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How to Safely Bake for a Gluten Free Friend

Occasionally, I get asked for gluten free advice from someone who isn’t gluten free, but really loves someone who is and would really like to cook for them. I never actually get “Dear Abby” type letters (though I’m not opposed to getting them if you have any questions. My about page has all my contact details) so the following letter is a fun, semi fictional compilation of real live questions from advice seeking friends.

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Dear BF,

GF is lucky to have you as a friend. Making cupcakes is an incredibly thoughtful gesture. But it might not be the safest thing for your celiac friend. When you say she’s coming to visit, do you mean she’s coming to visit for the first time in three years from Alaska, or she’s coming to visit from next door like she does every single Wednesday afternoon? This could determine how you deal with her cupcakes.

Cooking for a gluten free friend can involve a little bit of an investment, so if she’s coming for a once in a blue moon visit, you might be better off buying something from a dedicated gluten free bakery for her and giving her the cake mix to take home. But if this is a really good friend, who comes over all the time (or if this friend is your daughter or granddaughter who you love to cook for) you might be willing to make a small investment.

Cross-contamination is the biggest concern for someone with celiac disease eating at a friend’s house. Even the tiniest amount of gluten can cause a reaction. That means that if there are even a few bread crumbs on your butter from someone buttering toast your friend can’t eat it. Your baking equipment also has tiny bits of gluten on it. Even if you meticulously clean everything, there will still be little bits hiding in things like the gears of your mixer or the seams of you muffin tin. Even the cake mix you bought might contain gluten. Scary huh? But not impossible to work around.

If you’re really not sure which foods are safe for a gluten free diet, check out this list. A List of Gluten Free Foods You Can Eat

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1. Make sure your ingredients are gluten free

Your cake mix should be pre-packaged, not from a bulk store. The label should say “Gluten Free” and you should see the words “Made in a dedicated gluten free facility” somewhere on the box. This ensures that no gluten has gotten into the cake mix during production or packaging.
Your other ingredients should be new. If your cake mix calls for butter, buy new butter to avoid getting toast crumbs into the mix.

2. Buy new baking equipment, label it, and store it separately.

This doesn’t have to be a huge investment. You can get cheap $10 mixers from Walmart. Keep it and the beaters in the box. Label the outside of the box and the beaters with “Gluten Free Only” (nail polish works great for appliances.)
Buy a new muffin tin, or even a disposable foil muffin, a new mixing bowl and spatula (label these too!).
Again, this doesn’t have to cost you a fortune.

3. Make sure your kitchen is clean.

I’m very sure you already clean your kitchen. This is just an extra step to avoid cross-contamination. We have a couple of gluten eaters in our house who eat bread, they’re little people who aren’t super careful with their food, so before I do any gluten free baking I have to make sure my work space is completely free of crumbs. I use a clean damp cloth (so I’m not spreading around gluten from the cloth) or paper towel and cleaning spray.
Some people will go the extra mile and clean their oven, but I’ve personally not found that an oven is a problem for cross-contamination (if you have, please let me know in the comments!!) However, I have had problems with microwaves because the ceiling of a microwave can get splashed with gluten containing food and tiny bits of food can get blown in from the fans. If you’re cooking food in the microwave, even if it’s been cleaned, loosely cover the food with a lid.

4. Clean things separately.

When you clean up, it’s safest to hand wash everything in a clean sink with a clean cloth to avoid cross-contamination from other dishes in the dishwasher. Surprisingly, baked on dishwasher crumbs are one of the biggest causes of cross-contamination.

5. Serve the cupcakes safely.

Cupcakes are probably the safest thing to serve, they’re sitting in liners and you don’t need to cut them. But if you make your friend brownies remember to use a clean knife to cut them. If you cut a gluten-filled cake and then cut your brownies with the same knife, crumbs from the cake will get into the brownies and all your hard work will be for nothing. Serve things like cake on paper plates to avoid cross contamination and keep gluten free food off to the side so crumbs from other food don’t fall on top of it. Never put gluten free food on the same serving platter as gluten-filled food.

And that’s it! The only way to totally avoid any risk of cross-contamination is to make your own kitchen completely gluten free, but these steps are the safest way to bake for your gluten-free friend.

