How to make gluten-free crumpets, doughballs and arepas (that taste just like the real thing)

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Dough lovers, rejoice: these gluten-free baking recipes mean there’s no need to miss out.

From dairy and nuts to meat and fish, many of us have certain ingredients that we avoid. Sometimes, these adjustments are a matter of personal choice – but at other times, they’re made because our bodies have developed an allergy, intolerance or auto-immune disorder that requires careful management.

Coeliac disease, a condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues after consuming gluten, falls into the latter category. According to Coeliac UK, the disease affects one in every 100 people, which can be seriously challenging when gluten is found in all kinds of food and drink, from pasta and pastries to cereal and beer.

While only a small percentage of the population suffers from coeliac disease, milder gluten-related digestive problems are surprisingly common. It’s now estimated that between 6-8% of people are classed as having gluten sensitivity, with research showing that one in 10 people in the UK now avoid gluten to manage their symptoms – putting to bed the misconception that going gluten-free is simply a fad.

As food writer and author Becky Excell notes in her new cookbook How to Make Anything Gluten Free (£20, Quadrille), a gluten-free life needn’t mean going without, or enduring poor imitations of the foods you love. Having spent years developing delicious gluten-free dishes after being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Excell’s cookbook contains foolproof recipes for everything from doughnuts and lemon drizzle cake to pad thai and pizza.

Today, we’re turning our attention to one of the most sorely missed food groups for people following a gluten-free diet: dough. Those living with an intolerance will know that bread and cakes are a no-go zone thanks to their heavy gluten content – but gluten-free alternatives have also gained a bad rap for being dense, dry and crumbly. Happily, Excell’s recipes are satisfying on both the stomach and the palate, regardless of whether or not you follow a gluten-free diet.

Below, Excell shares three of her most delicious dough-based recipes. First up, arepas: cornmeal cakes that are served with virtually every meal in South America. Light, crisp, and a perfect base for any number of your favourite fillings, this speedy two-ingredient dish is a great way to shake up your lunchtime routine.

Next, the quintessential British crumpet. These homemade beauties are perfect for when you’ve a little more time to cook a leisurely brunch, served piping hot with puddles of butter.

Lastly, with two rounds of proving and a wonderfully soft, chewy crumb, Excell’s triple cheese doughballs are the real deal. It’s a tear-and-share dish that will you serve you well for future dinner parties – but we wouldn’t blame you if you saved it all for yourself.

  • Two-ingredient arepas

    Gluten-free dough recipes: Becky Excell's two-ingredient arepas

    Becky says: “I had my first arepa at a food market in London and I’m now addicted to making them at home. You essentially use them like a taco, but they’re not only crisp on the outside, they’re soft and fluffy in the middle and have a wonderful flavour. 

    “Cut each one in half and fill with all your favourite Mexican-style fillings. You can easily order pre-cooked cornmeal online and, trust me, you’ll be glad you did!”

    Makes 8

    Takes 20 minutes

    Ingredients

    • 300g pre-cooked cornmeal flour (yellow or white)
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 500ml warm water
    • vegetable oil, for cooking

    Method

    In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal flour and salt. Add the warm water, mix and then use your hands to bring it together into a ball. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

    Briefly knead the dough in the bowl until you achieve a smooth consistency. Dough too wet?

    Add a little more cornmeal. Dough too dry? Add a little more water.

    Divide the dough into 8 portions and roll into large golf balls, around 100g each. One at a time, flatten the balls using your hands to form a flat disc just over 1cm thick and around 10cm in diameter. Make sure you don’t leave lots of finger indentations in the dough as they won’t cook evenly in the pan.

    Place a large pan over a medium heat and cover the base with vegetable oil. Once heated, place as many dough discs as will comfortably fit into your pan. Cook for 5 minutes on each side until golden brown. 

    Allow to drain on some kitchen paper and pat dry, then cool for 15 minutes. Repeat until you’ve used up all your dough.

    Slice just over halfway through each arepa with a serrated knife and fill with your favourite Mexican-style fillings. I’d recommend guacamole, fresh salsa and my one-pot pulled pork.

    Store the unfilled arepas in the fridge for up to 5 days and simply bake in the oven to refresh them before enjoying.

    Tip

    Don’t try this with any other flour, like cornflour; it must be pre-cooked cornmeal flour or it won’t work! Please note that pre-cooked cornmeal is different to masa harina flour.

