Stuporstar's Guide to Gluten-Free Baking

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If you've ever had gluten free bread from the grocery store, you may have come away with the impression that making gluten free bread that's not bland, crumbly hard-tack must be next to impossible. After-all, the people baking this stuff must know what the hell they're doing right? Not really. I've found, that if you want really good gluten free baked goods, you pretty much have to do it yourself. I'm here to share all the tips and tricks I've learned, and reveal the true secret of gluten free baking: It's not that hard, and it's really really fucking delicious.

GFCookies.jpg

These cookies contain no gluten, and yet they taste just like my mom's delicious wheat flour cookies. Modifying her recipe was actually pretty easy. Recipe: Stuporstar's Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've been experimenting with GF baking for a while, and I've reached a point where I can take almost any regular recipe, convert it to a GF recipe, and have it come out almost exactly the same as the wheat version. The only exception is yeast breads. You will never get the same amount of rising out of a yeast bread with a GF mix, but you can make yeast breads that are just as light and fluffy and delicious. And now I shall tell you how.

The Most Important Ingredient -- Gluten Replacers[edit]

The not-so-secret and most important ingredient is Xanthan Gum. Some GF recipes use alternatives like Guar Gum, but in my experience xanthan gum is superior in every way. Commercial GF baking tends to use guar gum instead and this is why I think they fail so miserably. Guar gum is cheaper and more commercially available because companies tend to use it as an additive for other purposes. Xanthan gum is expensive. A small 250g bag cost me about $20. However a little goes a long way, and if you're serious about getting into GF baking so that you too can enjoy delicious baking, it's the best investment you will ever make.

Note however that some people can be allergic to xanthan gum, so you may need to use guar gum instead if you find yourself getting sick.

Xanthan gum is a gluten replacer. Without gluten, baking is next to impossible. It keeps the dough pliable and helps keep the dough from crumbling into nothing after it's baked. Without it, your GF flours are just useless dust. With a replacer like xanthan gum, which is seriously the best thing to happen to Coeliac's ever, you can get almost the same results as you would with a gluten-based flour. The trick is in the xanthan gum to flour ratio.

[This site] has a good breakdown on flour mixes and the xanthan gum to flour ratios, but I'll summarize them here: You need about ¾ teaspoon per cup of flour for breads; ½ teaspoon per cup of flour for cakes; and ¼ to ½ teaspoon per cup of flour for cookies. I always err on the side of too much xanthan gum rather than too little when experimenting. If you're serious about experimenting with GF baking, write these ratios down in your recipe book. They are essential when converting non-GF recipes into GF recipes.

GF Flours and Flour Mixes[edit]

There is a HUGE variety of flours you can use, but the trick is to mix them in the right ratios. You can buy GF flour mixes from most health stores, and more grocery stores are beginning to carry them as well. Having a pre-made GF flour mix on hand takes a lot of the guess-work out of GF baking, and it's always good to have some around even when you've moved on to making your flour mixes. The basic GF flour mix generally consists of:

  • 2 parts white rice flour
  • 2/3 part potato starch flour
  • 1/3 part tapioca flour

This basic flour mix has never let me down. You can mix your own or buy it pre-made. The pre-made GF flours will usually consist of this mix. "According to Carol Fenster of Savory Palate, Inc., potato starch usually comprises no more than approximately 33% of the mix while tapioca flour typically accounts for about 20%" The rest will be your base flour. It's always a good idea to have a bag of tapioca starch on hand. If you're not happy with the texture of your baking, adding a little more tapioca starch will usually improve it (there's not really any difference between tapioca starch and tapioca flour, it's the same stuff).

So why mix different GF flours? Mainly because GF flours on their own tend to be too heavy, too gritty, or too light. You need to mix your flours to balance these qualities. In the case of this mix for example, the rice flour alone would be too gritty, and alone would make nothing but hard-tack, so the potato starch flour is thrown in to make the flour lighter and smoother, and the tapioca starch is used to make it less crumbly, help browning, and make the bread more soft and chewy.

Here's a list of some common GF flours:

Base Flours: brown and white rice flour, sorghum flour, and certain bean flours like garfava bean flour make very good bases for a flour mix.

Lighter Flours: potato starch flour (not potato flour), tapioca flour, and cornstarch often comprise of the rest of a GF flour mix. These help balance the heavier base flour, and in the case of tapioca flour, significantly change the texture of the dough making it smoother and lighter.

Specialty Flours: amaranth flour, quinoa flour, teff flour, buckwheat flour, millet flour, potato flour, cornmeal, and soya flour all have strong enough flavors that you wouldn't consider them for most GF baking (ARGH I HATE the fact that almost all store-bought GF cookies are loaded with soya flour. It tastes like ASS!). They do make very nice breads though. Amaranth and quinoa are pseudo grains that are high in protein and very delicious. Whole, they can also be cooked and eaten in a similar manner as rice.

