Gluten-free baking can seem impossible at first, but it is more than just a matter of swapping out all-purpose wheat flour for a substitute in equal measure. In fact, the many alternative options can make deciding how to adapt recipes quite difficult. Focusing on a balance of flavor, texture, and structure is key to finding the best alternative flours and blends for your baking needs.
Gluten, the Magical Protein
Gluten does the heavy lifting of baking as a binding agent that ensures structure, malleability, and moisture retention. It thus holds baked goods together, provides pleasing texture, ensures shape-ability, and extends shelf life. Gluten replacers can help mimic this powerful protein, but the dry, crumbly products that result will generally go stale faster. An all-purpose blend of two to three flours works best, especially when working with a range of recipes and related baking needs. Alternative flours do tend to be more expensive due to smaller batches and special processing, but the pleasures of home baking for the gluten-free, merit the extra cost.
Tips for Better Baking
An important first step for baking without gluten is to adjust your attitude toward your ingredients and process. Here are some key tips for starting your journey in gluten-free baking.
Recognizing the range of flours at your disposal is essential to creating a balanced blend. Many, like buckwheat, sorghum, and coconut, work best when combined. Others, like quinoa and nut flours, add density and protein as partial substitutes. Here are some of the most popular options.
Alternately, both xanthan and guar gum act as binding and structure-building agents; they should each be used in a ¼ teaspoon per cup of flour. Psyllium, chia, and flax seeds, on the other hand, bind and structure baked goods with greater elasticity, but later separate into gummy crumbles.
Although there are many packaged gluten-free baked goods on the market, there is nothing like homemade cookies, pies, and breads. It is generally best to start with an all-purpose, gluten-free flour blend as you begin your new baking adventures, though you’ll likely put your own spin on it as you try out new recipes and combinations.