Oh, Crumbs!
Oh, Crumbs!

Self-proclaimed font of Celiac knowledge, Libby tries to educate everyone she comes across on the differences between allergies, gluten sensitivity, and Celiac Disease.

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Gluten-Free Paper Mache

Recently, a sculpture project I was working on called for the use of cardboard and glue only. Trying to think outside the box, I wanted to deconstruct the cardboard to a point where it was unrecognizable. This meant changing the cardboard's 2D nature into a rounded, smooth surface. 

The last time I paper mached was probably in elementary school. It was always my favorite craft time activity -- the gooey texture of the mache substance is a little kid's dream. Being allowed to be messy is pretty rare for children, and the combination of paper and paste makes for the stickiest of hands and the dirtiest of clothes. The thought of paper mache-ing again made me excited and anxious at the same time. Anxious mainly because paper mache can be made in two different methods: one with Elmers glue, the other with flour. The most common practice is to make it with flour, which is a Celiac's nightmare. Imagine vats of running wheat paste flying everywhere, hands covered in gluten just waiting to be ingested. I knew that the flour method would make for a better paste, but I was nervous about having to cook and then touch copious amounts of flour.

So instead of risking my health for the week, I decided to come up with a new recipe for the glue using gluten-free all purpose flour. The resulting mixture is a bit thicker than the normal paste, but after a few days of drying, the glue hardened and worked like a charm. My expectation is that not many adults will be paper mache-ing any time soon, but for children with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerances, this is the perfect arts and crafts project to excite their imaginations and senses.

The ratio of flour to water is about 5 cups water to 1 cup gluten-free flour. I used King Arthur's gluten-free all purpose flour (my personal favorite for all flour needs) for this mixture.  For the sake of these directions, I am just going to talk about the 5:1 ratio, but you can make a huge amount of paste if needed following these rules.

In a large pot, add 1 cup gf flour. Using hot water from the tap, add 5 cups water into the pot and stir immediately. Place the mixture onto the stove and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  If your mixture looks too thick or too runny, add more water or flour accordingly. Just keep in mind that as you stir over heat, it will thicken up. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, take out a sturdy whisk, and quickly beat for 2-3 minutes. When the time is up, take the pot off the heat and let cool for 10 minutes, make sure to keep stirring to eliminate any clumps.

I worked with my paste while still warm because I didn't want it to clump up.  If you are afraid it is too hot for your child, let it cool at room temperature, but just make sure to stir it occasionally. The gluten-free flour will not act exactly like normal flour, and due to the expensive nature of all things gluten free, be careful not to waste too much. My 5:1 ratio made enough paste for one person to paper mache a deer horn, two animal ears, and 10 flowers.

Hope this goes to good use -- I wouldn't want to see any gluten-free children missing out on this fun activity. Happy crafting!    

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About the Author

Libby educates everyone on food allergies, gluten sensitivity, and Celiac Disease.