[Here is a decent online resource for a list of common GF flours.]

If you're new to GF baking, don't let yourself get too bogged down in what flours to use. Nearly everything can be made with a simple GF flour mix. The rest are mainly substituted to enhance the flavor or texture of certain baked goods (mostly bread), and require some experimentation. If you're just wanting to make some cookies that taste just like mom's and are trying to substitute for regular flours, then all you really need is a basic pre-made flour mix as mentioned above. If you come across a GF recipe that requires specialty flours that you've never heard of, you can always ALWAYS substitute in another flour. Just make sure to keep in mind the ratios of heavy to light flours and you'll be fine.

The Basics of General Baking[edit]

The things my mom taught me about baking apply equally well to GF baking. In fact, they're even more important now that you can't rely on gluten to do all the heavy work, especially when it comes to leavening, which is the most important concept you need to understand about baking.

First you need to identify your leavening agents: Some of the more common ones are yeasts, eggs, buttermilk, yogurt, baking powder, baking soda, and the act of creaming. The thing you need to do when looking at any recipe is to identify it and adjust it if necessary. The act of leavening causes the dough to foam and creates air bubbles, making the dough lighter and fluffier. These leavening agents act in conjunction with the gluten replacers. If your baked goods are too dense, then you need to increase the leavening somehow. The best way I've found to increase the leavening is to add an extra egg white or a little more baking powder to your recipe.

Leavening is also effected by elevation, which I'll discuss later.

Creaming, for those of you who are neophytes to baking, consists of beating the butter (margarine, or cooking oil) and the sugar together. You then add the eggs (and usually vanilla at this point in cakes and cookies) and continue beating until you have a nice creamy batter. If you have a stand mixer, you'll want to do the creaming on the highest setting. The same goes if all you have is an electric egg-beater. Cream the hell out of it!

After you've creamed your "wet" ingredients (water or milk is not added at this point, but later), you will need to add the dry ingredients, which should be pre-mixed in another bowl. It is almost always a good idea to fold the dry ingredients gently into the creamed batter with a spatula (or on the lowest setting on a stand mixer). Beating the dough too much at this point will completely undo all the creaming you did earlier for the purpose of leavening. During the creaming process, you're beating bubbles into the batter; At this point now, mixing the dry ingredients in too hard will beat all those bubbles out of the batter and make your baking denser.

As you are mixing wet and dry ingredients together, your recipe will often call for water, milk or coffee. You will want to add this carefully, a little at a time, as you mix the dough together. I almost never need to use as much as the recipe calls for. Use only as much as you need to keep your dough creamy and sticking together. If your dough is crumbly, then add a little more.

Yeast Breads[edit]

I find that regular dry active yeast usually gives me better results than instant yeast. If you're going to use regular yeast then you need to start by combining the yeast and sugar in a small bowl and add the WARM water while gently stirring the yeast and sugar. Then set it aside while preparing the rest of the ingredients. With instant yeast, you don't have to do this, but I've found that instant yeast doesn't quite like to rise as high as regular yeast, and in GF baking you need to get as much rising as you can.

Yeast needs to be warm to be happy. Before you pre-heat your oven, turn it on to the lowest setting and then turn it off as soon as it's warm. Leave the oven light on to help maintain the warmth and so you can see the bread rising. Let the bread rise for 15-20 minutes, and then take it out to preheat the oven. The bread will continue to rise while it's waiting on the stove-top and you don't need to worry about keeping it warm at this point. It's generated enough internal warmth to help keep it going.

The one step you almost always skip when making GF bread is the kneading. In regular baking, you knead the dough after it's risen to break up any large air-bubbles that have formed. In GF baking, you'll never have to worry about large air bubbles, and you don't want to break up any of the smaller ones. If you have a stand mixer, you can just forget about the dough hook. You'll probably never use it. For most GF breads you can just pour the dough directly into the pan, let it rise and then pop it straight in the oven. For buns, you'll want to pat the dough into buns very gently so as not to squish the dough too much.

Why I don't like bread machines. I find that bread machines almost always made denser bread than I liked, and seeing as GF bread is denser due to its lack of gluten, I don't want to do anything that will make it even denser. Bread machines are mainly designed to take care of the most tedious aspects of bread making, the rising and the kneading. Seeing as kneading is out of the picture, you then don't need a machine to do that anymore, and the rising process is not really that much of a pain anyway. I like to control the rising myself anyway.

Substitutions in GF Recipes[edit]

I've found that most GF recipes also take into account lactose intolerance and other allergies, so they tend to make a lot of other substitutions alongside the flour substitutions.

