1. Not all gluten free (gf) flours are equal!
When you bake with glutinous wheat flour, you have two choices – white or wholemeal. Do you want the light smooth, silky texture & mild taste you get from white flour, or do you prefer more density & earthiness you get from wholemeal? This is about all you need to think about when choosing.
No so with gf alternatives – they vary greatly in both taste & texture. While we now more choice than ever before, which is fantastic, it can also be a right pain in the ass when trying to decide on the ‘best’ flour to use!
To give you an idea of what is out there, here is a handy guide to some of the most popular gf flours on offer and their flavour/texture.
As you can see, there are lots of choices on offer. While this is awesome, I have found along the way that each has a differing taste & texture that can greatly impact the end result of your baking efforts, so you need to pick your flour accordingly.
It is very much a trial & error approach – this way you will learn to understand what happens when you bake with them, what your flavour & texture preferences are & importantly, which flours work best. Which brings me to my next point.
2. Gluten free flours work as a team
The beautiful thing about gluten is that it is a protein that when added to water becomes stretchy & sticky, giving anything you are cooking with it structure, so it holds together without much support Again, not so with gf flour. No one gf flour is able to stand up on its own when you bake. To get the best results you need to mix at least one flour and one starch to begin to mimic something akin to wheat flour.
Starches used for gluten-free baking include tapioca and potato. Using starch thickens & adds lightness, tenderness & browning to gf flours. I have also found that using part dense & light flours together with a starch gives excellent results.
3. My favourite flour mix
After playing with a range of combinations, I found myself coming back to this mix, especially when baking cakes & biscuits.
You can play with the starches, if you don’t have potato, tapioca alone works really well, or vice-versa. You could also sub in some corn starch if you prefer, I am unable to as I am intolerant to corn – it causes my IBS to flare up. Ah, the joys!
4. Help! My cake is still crumbly!
Indeed! In the early days of my gluten free baking adventures I could not quite figure out why, when I used store-bought flour mix my cakes would hold together, but when I used my own mix, it would crumble & fall apart as the mere sight of a knife!
Turns out if you read the list of ingredients on the packet mix, you will see a number for an additive, usually 412 or 415. These digits represent that addition of naturally occurring plant gum, either guar or xanthan. They are essentially the endosperm found within bean plants (sexy, right!), that is extracted for use as a stabilizer & emulsifier for a range of food products, including gluten free flour. They are used to add the ‘stickiness’ & structure that gluten gives to other grains.
5. Go easy on the gum
Once I realised that gums were being used in gluten free flour mixes, I wanted to try them out for myself to understand just how much I needed. I learned quickly that less is better when it comes to this For a standard size cake or batch of muffins I use no more than 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum (my preferred option) – any more & the batter becomes rubbery & loses the fluffiness you expect from cake
Even if you double your batter, don’t double the gum! Keep it to a maximum of 1 teaspoon, or it will become almost inedible.
Also, be careful with your use of gums if you have either coeliac or food intolerances as they can cause a reaction in some people.
NOTE: This is a very individual thing, so I can’t say exactly what or why this occurs – I am just aware of it. In my case, I can tolerate small amounts of xanthan gum without issue, however, guar gum in any amount gives me a stomach ache shortly after I ingest it.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of trial & error when dabbling with gf baking!
6. Store-bought mixes do work
While I prefer to make & use my own flour blend, if I am run out, I will happily use a store-bought flour mix to bake with. There are several available these days, either in the supermarket or in wholefoods stores both locally & online.
I will use White Wings brand over any other, as it contains no gums, or other additives.
Others available include, Organ brand, Well & Good & Bob’s Red Mill brand. Each have their strengths, however, I am unable to use Organ as it contains guar gum & Bob’s Red Mill use garbanzo (chick pea) flour in theirs – both of which I am personally intolerant to.
7. Check your ingredients carefully
This applies to anyone who has been diagnosed with coeliac disease or has severe sensitivities, as it pertains to knowing whether ingredients you might use when baking, especially flours, have been processed on machinery that also processes products containing gluten. Be aware it can also apply to ingredients such as baking powder, cocoa, cooking chocolate & even food colouring.
The label may say something along the lines of ‘may contain traces of gluten’, so be sure & check this if you are at all concerned about cross-contamination that may cause a reaction for you.
8. Temperature matters
For gf baking, ingredients should be at room temperature. If not, the fats, such as butter or egg will not absorb properly into the dry ingredients. This can also cause doughs & batters to become crumbly & fall apart.
9. Stick to the recipe (until you feel confident)
Unlike wheat flour, which is quite forgiving & adaptable to change, gf flours & other ingredients are more delicate to work with. Accuracy is important with your weights & measures. Upset the balance & epic baking fails will invariably happen! Don’t be disheartened though, it is all part of the fun.
Take your time & learn from those who have come before you, then slowly begin to experiment with your own touches. Google is your friend when it comes to finding fabulous gf baking recipes – get out there & see what takes your fancy.
10. Life without gluten is not the same, but it is not bad either
Gluten-free baked goods, don’t taste like their glutinous counterparts. There are times when the differences will be distinctive (eg: gf bread) & times when you will hardly know the difference (eg: cakes The key is to remember that while it is different, it is not bad – in fact more often than not it will be delicious! Most of all, remind yourself just how much better you feel for making the changes!
Jodie is passionate home cook, mum to two gorgeous little people & deliciously intolerant foodie who loves to blog. Since being diagnosed with malabsorption of gluten and lactose, she has made it her mission to find ways to turn old favourite recipes into new ‘free from’ ones that are easy to digest and the whole family can cook, eat and enjoy! Check her out at www.freshhomecook.com