Behind the scenes with gluten-free flours
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
When I’m talking to people about a gluten-free lifestyle, I try to remind them it’s not nearly as complicated as one might think. In fact, a healthy gluten-free diet it built upon the same premise as any healthy diet: Eat healthy, whole foods!
That means my plate often consists of naturally gluten-free foods, like veggies, fruits, grilled fish, roasted potatoes and more.
There are times, however, when we all need a little something sweet in our lives, and that might mean whipping up something that contains a gluten-free flour. This, of course, is where a gluten-free lifestyle can get a bit more complicated, but no worries – I’m here to take the guesswork out of it.
Below is a list of some of my favorite gluten-free flours for baking and details on how they might be useful in various recipes. Start experimenting and discovering the blend that will work best for you.
Brown and white rice flours
These flours can be used interchangeably in recipes. However, while white rice flour is often cheaper, brown rice flour is whole grain and, therefore, a bit healthier for you.
Not only does this flour add moisture to baked goods, but it also packs a protein and fiber punch! Made by grinding blanched almonds, this flour needs to be balanced with a starch or whole grain flour, like brown rice. Too much of this moist flour can cause baked goods to fall flat.
Tapioca starch/flour is made from the root of the tropical cassava plant. Like any gluten-free starch, tapioca flour works well in a flour blend that also contains whole grain flours, like brown rice.
Let’s first note potato starch is not the same thing as potato flour. It’s easy to confuse because of other gluten-free flours that use the terms “starch” and “flour” interchangeably. This starch adds moisture to baked goods and is a great thickener.
This starch is pricier than some of its starchy brothers, but its mild flavor will make it an all-star in some of your favorite baked goods.
This flour adds necessary moisture to baked goods, but beware – baking with coconut flour can take some trial and error when you are first learning how to bake gluten-free desserts. The general rule of thumb is each 1/4 cup of coconut flour requires the addition of one egg. That means if I am trying to transition a regular recipe for my gluten-free needs and I substitute the original 1/4 cup of flour with 1/4 cup of coconut flour, then I will add an additional egg to the recipe. Even if the original recipe already calls for two eggs, it is important to add an additional one.
Another gluten-free flour that is high in protein, quinoa flour has a light, nutty taste. Too much of this flour may make it a bit too noticeable in your baked goods (and not in a good way), so be sure to balance it out with a starch and another flour, like brown rice flour or almond meal, for a lovely blend.
Keep in mind not all flours are created equal. That means that 1/4 cup of almond flour is not equal to 1/4 cup brown rice flour, nor is it the same as 1/4 cup coconut flour. If you feel like playing around, then it’s helpful to weigh your gluten-free flours and begin learning how they can be used in some of your old favorite (i.e. gluten-filled) recipes.
For example, if a recipe calls for one cup of unbleached all-purpose flour, then that weighs approximately 120 grams (4.25 ounces). That means your gluten-free flour substitutions must also weigh 120 grams in order
for the other dry, liquid and fat ratios in the recipe to add up. Once you’ve figured out a formula, you can, of course, begin using cup measurements, but weighing your flours is the most accurate way to begin. Science is fun, right?!
Many of the best baked goods are the result of a gluten-free flour blend that contains a balance of various flours – like brown rice and almond – with starches – like tapioca and potato. Of course, until you further experiment with gluten-free flours (or simply to save time), consider a store-bought blend, like Jules Gluten-Free all-purpose flour, King Arthur gluten-free all-purpose flour and Outrageous Baking all-purpose baking flour mix.
OK, so do you feel like you have a grasp on all of this gluten-free flour business? If so, then it’s time to get started in the kitchen. Email me to ask questions and share your creations!
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the author of The Gluten-Free Revolution and a certified health coach who specializes in digestive health. She is also the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.