Baking with gluten-free flour - all you need to know

Gluten can be found in a lot of delicious products, so a question we often get is: “Is it possible to bake/cook yummy things without gluten?” The answer is: YES! You don’t have to miss out on all the deliciousness. Especially when you are just starting out with gluten-free baking, it can be challenging. Read all about what gluten is, the challenges, tips and some gluten-free flours below.

What is gluten? 

Gluten is a protein and that’s what causes ingredients to 'stick’ together. When flour mixes with water, gluten forms a network that has a glue-like consistency. That’s also what gives dough its elastic texture and what gives bread the ability to rise during baking. It provides the chewy, satisfying texture most of us are looking for in bread.

The most common reason for people to avoid gluten is for their health. Some prefer to avoid gluten for long term health benefits, others are sensitive to it or celiac and won’t eat it at all. It's a recognized health problem for many people in the world. Gluten is a collective term that is used for different types of proteins that are mostly found in wheat. Gluten is mostly found in bread, baked goods (cakes and cookies), pasta and cereal. Luckily gluten does not provide any essential nutrients.

Challenges when baking gluten-free

When getting rid of gluten, we have to be more creative to get the right elastic texture, making the ingredients stick together and get the baked goods to rise. It can be tricky to substitute regular wheat flour one-on-one for a gluten-free flour in recipes and frankly, in most cases it is just not possible. Each flour is a different seed, grain or nut and this means it has its own properties. Therefore, it can react differently to the other ingredients used. It takes some trial, error and experience to come to the right measurements. 

Tips for gluten-free baking

TIP 1. Search for gluten-free recipes

If you’re just starting out with gluten-free baking, it’s recommended to search for recipes that are best using that specific flour. Since each flour can react differently, replacing it one-on-one in a recipe with gluten will be a wild gamble. Slowly but surely you’ll learn how the flours will interact with different ingredients and you’ll become more comfortable with experimenting.

TIP 2. Blend different types of flours

In gluten-free baking you’ll see a lot of blends of flours. The reason for this is that different flours have different properties, helping with texture and the rise of baked goods. If you’re looking for something that rises a lot, then you’ll need a flour higher in protein (remember, gluten is a protein). Higher protein gluten-free flours help with rise and texture. Mix and match until you find the perfect match for your recipe.

We recommend using a blend of at least 3 flours. Optimally use 5 flours. Make sure to mix the flours thoroughly before adding them to other ingredients.

TIP 3. Add a binder

You need a binder to strengthen the protein network in your baked goods, to increase the elasticity. Without this, your bread, cake, pizza or whatever you’ll be trying to make will be very dense. In low moisture baked goods (like cookies and muffins), xanthan gum is a good option. For more high moisture baked goods (like breads and pizza), psyllium husk is a better choice. Psyllium husk is especially good in the binding process and strengthening the protein network.

Other starches that can be used are arrowroot starch, tapioca and potato starch. Starch has no protein and is pure carbohydrates. It does not add any nutrition; it’s purely used for texture.

TIP 4. Add baking soda and vinegar

For the rise of baked goods it is necessary to add some baking soda with vinegar. First mix them together (this will give a foamy reaction) before adding them to the recipe.

TIP 5. Add baking powder

For some recipes it’s necessary to ensure proper leavening (the ingredient that causes rising) and that’s why baking powder is added. This will also improve the elasticity of the dough. The rule of thumb is 2 teaspoons of baking powder per cup of gluten-free flour.

TIP 6. Secret ingredient: apple sauce!

Apples have a naturally occurring pectin which helps bind the flours and hold on to moisture. You can cut down on oils and use the apple sauce instead. Apple sauce acts like fat since it keeps the flour from mixing completely with wet ingredients and it forms a rubbery texture. 

Make sure to first mix the apple sauce with the wet ingredients before mixing it with the flours.

TIP 7. Getting a starchy feeling on your tongue from your baked goods? Add more water!

Different plant starches absorb water, swell and gell to different degrees and to different temperatures. If a starch is not fully hydrated, it can leave a gritty, starchy feeling on your tongue. This means maybe adding twice as much water than usual, causing you to get a batter instead of a dough. Since more water is added, this would increase baking time and you might want to adjust oven temperature. 

Almond flour

Almond flour is made from blanched almonds and flour. It is a great choice for gluten-free baking recipes. Almond flour contains many minerals, fibers and vitamins. It provides a good source of fat and protein. You can use almond flour as a substitute for wheat flour, however the end result of the product will be firmer and more compact. When mixing different gluten-free flours together, add more almond flour for a more crisp and brown result. Almond flour contains a lot of healthy fats, so when you make the dough, you’ll get more moist. It is suitable for many varieties of bread, pastries and pancakes. 

Recipes with almond flour

  • Easiest almond cookie ever by The Sugar Free Diva

  • Almond Flour Waffles by Eat With Clarity  

  • No bake peanut butter brownie cups  

  • Gluten free almond biscotti by Yummy Mummy Kitchen

Coconut flour

Coconut flour is made from the solids of a coconut. The meat is dried on a low temperature and then grinded into flour. This delicious tropical fruit flour has a sweet and slightly floury taste. Coconut flour is very high in fiber, low in carbohydrates and the most protein-rich flour. It’s high in manganese, which helps support bone health and it helps absorb other nutrients better. It is more difficult to bake with coconut flour than, for example, with almond flour. It is not so suitable for fluffier recipes like cakes, but better for cookies and pastries. 

Coconut flour absorbs large amounts of liquid. This can result in a quicker drying effect on baked goods, so we recommend using more liquid and binder. To avoid a gritty texture it is best to sift the flour first. We also recommend pairing the coconut flour with other types of flour.

Recipes with coconut flour

  • Salted Maple Pecan Vegan Fudge by A Virtual Vegan

  • 3-ingredient coconut flour shortbread cookies by The Conscious Plant Kitchen

  • Coconut Flour Almond Flour Pie Crust by Power Hungry

Buckwheat flour

Despite the “wheat” in the name, buckwheat is a gluten-free flour. It’s neither a grain nor a grass. It is made of ground buckwheat and is rich in fiber. Buckwheat has a specific, slightly sweet and nutty taste that you have to get used to.

Buckwheat has a specific, earthy and nutty taste that can be slightly bitter. It may be overwhelming if you use large quantities in recipes at once. You can use it in both sweet and savory recipes. Don’t use too much when making cakes, since it can get gummy quickly. Buckwheat flour is often used for pancake mixes and bread.

  • Buckwheat pancakes by Radhi

  • Graham Crackers by The Worktop

  • Buckwheat bread by Nourish Everyday  

Cashew Flour

Cashew flour is quite similar to almond flour. Cashew and almond flour are almost the same, yet almond has a more nutty taste. It is useful for sweet and savory recipes. Cashew flour contains many minerals and almost all vitamins. It's perfect for baking, thickening up sauces, making creams and much more.

TIP: Can be used for Bolo di Cashupete

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