Baking may be a science but buying ingredients to bake with is usually easy – you buy all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar and you are good to go. Mix the ingredients together, put the batter or dough in the oven, set the timer and you’re done. When you need to bake gluten-free, however, all the rules change. Gluten-free baking requires different flour, different techniques and different baking times. It took me a lot of trial and error but eventually I learned how to bake delicious gluten-free treats. Once you understand why you make the substitutions, it gets much easier. To help you have success with gluten-free baking, here is my ultimate gluten-free vegan baking substitution guide.
First, get familiar with all the different gluten-free flours. Grain flours include amaranth, teff, quinoa, brown rice, white rice and certified gluten-free oat flour. Nut flours are nutritious and delicious and they include almond, hazelnut and peanut flour. Grain-free and nut-free flours include coconut, chickpea and soy flour. Some of my favorite choices for baking are sorghum flour which is slightly sweet, almond and hazelnut flours which add yummy nutty flavors, and buckwheat when I want a dense, dark, nutty taste. With all the choices available, it should be pretty easy to find flours that meet your dietary needs. Try baking with different flours to discover which ones give you the best taste and texture for your recipes.
As listed above, there are many gluten-free flours available and each has its own characteristics including protein content, taste, density and weight. The heavier grain flours usually have more protein and are hearty and nutritious. These might include millet, quinoa, and buckwheat flours, nut flours and meals, bean and legume flours and cornmeal. Baking with these is most similar to baking with straight whole wheat flour resulting in dense, dark baked goods that don’t rise very much. These are usually not used alone. At the other end of the spectrum are the light gluten-free flours. These tend to be more starchy and include starches such as tapioca starch (which is the same as tapioca flour), cornstarch, potato starch (which is not the same as potato flour) and my favorite starch, arrowroot powder. The most commonly used light gluten-free flour is white rice flour which leads to lighter colored and less dense texture in baked goods. In the middle are the flours that give results similar to gluten-filled, all-purpose flour. These include brown rice flour, oat flour and sorghum flour.
One type of gluten-free flour alone cannot replace the all-purpose white or whole wheat flour used in regular baking. It is usually necessary to make a blend of the different weighted gluten-free flours and starches to replicate the flavor, texture and density of the gluten-filled flours.
The rule of thumb is a 2:1 ratio of flour to starch. A gluten-free flour blend could be as simple as 1 cup of rice flour for every ½ cup of tapioca starch. However, too much starch can lead to gummy results and not a lot of nutrition so it is best to use flours of different protein contents, weights and densities.
To make a high-protein flour blend, combine:
1 ¼ cups bean or legume flour (i.e. chickpea, navy bean, soy)
1 cup medium-weight flour (i.e. brown rice, sorghum)
1 cup light starch (i.e. tapioca, cornstarch, potato starch)
If you need to make your flour blend self-rising, add 1 ½ tsp. baking powder and ½ tsp. salt for every 1 cup of gluten-free flour blend.
Gluten is what gives baked goods their structure. Without the gluten, foods are more likely to fall apart. Adding gums such as xanthan gum or guar gum replaces some of that structure.
For yeast products, add 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum or guar gum per cup of flour blend. For non-yeast products, add ½ teaspoon of xanthan gum or guar gum per cup of flour blend.
Some people avoid gums because of digestive issues or sensitivities. In those cases, adding psyllium, agar agar, chia seeds or flax seeds in amounts equal to the gums required can also do the job. In some recipes, you may find you don’t need any gluten-replacers at all. The more you bake, the more you will learn which of your recipes come out better with the gums added.
Maybe you don’t want to buy half a dozen different flours and gums. Maybe you don’t want to do the math. Maybe you just want to open one bag of flour and get on with the baking. That’s fine. There are many pre-made gluten-free, all-purpose flour blends on the market and they have done all the work for you. Some use more nutritious flours than others. Read the labels to see which blends use the flours you prefer. I like my blend to have more high-protein, whole grain flours and less rice flour. Also be sure to check whether the blend you buy already has the xanthan gum added to it. Some do and some don’t so read those labels.
