Ten top tips for gluten free baking

Article by: Dr Fiorella Amodio  |  Picture by: Allrecipes
Ten top tips for gluten free baking
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Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by the immune system reacting to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Whether you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease or have a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, or you just simply want to try a gluten free diet, life will be a little different, and baking will certainly be different.

Going gluten free can be quite confusing at first, and the prospect of a strict gluten free diet may seem overwhelming. But with these tips and a lot of experimenting in the kitchen, it is actually an easy and achievable lifestyle change.

Converting small quantities

You can do a quick 1 to 1 exchange if a recipe calls for only 2 to 4 tablespoons (15 to 30g) of plain flour. Rice flour or any nut flour would be the right replacement choice.

Converting larger quantities

If the recipe calls for more than 4 tablespoons (30g) of plain flour, you will have to use a gluten free flour blend. There is an abundance of ready-made gluten free flours on the market. On the other hand, you can create your own gluten free flour at home. A good ratio for texture and flavour is:
• 40% whole grains (brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, cornmeal, quinoa flour, sorghum flour, etc.)
• 60% white starches (white rice flour, arrowroot, cornflour, potato starch)

Adding volume and structure

One of the main concerns of gluten free baking is the lack of volume and structure due to the lack of gluten proteins, with cakes and breads tending to be crumbly, dense and gritty. Some of these issues can be solved by adding a gelling agent or thickener. The most common are xanthan gum and guar gum. Xanthan gum is usually the binder of choice when baking cakes, muffins, cookies and pasta. Baked goods made with xanthan gum also have a longer shelf life.

For a more natural option, psyllium husks can be used. Psyillium is preferred over gums for yeast breads and pizza, since these are quite moist doughs and psyllium binds more effectively with water and does a better job strengthening the protein structure, while still trapping lots of gas and steam during baking. It also gives breads a little bit of chew and a better rise. Chia seeds and flax seeds are other natural alternatives.

You can experiment with these different additives to see what you like best. To convert between them, follow these guidelines:

1 teaspoon xanthan gum = 1 teaspoon guar gum = 2 teaspoons psyllium powder = 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed

Controlling moisture

Add 1 extra egg white if the mixture is too dry. This will also add more protein, adding not only moisture but stability.

If the recipe includes milk, if possible, replace milk with buttermilk (using the same amount) for a richer texture. Some literature strongly recommends always adding non-fat milk powder for a protein boost to the gluten free flour blend using a 2% proportion, which is about 3 tablespoons for a 1.2kg mixture.

Apple sauce is a great addition to increase moisture and richness. Simply start by adding 1 tablespoon of apple sauce to the mixture, and keep adding in 1 tablespoon increments as needed.

Choosing the right sugar

Try to replace refined white sugar with a darker brown sugar, which tends to retain more moisture, or even coconut sugar, which has the added benefit of being low GI.

Adding vanilla will help balance flavour, especially if using nut flours; it will tone down the intense nutty flavour that can dominate some gluten free bakes.

Understanding the role of fat

Gluten free flours don't tend to absorb liquid fat as easily as wheat flour. That's why in converting high fat recipes (for example, cookies or cakes) to gluten free, a 1 to 1 flour replacement doesn't work, as you'll end up with a very greasy mixture. To get around this, simply reduce the amount of fat by a few tablespoons, whether using butter or oil. To compensate for the loss of richness and moisture that the oil and butter brings, replace what you've removed in fat with full-fat yoghurt, cream cheese, soured cream or even almond flour.

When baking, always use cold, cold, cold butter! Some gluten free bakers even suggest freezing it and grating it into dry ingredients, which keeps your mixture nice and cold and helps it to melt perfectly in the oven.

Resting is key

Since starches take time to hydrate and absorb liquid, many mixtures will benefit from a 30 minute rest before baking. Resting will definitely improve texture. Recipes that have a long baking time don't need this, since starches hydrate while baking.

Increasing baking time

If more liquid was added to help hydrate the mixture, you will need to extend the baking time to help dry out the bake, especially if making a loaf of bread. When baking biscuits, cookies or smaller baked goods, reducing the oven temperature and extending the baking time will allow them to bake through before the edges get hard or over-browned.

Baking in smaller batches

Gluten free baked goods don't tend to have as long of a shelf life as those with gluten, so don't bake big batches of biscuits, cookies or muffins; they'll go stale much faster than you might think. Another option is freezing gluten free goods, not only to preserve them but freezing can also improve texture.

Size matters

One of the main challenges with gluten free baking is trying to build structure. Try baking smaller shapes (small loaves, mini muffins, mini pizzas, cupcakes, etc.) to improve quality, since it is much easier to achieve a stable structure when compared to larger baked goods. In other words, you're more likely to succeed when baking in miniature!

Keep trying!

Accept that you’ll have to go through several recipes until you find the one you like, and many times you'll be ready to hang up your apron and quit. Don't give up and don't waste your gluten free mistakes. Instead, turn them into breadcrumbs, cake crumbs for toppings, bread pudding, French toast, croutons and more.

Learning how to bake gluten free takes time, but always keep in mind that by eliminating gluten from your diet, you'll be able to eliminate your symptoms and reduce complications of coeliac disease or gluten intolerance.

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