It's no secret: much of my free time involves playing with mixing bowls and measuring cups in the kitchen, all while following a specialized gluten-free, vegetarian diet (with lots of vegan moments). My favorite recipes to attempt are desserts and breads, which means I've got a pretty good idea about the best gluten-free flour for baking. Well, flours, plural. There are so many good options!
When I say "best," I'm going beyond flavor and also including baking performance and nutrition. It's a tall order, but well worth learning about when it comes to making a special pan of birthday brownies or weekend loaf of potato bread that fits my dietary needs and nutritional preferences.
Choosing Gluten-Free Flour
When you start reading recipes created for gluten-free baked goods, you might be surprised at the variety of flours made from milled grains, seeds, vegetables, and nuts. Pea flour? Yes, it's a thing!
Let's look a little closer at what you may need when following a recipe and learn how different choices will affect your final, delicious product.
But first: never adapt a recipe that uses all purpose wheat-based flours to fit your gluten-free needs by directly substituting a gluten-free flour that sounds good to you. Sure, almond flour makes a delicious swap in that chocolate chip cookie recipe you've used for years, but if you add nut flour to the mixing bowl (and no other flours) you'll end up with dry, crumbly cookie gravel. Instead, follow a recipe that uses a blend of various gluten-free flours (measured by weight), starches, and binders for tasty success. I rely on these flours and information from Bob's Red Mill, Better for You Bakery, and King Arthur Flour.
- Almond flour: One of my favorite flours is simply super fine-ground blanched almonds. It adds a decadent flavor and dose of protein to low carb and paleo cookie recipes.
- Amaranth flour: Amaranth is rich in lysine, magnesium, and iron. When ground into flour, it bakes best combined with one or two more non-grain-based flours.
- Coconut flour: This high-fiber, grain-free flour made from defatted coconut meat absorbs liquids quickly and is often used in small amounts in sweet baked goods.
- Oat flour: Certified gluten-free oats are pulverized into a whole-grain, fiber-rich flour that gives cookies, bars, and cakes a classic flavor reminiscent of breakfast.
- Rice flour: I've used flours made from both whole grain brown rice and white rice. The brown version creates a nuttier, dense texture, perfect for crusty bread and rolls. It's my favorite gluten-free bread flour. I like the white rice flour in lighter, crisp sugar cookie and cake recipes.
- Tapioca flour: This sweet flour is made from the root of the South American cassava plant. The starch is used as a thickener in pie fillings or to make crisp pie crusts and sugar cookies.
Additional gluten-free flours to explore include sorghum, pea, potato, cassava, bean, millet, quinoa, teff, hazelnut, and garbanzo.
All of these flours are common in the gluten-free baking aisle at your well-stocked supermarket or specialty health foods store. Look closer and you might find some intriguing, uncommon choices like coffee flour and green banana flour.
When I first started baking gluten-free, it wasn't the types of flours that confused me, it was the additives. Now, I'm a pro at picking out xanthan gum and have a bag of arrowroot on hand at all times. Why? They're necessary if you want gluten-free recipes from scratch to turn out with a pleasing texture. Here's what they do:
- Arrowroot: This starch works as a thickener for recipes with a delicate texture, like angel food cake.
- Flaxmeal: Ground flax is often used as an egg replacement in vegan recipes because of its wonderful binding ability. The seeds also add omega-3 essential fatty acids, lignans, and fiber to the batter.
- Xanthan and guar gum: These plant-based products act like gluten in gluten-free baking. They work as emulsifiers and binders, add volume to fluffy breads, and add elasticity so finished baked products aren't crumbly.
Sometimes You Can Skip the Flour
If reading this has you craving a sweet treat, but you don't have any gluten-free flours on hand, you're in luck. Some crafty cooks have come up with tender, moist bars, brownies, and pies that don't use any flours at all.
I often whip up a pan of Chocolate Covered Katie's delicious brownies made from black beans or chocolate dessert hummus made from, you guessed it, chickpeas! All you need is some fresh fruit (or a spoon!) for dipping.
Which do you think is the best gluten-free flour for baking? Tweet us a photo of your latest gluten-free baking project and mention your favorite flour using the hashtag #GoodMatters.
Image source: Angela Tague | Angela Tague | Pixabay
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Why It’s Good
Cutting gluten out of your diet doesn't mean you have to give up baking breads or desserts. It does mean you get to explore uncommon flours that add new textures and flavors to your favorite homemade treats. Download a new recipe this weekend and start experimenting. Happy baking to you!