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Which Gluten-Free flours do you use?
It would be unreasonable to expect anyone to acquire - and keep fresh! - every variety of gluten-free flour out there. For the purposes of this blog - and my gluten-free cookbooks, I tend to keep the working flours limited to:
Brown Rice Flour
Buckwheat Flour (light)
Corn flour, Meal, and Starch
Sweet Rice Flour
White Rice Flour
... yes, that still looks like a lot, I know - but it's worth it, I promise!
I recommend looking through the recipes, picking a few you're interested in, and seeing what flours are called for across them.
As an example, I pretty much only use garbanzo flour for deep-fried items, Amaranth is mostly in bread-type items, and I tend to only use coconut flour for baked goods.
From there, I'd vote for going online and placing an order for a small bag - about 1 lb - of each of the flours you see yourself using.
Get some nice canisters to keep them in - I bought tall glass ones at IKEA - and clearly label them.
After the first order of flours, you'll be able to develop a good idea of what you go through fastest, and what you should buy in bigger quantities. As an example, I always buy the sorghum and white buckwheat flours in 5lb bags, but I go through coconut flour fairly slowly - most recipes only call for ¼ cup!
What is the difference between the GF alternative flours & starches?
While I’ve mentioned that successful gluten-free cooking/baking isn’t just about substituting the flours... having a good working knowledge of what flours are available, and how to use them is always a good thing.
Every gluten-free flour out there has unique characteristics - protein content, flavour, elasticity, structure, absorption.
In my opinion, attempting to combine to just duplicate regular, all purpose flour would do disservice to your final dish.
While all-purpose wheat flour is a good, easy catch-all, there are many things that alternate flours do better.
When used properly, some will bake up with a crispier texture.
Many taste better than regular flour, and most alternate flours are actually more nutritious than wheat flour.
As with all cooking, it’s all about balancing flavours and other properties, as well as proportion. Before you can get to developing your own recipes for gluten-free cooking, it’s good to know what those properties are. Here is a bit of an overview:
Gluten Free Flours
Amaranth Flour - Dense flour with a unique, nutty flavour. Great for savoury breads
Arrowroot Starch - Commonly used for thickening, like corn starch.
Brown Rice Flour - Earthy flavour, can be used in place of white rice flour for most uses - it’s more nutritious.
Buckwheat Flour - This is one of the best flours to use in gluten free baking, as it has a neutral taste, and some of the same properties as regular flour - for that reason, many people will skip the use of gums when baking with it. High fibre. I prefer to use “light” or “white” buckwheat, rather than the dark default.
Cassava Flour - Most popular with those on the AIP diet, this one often gets confused with tapioca starch ... which can be mislabeled as cassava flour. Cassava flour and tapioca starch come from the same plant, but by different processes. Actual cassava flour can be hard to find in local stores.
Coconut Flour - Sweet, high in fibre.. But soaks up a ton of liquid from your dish. Essential for wildly delicious baked goods, in my opinion!
Corn Flour - Exactly what it sounds like - flour made from corn! Finely ground, commonly used in Mexican cookin. (Masa flour)
Corn Meal - Grittier than corn flour. Great for corn muffins, some crusts, gets.
Corn Starch - Primarily used as a thickener, and a starch in baking.
Fava Bean Flour - High protein flour, with a less aggressive taste than garbanzo bean flour
Garbanzo Flour - High protein flour, with a slightly bitter taste. Can taste strongly of beans to some people - it’s excellent in batters for deep frying. Also called Chickpea flour.
Garfava Flour - Combination of Fava bean and Garbanzo bean flours. High protein, mild flavour. Best for savoury recipes.
Millet Flour One of my favourite flours to work with. Slightly sweet, great for baking with, good nutrition.
Nut Flours, various - Almost any kind of nut you can imagine is also available as a flour... and you can usually make them at home, also. The “flours” tend to be more “meal” than flour texture, but are great for many uses, especially in cookies. They do add fats to the mix, so keep that in mind when substituting.
