Ah, memories. I remember the first time I ever tried baking gluten-free and vegan bread. The loaf was heavier than a bag of sugar and it felt just as hard. The slices fell apart just by looking at them and they tasted like cardboard … and that’s putting it nicely.
If you’re both vegan and gluten-free, you may feel like your life is filled with restrictions that result in dry and unflavorful food. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way, and there’s no end to tips and tricks to help you make the best of your gluten-free kitchen. Check out The Ultimate Gluten-Free Baking Guide to learn how to substitute flours that contain gluten with the right kind of gluten-free flour. And these 10 Tips for Gluten-Free Cooking will help you troubleshoot any problems you might encounter.
Over the years, I’ve learned lots of tricks for successfully cooking and baking gluten-free foods. It just takes time and practice. Check out my top ten tips for making gluten-free recipes that come out moist, flavorful, and don’t fall apart.
1. Learn to Make Gluten-Free Flour Blends
If you like to bake, understanding how gluten-free flours work is crucial. You can’t just swap one gluten-free flour for all-purpose white, whole wheat, or cake flour. If you do, your baked goods will be hard, crumbly, and they’ll fall apart. You have to make a blend of 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 1/2 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. This Zucchini Bread With Fennel Seeds and Pistachios uses a blend of quinoa flour, brown rice flour, almond flour, and tapioca starch. Experiment with different flours to find out which you like best.
2. Replace Gluten with Gums
Without gluten, foods are more likely to fall apart. Gums, such as xanthan gum and guar gum, can replace some of the structure that gluten would have provided. For recipes with yeast, add 1 teaspoon of xanthan or guar gum per cup of flour blend. For recipes without yeast, add 1/2 teaspoon of gum per cup of flour blend. These decadent Fudgy Coffee Brownies use a bit of xanthan gum in the recipe, to make the fudge soft and decadent.
Some people avoid these gums because of digestive issues or sensitivities. You can use psyllium, agar agar, chia seeds, or flaxseeds instead. Measure out the same amount of ground flax or chia seeds as the amount of xanthan gum called for in the recipe. Mix the ground seeds in twice the amount of hot water. If the recipe calls for 2 teaspoons xanthan gum, mix 2 teaspoons ground flax or chia seeds with 4 teaspoons hot water. Let it sit for 10 minutes, until the mixture forms a gel, then add it in place of xanthan gum in the recipe.
3. Take Advantage of Gluten-Free Products
Even though you should learn how to make gluten-free flour blends, there’s no reason to not let someone else do all the calculating for you. It can get expensive to buy half a dozen different flours and gums. Maybe you just want to open one bag of flour and proceed to baking. There are many gluten-free products available, including flour blends, cake mixes, and even pie crust mixes.
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 or not the blend you buy already has xanthan gum added to it. Some do, and some don’t, so always be sure to read those labels. This yummy Naan Bread is made with a gluten-free and all-purpose flour blend.
4. Sift the Flour
To make baked goods lighter, sift the flour before measuring it. When you sift flour, it’s lighter due to aeration, and you end up using less. Not sifting the flour will result in having to use a lot more flour, which can lead to dry, heavy baked goods. The flours in this Chocolate Coconut Chip Cake are blended and then sifted, so the cake turns out light and moist.
5. Measure Flour Properly
Measuring ingredients is a running joke in my house … because I usually don’t. Most of the time, I just eyeball everything. If I’m making peanut sauce, for example, my husband will watch me and say “you know you just put like twice the amount of peanut butter that the recipe says, right?” And I’m all “whatever.” But in baking, and especially, in gluten-free baking, that kind of casual attitude will only lead to disaster. You have to properly measure all the ingredients because baking is a delicate science.
The correct way to measure dry ingredients, such as flour, is to scoop the flour with a smaller cup and pour it into the measuring cup you are using. Don’t use the larger cup and just scoop it into the flour bag, as it might compress the flour, which will lead to an inaccurate measurement. Scooping will result in using too much flour, which will lead to dry baked goods. Level off the measuring cup by removing any excess flour with a flat edge, such as a butter knife. Practice measuring when making the dough for these Pumpkin Spice Empanadas With Apple Cinnamon Cranberry Filling.
6. Increase the Amounts of Other Ingredients
There are a lot of recipes that say you can make it gluten-free just by swapping the glutinous flour without having to adjust the rest of the recipe. Not 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 measurements for the other ingredients in the recipe need to be increased. To make your baked good light, increase the measurement of baking powder and/or baking soda in the recipe by 25 percent. These Chocolate Chunk Blondies contain 2 teaspoons of baking powder, plus baking soda. 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 by using brown sugar, rather than white sugar. This Ginger-Spiced Pear Upside Down Cake uses both apple sauce and brown sugar to make it moist and delicious.
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.
7. Keep It Loose
Gluten-free batter and dough do not look the same as gluten-filled versions. Instead of dough that feels firm and shapeable, gluten-free dough is loose and thin. The same can be said of gluten-free batter. You’ll be tempted to add more flour to bring the dough to that familiar, thick consistency, but don’t! Adding more flour will make your baked goods dense, crumbly, and dry. The dough for this Ooh La La Gluten-Free French Bread may be loose, but the end result is bread that is crunchy, airy, and delicious.
8. Aerate the Batter
Gluten creates air pockets in batter, so if the recipe is gluten-free, you need to add the air yourself. No, it’s not like blowing up a football. To create your own air pockets, beat the batter for at least 5 minutes. This will add air, and as a result, your baked goods will be lighter.
9. Time and Temperature
Gluten-free baking tends to brown faster on the outside than it cooks on the inside. To ensure the inside gets cooked before the outside gets too brown, lower the baking temperature in the recipe by 25 degrees and give your baked good a little more time in the oven. If a gluten-filled cake normally takes 30 minutes to bake, a gluten-free version may take up to 45 minutes or more. This Spiced Cake with Coconut Almond Buttercream Frosting takes 45-50 minutes to bake. You may need to keep checking the progress of your cake — be diligent! Be sure to remove it from the oven a little early, before a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out dry, to ensure moistness.
10. Try Our Recipes
The best way to excel at gluten-free baking is to keep practicing. The more you do it, the more you will get comfortable with it, and the better your baked goods will be. We have lots of tried and true, delicious, and moist gluten-free recipes that you can have fun practicing with.
Try making this Crusty Whole Grain Bread that’s so good, you won’t believe it’s gluten-free. These Vanilla Madeleines with Chocolate and Pistachio Ganache are light and delicate, as are these Jelly Dough-Not Holes. This Apple Cornbread French Toast Cake With Roasted Strawberries looks amazing, and so do these Pecan, Walnut and Ginger Cookies. For even more amazing recipes, see these 15 Soy-Free, Gluten-Free, and Dairy-Free Desserts.
Gluten-free baking has a lot of differences from regular baking but once you know all the tips and tricks, you’ll be making moist, flavorful, and delicious recipes. No gluten necessary.
Lead image source: Vanilla Madeleines with Chocolate and Pistachio Ganache