30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living: Why I Love Gluten-Free Baking*

* No, seriously. 

 

 [No Gluten, Get Happy: The easiest way to bake gluten-free is with no flour at all! How about  Happy Hemp Two-Bite Brownies?]

Welcome to Day Nine of the blog event from Diane over at The Whole Gang30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living! The objective of this event is to show you all how easy it can be to eat gluten-free.  And today, I’m going to talk about baking.

Baking, gluten-free.

Whew!  I think my hair just got a new ‘do after the breeze that whooshed by as hoards of you ran for the exits!  For those of you still here, grab a cup of tea, have a seat, and settle in as I explain why, after a lifetime of baking with wheat, I’ve come to love gluten-free baking even more.

In a nutshell, here are my five top tips to create amazing baked goods–all without stress, anxiety, or trauma (and of course, no gluten!). :)

[My first time using sweet rice flour (also called glutenous rice flour: Red Bean Pastry Cookies. You can, too! ]

1. Something New: Gluten Free

When I first learned that I’d have to adopt a gluten-free diet (as part of the anti-candida regime I’m following), I was more upset about having to give up baking than having to give up gluten per se.  As someone who’d been baking since I was about six, I simply couldn’t imagine a life without delicious baked treats!

In Stage 2 of the diet, as soon as I was able to start incorporating flours back into my recipes, I pulled out one of my favorite recipes (I think it was a carrot loaf), and baked it up using brown rice flour in place of the all-purpose wheat.  Hmmm. . . .can you say, “brick”? Or how about, “Crumbly, totally tasteless brick” at that!

It wasn’t until I realized that baking gluten-free is an entirely new endeavor that I finally began to learn about–and appreciate–gluten-free baking on its own merits.  If I moved to Florida from here in Toronto (and believe me, deep in February, I’ve often thought about it), I wouldn’t expect to wear the same winter clothes over there, now, would I?  Or if I started dating a new guy (no worries, HH, this is for illustration purposes only), I’d never expect him to have the same taste in wine, like the same music, or dance the same way as the previous beau, either. So why should gluten-free baking work exactly the same as glutenous baking? Once I “got” that reality, the rest was easy.

[Rustic, savory “Cheese” Filled Olive and Onion Quick Bread–a great vehicle for robust gluten-free flours]

2. Rely on the Experts

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel (or wheel of foccacia, either, for that matter).  Whenever I begin a new enterprise, I first check out what the authorities in that field have done before me.  I rely on their wisdom and experience to get me started.  In the case of gluten-free baking, I began by using all-purpose mixes that would allow me to substitute one-for-one instead of wheat flour, and baked up several batches of my favorite sweets that way first.  By using tried-and-true flour mixes, I knew that my baked goods would work and would give me a feel for what goes into an all-purpose gluten free flour mix.

What’s in an all-purpose mix?  Well, to answer that question you’ll need to consider a bit more about glutenous versus gluten-free flour.  Here are some key points:

i. Gluten-free flour has no gluten (duh). 

Gluten is the protein in wheat that acts as “glue” to bind together the baked goods.  It provides texture and holds things together.  Without it, baked goods crumble and break apart like dried-out sandcastles on the beach. By combining different gluten-free flours in one mix, you help to alleviate that effect. (Another trick is to add a binder that replaces the gluten–see number 3, below).

ii. Wheat flour comes in only a few varieties, but varieties of gluten-free flour are almost endless.

In fact, this is one of the reasons I love baking gluten-free: most of us grow up used to the neutral, bland flavor of wheat in baked goods. Gluten free flours, on the other hand, are often derived from other grains that confer their own distinct taste.  Amaranth and quinoa offer a sturdy, almost mineral flavor; buckwheat is earthy and nutty; teff resembles a combination of carob and cocoa; rice is mild and delicate; and so on.  In addition, there are loads of non-grain gluten free flours; major categories are starches (cornstarch, tapioca, arrowroot, potato starch, etc.); bean and legume-based (chickpea, garfava, bean, soy, etc.); and nut based (coconut, almond meal, hazelnut, etc.). For a fairly comprehensive list of gluten-free grains, starches and flours, check this post.

iii. The best gluten-free baking uses a combination of flours. I know that some of you out there will disagree on this point, and certainly there are some gluten-free recipes that use only a single flour (often millet, sorghum, oat or almond, in my experience).  But since gluten-free flours are so different from wheat and each is unique, I find that my best baking projects combine different flours depending on my mood, the recipe and the kind of result I seek.

