Tips for Working with Gluten-Free Flour

If you want to use gluten-free flour instead of regular, wheat-based mixes, you have to know how flour works and how chemistry keeps things together. You might be bad at chemistry, but don't worry - this is not that complicated. Read on to find out how to substitute gluten-free flour and still be amazing at baking:

Gluten-free flour
  1. What is flour?

    Flour is made by grinding grains or nuts into a fine powder. Coarse grinding produces a "meal", not "flour". For most people flour simply means wheat flour. This is strictly off-limits for gluten-free diet. People with Celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity get sick if gluten enters their body. Today, gluten-free eating is definitely on the rise and it is getting pretty easy to find great substitutes for regular flours. Gluten-free mixes are available in grocery stores and online.

  2. Basic facts about flour and gluten

    Before you tackle gluten-free cooking, find out what gluten does first:

    • It makes the dough stretchy. When water touches its molecules, they start forming sticky, elastic bonds and give your dough elasticity. Picture pizza making process, you know, when bakers toss the dough up and twirl it around? They can do it because of gluten.
    • It helps the dough rise. The amount of water is very important, as more water causes more glutinous bonds to get created. The amount of kneading is another factor - bonded gluten molecules form long elastic bonds during the process. This is why the dough rises when yeast enters the mix. Yeast produces gas, which is trapped by the sheets of bonded gluten molecules and the dough rises.
    • Different purposes require different flour. Bread flour calls for a lot of gluten, while cake batters don't need it as much. Cake flour has to have enough gluten to keep it from crumbling, but nobody wants chewy cakes. Pie crusts are another story altogether as they have very little liquid, lots of shortening, and require just a bit of mixing.

    As you can see, gluten plays many roles, so you will have to find various gluten-free substitutes for various purposes to eliminate gluten in baking. Let's take a look at different gluten-free flour categories and what they do for cooking:

  3. Gluten-free culinary starches

    Grains have protein and starches. When you take away the protein, you are left with starches. The most popular starches are cornstarch, tapioca starch, arrowroot starch, and potato starch. The starches don't have taste. They are used to thicken liquids and to add volume to baked goods. Even with all the thickening qualities, starches alone won't keep your baked goods from falling apart.

    Starch tends to lump together when warmed up, so mix it with cold liquid in a separate cup before slowly adding it to the warm liquids. If your meal becomes too thick, try heating it again. If you are making gravy or soup, keep in mind that cornstarch will make it look clear and less creamy than if you would use wheat-based starches.

  4. Low-protein Gluten-free flour

    Some grains are naturally low in protein. Corn, rice, and millet fall in this category. Flour made from these grains will also be low in protein. If you use these types of flour in your baking, you very well know that your products are not held together. Try using a mixture of a few different low-protein flours.

    Rice flour is probably the most common kind of low-protein flour for gluten-free baking. It is not expensive, is widely available, and offers mild taste. It can be a bit gritty and needs to be stored in the refrigerator. Millet flour is less common, more expensive, and has better taste than rice. Corn flour, not meal, has soft, fine texture, but the taste is stronger.

    Low-protein flour can be used for thickening sauces, coating meats for frying, making tempura, and baking flat breads.

    Amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, teff, and buckwheat are all low-protein, but they have strong taste, which makes them less universal. Try using them when you want to taste them or combine them with high-protein grains.

Gluten-free Pasta
  1. High-protein Gluten-free flour

    This kind of flours is not made from grain at all. Legumes, like garbanzo beans, fava beans, and soybeans are ground to make flour. The result is heavy, dense flour with strong taste of beans. Use this flour as a part of a gluten-free mix, but do it sparingly or you will get something tasting like hummus.

    The best use for such flour is combining it with one or more low-protein gluten-free products. They will not thicken your soup or gravy, so don't even waste your time trying.

  2. Using gluten-free flour for baking

    Your baked goods won't taste great if you will simply eliminate gluten, without compensating for it somehow. There are ways to have great success baking with gluten-free flours though; it just takes some getting used to.

    • Gluten-free flours work best when they are combined, especially when it comes to baking. As a beginner, use store-bought premixed gluten-free flour combinations. Once you become experienced, try making your own mixes to find what really speaks to you.
    • Use containers with walls for baking breads and rolls. Gluten-free dough does not hold its shape, so it needs your support.
    • You can use guar or xanthan gums for increased elasticity effect. You don't have to use a lot of them, just 1/8-1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour. If you don't feel like messing with the gums yourself, buy ready-made mix, which already includes gum.
    • Add some protein to your gluten-free flour. Gluten is protein, so adding some different kind protein can only improve things. You can replace half a cup of water from your recipe with an egg or liquid egg whites.
    • Read cooking books and blogs for new ideas because more and more information is available as gluten-free diet is becoming more popular.
    • Use your old favorite recipes with modifications. Don't get discouraged if something doesn't work out right away, take time, and you will find how to tweak the recipe to make it gluten-free and wonderfully tasting at the same time.
    • Protect form cross contamination by using different surfaces, different cutting boards and utensils for making gluten-free and regular meals and baked goods.
    • Store your gluten-free flours in the freezer and make them room temperature before using.
    • Make sure the flour you are substituting with is really gluten-free, because some might sound good, but not be what you are looking for, like semolina, bulgar, brown, cake, all-purpose, spelt, granary, and many other flours. Finally, don't be afraid to experiment and you will succeed!
Gluten-free Rice Paper