Choosing the Right Flour for Your Gluten-Free Baking
There is no way around it: most baked goods are based on wheat flour. And that’s the root of our problem. No wheat, rye, spelt or other gluten-containing flours can pass our celiac lips.
Learning to choose the right flour for a gluten-free cake, cookie, brownie or treat recipe took me years of trial and many errors.
With time and practice, I have sorted flours into a few different types in my mind, and learned when to use each one - or not.
These are my easy classifications for gluten-free flours.
· Foundation flours
· Sticky flours
· Weighty flours
· Commercial mixes
Gluten-free foundation flour
This is the main flour in the recipe, used in the largest amount. Most gluten-free cookie and cake recipes use white rice flour as the foundation. I use it in almost every Easy, Tasty, Gluten Free recipe.
But all rice flours are not alike! The fancy brands of white rice flour available in supermarkets or health food stores are usually too grainy for my taste. I don’t like the texture they give to the final baked goods.
Flour from the local Asian market is fluffier. Using it gives baked goods a smoother texture. White rice flour from the local Asian market is also remarkably consistent across countries. I’ve found the same flours (albeit with slightly different brand names) in stores in the United States, United Kingdom, several European countries, Canada, and Australia. It’s also less expensive than supermarket and health food store products, a big plus.
Some gluten-free bakers prefer to use brown rice flour. I suppose in theory it's bit healthier, with the bran included, but I have never compared the two. Easy, Tasty, Gluten Free is not really about health – my baking recipes are about sharing love with sweets.
Brown rice flour is more expensive and harder to find, so I don’t really use it. If you do prefer brown rice flour, substitute the same amount of brown rice flour for the white rice flour in my recipes. Expect your baked goods to turn out a little bit darker, and maybe taste a little differently because of the bran. I think it gives them a slightly nutty or earthy taste.
Gluten-free baked items made with just rice flour can be dry or, even if you use Asian market white rice flour. Sticky flours add stickiness or chewiness, making gluten-free cakes, cupcakes and the like feel better in your mouth. They also absorb liquid, so they stiffen a batter that is too loose. Sticky flours also help to prevent your gluten-free drop cookies from spreading all over the baking sheet like something out of a grade-B horror movie.
Most of my recipes use sweet rice flour as the sticky flour. Despite the name, sweet, sticky, or glutinous rice flour does not contain gluten. Like white rice flour, it’s readily available in Asian markets worldwide and reasonably priced. You can also use tapioca starch or corn starch as your sticky flour. I have tried arrowroot flour a couple of times too; I found it too heavy to use more than a small amount. It’s also more expensive than sweet rice flour.
As the name suggests, weighty flours are denser flours, adding heft to the recipe. Many of them have strong flavors, so they are best used in smaller amounts. I weighty flours primarily in savory gluten-free baked goods like zucchini breads and nut muffins, or in dense cookies. I find them too heavy and the flavors too powerful for lighter sweets like cupcakes.
Common weighty gluten-free flours include nut flours or nut meal, corn meal, and gram or chickpea flour. Baked goods made with these flours don't rise very much; the flour is just too heavy.
I also tried hemp flour in muffins once, but they didn’t rise at all and were basically little hockey pucks. I’m still working on a recipe that uses it successfully!
Commercial gluten-free flour mixes
When I was diagnosed and changed to a gluten-free diet in the 1990s, we had very few options for pre-made gluten-free flour mixes. Since then, the number of available commercial gluten-free mixes has just exploded!
From Pamela’s®, Cup4Cup® and Bob’s Red Mill® in the US to Dr Schar® across Europe and Free From® in Switzerland, each has a different mix of ingredients. Most of them use white rice flour as the foundation, plus a mix of sticky and weighty flours like tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, garbanzo flour, and even gluten-free oat flour. Before using them, read the labels and understand whether they are designed for specific types of products: some are really better for breads, others for baked goods.
You can also make your own mix, following instructions from Nicole Hunn of Gluten Free on a Shoestring or Bette Hagemann of the original Gluten-Free Gourmet®, or any other mix you want to try.
I do occasionally use commercial gluten-free flour mixes from time to time. However I find them quite expensive. If I can achieve the same results for less money, I would rather do so.
Keeping control of your gluten-free flour pantry
Gluten-free baking almost always requires a mix of gluten-free flours to get the right texture and taste. In my recipes, I limit that to two or a maximum of three easily available, inexpensive flours. My Easy, Tasty, Gluten Free recipes are easy enough for complete baking novices and delicious enough for company. And unlike commercial pre-made gluten-free baked goods, they don’t break the bank. Why not try some now?