For instance, muffins or quickbreads work better with more hearty flours such as quinoa, amaranth, or sorghum; light and delicate results follow when you use a greater percentage of starchy flours or mild-flavored grains like rice or millet; and sandy, chewy cookies seem to work best with a combination of all three main types of flours (grain, bean, starch).  As you experiment in the kitchen and learn more about the types of flours, you’ll discover which flavors and textures you like best in your own baking.

But no one wants to waste ingredients while they’re learning, right?  So for those who are just beginning, I’d recommend using an all-purpose mix from someone who’s already tinkered and tried different versions to create one that works.

Here’s my own blend: And while the recipe is easily adaptable, I explain why I chose the flours I did, and the ratios of each.

And these are other all-purpose mixes I’ve tried from some of my fellow gluten-free bloggers:

Maggie’s Bean Free Blend: I used this for a pie crust and it was fantastic–light, flaky, delicate.

Amy’s Basic Flour Blend: A great all-purpose replacement for wheat flour.

Carol’s All-Purpose Flour Blend: works well in lighter baking, such as cake or cupcakes (recipe available in her cookbook).

And those I haven’t yet tried:

Cybele’s Basic Gluten Free Flour Mix [scroll down for the recipe]: all-purpose blend with easy-to-find flours.  Thanks for the recommendation, Alisa! :)

Nancy’s GF Flour Blend contains almond meal and some other light GF flours–this one’s on my “to-try” list. :)

(Do you know of other good all-purpose mixes that work well? If so, please leave a link or the recipe in the comments!)

You’ll also find a bunch of all-purpose flour recipes on the Celiac Sprue website.

And finally, of course there are also the prepared, packaged all purpose mixes, such as Bob’s Red Mill.

[Gluten Free Lemon-Blueberry Muffins: egg-free, dairy-free and sugar-free, too!]

3. Make It Stick.

As I mentioned above, gluten is the “glue” that helps to bind (and to a lesser extent, leaven) baked goods.  As a result, the best gluten-free baking usually includes a binder meant to replace the gluten.  The most common binder  is eggs, but since I don’t use those, I add flax meal or other vegan egg replacers in my baking.  Other binders include fruit purées, nut meals or flours, or nut butters (I tend to use nut butters more than meal; I also sometimes use seed butters, such as tahini or sunflower seed butter).

However, in recent years, most people also use xanthan gum, a powdery substance that you sift into your flours before you mix up your batter or dough, which creates results a lot like gluten in baked goods.  You can also use guar gum.  I’ve also seen recipes calling for agar agar (a vegan gelatin) as a binder as well, when xanthan gum isn’t used.  As a general rule, most flour blends use about 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) xanthan gum per cup of flour; for more sturdy baked goods such as muffins or scones, you may need to add a wee bit more (up to 1 tsp/5 ml per cup).  I always use an egg replacer plus the xanthan gum; after all, glutenous recipes contain eggs and gluten, right?

[Yes, you can still have light-as-air, cakey Whoopie Pies, gluten-free!]

4. Lighten Up.

Gluten free flours tend to produce a slightly heavier product than wheat flour (another consequence of losing that gluten!).  As a result, I always add a bit more leavener to my gluten-free creations than I used to with my wheat-based baked goods.  If a wheat-based recipe calls for 1 tsp (5 ml) of baking powder per cup of all-purpose flour, with my gluten-free mix, I use 1-1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) instead (plus about 1/4 tsp (1 ml) extra baking soda for heavier flours).  Again, you may need to experiment a bit as you go, but that’s a good rule to start.

[How about some Chocolate Chip Cookies, just as you remember them?]

4.Go With Your Gut

Yes, pun intended: those of us who must eat gluten-free are already going with our guts, of course! But it’s also important to learn what works for you and your digestive system, then experiment until you find those ideal recipes. For me, too many starchy ingredients cause a recurrence of my candida symptoms, so as much as I love fluffy, feather-light cupcakes and cakes, I don’t bake too many of them these days.  Luckily, I also love fudgy, dense chocolate brownies and cookies–and they have made several appearances on this blog since I went gluten-free.

