If you’ve tried cooking or baking gluten free dishes then you have likely seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the culinary world. There are plenty of naturally gluten free foods out there and you could make a diet of just those, but what about cakes? And cookies? And breads? Who can forget bread?
No matter how much you’ve tried, in fact, you probably can’t quite give up bread cravings even if you have found gluten free alternatives.
Fortunately, as the number of people diagnosed with gluten allergies and sensitivities rises, there have been great improvements in the selection of gluten-free products. Texture and taste have been improved on greatly and with many popular brands making gluten-free versions of their original products, prices are more on par with gluten counterparts (at least in some cases).
One of the biggest drawbacks to gluten free living is the much smaller variety of products available. Oftentimes a product will only have a single flavor that is gluten free and several that are with gluten. This can get pretty disappointing. A way to get more variety is to make or bake your own gluten free items. There are many gluten free flour alternatives and baking mixes out there but which one is right for you? Many are expensive or included other allergens that make them unusable in households with multiple allergy concerns. Fortunately, we have some products that will solve many of the problems with gluten-free cooking and baking and also a rundown of the pros and cons of gluten free flour alternatives.
Gluten Free Flour Alternatives
This is a big one, right? While there are tons of premade mixes and already baked treats on the market many are expensive and don’t give you the freedom to bake exactly what you want. There are plenty of gluten free chocolate cake mixes but what if you also have a nut allergy you’re trying to avoid or want to try a recipe that calls for a cake flavor you can’t find in a gluten free version.
Quick notes on a few popular gluten free flours:
- Rice flour tends to be the cheapest and most neutrally flavored but need some work when being used on their own.
- Almond/Nut flour acts very similarly to AP flour but it can make for a crumbly product that doesn’t hold together as well and it also presents an allergy problem for many people.
- Coconut flour can be amazing when used properly but it can also be amazingly dry. Typically a coconut flour recipe will include many eggs, a decent amount of fat and probably other liquids to combat this flour that acts like a sponge.
When in Doubt, Buy a Blend
Making your own mix can be very beneficial and rewarding but if you’re not a hardcore baker then these pre-made blends can take a lot of the guesswork out of gluten free cooking for you:
Gluten Free Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix: This mix relies on rice flour, potato starch and thickeners to make a pretty much all purpose baking blend that is especially good for pancakes, muffins and sweets. Also, because Bisquick is so well known there are already tons of recipes that are designed for using this blend. Note: This product may contain soy.
Pamela’s Products Gluten Free Baking and Pancake Mix: Similar to Bisquick, Pamela’s blend also has brown rice flour, almond meal and buttermilk powder in addition to white rice flour. This makes the blend slightly lower in carb and higher in protein, but those with a nut or dairy allergy should avoid this one.
What to Expect in your Gluten Free Kitchen
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they start cooking with gluten free ingredients is that they expect those ingredients to behave exactly how their gluten laden counterparts behave. This simply is not the case. Here are a few things to note before you dive into your gluten free mixing bowl:
Your Bread Dough Won’t Look the Same: If you’ve ever baked regular bread before then you know that normal bread dough is sticky and almost springy or stretchy. Gluten free dough, however, will be roughly the consistency of pancake batter. Many bakers will see this and start piling in more of whatever flour they are using thinking the dough is too wet, only to come out with a loaf of bread so dense you could use it to pave a sidewalk but it really is supposed to look like that.
You Will Likely Need to Combine Flours: There are exceptions to this rule, but more often than not when you bake gluten free, you will have to combine two or more flours to get a decent product. There is no one gluten free flour that works the same way all-purpose gluten flour does.
You Are No Longer in Danger of “Over-Mixing”: One of the benefits of gluten free baking is that you no longer have to worry about over-mixing your batter or dough. If you’ve ever followed a cake recipe before then you have likely read the warning to “mix until all ingredients are combined but don’t overmix.” Overmixing is only a problem when gluten is involved because it tends to toughen up when mixed too roughly. But with no gluten, no toughening up!
Your Baked Goods Will Taste Different: While many products do come close to tasting like original, gluten-filled recipes, your new recipes will often have a far different texture. Gluten free recipes can often be drier or denser depending on the products you use. Certain elements like a crackly topped bread are also hard to come by. Be prepared for them to not be exactly the same and appreciate the unique goodness.
Learn to Measure: Cooking and baking with all-purpose flour is almost mindless in the fact that you can dump in a cup or whatever to a recipe. You can try this with gluten free flours and mixes but you will have more consistent success if you learn to measure your flours by grams instead of by cups.
Cooking and baking at home has a lot of benefits for anyone and especially for those with allergies or diet restrictions. When starting out with gluten-free baking, the best thing you can do is try well tested recipes like the ones in The How Can it Be Gluten Free Cookbook which has recipes that were tested by chefs in an actual kitchen. This will help give you a base knowledge before you move on to your own experiments. Overall, celebrate your culinary successes and learn from your doughy and dry mistakes!