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The GFCF Experience GFCF Guide: Gluten Free Baking

Posted Dec 05 2010 12:50pm
A balanced diet is a Christmas cookie in each hand.
~Author unknown

Welcome back to the GFCF Experience GFCF Guide. As I mentioned previously, this series is meant to help those who are starting on their GFCF journey. I have already talked about the many types of foods that are naturally GFCF as well as how the extra cost of being GFCF may not be as much as you think. Today I am going to discuss being gluten free, in particular when it comes to baking.

We in the US have transformed from last week's Thanksgiving feast right into the Christmas holiday season. And in a lot of households, that means baking - cakes, cookies, festive breads, more cookies, gingerbread for holidays houses, more cookies... to parapharase the song, it's the most wonderful (baking) time of the year!

And baking GFCF is quite simple really. Let's get started!

GF Flours

One of my inspirations for doing this series was the Adopt a GF Blogger event recently hosted by Sea at Book of Yum. For two reasons, actually. First, I was humbled and honored that Sea chose to adopt me for this event, and with the help of her husband, made this version of my Jewish Apple Cake recipe. But she ran into a problem in that she wasn't sure which flours to use (since I didn't specify). Ultimately, the flour blend they used made the cake batter a little too runny in their opinion. Lesson learned for me - be more specific about the flours I am using!

The second inspiration from this event came courtesy of Rachel at The Crispy Cook , or more specifically from the person she adopted - Kristina at No Gluten Required . Rachel noted in her adoption post Kristina's rant about GF flour blends and the people who and manufacturers who push their GF flour blend as the right one for all baking needs.

I disagree with Kristina. And I agree with her as well.

We know that there are certain flours, aside from wheat, that contain gluten - rye, spelt, barley just to name a few. But there are also plenty of acceptable flours - buckwheat, sorghum, white rice, brown rice, bean, almond, corn, quinoa, tapioca, potato, soy, millet,... - quite a few options!

And there are plenty of flour blend options to choose from as well. The late Betty Hagman used a mix that was 2 parts white rice flour, 2/3 part potato starch flour, and 1/3 part tapioca starch flour. Carol Fenster, author of the 1000 Gluten Free Recipes, has several different GF flour blend options you can find here. Elana at Elana's Pantry almost exclusively uses almond flour. And there are many premade flour blends that can be found at the stores.

The question, then, becomes this - what to use? And how much?

And this is where I disagree with Kristina, at least when you are starting out gluten free. Yes, if you have the experience, and the time, it's great to sit in your kitchen and experiment to find just the right flour combination for each individual recipe. But for someone starting out, who doesn't have the time to experiment, I personally think going with a flour blend is best. As you get into the routine and become more proficient (and daring!) then it is time to experiment.

Personally, I mainly use the all-purpose GF flour mix from Bob's Red Mill. This mix is a bean flour combination, my family seems to like it, and it works well for my baking. The only caveat I have with it is that you need to make sure your baked goods are thoroughly done, or there will be an aftertaste. I buy it directly from Bob's Red Mill in large 25 lb bags.

The other main flours I use are tapioca flour, white rice flour, and sorghum flours, and my use of them is dependent on the recipe. I am in that stage where I am trying to experiment a little bit - it only took me 8 years to get there!

So, where do I agree with Kristina? It has to do with weighing flours. Weighing is considered to be the ideal way to consistently measure flour, but it serves another purpose too - different flours have different weights on a per cup basis. King Arthur Flour has this nice website where you can see the weights of different ingredients used in baking, including many types of flour. Here are some examples from the website (on a per cup basis)
- King Arthur (non-GF) all purpose flour - 4 1/4 oz.
- King Arthur GF multi-purpose flour blend - 5 3/8 oz.
- toasted almond flour - 3 3/8 oz.
- amaranth flour - 3 5/8 oz.
- buckwheat flour - 4 1/4 oz.
- quinoa flour - 3 7/8 oz.
- brown rice flour (King Arthur) - 5 3/8 oz.
- white rice flour (King Arthur) - 5 oz.
- tapioca starch flour (King Arthur) - 4 oz.

So you can see that the weight of a one cup measure varies a lot depending on the flour you are using.

Xanthan Gum

The other GF baking ingredient you see often is xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a thickening agent which is used in GF baking to restore some of the dough elasticity lost in the absence of gluten. How much do you use? It depends on what you are baking. AS a general rule
breads/pizza doughs - 1 tsp. per cup of flour used
cakes/muffins - 1/2 tsp. per cup of flour used
cookies - 1/4 cup per cup of flour used.

Or just use none at all. Personally, I use xanthan gum when I am making sandwich bread or pie crusts, sometimes when making cakes and muffins, but rarely do in cookies..


Vanilla (and vanilla extract) is commonly used in everything from bread to cookies. But care must be taken here - most common store brands contain up to 35% alcohol, which is derived from gluten-containing grains. So be sure you buy one specifically labelled gluten free.

Other Common Baking Items

Baking Powder - can be subject to cross-contamination issues, so be sure to read labels. The two I usemost often, Rumsford and Clabber Girl, state they are gluten free right on the can.

Baking Soda - Most baking soda brands are gluten free.

Cream of Tartar - Much like baking soda, most brands I am familiar with are gluten free.

Spices - Spices are naturally gluten free.

And finally, a reminder about oats. Oats are naturally gluten free, but are often cross-contaminated with gluten. Fortunately, there are several companies that sell certified gluten free oats.

The next and final installment of the GFCF Guide will feature casein free substitutions. This will be an update of a guide already posted on my blog with some new products and information added.

Happy baking!!!

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