[Hazelnut Melting Moments. . . a Divine Gluten-Free Cookie–and thank goodness that Chocolate is Gluten-Free! ]

5.   Have Some Fun!

So that’s why I love gluten-free baking: it allows me to be inventive as I mix up something different each time.  I can tailor the final flavor and texture to match the character of the particular baked good, whether light and airy or more substantial and dense.  And I can benefit from the varied nutritional profiles of the different flours when I bake, instead of producing baked goods that all offer the same set of nutrients over and over in their flour.

Like any creative endeavor, cooking is never quite the same each time we do it; and the same is true of gluten-free baking.  If you approach the task with a bit whimsy and a bit of adventureousness–like a playtime in the kitchen–you’ll find that gluten-free baking is fun, satisfying, and really easy, after all.

There will be a whole month of 30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living posts on Diane’s blog.  Here’s a list of all the topics and contributors:

Monday May 2nd  Diane from  The WHOLE Gang sharing Easy Gluten Free Grocery Shopping Tips

Tuesday May 3rd  Iris from The Daily Dietribe sharing on How to Start a Gluten Free Diet.

Wednesday May 4th  Heather from Gluten-Free Cat sharing Smoothing the GF Transition with Smoothies

Thursday May 5th  Alta from Tasty Eats at Home sharing Make Your Own Convenience Foods

Friday May 6th  Elana from Elana’s Pantry sharing Quick and Easy Gluten Free Cherry Vanilla Power Bars

Saturday May 7th  Cheryl from Gluten Free Goodness sharing Easy Meals GF Style

Sunday May 8th  Megan from Food Sensitivity Journal sharing Gluten Free Baking Undone:  Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

Monday May 9th  Amy from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free sharing Magic Cookie Power Bars.

Tuesday May 10th  Ricki from Diet, Dessert and Dogs sharing Gluten Free Baking Tips

Wednesday May 11th   Ellen from Gluten-Free Diva sharing Travel Tips

Thursaday May 12th  Kim from Cook It Allergy Free sharing Eating from your Garden for Easy Gluten-Free Living

Friday May 13th   Melissa from Gluten Free For Good sharing Gluten-Free Food Rules

Saturday May 14th  Brittany from Real Sustenance sharing Healthy Allergy-Free Quick Bread with easy flavor variations.

Sunday May 15th  Nicola from g-free Mom sharing Kids Lunch Boxes

Monday May 16th   Wendy from Celiacs in the House sharing Fast Food for Teens

Tuesday May 17th   Shirley from gluten free easily sharing Your Pantry is the Key to Being GFE

Wednesday May 18th  Nancy from  The Sensitive Pantry sharing BBQ and Picnic tips and Recipe

Thursday May 19th  Heidi from Adventures of a Gluten-Free Mom sharing tips for getting kids to eat healthy, real-food snacks!

Friday May 20th  Silvana from Silvana’s Kitchen

Saturday May 21st  Maggie from She Let Them Eat Cake

Sunday May 22nd  Sea from Book of Yum sharing Gluten Free Vegetarian Burritos

Monday May 23rd  Tia from Glugle Gluten-Free

Tuesday May 24th    Alisa from Alisa Cooks and Go Dairy Free sharing Wrap it Up-Thinking Outside the Bun

Wednesday May 25th  Hallie from Daily Bites sharing Keys to Colorful Cooking

Thursday May 26th  Carol from Simply…Gluten-Free

Friday May 27th   AndreaAnna from Life as a Plate sharing Tips on Traveling on Day Trips with Kids

Saturday May 28th  Zoe from Z’s Cup of Tea

Sunday May 29th  Kelly from The Spunky Coconut

Monday May 30th  Jess from ATX Gluten-Free sharing 1 Meal 3 Ways, Jazzing up Leftovers

Tuesday May 31st  Naomi from Straight into Bed, Cakefree and Dried sharing

Last Year at this Time: Gena’s Raw (Bean-Free) Hummus

Two Years Ago: Dog Day: Celebrate All Moms!

