Baking is as much a science as it is an art. Truth be told, I consider myself more a cook than a baker; cooking fits my personality better. Baking requires patience, precision, and obedience – all qualities that aren’t the first words anyone would choose to describe me. Still, I learned to bake. I learned why certain ingredients are added and the rationale behind the order of steps required to make scrumptious baked goods. I was quite proud of myself.
Then, I became gluten-free and gluten-free baking is a whole other thing. If regular baking is basic science, gluten-free baking is advanced chemistry. Still, I accepted the challenge and with a lot of trial and error, learned how to bake delicious gluten-free goodies. If you follow these guidelines, you can become a master gluten-free baker too.
1. Learn to Make Gluten-Free Flour Blends
When baking with gluten-free flours, one flour alone cannot replace the all-purpose white or whole wheat flour used in regular baking. It is necessary to make a blend of 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, some gluten-free flours have very strong flavors and some have higher protein contents than others so it’s best to use more than one type of flour. A handy guideline is to use 50 percent dense flour such as amaranth, quinoa, or brown rice flour, 25 percent neutral flour such as white rice flour or sorghum flour, and 25 percent starch such as tapioca starch or potato starch.
2. Experiment With a Variety of Flours
There are many gluten-free flours available and they each have their own personality. Gluten-free grain flours include amaranth, teff, quinoa, brown rice, white rice, and certified gluten-free oat flour. Nut flours are nutritious and delicious and especially good in cookies. They include almond, hazelnut, and peanut flour. Other grain-free flours include coconut, chickpea, and soy flour. Try different flours in your baking to discover which ones give you the best taste and texture for your creations.
3. Gums as Gluten Replacers
Gluten is what gives baked goods their structure. Without the gluten, foods are more likely to fall apart. Add gums, such as xanthan gum or guar gum, to replace some of that structure. For yeast products such as bread, 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.
4. Buy Pre-Made Flour Blends
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 proceed to 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.
5. Increase the Amounts of Other Ingredients
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 pears, applesauce, or canned pumpkin 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.
6. Bake Lower and Longer
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. Try this recipe: carrot cake with walnuts and cream cheese frosting.
7. Have Patience and a Sense of Humor
Perhaps the most important tools one can have when learning how to bake gluten-free are patience and a sense of humor. There may be a lot of trial and error, a few mistakes and some cookies that are more weaponry than dessert. It takes time to get a feel for this type of baking but the more you do it, the better and easier it will get. Learn to laugh at the mistakes and eat them anyway. A not-great loaf of bread will still make great bread crumbs. In time, you will be creating amazing breads, cookies, and cakes and no one will believe they are gluten-free.
Image source: Ooh La La Gluten-Free French Bread