Gluten-Free Baking Tips for Using Alternative Flours

By Angela Tague in Healthy Feeling

My first few gluten-free baking projects were a disaster. I thought I could swap out my favorite all-purpose flour for an equal quantity of rice flour and get the same results—boy was I wrong. My cookies fell apart and my cakes were dry.

I quickly learned that gluten-free baking takes a little research and practice to get right. For the last seven years I’ve more successfully experimented with several alternative flours, including white rice, brown rice, tapioca, potato starch, chickpea, arrowroot, sorghum, oat, coconut, almond, and peanut. I’ve learned (and tasted) a lot!

Gluten-Free Flour V. All-Purpose Flour

Stone ground wheat or bleached all-purpose white flour is made from wheat, which contains gluten. This popular protein is what gives bread dough its elasticity and cakes a spongy texture when baked. When you can’t, or choose not to eat gluten, you’ll have to use an alternative flour.

Each gluten-free flour brings its own flavor to a dish. Sorghum flour is sweet and perfect for desserts. Rice and tapioca flours are neutral, making them great thickeners for gravies or cream-based soups. Chickpea flour tastes like beans, so it’s best for savory breads or casseroles. Peanut and almond flours are decadent in cookies.

You can also keep baking super simple! Since gluten-free foods are gaining popularity, it’s easy to find your favorite mixes and all-purpose flour blends in a gluten-free version at the grocery store. I’ve used everything from gluten-free pancake and brownie mix, to pizza dough and English muffin batter. If you don’t have the time to try a recipe from scratch, mixes and flour blends are worth the extra dollar or two to have a gluten-free treat.

mixing a chocolate gluten-free cake batter

How Do Gluten-Free Flours Work Differently?

I’ve discovered that my gluten-free baked goods turn out best when I use a blend of two or more gluten-free flours and the addition of a gum (guar gum or xanthan gum) to add elasticity to the combination of ingredients. Also, many gluten-free flours absorb liquids at a different rate than all-purpose flour—coconut flour is practically a sponge! It’s best to use a recipe created for gluten-free flours, or you might end up with a batter or dough that’s too stiff or runny.

After you’ve put gluten-free biscuits or cake in the oven, you might notice that they won’t rise as high as recipes made with all-purpose flour, even if you use yeast. This is just part of gluten-free baking and doesn’t affect the taste of the food. I stick to cupcakes and sheet cakes, rather than stacking cake rounds, since they don’t get very fluffy.

Overall, most gluten-free baked goods are a little more crumbly than their glutinous counterparts, unless the recipe uses extra oils or eggs to improve the texture. When in doubt, bake a treat at home—it will be free from the preservatives used in most commercially prepared, shelf-stable gluten-free products.

gluten-free sugar cookie cool on a rack

3 Gluten-Free Recipes to Try

So, are you ready to dig in? Baking with gluten-free flours isn’t difficult. My best advice is to follow the recipe exactly and use a food scale to weigh your ingredients.

  1. Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies. This is the best gluten-free cookie recipe I’ve tried since I learned I had to give it up in 2010. My husband can eat gluten but still requests these decadent, chewy cookies.
  2. Crustless Pumpkin Pie. Don’t let the title scare you. This pie is delicious, even without a crust. Not only is it free of gluten, but it’s also just 55 calories a slice. I make this pumpkin pie during the fall holidays, and my dinner guests happily gobble it down, especially when I tell them it’s low calorie!
  3. Fruit Swirl Coffee Cake. Lately I’ve been craving coffee cake, and this might just be the recipe I try. I’ve used gluten-free, premade baking mix many times for pizza crust, biscuits, and pancakes, so I have a feeling this coffee cake will turn out well!

Following a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you have to give up trying new recipes. Plenty of great recipes don’t require gluten, and as more people begin following the diet, the options will only get better.

Ready to try some gluten-free baking? We’d love to see what comes out of your oven! Post a pic to your Instagram or Twitter account and tag Tom’s of Maine in the comments!

Image source: Angela Tague

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Why It’s Good

Making changes to your daily diet is tough. If your doctor has suggested a gluten-free diet, know you can still pursue your love of baking. Experiment with various gluten-free flours, try gluten-free flour blends, and follow gluten-free recipes exactly to get the best results!