Oat Flour - Heart-healthy, much more nutritious than wheat flour. Great tasting - be sure to use certified gluten-free oat flour, to avoid cross contamination.
Potato Flour - Used primarily in baking and batters. Can help hold moisture in a recipe.
Potato Starch - Used as a thickener, can substitute for corn starch for those sensitive to corn.
Quinoa Flour - High in protein, but should be used fairly sparingly - has a strong taste and can make recipes turn out crumbly if used too generously.
Sorghum Flour - A sweet-tasting flour, great to bake with - it behaves closest to wheat flour, of all the alternative flours. Sorghum is also commonly used in gluten-free brewing.
Sweet Rice Flour - Typically found in Asian grocery stores, can also be called “glutenous rice flour” - but don’t worry, it does NOT contain gluten. Sweet, and can be used SPARINGLY to add moisture to a dish. (Too much, and it will turn out gummy!)
Tapioca Starch - Typically used as a thickener (can substitute for corn starch), and to add elasticity and/or a chewy texture to baked goods. Use sparingly - can give a gummy texture.
Teff Flour - By far, Teff is best known for its use in Injera - a stretchy African bread. It’s great for adding a bit of elasticity to a recipe. As with most gluten-free flours, it definitely works best in conjunction with other flours. (It lacks the strength to hold up most baked good recipes, etc)
White Rice Flour - A really common flour in gluten-free cooking, but it definitely needs supporting ingredients - it doesn’t hold together well on its own, leading to crumbly consistencies. White rice flour is a great addition to deep fried batters, as it can produce a crispier texture.
Wild Rice Flour - Should be used sparingly, as it has a very aggressive taste. (Earthy, almost gamey!) Can be used as a thickener, or to add flavour to
savoury baked goods and other dishes.
Beyond knowing what the flours taste like, and what they’re good for... Tweaking your recipe techniques go a long way to increasing your success in gluten-free cooking and baking.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, as you work through this blog:
The various alternate flours absorb liquid at different rates.
Experiment with this, and learn to use it to your advantage. As an example, coconut flour sucks moisture out of a recipe far more than most other flours. Thus, it requires more liquid than many of the other flours do.
Additionally, absorption can affect the way you should handle certain flours.
You know how you should soak dried beans in water overnight, before working with them? Well, that same thing applies to bean flours, also - generally
speaking, you’ll want to mix them into the liquid and let it stand for 10 minutes or so to soften, before proceeding with the recipe.
It softens the flour, and makes a big difference to the texture of the final product!
Humidity can also be a concern with gluten-free baking. The alternative flours can be far more finicky than wheat flour, when it comes to liquids and
If you live in a humid area/house.. You may want to decrease the moisture content in your recipe, if even just slightly. Experiment!
Non-gluten flours behave differently than regular gluten flour.
Even when a dish is going to turn out to be a VERY close match for the original, full-gluten version... it may not act like it, up til that point.
Most bread doughs will be more like cake batter, than something you’d knead by hand.
The base recipe I batter and deep fry foods is VERY thick, kind of goopy, and not quite as easy to dip in, as regular flour.
It’s all good - and it’ll work out well in the end. Just don’t expect it to work up in exactly the same way as you’re used to!
While some gluten-sensitive people have no problems with gluten that has been fermented - soy sauce, beer, even some sourdough bread! -
I recommend using gluten-free beers and soy sauces whenever possible, ESPECIALLY if it’s a matter of being Celiac. (VS autoimmune sensitivity, etc).
One main problem with gluten-free baking is that things can turn out to be dry and/or crumbly if you’re not careful.
Adding a ton of liquid to a recipe isn’t always the best idea, as it will reduce the structural integrity. So, it’s good to be sneaky about it.
For some recipes, you can use moist, non-liquid ingredients to boost and hold the moisture in a dish. Think pureed fruit like applesauce,
extra eggs, dried fruit, honey, yogurt, and/or sour cream.
These items can be used to add great flavour and texture to the final dish, in addition to being a moisture solution.
Oats are a sticky issue for some.