A lot of GF recipes call for cooking oil in place of margarine or butter, and water in place of milk. Go ahead and put butter in instead if you like. It will not significantly alter the leavening (which is all you really need to watch out for) and will probably improve the taste. Just make sure to convert the same liquid measure into solid and you'll be fine (butter is considered a "wet" ingredient when calculating wet to dry ratios in baking).

A lot of GF recipes call for Gluten-Free Baking Powder. I've found that regular baking powder works fine, and it doesn't contain any gluten. Regular baking powder usually contains corn starch, sodium bicarbonate and monocalcium phosphate. The GF baking powder you can buy substitutes the monocalcium phosphate (with cream of tartar or other things) and that is all. If you're experimenting and adding buttermilk or apple cider vinegar (in place of water or milk) to a recipe that contains baking powder, then you need to substitute the baking powder with baking soda to maintain the dough's alkali to acid balance (again it's all about the leavening).

I also don't ever use egg replacers. There's really no substitute for real eggs. Anyone who claims otherwise is deluding themselves and eating inferior baked goods in my opinion. Even my vegetarian cousin bakes with eggs. As much as she wanted to be a vegan (you know, because it's the cool thing to do when you're in art college), she said screw it and started using eggs again when all her baked goods didn't turn out how she liked.

However, if you do find yourself needing an egg replacers, you can use 1 tbsp. ground flax seed (mixed with 3 tbsp. water) per egg that you need to replace. My cousin mentioned that a lot of the store-bought egg replacers had weird bitter tastes to them, and the plain old ground flax seed replacer was the only one that wasn't really disgusting or noticeable in her baking.

When making any kind of substitution, the main thing to consider is the liquid-dry ingredient ratio. If you're adding more of a liquid ingredient, then you need to counter it with more dry ingredients. For example, if your recipe calls for cocoa, and you want to try a non-chocolate version of the same thing, then you have to add more dry ingredients to counter the loss of the cocoa. Adding a little more starch (tapioca, corn) is usually a safe bet. You can also reduce the water or milk to counter the dry loss.

And always remember, you can add chocolate chips, nuts, seeds or pieces of fruit to damn near anything. They don't add to the wet or dry weight of the mixture.

Baking Times, Temperatures, and Elevation[edit]

You'll need to refer to your individual recipes for this one, but as a general guide I find cookies to take 9-12 minutes, small cakes and squares take about 20-30 minutes, and most breads take about an hour. The temperature range is usually 350-375 degrees. The toothpick test is a good idea, especially if it's your first go at a specific recipe. When you stick a toothpick in the cake or bread, it should come out clean. If there's any dough sticking to it, you need to pop it back in the oven.

You may also need to adjust for elevation. Because the boiling point of water is higher at higher elevations, you will usually need to increase your baking time, or at the very least, bake at the high end of the stated range rather than the low. However, for cookies you need to decrease the cooking time at higher altitudes to control the leavening. For cookies, it's always a good idea to check on them at about the 9 minute mark and take them out as soon as they're a nice golden brown around the edges.

Leavening also works faster at higher altitudes, so you will need to decrease the rising time on yeast breads or they will tend to fall flat (go for 15 rather than 20 minutes before pulling it out of the warm oven). For non-yeast baking you can decrease the baking powder or soda to decrease the leavening if your cakes and such are cratering. If your cake is leavened by egg whites then you need to beat them less. You will probably also need less liquid than stated in a recipe if you live in a dry climate.

You will also want to make sure all your ingredients are room temperature. GF baking is far more sensitive than regular baking, so things like cold eggs right out of the fridge will screw up your leavening.

Ok, I think I've covered the most important things you need to know. So now it's time for you to experiment!

For a list of gluten-free recipes, please click here:

Gluten-Free Flour Blends by Turkeybone[edit]

#1 (weakest) Ingredient Amount

  • White rice flour 2 lb.
  • Potato starch 1 lb. 8 oz.
  • Tapioca 1 lb. 8 oz.

#2 (medium to weak) Ingredient Amount

  • White rice flour 3 lb.
  • Brown rice flour 2 lb.
  • Potato starch 12 oz.
  • Tapioca 1 lb. 4 oz.

Total amount 7 lb.

#3 (medium strength) Ingredient Amount

  • Rice flour 6 oz.
  • Potato starch 16 oz.
  • Guar gum 1.5 oz.
  • Albumen 4.25 oz.

#4 (second strongest) Ingredient Amount

  • White rice flour 1 lb.
  • Tapioca 1 lb.
  • Soy flour (defatted) 1 lb.

#5 (strongest) Ingredient Amount

  • White rice flour 2 lb.
  • Tapioca starch 1 lb. 4 oz.
  • Soy flour (defatted) 1 lb. 4 oz.
  • Whey powder 8 oz.

These are some CIA gluten free blends. The egg part, yeah, nothing I found here (I was just cruising through the 'advanced baking' courseguide, so i dont know what this all means).