Gluten Free Baking Principles

gluten free baking principles title on yellow background with slice of key lime pie

Chapter 3

The first thing we need to know before Baking Gluten Free, is “what is gluten?”

Gluten is made up of two proteins, Glutenin and Gliadin, which are found in grains such as barley, wheat, rye, spelt, and kamu. If you are Celiac or suffer from a wheat or gluten allergy/sensitivity, then this unassuming protein can cause dangerous health problems and numerous physical ailments.  

Now that we have that covered, let’s talk about what makes gluten-free baking so different from traditional baking. Traditional baking relies heavily on gluten’s structure and elasticity to hold everything together and to achieve a very distinct texture. When you remove gluten from your recipe, you not only lose this much needed structure and elasticity, but it suddenly changes how the other ingredients in your recipe react to each other as well. An example of this is the need to add additional liquid for a gluten-free recipe to compensate for the higher absorption rate in gluten-free flours and starches. This is turn means that we need to increase the baking and cooling time to allow the extra moisture time to evaporate. 

Baking Methods

Baking is a method of preparing food using a dry heat most commonly from an oven.

There are three methods of thermal heat that can be used for baking:

  • Convection through circulating hot air around the oven. As the air moves around the oven, hot air rises because it is denser, and the cool air sinks, causing a current to form around the baked good. This method is best used for free standing baked goods such as cookies on a cookie sheet. 
  • Radiation from heat sources the heat flow between the oven walls and the food or baking pan. An example would be a heat radiating through the cake pan that bakes your cake.
  • Conduction through heated surfaces such as direct contact with a hot surface. Example would be using a frying pan to cook pancakes.

Stages of Baking

  1. Fats begin melting immediately. 
  2. Gases start to form through air, steam and, depending on the recipe, carbon dioxide.
    • Air is a mechanical leavener in baking that is created when mixing doughs and batters to create air pockets. When exposed to heat, the air bubbles start to swell and rise.
    • Steam is another mechanical leavener that is created when the moisture in doughs or batters begins to evaporate. This happens when the mixture is nearing boiling point and the steam starts to push up against the cell structure, causing the dough to rise.
    • Carbon Dioxide is created either when yeast, baking powder and/or baking soda are added.
      • Yeast is an organic leavener and as it ferments the sugars breakdown into carbon dioxide and alcohol whish creates gas. 
      • Baking Soda is pure soda bicarbonate. It needs liquid and acid (such as buttermilk, honey, citrus) to begin creating carbon dioxide. Once the reaction has started it will immediately begin creating bubbles and air but will dissipate quickly.
      • Baking Powder is a combination of baking soda (soda bicarbonate), dry acids or acid salts, and starch. This combination produces carbon dioxide as soon as liquid is added, and then this will happen again when heat is introduced.
  1. Gases (mostly) stay trapped. The proteins in our mixture trap the gas allowing it to rise.
  2. Yeast and other microorganisms are killed. Once the dough or batter reaches an internal temperature of approx..  60–70°C (140–160°F), the bacteria dies.
  3. Starches gelatinize. When starch starts to gelatinize at a temperature of approx. 76°C (170°F), it absorbs moisture which creates the crumb structure.
  4. Proteins coagulate. Coagulation occurs at an internal temperature of approx. 60 to 70°C (140 to 160°F). This process creates a tight cell structure and gives shape to the baked product.
  5. Water evaporates. The liquid turns to steam at around 160F/70C and evaporates as it helps to leaven the dough or batter. This process breaks through the proteins that were just solidified, creating an open cell structure, which in turn produces a softer baked crumb. 
  6. Maillard reaction and sugars caramelize. Maillard browning takes place at approx. 105°C (220°F) and produces significant flavour. Sugars caramelize at 160°C (320°F). At this temperature the sugars caramelize and as the water evaporates the starches and proteins come together to form the final crust. 
  7. Carry-over baking. After the baked good is removed from the oven there is residual heat from the hot pan that will continue the baking process.
  8. Drying out the crumb and cooling. This is particularly important with gluten free baking as gluten free flours absorb more water when compared to wheat flours. As the baked good cools water will continue to evaporate, sugars will re-crystalize and fats solidify. Technically the baked good is ready once cooled to room temperature (70F or 21C). Additionally, staling occurs because this process continues as the baked good ages. Eventually creating a dry, crumbly unpleasant structure.        

Prepare to be awesome: Mise en place

Mise en place 

(pronounced “MEEZ-on-plahs”) is a French term for “in its place”. In professional kitchens this refers to preparing every ingredient before the cooking or baking process begins.

This might not come as a shock but I’m a planner and I LOVE researching, preparing and getting organized before my whisk hits the bowl. So, unsurprisingly, mise en place is my jam. I understand that not everyone is like me and this part can seem extremely boring and unnecessary. BUT implementing this into your baking routine is extremely valuable and is drilled into every chef from day one of culinary school and each day after. This is one of the key practices that separate professionals from novices. 

So lets get prepared:

First. Read the recipe.

Read the recipe at least twice and make sure you understand the steps, techniques and have all the required ingredients.

Scale and measure the ingredients.

The importance of accurately measuring your baking ingredients can make or break your recipe. If you really want to ensure your success in the pastry kitchen you need a digital kitchen scale. Professional pastry chefs weigh EVERYTHING. This is because there’s no room for error when you’re dealing with science in the kitchen and inaccurately measuring just one ingredient can lead to disappointing results. I will do my best to provide the cup measurements where possible (see how to properly measure flour and sugar here), but if you can afford a digital kitchen scale it will make all the difference in your gluten-free baking journey. 

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