The Canadian Celiac Association has declared oats to be safe for consumption, so long as they’re uncontaminated.
I’ve never had a reaction, myself... and I love using oats and oat flours in my gluten-free baking. They taste great - much better than wheat flour - and they’re heart-healthy!
However, just be sure that when you’re using oats, that you’re using oats that are certified gluten-free, just to be safe!
The main property of wheat flour that can be lacking in alternate flours is the strength to hold up to certain types of baking - cakes, breads, etc.
When it comes to breads, and bread like baking, you’ll want to make sure to have a decent amount of protein in the recipe (whether from the alternate flours, eggs, or a combination thereof), as well as an ingredient(s) that act as a binder or glue.
This can come from gums - commonly either xanthan or guar - and/or use of a sticky starch, such as tapioca starch.
When it comes to cakes, quick breads, etc ... I like to use eggs for both protein supplementation and structure. Separating the eggs and whipping the whites to a stiff peak before folding into your cake batter goes a long way to providing the structure a cake needs to rise and *stand*.
It’s a bit more work - and dishes! - than the usual of just tossing whole eggs into the batter, but it makes a ton of difference to the final product.
One of the major complaints about gluten-free cooking is having to use “many” flours, and the expense involved with getting set up.
I’ve found it’s really best to look at them as individual ingredients, rather than a whole bunch of substitutions for one ingredient.
Think of it like having a well-stocked spice cabinet.
Sure, the up-front expense stings a bit.. But upkeep isn’t that bad, refilling as you need.
Also, a well-stocked spice rack makes cooking a LOT more fun - and tasty - than only having salt and pepper on hand!
Will (brand) gluten-free flour mix work in this recipe?
Honestly... maybe? It'll probably work on some level, but I don't know.
Back when I started gluten-free cooking and baking, I found that "all-purpose" mixes were OK - at best. None of them are really great for everything!
So, when I develop recipes, I'm looking at the flavours and properties of the available gluten-free alternative flours, and combining them in a way that not only achieves the textures, etc that I'm looking for, but a great TASTE!
The nice thing about the non-wheat flours is that many of them have specific flavours that can be used to add to the overall taste of a dish, in a way that wheat flour can't.
I can balance flours for a crispy deep-fried finish, or for a chewy cookie, to a smooth gravy - but I can do that because I'm working with individual ingredients.
All of the flours out there have different combinations and proportions of different ingredients. Some have xanthan gum, some don't.
If it's all you have on hand, give it a try! It won't have the same flavour or texture I intended, but it should work on a very basic level, at least.
For the absolute best flavours and textures, I definitely recommend cooking with the individual flours called for in the recipes.
How do you measure your flours?
The way you measure your flours can impact the amount of flour that you get in any given measurement.
Some people scoop, others spoon. Some level off with a flat edge, others shake off the excess.
Some believe that how you measure will GREATLY impact how your recipe turns out, I happen to think that if you use the same technique for all of it, it’ll come out fine - no need to stress.
If you’re interested, these recipes were all developed by using the measuring cup to scoop the flour, tapping it off the side of the container to shake off excess/level what’s in there.
Do I need any special equipment?
Generally speaking, these recipes will just require basic cooking equipment - bowls, measuring spoons/cups, pots, pans, and basic bakeware.
A few require a specialty piece ... Cannoli tubes, for instance.
I’ve done my best to only include specialty equipment when it’s something you’ll probably get a lot of use out of, or are super cheap.
The one big exception?
A lot of these recipes mention using a food processor. If there is one piece of equipment that will make your life easier in the kitchen, it is a food processor.
Even if you pick up a secondhand one for next to nothing, I HIGHLY recommend it. Trust me on this.
If you don’t have a food processor, there are other ways to achieve the same sort of thing.
For instances where a food processor is being used to make dough, you can mix it by hand, use a stand mixer, or use an electric hand mixer.
For instances where a food processor is being used to chop something, you can chop it by hand.
For instances where a food processor is being used to puree something, you can use a blender. When there is not a lot of liquid involved, you’ll want to do it in very small batches, however.