Gluten-Free Flours: An Introduction

Gluten-Free Flours: An Introduction

Welcome to the introduction of a series in which I’m going to investigate gluten-free flours. From sorghum to sweet rice flour to teff to that useful bag of supermarket gluten-free all purpose flour. I’m going to delve into each and every one over the next few months so if you want to learn a bit more about gluten-free baking then pull up a chair, grab a cuppa and we’ll begin.

The Definitive Guide To Gluten-Free Flours

I had a conversation with a friend recently who was asking my advice on a gluten-free cake she wanted to serve to a friend who was coeliac. During our chat she mentioned that she had also recently found out she was gluten intolerant whilst she was investigating some health issues she was having but was terrified of what this would mean and was putting off a diet change because of the upheaval.

Oh so familiar. I was fully aware of my gluten intolerance for several years before making the total commitment. I was gluten-free in all aspects of my life except for baking, which is kind of an important subject for me. I couldn’t get passed my pre-conceptions about gluten-free cakes which seemed to be either crumbly, pasty, too sweet or loaded with buttercream to mask their flaws. In my experience they were far inferior to the wheat cakes I knew and loved. So I ate cake and suffered the consequences.

Blueberry Basil Lemon Drizzle

Then, fully intending to push my luck, I decided to dive full on into my love of baking and start a cake business. Herein lies the trouble. I was completely betraying my body. I was eating gluten more than ever and getting sicker and sicker. Then a couple of years ago I read Alice Medrich’s Flavour Flours and to say the book changed my life is not giving it too much credit. Turns out there is more to gluten-free baking than just whipping out Dove’s gluten-free plain flour blend and hoping for the best.

Caramelised Mango and Banana Rum Cake

Gluten-free baking needs more patience, more thought and a few more ingredients. So I made it my mission to embrace these very different ingredients I would need to make amazing gluten-free cakes and kick gluten to the kerb for good. For more on my gluten histrionics I’ll send you the way of this post.

This past year as I have fallen in love with gluten-free baking and alternative flours I have learnt so much. I hate keeping things to myself so I am starting a series so I can share my nascent knowledge with you. I am going to be investigating each gluten-free flour, getting into all the nitty gritty of how to use them in our baking and helping you guys understand how to convert a recipe into a successful gluten-free version. It doesn’t end there, I will be giving advice on where you can buy gluten-free flours (hint: when in doubt, Amazon) and confirm why you don’t need to be frightened of a gluten-free cake.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Espresso Cake

However, before we get cracking I wanted to address a few basic questions on gluten-free baking and the best way to begin the adventure.

What is gluten?

Gluten is the name for the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. It’s this magic ingredient which provides the structure for cakes, breads and pasta and gives elasticity to doughs. Without the gluten found in wheat flour our cakes will desiccate. Or maybe not, if you learn how to bake without it.

Gluten-Free Cake

How do you replicate wheat flour in a cake recipe?

1. Binding

Wheat flour doesn’t just play one role in a cake recipe but several which is why it seems an indispensible ingredient and why we have to think outside the box when we remove it from our lives. The first role it plays is to bind our cakes together using the gluten proteins so they don’t fall apart in some big crumbly mess. The eggs work with the flour to provide the right structure for your cake but you need your alternative flour sources to meet the eggs halfway. The most effective flours I have found which can help bind and hold the cake together are tapioca starch or sweet rice flour (also called glutinous rice flour – although it contains no gluten).

2. Texture

The other role wheat flour plays is that it provides texture. Wheat flour gives our bakes a soft bouncy quality. Here is where you’ll be experimenting with the gluten-free flours as they will each give their own texture. Some bakers use xantham gum which aids the fluffiness of your bake. I, like many gluten intolerant people before me, am also intolerant to these kind of gums so I stay away from them in my baking and focus on the right flour combo instead.

3. Neutrality

Wheat flour tastes completely neutral which is excellent in baking as it lets the flavours you want to taste shine through. There are some gluten-free flours which also harbour a neutral taste like white rice flour or potato flour but actually a huge advantage of using gluten-free flours is that many of them have unique and delicious flavours which can enhance recipes and add depth especially to baked goods.

Utensil Pot

What is the best gluten-free flour to use?

Unfortunately there is not a one-size fits all gluten-free flour. Some flours which bind well like sweet rice flour can be too stodgy if used alone. White rice flour can be too grainy. Others like coconut flour will zap all the moisture out of your cake leaving it dry and crumbly. If you want a balanced taste but also a chance to retain the right texture and binding qualities of wheat flour, this is where you will need to start blending flours.

Can you substitute a gluten-free flour blend for regular flour?