  • 5-ingredient crumpets

    Gluten-free dough recipes: Becky Excell's 5-ingredient crumpets

    Becky says: “Does it get any more British than tea and crumpets? Not only would you never know that these are gluten-free, but you wouldn’t believe how good freshly baked, homemade crumpets taste.”

    Makes 10

    Takes 30 minutes + 1 hour proving

    Ingredients

    • 400ml milk, warmed
    • 2 tsp caster sugar
    • 1 tbsp active dried yeast (ensure gluten-free)
    • 300g gluten-free
    • self-raising flour
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • ½ tsp salt
    • vegetable oil, for cooking

    Method

    Stir your warm milk, sugar and yeast together in a jug, then allow to stand for 10 minutes until nice and frothy.

    In a large mixing bowl, add your flour, bicarb and salt. Add the frothy yeasted milk mixture and mix for 2 minutes until smooth (I use an electric hand whisk for this).

    Cover and leave to prove in a warm place for no less than an hour, ideally for 1 hour 30 minutes. There should be some air bubbles on top.

    Your mixture should have thickened to an almost pourable consistency.

    If it has thickened too much, simply add 1–2 tablespoons of warm water to your bowl and mix in.

    Add a little vegetable oil to a large frying pan and place over a medium heat. Place either round egg rings or round metal biscuit cutters to the pan (you will need to cook the crumpets in batches, depending on how many rings you can fit in the pan).

    Spoon 2½ tablespoons of the batter into each ring and cook for about 5 minutes, until little air bubbles appear on the surface and the surface is no longer wet.

    Using tongs, remove the rings and then flip the crumpets onto the other side to cook for about a minute. Remove from the pan and repeat until you’ve used up all of your batter.

    Serve with butter or a dairy-free alternative, golden syrup, jam, or whatever takes your fancy.

  • Triple cheese doughballs

    Gluten-free dough recipes: Becky Excell's triple cheese doughballs

    Becky says: “My triple cheese doughballs are everything I thought gluten-free doughballs could never be. Packed with stringy mozzarella in the middle, they’re crisp on the outside, light and fluffy inside and they tear like real pizza dough. If you didn’t know better, you’d think someone accidentally served you gluten-filled doughballs by mistake!”

    Makes 12

    Takes 30 minutes + 1 hour proving

    Ingredients

    • 75ml warm water
    • 10g caster sugar
    • 5g active dried yeast (ensure gluten-free)
    • 225g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
    • ¼ tsp xanthan gum
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 150g cup Greek yoghurt
    • 20ml garlic-infused oil, plus extra for greasing and brushing
    • 85g extra mature cheddar cheese, grated
    • 150g mozzarella cheese, chopped into 1.5cm cubes

    For the topping:

    • 15g pecorino cheese, grated
    • salt

    Method

    In a jug, mix together your warm water, sugar and yeast. Allow to stand for 10 minutes until nice and frothy.

    In a large mixing bowl, add your flour, xanthan gum, salt, yoghurt, oil and grated cheddar cheese, along with the frothy yeast mixture. Mix with a spatula until well combined and a dough forms.

    Place your dough in a clean bowl with cling film over the top and leave to prove for 1 hour in a warm place, until slightly bigger and feeling a little spongy.

    Lightly oil your work surface and turn your dough out onto it. Divide into 12 pieces, each weighing about 45g each piece of dough into a ball.

    Take a ball, flatten it in the palm of your hand and insert a cube of mozzarella into the centre. Gently pull the dough over the mozzarella so it’s completely covered and roll it back into a ball. Repeat for all the pieces of dough.

    At this point, you can prove the dough a second time (this results in slightly bigger, puffier doughballs) if you like. If doing this, place the doughballs in an ovenproof dish in a cluster, with a 2mm gap between each. 

    Cover with cling film and leave to prove in a warm place for 1 more hour.

    If skipping the second prove, place your doughballs in an ovenproof dish in a cluster, ensuring that they’re all slightly touching each other. Preheat your oven to 200°C fan/220°C.

    Brush the doughballs with a little extra oil and sprinkle with the pecorino and a little salt.

    Cook in the oven for 20 minutes until golden on top. A little of the cheese might ooze out, but that’s OK! Serve up immediately for hot, stringy, cheesy doughball goodness.

    From How to Make Anything Gluten Free by Becky Excell (£20, Quadrille), out now

Photography: Hannah Hughes

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.