mixes focus on the white starches that are bad for you — corn, potato, white rice. I wanted to explore the grains that are healthy for you,” Kidd said.

In her research, sorghum came up over and over, she said. It’s a grass, often used in this country as animal feed and to make molasses. But the flour is available in Whole Foods and health food stores, as well as some supermarkets.

“It’s a nutrient-dense grain, and it’s got a very sweet neutral flavor. It became my basic flour,” Kidd said. It doesn’t bind ingredients, however, so she used eggs or xantham gum for that.

Several muffins and scones are among the 80 recipes in “Gluten-Free Baking.” Cornmeal-pecan muffins are one of the many recipes in which Kidd uses cornmeal, which adds texture and taste, along with the sorghum flour. There’s orange zest and cinnamon too. They rose perfectly and seemed very close to gluteny muffins. And corn, of course, is a great morning flavor.

Cornmeal, combined this time with almond meal, also worked well in the blackberry cornmeal cake, which could be served plain for breakfast or dressed up with whipped cream for dessert. Kidd said it was inspired by a cake she ate at the Santa Monica bakery Huckleberry, and it has the rustic feel of many of the desserts there. Almond meal, which is high in protein, gives a great nutty cast to the cake.

People often ask Kidd for gluten-free recipes for white sandwich bread or challah. “To make them work well, they’d have to be just white starches. I try to keep white starches down to a quarter of the total.”

But she understands the motivation. At a gluten-free conference a few years back, she said, many people had just begun to avoid gluten. “They wanted to do what they had always done: ‘My mother always made me chocolate cake for my birthday, so I’m just going to go to that mix.’”