Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gluten-Free Baking from Scratch

To be honest with you, I have used gluten-free mixes in almost every single thing I have baked so far. Yesterday, I made my first true foray into making something completely from scratch (apple cinnamon muffins). To celebrate the occasion, I thought I would share pretty much the extent of my very limited knowledge on baking gluten-free from scratch.

And now I will immediately cop out and quote from Gluten-free Girl and the Chef, which has been my chief source up to this point:

"The main difference between gluten-free baking and the more traditional kind is that you must combine flours to bake gluten-free. [...F]or the most part, you will need at least three flours. One of the three should be a whole-grain, a solid base: sorghum flour, brown rice flour, garfava flour. The next should be a starch, to lighten up the mixture, since gluten-free baked goods tend to be dense: potato starch, tapioca starch (also known as tapioca flour), cornstarch, or arrowroot powder. The third flour should have a particular personality you want to add to your baked goods."

So for the sake of my list-making mind, let's review...

Bases: brown rice flour, garfava flour, sorghum flour.
Starches: cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca starch, or arrowroot powder.
Other flours: almond, amaranth, arrowroot, coconut, mesquite, millet, oat (make sure it's gluten-free), quinoa, sorghum, soy, sweet (or glutinous) rice flour, teff, white rice flour.

Just FYI, contrary to the sound of the name, "glutinous" rice flour has nothing to do with gluten, but rather glue, because of its stickiness.

And another note, I'm not sure the particular base flours above are a hard-and-fast rule. The original muffin recipe didn't include any of these.

The following are notes about the particular flours from the book:
"Amaranth flour has a soft texture and slight malt flavor. We like it in cookies and cinnamon rolls.:
"Almond flour adds protein and a bit of fat for flavor."
"Coconut flour adds taste to baked goods, but it sucks up all the moisture around it, so you have to play with the amount of liquids in your treats."
"Millet flour makes a great crumb."
"Quinoa flour is savory and great in quiches."
"Teff flour is the finest-textured flour in the world, so during baking it almost melts, which helps to bind together muffins and quick breads."

These particular authors tend to use a lot of almond and teff flours, which sound great, but they are a fair bit more expensive than other flours, so I haven't tried them yet. (Well, except for the almond flour that I bought about 2 years ago, used a few times in random cooking experiments, and then let the rest go bad. Bummer.)

If you want a gluten-free all-purpose mix, these authors suggest mixing equal parts sorghum flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, and sweet rice flour. Another favorite of theirs: 40% brown rice flour and sorghum flour, 60% potato starch, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, and cornstarch.

A couple more important ingredients in gluten-free baking are xanthan gum and guar gum. These are both used as -- what else? -- a gum-like substance in baking, to help bind the flours together and keep your baked goods from falling apart. They are expensive, especially xanthan gum, but fortunately you only need a tiny bit per recipe. I have not personally had experience with trying to bake without them, but I have heard that it will generally end up as a crumby mess.

How much? Some guidelines from
* Bread and pizza dough recipes: Add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum or guar gum per cup of gluten-free flour used in bread and pizza dough recipes.
* Cake, muffin and quick bread recipes: Add 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum or guar gum per one cup of gluten-free flour used.
* Cookie and bar recipes: Add 1/2 teaspoon (or less) xanthan gum or guar gum per one cup gluten-free flour used.

In most recipes, I have almost always seen both xanthan and guar gum together, with 2-4 times more xanthan gum than guar gum.

Note: Xanthan gum is corn-based, so if you have corn allergies, you may need to avoid it.

Annnnd... that's about all I know. I'll keep you updated on my favorite flours and baking adventures.

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