* 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?]
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 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. And finally, you could try a mix of ground flax, chia and/or psyllium husk, all of which create a binding effect (though not a effective, or as lightweight, as xanthan gum).
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.
Last Year at this Time: Gena’s Raw (Bean-Free) Hummus
Two Years Ago: Dog Day: Celebrate All Moms!
Disclosure: Links in this post may be affiliate links. If you choose to purchase using those links, at no cost to you, I will receive a small percentage of the sale.
Subscribe for recipes and more about living well without sugar, gluten, eggs or dairy! Click here to subscribe to RickiHeller.com via email. You’ll receive emails sharing recipes and videos as soon as they’re posted, plus weekly updates and news about upcoming events. A healthy lifestyle CAN be sweet!
Johanna GGG says
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!
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. 🙂
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.
Thanks so much, Melissa! I’ve never heard of timtana–sounds totally intriguing! What is it? 🙂
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! 😀
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!
Thanks so much, Gena! There was so much more to add, but as a start, I think this will work for newbie GF bakers. 🙂
Tina @ madame gluten-free vegetarian says
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! 🙂
AndreAnna (Life As A Plate) says
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!
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!
Kim (Cook It Allergy Free) says
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. 😀 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!
Shirley @ gfe says
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!
Thanks so much, Shirley! 😀 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!
Lady Bug says
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.
Thanks so much, and thanks for reading! And how lovely that you are having fun with it–that’s the way to go! 🙂
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! 😀 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! 🙂
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!
Yay for GF baking! 😀 And glad to have introduced the series–I think it will be well worthwhile. 🙂
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! 🙂
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.
Thanks so much, Lisa! I’d say you’ve done just that for the raw-curious 😉 I’m always inspired by your recipes! 😀
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.
Thanks so much! And glad the post was useful. 😀
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! 🙂
Alisa Fleming says
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!
margaret dupelle says
I have tried many of your recipies and also receiving your newsletter. I can’t wait to try the Grain Free strawberry rhubarb crisp.
Ricki Heller says
Thanks so much for this lovely comment! I’m so glad you are enjoying the newsletter and recipes. I hope you love the Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp! 😀