Gluten-free baking can be a challenge, but with a little bit of knowledge, it can be a lot less intimidating. Following are some of the most helpful gluten-free baking tips that I have found that can help you feel more confident in the kitchen, and creating all kinds of gluten-free treats to enjoy and share.
Whether you have celiac disease, or are off gluten for other health reasons (like a sensitivity, an autoimmune disease, or for healing from autism), you've likely figured out that baking with gluten-free flours can be a bit of a challenge.
From figuring out what flours to use, to wondering about gums, leavening and starches, gluten-free baking does require some know-how.
Why We Went Gluten Free
My family went gluten-free about 5 years ago when my son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.
Asperger's is a form of autism and there's a lot of evidence that a gluten and casein-free diet can help and even heal those with autism.
We didn't notice an immediate healing, but we did notice improvement in our son's symptoms upon removing gluten from his diet. (He had been casein-free since infancy due to a life-threatening allergy to dairy.)
Going gluten free was a big deal for me.
I was a whole grain baking “maven”, with a whole wheat bread in my repertoire that a baker's daughter told me I could easily sell.
We loved it. And loved wheat, kamut, and spelt. A lot.
But you can still make tasty whole grain gluten-free treats for yourself and your family.
These tips can help you do that with a little more ease.
Gluten-Free Baking Tips
1. Increase Leavening Agents
When adapting a recipe to make it gluten free, increase the amount of baking powder and baking soda by 25%. (The quick way to do that on your calculator is to take the amount called for and multiply it by 1.25.)
2. Smaller is better!
Since gluten-free baked goods tend to crumble easily, making all baked good smaller tends to improve their quality and keep them “sticking together” more. Think mini cookies, mini muffins, and small loaves of bread.
3. Blend Different Flours Together
Just as with alternative sweeteners, it is best to use more than one flour when making gluten-free baked goods. It helps prevent just one flavor or texture from dominating the final product and also helps with texture. I tend to use about 1/2 sweet brown rice and then make up the rest with whatever flours I have on hand (typically that's buckwheat, brown rice, amaranth, and millet.)
4. Add Starch to the Mix
This is one tip I share with hesitancy. I personally almost never use starches in my baking since we deal with digestive issues (including gut dysbiosis, which is just too much bad bacteria and not enough good.)
Anyway, most gluten free baking “connoisseurs” recommending using a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of starch to whole grain when baking to give the baked goods a fluffy texture reminiscent of baking with all purpose flour.
For me, our intestinal health is more important than having the perfect baked good around so I prefer to bake only using whole grains.
The only exception is when I am baking cupcakes or cakes, particularly when making them for others and the “sagging in the middle” thing is a concern. Then I will go “light” on the starch and maybe use a 1:3 ratio of whole grain to starch.
5. Some Sticky Help
Gluten is the part of wheat that gives it its “stickiness”. So when you bake gluten free, by definition, you are going to have a “less sticky” final result.
There are some things you can do to make up for some of that, however.
– Use sweet rice (glutinous) flour as part of your baking mix.
I use brown sweet rice flour for about half of my gluten-free baking mix, with the rest being a mix of whatever I have on hand. Sweet rice is called glutinous rice (it's the kind used in Japan) and it doesn't have gluten but is a little “sticky.”
There's been quite a bit of information in the news recently about arsenic in brown rice. For now, we're not switching off rice or to white rice (because of digestive concerns.) We are also buying California rice, which is less of a concern than rice from the southern part of the U.S. I plan to write more about this in the future, but for now, you can check out this link.
I tend not to use the gums as they can cause digestive upset. There's even a new study apparently linking infant deaths to xanthan gum. I haven't looked into this enough yet to know what I think.
However, I really like using gelatin for its health qualities, and I recommend Great Lakes Brand.
Here is a general usage guide for these ingredients:
- Breads and pizza doughs: Add 1 tsp of gum, gelatin, or agar-agar per cup of GF flour used
- Cakes, muffins, quick breads, cookies and bars: Add 1/2 teaspoon gum, gelatin, or agar-agar per cup of gluten-free flour used (source)
6. Gluten-Free Flour List
Safe whole grains for gluten-free baking include brown rice flour, sorghum flour, millet flour, amaranth flour, and teff flour (a fairly high-protein grain). The grain-seeds, buckwheat and quinoa, have a higher protein value.
White rice flour is safe but I prefer not to use it due to our being a whole grain family.
Oat flour can be used, but there are a lot of cautions regarding oats. Some gluten-free folks can't tolerate oats. Others are fine with gluten-free varieties like Bob's Red Mill. The oats from our co-op were testing at “gluten-free” levels for years despite their not being certified.
For an extensive list of gluten free flours and their characteristics, check out this post at Whole Intentions.
7. Don't waste your “mistakes”
There is a use for botched kitchen experiments.
You can use savory baked good mistakes for breadcrumbs (just put in a food processor, run it for a bit and store the crumbs in the freezer), and sweet baked mistakes can be crumble toppings. Both can be used for cereals. Just top with milk or Homemade Coconut Milk or Homemade Almond Milk and enjoy!
8. Lower Baking Temperature
I haven't used this tip much, but perhaps I should. A reader shared that GF baked goods tend to brown more easily so lowering the oven temperature by 25 degrees is a good idea.
9. Beat Longer
When baking with gluten-free flours, try beating the batter longer as this should add structure to the dough.
10. Let the Dough Sit
After mixing the dough, let it sit for about 30 min before baking. Note: this tip came from a reader. I haven't tried it yet. Of course you would have to add leavening agents after this step as otherwise most will not work in the recipe.
11. Forget Perfection!
I gave up trying to be the perfect gluten-free baker a long time ago. Well, I still feel bad sometimes about my failings, but for the most part I've accepted that I am aiming for health–not perfect replication of fake-food goodies.
Case in point:
The other day, I made gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Not sure what went wrong with these. They were kind of gritty (I'm now wondering if my Blendtec didn't really get the flour so fine after all :-(.) and they fell completely apart after baking.
The ones I let cool longer in the pan held together better, but still–we're talking crumb city.
Anyway, I'd made them for a charity dinner function we were going to so the “men” in my family ate them up regardless of the fact that they were crumbs (I was a little embarrassed as they ate crumbs at our table. It was a casual event–but still :-).)
The Homemade “Almond Joy” Bars I made the next day are disappearing faster than the “crumble cookies” but they'll be eaten at some point.
They weren't the greatest, but that's OK ;-).
Ready to use your new Gluten-Free Baking Techniques to make some Gluten-Free Goodies? How about trying:
Recipes Featured in the Top Photo: