Gluten-free baking can seem overwhelming and like you need a degree in food science to fully understand it. It’s a lot! But as complex as it is, you can start baking delicious gluten-free desserts right away just by following a few basic principles and make sure to try my Gluten Free AP Flour Blend Recipe. Let’s get started!
The first thing we need to know before Baking Gluten Free, is “what is gluten?”
If you are new to gluten-free baking, you may not know what gluten is and that’s okay. We all need to start somewhere, and I will happily guide you through this exciting new baking adventure.
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 as we need to compensate for the higher absorption rate in gluten-free flours and starches. This is turn means that we need to increase the baking time to allow the extra moisture time to evaporate.
This leads us to our first gluten-free baking principle.
Follow a Gluten-Free recipe. Exactly
It can be so tempting to tweak a recipe as you’re going along or attempt to make a well-loved family recipe gluten-free by only substituting the wheat flour for gluten-free flour, but I would heavily discourage this, at least in the beginning. If traditional baking is a science, then gluten-free baking is the science that created science. Following a gluten-free specific recipe will be a real game changer because somebody else has already considered all the variables that come into play when we no longer have gluten to rely on. This is great news for us because it means we have a higher chance of baking those gluten-free cookies to perfection on the first try.
Not to worry though! There will be plenty of time for experimentation and exploration once you are further on in your gluten-free baking journey.
Your Secret Weapon: Gluten-Free Flour Blends
One of the kindest things you can do for yourself when you are new to gluten-free baking, is to use a pre-made gluten-free flour blend. The reason I recommend this is because I don’t want you to overcomplicate your baking experience at this point. Instead, let’s focus on having fun first and turn out some incredible pastries before diving into the world of flour, starch and gum ratios. There are plenty of great options on the market these days. The first thing to understand about commercially produced gluten-free flour blends is that they are all different and will yield different results with the same recipe. Each one will have a different variety of flours, starches and gums to create their unique texture and flavour.
If you do feel up to making your own Gluten Free Flour Blend and want to use the exact mix of flours I use in most my recipes, you can find my recipe here.
Listed below are the more widely used flours and starches in commercially produced gluten-free flour blends:
- Rice Flour: Both white and brown rice flour tend to be the base for most gluten-free flour blends and can be used interchangeably. White rice flour is especially useful for baking as it has a neutral, clean flavour.
- Sweet Rice Flour: Also called ‘glutinous’ rice flour has a mild flavour that adds a chewiness to baked goods. This flour needs to be used in moderation as it creates a very sticky texture.
- Tapioca Flour: Also called tapioca starch, comes from the cassava root and has a slightly sweet flavour. It functions like a starch and is a great thickener.
- Corn Starch: Is nearly flavourless and helps to create a smooth texture in batters and doughs.
- Potato Starch: Not to be confused with potato flour, a different product, potato starch has a neutral flavour and aids in creating a tender texture.
- Sorghum: Is a cereal grain and has a slightly nutty, sweet vanilla flavour.
Quick note on Xanthan Gum
Usually the gum of choice for gluten-free flour blends. It is a powder derived from sugar and used in gluten-free baking to replace the elasticity and texture that would normally come from gluten. This is a great product when used sparingly as too much will make your pastry and dough gummy.