How to master gluten-free baking
Coconut? Amaranth? Teff? When it comes to choosing a gluten-free flour, the choices are seemingly endless. However, not all flours are created equal.
Swapping standard all-purpose flour for something free from gluten and higher in nutrients seems like a darn good idea. When it’s done right, a flour swap can add an extra dollop of minerals, vitamins, and fibre—and still taste great. Choose the wrong substitute, however, and you can compromise taste, texture, and even any resemblance to what you were trying to create. Check out this handy cheat sheet for some go-to gluten-free flours.
This ancient grain is back in style, and for good reason. Calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and B vitamins are all somehow present in these tiny little grains. It has a slightly peppery flavour, and has some binding capabilities.
The strong and slightly bitter flavour that buckwheat brings to the table makes it ideal for savoury bakes like crêpes, waffles, and breads. This nutritional powerhouse is actually a fruit seed, not a cereal grain—hence its lack of gluten. It is a great source of magnesium, fibre, iron, and vitamin B.
Coconut is surely the flour du jour. It is made by grinding the fibrous flesh that is left after all the oil, water, and milk has been squeezed from the coconut. It is packed with fibre, has a protein kick, and is considered hypoallergenic. The biggest caveat here is that this yummy, scrummy flour alternative is very, very absorbent. Definitely do not assume that you can use it in the same quantities as you would any other wheat flour.
This teeny tiny grain ensures that all its nutrients (the bran, the germ, and the endosperm) remain in the flour because it is just too small to separate them! This means that teff can deliver a full quota of fibre, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous, plus an unusually good dollop of iron. Its hazelnutty flavour makes it a delicious, but noticeable addition to bakes. It also has the ability to gel, which makes it a good thickener and a handy tool for anyone avoiding eggs.
Don’t overbeat. All beating really does is build up gluten. Gluten free is the name of the game here, so step away from the whisk.
Mix it up. When baking, experiment by using a few different types of flour together to balance flavour and texture. Make sure to mix them together thoroughly before adding wet ingredients.
Get spicy. Double up on spice quantities. Gluten-free flour substitutes can take a lot of flavouring.
Take it slow. Bake in smaller quantities on lower temperatures for a longer time. Patience will pay off here.
Don’t forget the gum. Sure, it doesn’t sound appetizing, but xanthan gum is a saviour to turn gluten-free dough into dough instead of crumbs. The lack of gluten means that the flours can have trouble gluing together, so add this sugarlike compound to produce more cohesive baked goods. Good alternatives are chia and flaxseeds, which turn gel-like when water is added—perfect for keeping your mixtures stuck together.
Read up. Unless you are using a recipe that calls specifically for the type of flour you are using, it’s worth doing a little extra research to figure out if you are using the right quantities. Some flours can be used like-for-like in certain recipes, but not others.
Want to know more? Check out our gluten-free guide and more on different flours and how to substitute them.