Baking with Gluten Free Flours
Updated: Feb 3
When I first switched to eating gluten free, I had a lot of friends ask me about the best way to convert a recipe so that I could eat it. I appreciated their consideration and always felt a tinge of guilt when I responded to their offers with “I’m not really sure”. That was true, I had no idea how to convert recipes to gluten free because back then the "cup for cup" all purpose gluten free flour blends didn’t exist and I was pretty sure every success I had in baking was solely the result of a hope and a prayer. After a decade of baking with gluten free flours I’ve discovered a few things that I wish I’d know then and I hope might help you now. I'm not an expert, so this is a resource for me too. These are the basics I return to when I’m trying to convert a favorite recipe to gluten free or make a substitution . So, here we go!
Beginner Gluten Free Baker (Gluten Free Flour Blends)
Traditional all purpose wheat flour has just the right combination of starch, protein and gluten to work magic in the oven and on the stove. So, in order to create similar magic with gluten free flours a combination of protein and starch flours are needed to help them stick together and stay strong. Gluten free flour blends are a great option and give you the best chance for baking success when you're just starting out. They combine several gluten free protein and starch flours that can help give you a great finished product. They're not always successful and can contain some ingredients that you might be trying to avoid. That said, they're worth a try and having some in your pantry can be really helpful when you feel like being adventurous. I've had the most success with this gluten free all purpose flour blend. It's the same blend I use to make these baked donuts!
Intermediate Gluten Free Baker (Making substitutions)
So, you've had several gluten free baking successes, you've got a variety of gluten free flours in your pantry and you want to know a little bit more about what gluten free baking is all about. At this point in your baking adventures you've discovered that not all gluten free flours are equal and you've likely googled substitutions for one gluten free flour to another that you've got on hand. Maybe it was a successful substitution or maybe it wasn't. Tip # 1: substitute based on WEIGHT not volume. As a quick example: 1 cup of almond flour weighs 111 grams and 1 cup of sweet white rice flour weighs 190 grams; to have a successful substitution, you need to be within 5 grams of the original flour you are substituting for. It's a little tricky, but important to know. Tip # 2: figure out the type of gluten free flour you’re substituting. Is it a protein or a starch? (see the list below) A protein flour can only be substituted for another protein flour and likewise a starch for another starch. Here’s the good news: starches like tapioca and arrowroot are interchangeable, so you can substitute 1/2 cup of tapioca flour for 1/2 cup of arrowroot because theses starches weigh close the same and perform the same purposes both in baking and thickening sauces. The bad news: everything else (including potato starch/flour) needs to be weighed. Here's a list of some of the protein and starch flours you're likely to find in stores:
White rice flour
Sweet white rice flour
Brown rice flour
Arrowroot (can be labeled as powder, flour or starch)
Tapioca (can be labeled as powder, flour or starch)
Potato (can be labeled as flour or starch)
A word about Cassava Flour:
Cassava flour is a pretty popular flour to find in grocery stores these days. Since Cassava flour is the product of a starchy tuber you'd think it would be listed in the starchy flour category, but it's not. I didn't put it there because it can be used as a substitute for protein flour as well. Some have said that Cassava flour alone could replace traditional all purpose wheat flour cup for cup, but my experience has been that it comes close, but isn't always successful. I use it as a substitute for either a starch or a protein flour, but not both in the same recipe. I use this brand most often, and have found this brand to be good quality too.
Advanced Gluten Free Baker (Ratios)
Since gluten free flours lack gluten (the sticky protein found in wheat, barley and rye that helps baked goods keep their shape) they need some help in the structure department in order to develop a decent baked good. So, a mixture of both proteins and starches helps with that (see the list of some of the protein and starch flours above). If you’re trying to convert a recipe to gluten free and want to create your own mix, then you’ll most often use a ratio of 70% protein flour(s) to 30% starch. Cookies and cakes tend to be a 50% protein flour(s) to 50% starch ratio. You may have noticed in a lot of the recipes that I've created, that I use a couple of different protein flours along with a starch. That's because some of the protein flours have a higher protein content than others and the combination of both a higher and lower protein containing flour yields a sturdier baked good. You'll most likely need to adjust your leavening agent(s) to help give your baked good the lift that you're looking for, but these ratios are a good start for your gluten free baking adventures.
So, there you have it! These are just the basics that I've found to have helped me be the most successful in baking without gluten. If you'd like to dive even deeper I'd recommend this book. It's got advice similar to what I mentioned above along with lots of other helpful baking ratios and troubleshooting tips. The book was a good resource for helping me to be more confident and creative in the kitchen.***I did find some of the books advice to be contradictory, but it's a good resource none the less!
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