Each brand of gluten-free plain flour has different ratios of flours involved so results from these flours can vary a lot from recipe to recipe. I don’t usually achieve great cakes with a straight swap of these flours, they can often lead to lacklustre grainy cakes, unless you start fiddling around with other parts of the recipe, increasing moisture, adding another egg etc.

There are few instances where you can certainly just do a straight swap and use a pre-bought gluten-free flour blend instead of regular flour. In these instances I would stick to recipes where there isn’t a lot of flour to begin with, like in a brownie recipe or in these Apple Cinnamon Ricotta Friands.

Apple Cinnamon and Ricotta Friands

I have nothing against these gluten-free flour blends and actually use them a lot, but usually in conjunction with another alternative flour like almond flour, or teff flour in these Black Sesame Peanut Butter Brownies, so they support my flour of choice rather than become the flour of choice.

Gluten-free Black Sesame Peanut Butter Brownies are packed with honeyed black sesame, swirled generously with peanut butter layered through the brownie and topped with salted peanuts and black sesame.

How do I start gluten-free baking?

My advice would be to start slow. Bake a few recipes first which don’t need wheat flour at all, like this Blood Orange Rosemary Polenta Cake or these Easy Flourless Salted Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookies. This will give you the confidence to see you don’t need flour to produce a great cake.

This Blood Orange Rosemary Polenta Cake is both gluten-free and dairy-free. Whole oranges are boiled then pureed to create an incredibly moist and intensely citrusy cake spiked with a hint of rosemary.

Then experiment with recipes that don’t need a lot of wheat flour in the first place so that if you do a straight swap with a ready-made supermarket blend then you won’t notice the difference. For example what I did when I developed this Blueberry Basil Lemon Drizzle Loaf.

Singing with citrusy aromatic flavour this gluten-free Blueberry Basil Lemon Drizzle Loaf is a showstopper of an everyday teatime cake.

Then investigate flour by flour so you can start to recognise the taste and personality of each flour and what they might bring to the table and to your bake. And this is what I hope will get you just as excited as me about gluten-free baking.

I’ll be posting updates to this series every couple of weeks or so and in the first post in this series I’m going to talk about nut flours which are the very first gluten-free flours I started using. They are the easiest to get hold of as although you can buy ready-ground nut flour you can also very easily grind your own from whole nuts if you have a food processor. They can easily be married to a gluten-free flour blend to create yummy cakes with lots of moisture, texture and taste.

Please don’t get disheartened if you find out you are gluten intolerant but love to bake. Honestly since I became more familiar with alternative flours baking has become more exciting for me and my cakes are tasting better than ever.

Apple Rosemary Cheddar Crumble Cake

You can often find me waxing lyrical about Alice Medrich’s Flavour Flours. I love this book which delves deep into alternative flours. Her book is a really useful resource for learning more about gluten-free baking and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

If you would like to buy the book then click on the image above to purchase it from Amazon. I will get a small compensation for including the link here at absolutely no cost to you which helps me fund my blog.

25 Tips for Baking Perfect Cakes

25 Tips for Baking Perfect Cakes from Start to Finish

25 Tips for Baking Perfect Cakes from Start to Finish

Before I get to my 25 Tips for Baking Perfect Cakes I want to give you a bit of an update on things. For 2017 I’m narrowing the focus of my blog just a smidge. Before I had Cole I could post regularly, maybe two or three times a week but these days, not so much. I am just about managing to post once a week. Having my energies focused on this one post has made me re-evaluate what I am really interested in and what I am good at so I can use this post wisely and productively. And it all comes back to cake. This makes sense, I bake cakes a living, it’s my great passion and I am inspired daily to bake, experiment with flour and create delicious and interesting gluten-free cakes, bakes and desserts..

Fig Almond and Salted Honey Cake

I have been avoiding this change on the blog as I didn’t want to snub long time readers who enjoy my savoury stuff but I have to go where my heart takes me which is why I began this blog in the first place. I’m sorry if a lot of my readers will be sad to see my savoury stuff relegated to the back burner for a while but there is still a tonne of dinner recipes here which I won’t be getting rid of and they are all just as delicious as ever if you wanted to check them out.

So with that in mind I want to kick off talking about cake, specifically a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while and that is these 25 Tips for Baking Perfect Cakes. Shall we?

25 Tips for Baking Perfect Cakes

1) READ THE RECIPE. Twice, nay three times, especially the ingredients list, well before you begin as sometimes ingredients have to be prepped or soaked. Then before you get started double check to make sure you have all ingredients to hand.

2) PREP YOUR BUTTER. If your recipe calls for room temperature butter take the butter out of the fridge and cut into cubes before you do anything else, preferably 1 hour before.

Butter

3) PRE-HEAT THE OVEN. Pre-heating your oven is a must to ensure it has time to get to the temperature your cake needs.