Even though some people say that with the substitution of a gluten-free flour blend, you can just follow any recipe as written, I have not found that to be true. Gluten-free flours are dense and have strong flavors. In order to achieve a light, moist and tasty baked good instead of a dry and crumbly hockey puck, the amounts of other ingredients in the recipe need to be increased. To add lightness, increase the baking powder and/or baking soda in the recipe by 25 percent. If the recipe stated one teaspoon of baking powder, add 1 ¼ teaspoons instead. Gluten-free baking can often be dry so it is important to add moisture. This can be achieved by increasing the amount of vegan butter or oil, adding fruit such as applesauce or pumpkin puree or using brown sugar rather than white sugar. To bring out the most flavor in a gluten-free baked good, you will need to use more sugar, more spices and more vanilla. I automatically double (and sometimes triple) the amount of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in a recipe to be sure I can taste them. In recipes requiring yeast, I typically double the amount of yeast as well since gluten-free breads don’t rise as easily.
Gluten-free baking tends to brown faster on the outside than it cooks on the inside so it is a good idea to lower the baking temperature by 25 degrees. While a regular cake or loaf of bread might take 30 minutes to bake, a gluten-free version will often take 45 minutes to an hour. Contrary to regular baking, a good rule of thumb is to keep checking the progress of your baking to figure out the time necessary for the recipe. Another tip of added moistness in your gluten-free cakes: take them out of the oven a little early, before the toothpick comes out completely dry.
Some Recipes to Get You Started :
Nothing works better at increasing your baking confidence than having a few successful experiences so let me share a few tried and true gluten-free baking recipes with you.
If you think being gluten-free means the end of light, flaky biscuits, think again. My Gluten-Free Garlic and Rosemary Cheddar Biscuits are flaky, tender and delicious. In a large bowl, combine 2 cups gluten-free, all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. xanthan or guar gum, 1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. dried rosemary and ½ tsp. garlic powder. Mix well to combine. Add 1 cup non-dairy milk and ½ cup melted vegan butter or olive oil and mix until you have a thick batter. Fold in 1 cup vegan cheddar cheese shreds. Using a ¼ cup measuring cup sprayed with cooking oil, drop dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush milk on the tops of the biscuits. Bake at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with your favorite gravy.
A good way to add veggies into your diet is to use them when making desserts. Try making my gluten-free Zucchini Chocolate Banana Muffins. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin with oil or cooking spray. Mix 2 Tbs. ground flaxseed with 1/3 cup warm water and let it sit for 10 minutes until it’s a loose paste. This is your binder. Mix 1 cup brown rice flour, ½ cup chickpea/fava bean flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, ¼ tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon and ½ tsp. ground nutmeg in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix the flaxseed/water, ¼ cup oil, ¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce, ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 mashed banana and 1 tsp. vanilla. Fold in 1 cup grated zucchini that has been squeezed dry. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until the batter is smooth. Then fold ¼ cup chocolate chips into the batter. Fill the muffin tin about ¾ of the way since the muffins will rise. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the tin and then transfer them to a cooling rack.
Other gluten-free baking recipes of mine include my Carrot Cake with Walnuts and Cream Cheese Maple Frosting, Vegan Pear Crumb Cake, Mini Apple Galettes, Vegan Hamantaschen, Vegan and Gluten-Free Challah, and Ooh-La-La Gluten-Free French Bread.
For more helpful hints, see 7 Tips for Gluten-Free Baking, Tips for Baking the Best Fall Treats – No Gluten Required, and Tips on How to Make Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread (and a Recipe). Then be sure to check out all the gluten-free desserts and bread recipes on One Green Planet!
The best advice I can give anyone is learning to bake gluten-free is to be patient and keep a sense of humor. There will be mistakes – cookies will crumble, cakes will be dense, and breads may never rise – but with practice, it will get better and easier. In no time, you will be creating the most delicious gluten-free baked goods and eating them too!
Image Source: Carrot Cake with Walnuts and Cream Cheese Maple Frosting