Three Years AgoClose Encounters with Cookies from Another Planet (Cosmic Cookies) (not GF, not ACD-friendly)

 

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Comments

  1. sounds like an interesting series – made one of your brunch recipes tonight and was marvelling how good you make gluten free and vegan cooking – lots of good advice in your post – I think the idea that you are going to get different tastes from GF cooking is one that is most important but at the same time it is important to create new traditions based upon the old – sort of like the Christians co-opted the pagan rituals

    • Yay! Glad you liked the brunch recipe (which one??) ;) I agree that we want to uphold the traditions of baking, etc., and I think it’s not hard to do that with GF–there are plenty of “classic” recipes that are easy to make gluten free. But I do love all the new flavors, textures and colors I’ve discovered with GF baking!

  2. Ricki, I echo your feelings about gluten-free baking. I was just starting to dive into REAL baking before I went gluten-free…trying my hand at bread and soforth. So I was sad at first to be giving it up. Now, I love all of the amazing different flours and the intricacies of each one. I’m still learning a lot, but when something really works, then I celebrate! I love your baking and your creativity.

    • Thanks so much, Alta! Sounds like you had a double whammy when you made the switch–I’d say you have adjusted admirably. :)

  3. Ricki,

    What a great post! Anyone who can tie together going from glutenous to gluten-free baking to finding a new boyfriend is a good writer in my book. Especially when they do it with such ease and humor. I love it!

    And you’re so right — this parallel universe of “alternative” flours is full of abundance. If I hadn’t had to make the switch, I wouldn’t know about chestnut flour, mesquite or timtana. It’s a wonderful adventure. Can’t wait to try your cheese filled olive and onion quick bread. It looks gorgeous and I’m a big fan of “robust” flours.

    Melissa

  4. Great advice, Ricki! I’m going to be experimenting with baking in the next few weeks for the first time. I’ve always used someone else’s recipe for baking and I decided it was time to really play around. I’m going to have fun with it!

    • I think that’s the best attitude! Any “mistakes” can usually be made into something else (crumbs are great as a base for cookie bars–just made some last weekend!) ;) I can’t wait to read about how it went! :D

  5. Absolutely wonderful post, Ricki! I’m not GF, but I do have tremendous pressure to create GF food for my many GF readers. This is very helpful as a tutorial!

  6. Hi Ricki,

    Great post! I especially liked the advice about increasing the leavening, something I’ve been learning by trial and error! Going gluten-free has opened me up to trying so many new things, (like different flours) that I would have missed out on otherwise. :) Tina.

    • Thanks so much, Tina, and thanks for reading! I totally agree about trying new things now that I’m gluten free. I love teff flour, quinoa, millet, socca. . . so many things I never even knew existed before! :)

  7. I try and tell my kids this: Don’t think of all the things you can’t have. Think of all the awesome things you can have that no one else will ever try!

    Trying new things is healthy for your mind and body and it definitely applies to GF baking!

    Great post!

    • AndreAnna, absolutely! I feel the same way about eating vegan. So many veggies and other foods I’d never have tried. And I love them all!

  8. What a wonderful post, Ricki! I love how you wrote this! ;) And this is truly a great guide. Being a total science lover, I find that I am having more fun with the experimentation and chemistry involved in gluten free baking than i ever did with regular baking. Each recipe I try out is like a fun experiment. The other day, as I was measuring with my scale and writing things down, my husband laughed and said it reminded me of when we used to be in Chem Lab together in college. LOL You did a great job with this one, Ricki! ;)

    • Thanks so much, Kim. :D I love science too–I think baking, in general, is more of a science than cooking–so for me, the experimentation, whether or not the results are what I expected, is still fun. Glad to know I more or less hit the mark!

  9. Ricki, you always go above and beyond and this post is sensational–with its tips and the analogies! ;-) I think we all go through an evolution with our baking. I try to remember that with newbies in my support group. They are just not ready to start with various kinds of flours (and I get that!) and while I still limit my flour options (and most of that is due to grain reactions vs my own personal choices), I am happy to embrace more creativity and more nutritious flours in the kitchen most of the time now. After initial attempts, the disasters are few and far between. And even then, they are almost always salvageable like you said. Baking gluten free offers up a wonderful world indeed. :-) Thank you for being one to really help navigate the more challenging waters of sugar free, vegan, etc. Oh, and yes, the additional leavening is a great tip. I’m loving the gum-less recipes more and more, but terrific tip on adjusting those amounts for heartier/heavier recipes, too. For example, I’m not a bread maker, but I know those usually require considerably more gum (even double) if the recipe calls for it. Awesome post, dear! Really great addition to Diane’s series!