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This post is linked up at Poor and Gluten Free’s Waste not Want not Wednesdays , the Gluten Free Homemaker’s Gluten Free Wednesdays, Gluten Free Yummy’s Alive & Thrive, Vegetarian Mamma’s Gluten Free Fridays

Thanks for visiting! I’d love to stay in touch! Click on the cupcakes to connect with me on social media.

Hey Friend! I'm so glad you dropped by! I'm Jodi, I'm a wife, mom of four, homeschooler and world traveler. I've been gluten free for over 15 years and I share tips and recipes especially for gluten free beginners on know gluten.


  • Molly

    Wow, super thorough. Thanks for putting this together. I didn’t realize that about the dishwasher, though—I’ve always read the dishwasher is the best way to clean dishes! I do sometimes notice mine doesn’t get everything off, though (which doesn’t matter for me CC-wise, since I’m not dishwashing stuff with gluten on it, but it is a bit worrisome). I would think a WORKING dishwasher, perhaps coupled with a hand-washing (as suggested on the NFCA site) is the best prevention against CC, since sponges and dish towels can harbor crumbs and most people’s hand-washing is not as thorough as a dishwasher’s. What do you think?

    • jodi stewart

      I totally agree Molly. I find that when I’m eating at someone else’s home, they’re less careful with dishes than I need to be to avoid cross contamination. I think if you only wash the gluten free dishes in the load, either hand washing (in a clean sink with a clean cloth and towel) or dishwasher it would be best.

  • Lorraine Phelan

    Hi Jodi, you are doing a great job helping people find their way through the gluten free world with this blog. I’ve been thinking of going gluten free but never know where to start so this blog will be a great help. We are at the cottage all summer so it will be a bit of a challenge to try & do it here. I’ll start by eliminating some wheat products & then try the baking/cooking when we get back to the house. I’ve seen how much it has helped your mom so I know there are good benefits even if I don’t have any problems with wheat, at least none that I’m aware of!

    • jodi stewart

      Hey Lorraine! Let me know if I can be any help when you start. I’ve found that by sticking with food that’s naturally gluten free (like meat, vegetables, potatoes and rice) it’s easy to get there. It’s just hard when you add in sauces and canned things. Thankfully there are so many new gluten free products. (of course, some of them are expensive, so if you need a from scratch recipe for something, let me know.) 🙂

  • vegetarianmamma

    What a great friend that BF is! This is a great post of info to help bake safely!! 🙂 Thanks for linking up at Gluten Free Fridays!!

  • Ingrid

    Hey! I’ve been gluten-free for 6-7 years now, and I think it is great that you are trying to help people with going gf. However, I live in a house with 3 gluten-eaters, and we use the same baking equipment and have never ever had any problems with the tiny amount of cross-contamination this leads to. The amount of gluten is very very small, and have never affected me nor my sister who is also a celiac. As long as the equipment is cleaned well, I don’t see any problems for people with a normal diet to bake and serve gf products to either me or me sister. I never expect anyone to go so far out of their way just so I can have some cookies or a cupcake, but whenever someone does, I appreciate it. As gf-eaters we have to remember that we’re the kids that needs special food, and it is dangerous to expect too much. I have found that by not expecting people to have gf food for me, I never get disappointed, and I appreciate it so much more when someone does!!

    Keep up the good work 🙂

    • jodi stewart

      Hi Ingrid, thanks for your comment! I certainly don’t expect a gluten eater to bake for those who are gluten free (or have other food sensitivities) but there are those who wish to and really have no idea about cross contamination. This article is to educate them on safe practices, not to insist that they go out of their way for the gluten free people that they know. I too share a house with gluten eaters but because of cross contamination from sticky batter on the bottom of the mixers or stuck in the seams of muffin tins or flour dust accidentally getting into other ingredients, we’ve switched to baking only gluten free products. The only gluten filled products we purchase are packaged bread and the occasional take out pizza. We avoid cooking gluten. If you have a celiac diagnosis I’d caution you to be very careful with cross contamination. Even the tiny amount of gluten from sharing baking equipment or a toaster with gluten products can cause intestinal damage that will lead to nutritional deficiency and could lead to other autoimmune diseases or even early death.
      Thanks again for your comment! Stay healthy!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jodi. It’s best to not use a gluten contaminated oven, from my experience. also, it’s best to have separate dishes and pans, also.

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