Just one plain flour could produce thousands of recipes – or so was the case until my celiac diagnosis. Suddenly that lone component had to be replaced by a combination of three, four or more.
But as I soon discovered, experimenting with gluten-free flours adds a new dimension of flavors and textures that aren’t possible when working only with wheat flour. Plus by understanding the taste, consistency and composition of other gluten-free baking ingredients and how to use them, the sweet smell of success becomes easy to achieve.
Gluten-free carries the stigma of dense muffins, dry cakes and crumbly cookies, but unbalanced proportions in any baked good recipe, even wheat-based, can produce disappointing results. The key to praiseworthy pastries is mixing the proper ratio of ingredients. Gluten-free baking requires a balance of what I call neutral flours, higher protein flours, starches and, if needed, binders.
Neutral flours provide the foundation with modest protein for structure and no overpowering flavor. Examples include sorghum flour, gluten-free oat flour and brown or white rice flour (ideally superfine to avoid a gritty texture).
Higher protein flours are used in smaller amounts (15-25 percent of the flour blend) to help fortify the base and add an element of flavor. These include almond (Which can also work as neutral flour), amaranth, buckwheat, chickpea, garfava, millet, quinoa and teff flours.
Starches have a gelatinous quality that assists binding, but their lack of fiber and protein lightens the overall texture. I limit starches to 25 percent of flour blends for everyday baking, and 40 percent for desserts. The most widely available options are corn- starch, potato starch, tapioca starch/flour, arrowroot starch/flour and sweet rice flour.
Binders step in when additional cohesiveness is required. Although higher protein flours and starches help dough to bond, too much of either will result in a dense or gummy texture. Xanthan gum and guar gum (for corn-free) are the most readily available binders.
To 1 cup of gluten-free flour blend, add 1 teaspoon of gum for yeast-based recipes; 3/4 teaspoon in quick breads and cookies; and 1/2 teaspoon for lighter baked goods.
The flour combining possibilities are endless, but I do have some staple mixes that perform well as a 1:1 substitution for all-purpose wheat flour. The first creates perfectly tender quick breads, muffins, cookies and bars.
Basic Baking Blend
- 1 1/4 cups sorghum flour
- 1/2 cup tapioca starch
- 1/4 cup quinoa flour
- 3/4 tsp xanthan or guar gum
For a heartier version, reduce the starch to 1/4 cup and increase the quinoa flour to 1/2 cup.
When fluffy cakes and dainty cupcakes are on order, the next combination is a miracle worker. Millet flour perfects the delicate crumb, arrowroot starch provides a light structure, and tapioca starch encourages a tender bite.
- 11/4 cups sorghum flour
- 1 cup millet flour
- 1/2 cup arrowroot starch
- 1/4 cup tapioca starch
- 1 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
Flour Blend for Yeast-Based Bread
The next combination creates bread with a soft and light texture that is sturdy enough for sandwiches. Works well as a 1:1 replacement for flour or all-purpose gluten-free flour blends in yeast-based recipes.
- 4 cups sorghum flour
- 3 cups buckwheat flour
- 1⅓ cup arrowroot starch
- 1 cup tapioca starch
- 3 tbsp xanthan gum
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