    Shirley

    • Thanks so much, Shirley! :D I know there were about 100 more tips I could have included, but I didn’t want this to be overwhelming for those newly gluten-free. And I think one could get started this way. :) I actually began GF baking without xanthan gum (couldn’t bring myself to spend the money), and I found that there are still other ways to increase binding but it does take experimentation. So glad to hear that you’re having more successes in the kitchen, too!

  10. This is a fantastic post, thank you for sharing so comprehensively. I am very new to alternative flours, and I must say the journey to date is very exciting and much fun.

    Thank you

  11. kick booty, Ricki – what a super stellar post! you’re soooo right about baking gluten-free being an entirely new endeavor, but i’m getting used to it and having more successes than fails these days – which makes me most happyfaced! thanks for being so awesome and sharing your tips! i am totally going to follow along with the 30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living posts, too. w00t!

    • Yay! Thanks, Jessy! :D I’ve seen some of your creations on your blog, and believe me, none of them looks like a GF beginner’s to me. And I hope you find something fun and useful in the 30 Days posts–it’s been so informative so far! :)

  12. Courtney says:

    I am with you Ricki–I love baking gluten free! Personally, I think that “experimenting” is part of the fun.

    And thanks for turning me on to this series of posts–it sounds like it will be really interesting!

    Courtney

  13. I could not have said it better myself sister! Perfect. I mourned baking for a while too, HA! Little did I know, I’d eventually have a gluten-free BAKING blog! I, like you, feel lucky to be able to use so many different flours. I choose based on my mood, suppose I should pay more attention to genres :)

    • I think my choice is mostly instinctive, also connected to my mood. But I usually notice if I’ve chosen all-grain or all-starch, and then mix it up a bit! :)

  14. Thank you for sharing so many great tips and resources. I love that you have embraced gluten-free baking as a new culinary frontier to explore. You have increased the quality of life of some many with your amazing recipes. Thanks Ricki.

  15. Ricki,..you’ve put into words what I had floating in my mind and offered a clearcut science to gluten free baking…thanks so much. I have written a post in honor of you on my blog.

  16. Great tips! I love how you always infuse a sense of humor into everything you write. Gluten-free baking is so much more fun than wheat flour baking, and your tips will help people realize that.

    • Thanks so much, Iris (when you’re just starting with GF baking, you need some humor!!) ;) I really love it. . . I agree, so much more fun! :)

  17. Great post! I’d like to add Cybele Pascal’s flour blend to the expert’s list. I use her’s often. It isn’t as hearty as some of the others, but a good basic one for beginners or those who want an inexpensive blend.

    Don’t forget about how you use a lot of nuts / nut flours – those definitely help with the binding action.

    • Thanks for letting me know about Cybele’s mix–I’ll go check it out and add it to the post. I do use nuts/nut flours and I agree, they help to bind. . . I actually usually use nut butters for that, in fact. :) Thanks for the reminder!

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  1. [...] Ricki of Diet, Dessert and Dogs shared Gluten-Free Baking Tips [...]

  2. [...] Head on over to Ricki’s site and read up on all her tips for baking gluten free. [...]

  3. [...] May 10: Ricki from Diet, Dessert and Dogs—Gluten Free Baking Tips [...]

  4. [...] Tuesday May 10th  Ricki from Diet, Dessert and Dogs sharing Gluten Free Baking Tips [...]

  5. [...] Tuesday May 10th  Ricki from Diet, Dessert and Dogs sharing Gluten Free Baking Tips [...]

  6. [...] Tuesday May 10th  Ricki from Diet, Dessert and Dogs sharing Gluten Free Baking Tips [...]

  7. [...] (And for those of you with the challenge of both vegan AND gluten-free baked goods, I’ve posted a little primer on that kind of baking, too, in this post). [...]

  8. [...] gluten-free (she has a gluten-free recipe index on her website).  This hot off the presses post on gluten-free vegan baking is [...]

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