A Guide to Successful Gluten-free Baking

Baking is a science. Unlike traditional wheat-based flours, gluten-free flours typically require additional ingredients that contribute to successful gluten-free baking when it comes to binding, texture, and structure (due to the absence of gluten). Each flour has a different flavor, texture, and nutritional attributes. Understanding the personality of each gluten-free flour will help you choose the most suitable one for your recipe. 

Before we get into the types of gluten-free options and how to make DIY flour blends, let me answer a few basic gluten-free baking questions.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a type of protein found in some grains that provides structure in baked goods. The most common gluten-containing grains include wheat, barley, and rye. It’s also found In relatives of wheat like spelt and kamut.

Can I just substitute a gluten-free flour for all-purpose in my favorite recipes?

It might be tempting to sub a gluten-free flour for all-purpose 1:1 and hope for the best! However there’s a good chance it might not turn out quite right. Some baked goods are more forgiving than others. Use the information below to determine if and when you need to alter amount and/or add ingredients like starches or binders.

How will gluten-free flour affect the baking time?

Most gluten-free baked goods will require a longer baking time to prevent a gummy, mushy texture. The reason? More liquid. The “toothpick test” isn’t the best indicator of doneness so make sure your oven is calibrated properly and use the time instead.

What about store-bought gluten-free flour? 

Some popular flour companies now make 1:1 gluten-free baking flour blends that already have a proper mix of flours and starches (like xanthan gum). It’s a great option in a pinch because you can use as a 1:1 replacement for all-purpose flour and it mimics results of all-purpose flour. Just note that these are typically rice-based, so they aren’t as nutritionally dense as some of the other options mentioned here. They can also be expensive.

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Rice Flour

Light, mild and easy to digest. Often used to make noodles in Asian cuisines. It’s also rich in carbohydrates and low in fat. A common ingredient In store-bought flour blends because it’s texture is most similar to all-purpose.

Chickpea Flour

Chickpea (or garbanzo bean) flour contains significantly more fiber and protein than others on this list. It’s also a good source of plant-based iron. Popular in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.

Millet Flour

Millet flour has a mild, sweet flavor and a cake-like crumb. It works great in muffins and quick-breads. It’s also a very nutritious whole grain.

Buckwheat Flour

Despite what the name suggests, buckwheat is naturally gluten-free. It’s often used to make noodles (soba), pancakes and Russian blini. This flour adds a beautiful deep brown color to baked goods and has a nutty flavor.

Almond Flour

This may be the most versatile of the bunch. Almond flour has a high fat content which equates to moisture, tenderness and rich flavor. It can produce a “heavy” final product at times which might not rise as easily as traditional wheat flour baked goods. 

Coconut Flour 

It has a sweet coconut flavor and is very high in fiber. Note that it is also highly absorbent, so you’ll only need a small amount (1/3 or 1/4 as much) and you’ll likely need to combine it with another flour for structure.

Oat Flour 

Oat flour is made from milled oats and has a mild flavor. It’s light texture lends soft and fluffy quality to baked goods. Remember that oats need to be certified gluten-free as they are often cross-contaminated. 

Cassava Flour 

Cassava is rich in carbohydrates and high in fiber. This flour is similar to wheat, so works well in a variety of baked goods.

Why use binders and starches? 

In baking, gluten allows dough to come together and become elastic (think pizza dough!). When working with gluten-free flours, you’ll need to add an extra ingredient that does its job. This is where binders (like gums) and starches come in. In baking, these ingredients help hold everything together. They also add much-needed moisture and a more pleasant texture. Too much can lead to a gummy final product so it’s important to use the correct amount. See below for a description of some of the more popular options available. 

CornStarch

Commonly used to thicken sauces and and soups. It’s not usually recommended in baked goods because it can taste too starchy. 

Arrowroot Powder

Flavorless. Similar to cornstarch and a great substitute for those who avoid corn. Use it to thicken sauces or pie filling. Sub 2 teaspoon for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. 

Tapioca Starch

Also known as tapioca flour and is used as a thickening agent. It also provides “chew” and elasticity. It can contribute to browning. 

Potato Starch

Similar texture to cornstarch and tapioca starch but derived from white potatoes. Helps bind recipes together and keep baked goods tender. 

Guar Gum

Adds structure or “glue” to baked goods as a way to prevent a crumbly texture. It has 8x the thickening power of cornstarch! 

Xanthan Gum

Similarly to guar gum, xanthan gum helps prevent crumbling in baked goods by providing structure and strengthening elastic networks. It’s corn-based. 

DIY Gluten-Free Flour Blends 

If you want to give gluten-free baking a try and prefer to experiment with your own flour blends, start with one of these! Option one is rice-based and will yield results most similar to all-purpose (wheat) flour. Option two is oat-based, which is a high-fiber choice. Option three is made with almond flour to create a dense, moist and ultra satisfying final product. 

Rice Flour Blend

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice flour 
  • 1/4 cup white rice flour 
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour 
  • 1/2 cup potato starch 
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing. 

Oat Flour Blend

  • 1 1/2 cup [certified gluten-free] oat flour 
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour 
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing. 

Almond Flour Blend

  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour 
  • 2 1/4 cups buckwheat flour 
  • 1 3/4 cup potato starch 
  • 3/4 cup arrowroot powder 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing.

Baking with gluten-free flour may seem a little intimidating at first. But you really can’t go wrong if you start with one of these flour blends. Once you determine the flavor and texture you desire in your baked goods, you can fine tune your flour recipe. Have some fun in your discovery and put your personal stamp on your creation. Happy Baking!

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