4) PRE-CUT BAKING PARCHMENT. I recommend pre-cutting a bulk load of the paper to fit all your most used cake tins on a boring rainy day as it’s a job I hate doing right before I bake.

5) CAKE RELEASE SPRAY. This makes greasing your cake tins so easy, it’s something I cannot do without.

6) DIGITAL SCALES. I am fortunate that I was taught to bake by always weighing all my ingredients. Digital scales mean you can get accurate measurements to avoid any discrepancies.

7) TEASPOONS. Buy a proper set of teaspoon measurements so you know you are adding in the right amount of baking powder or bicarbonate of soda. Just ¼ teaspoon difference can really affect the finished results.

Teaspoon Measurements

8) SILICON SPATULAS. Smooth silicon spatulas will change your baking experience. It is so easy to scrape the sides of the bowl and then make sure you can get all of your cake batter out of your mixer and into the cake tin. Plus, if they are totally smooth then you can avoid any cake batter getting into any nooks and crannies. Also these spatulas wash up a dream in the dishwasher.

Silicone Spatulas

9) SIFT. Do sift all dry ingredients including cocoa powder and brown sugar which have a tendency to clump.

10) SUGAR. If you want the recipe to turn out exactly as it was intended then use the right sugar, for example brown sugar has a lot more moisture so might be too heavy for your cake so means you may have to mess around with the quantities of other ingredients.

11) CREAMING. Most recipes start with the creaming of butter and sugar. Don’t cream at too high a speed. You want the butter and sugar to come together to be light and fluffy, but for best results beat together at a low-medium speed for about 6-8 minutes.

12) EGGS. They should be at room temperature so they can add the necessary volume we need from them. Break the eggs into a separate bowl before adding to the batter to avoid any errant shell falling in the mixer. Always add one at a time.

Eggs

13) VANILLA. Use extract not essence – but we all know this don’t we?

14) CHOCOLATE. Only use good quality chocolate and cocoa powder, this is what your cake will taste like so you want it to be as delicious as possible. Baking chocolate is just horrid.

15) FLOUR. Don’t dump it in all at once, add in thirds to ensure it mixes in evenly. If you are using wheat flour be careful not to overmix so you don’t toughen up the gluten. If you are using gluten-free flour then you don’t need to worry about this.

16) ADDITIONS. Are you using chocolate chips, glace cherries, blueberries? Roll your additions in a small amount of whatever flour you are using to ensure they are kept suspended during the bake rather than sinking to the bottom.

Blueberries

17) OVEN POSITION. Always bake your cake in the middle of the oven so that the heat is evenly distributed around the cake. If you have two cake tins try and fit them in side by side.

18) OVEN THERMOMETER. Buy an oven thermometer to ensure the accurate timings of your bake. If your oven runs a little hot you need to know to adjust accordingly to avoid a burnt or undercooked cake.

19) CHECKING. Never check your cake in the first 20 minutes, this is the most crucial time for your cake to rise. If it’s a long bake then resist until at least the 30 minute mark.

20) MY CAKE IS BURNT ON THE TOP. If the top of your cake is browning too much before the middle is cooked then put a very loose foil lid over it for the rest of the bake. This could be the result of an oven that runs a little hot.

21) HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY CAKE IS READY? An inserted cocktail stick should come out smooth or the cake might be pulling away from the sides a little or you can press your little finger gently into the cake, a perfectly baked sponge should bounce straight back up.

22) REMOVE cupcakes from the tin immediately or too much moisture will be retained in the cake and the cases could start to pull away.

cupcakes

23) LEAVE whole cakes in their tins for 5 minutes to settle before turning out.

24) BE PATIENT. Always wait until the cake has cooled completely to room temperature before icing.

uniced cake

25) HOW TO STORE A CAKE. Keep cakes preferably in large cake tins in a cool dark place. Tupperware will cause the cake to release too much moisture. If you have to store your cake in Tupperware then place it on some paper towels which will help to absorb the moisture from the plastic. Try not to store cake in the fridge as this will cause the cake to dry out. If the cake is iced, eat within 2 days. If un-iced the cake may keep longer.

Cake tins

To download a PDF handy checklist of all the above please click below!

Download Checklist

SHOP THE RECIPE

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PME Release A Cake Spray 600 ml | Smart Weigh PL11B Professional Digital Kitchen and Postal Scale with Tempered Glass Platform, Silver | OXO Good Grips Silicone Medium Spatula – White | Nielsen Massey Pure Vanilla Extract 118 ml | Sophie Allport Cake Tins – Chicken (Set of 3) | Master Class Rectangular Stainless Steel Measuring Spoons (Set of 6)