Gluten free flours can be a challenge to bake with if you don’t know their individual characteristics. To make things even more of difficult, quality and consistency can vary from company to company. However, with a bit of information, gluten free baking can be a lot less intimidating. I will refer to these flours as ‘GF flours’.
First, before you begin baking with GF flours, there are a few things you need to know. Properly measuring the flour is one of the most important things you can do to ensure consistent results. I weigh all of my ingredients in grams using a digital scale. Why? Because the amount of humidity in the air, how you scoop, how packed your flour is and whether or not the flour has been pre-sifted will all effect the outcome of how much flour you end up with in your cup. I have the EatSmart Precision scale. It weighs in grams and ounces up to 15 lbs. Second, you will have the best results in a recipe when you use a combination of flours instead of just one. Why? Because GF flours are different in density, protein, starch and moisture content. Combining a variety of flours will help produce a baked good more similar in taste and texture to a wheat baked product. Third, extra eggs are often needed when baking with GF flours to help bind the batter together and help the baked good to rise. If you cannot tolerate eggs, there are substitutes you can use which I will cover in a different post.
Almond Flour: When purchasing almond flour be aware that almond flour and almond meal are two very different products. Almond flour is made from blanched, ground almonds with an end result of a light colored, powdery flour. Almond meal is made of almonds which have not been blanched and still contain the skin. Almond meal is often darker and coarser. Almond flour is a high protein, high fat flour with a slightly sweet taste, rich buttery texture and a high moisture content. Almond flour can burn easily. Lowering the temperature of your oven and baking for a longer period of time can help prevent a product with burnt outside and under-cooked inside. Almond flour is not good for breads with yeast. Instead use it for baking cookies, muffins, cakes, and sweet breads. My favorite brands of almond flour are Honeyville Blanched Almond Flour and Wellbee’s flour. I always purchase ‘superfine’.
Cassava Flour: Cassava flour is fairly new to the GF flour world. It is made from the Yuca (cassava) plant. Tapioca starch is also made from the Yuca plant, but they are not the same and cannot be used interchangeably. Cassava flour is not a nut or grain making it a good substitute for people with a gluten intolerance, Celiac Disease or a nut sensitivity/allergy. Cassava flour is lower in calories and fat than most other GF flours. It is higher in carbs than other GF flours but similar in carbs to other grain flours. It has a mild taste and can often be substituted 1:1 in recipes not containing yeast. Cassava flour will help produce a delicious loaf of bread, but adjustments will need to be made. I recommend combining cassava flour with other GF flours when baking with yeast. I only use Ottos Naturals Cassava Flour. Many grocery stores are now carrying Ottos Cassava Flour.
Coconut Flour: A coconut belongs to the drupe family, not the tree nut family. Most people with tree nut allergies can eat coconuts but as always, check with your doctor first if you have concerns. Coconut flour is made from the leftover coconut after it has been pressed for oil. It is high in protein, very high in fiber and low in carbohydrates. Coconut flour is very dry making a little go a long way. For every cup of all purpose flour only 1/4 to 1/3 cup of coconut flour is needed. Additional eggs and liquid are often needed. When baking with coconut flour, after adding the flour to the batter, let it sit for several minutes. The batter will thicken and absorb the liquids. Then make adjustments as needed. Coconut flour has a mild, sweet coconut taste and helps produce a delicate baked good. In some recipes the coconut taste is easily detected and in others you cannot tell it is there. Coconut flour does not act the same in every recipe. This GF flour takes the most patience to figure out, but it is worth it. The brands I use are Tropical Traditions and Anthony’s Organics.
Arrowroot Starch: Arrowroot starch comes from the arrowroot plant. It has a neutral taste making it a good thickener for pies, soups, sauces and jams. However, it is heat sensitive so use it carefully. To thicken make a 2:1 slurry with room temperature water and arrowroot. Add the slurry at the end of cooking but do not add it to boiling liquids. NOTE: If an arrowroot thickened dish continues to cook after it has thickened, it can become thin again and will not thicken back up. When added to (dairy) milk based products it can become slimy; nut milks and coconut milk do not seem to do this. Arrowroot holds up very well when frozen and used with acidic foods. It is a good coating when desiring a crunch on potatoes, meat, fish or fried foods. In GF baking, arrowroot lightens up heavy flours, adds texture and is a good binder. It adds a slightly chewy texture to baked goods but not as much as tapioca starch does. It works best when mixed with other GF flours and makes a perfectly chewy sandwich wrap. I use Feel Good Arrowroot.
Tapioca Starch: Tapioca starch and tapioca flour are the same product. Tapioca starch is made from the Yuca (cassava) plant but is not the same as cassava flour. It can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio in most recipes for cornstarch. It works well to thicken pies, cobblers, and sauces. Tapioca starch does not hold up well with acidic ingredients or when frozen. In GF baking it is used to lighten up heavy flours and is a good binder. Tapioca starch is often used to create a chewy texture and crisp crust in baked goods such as breads, bagels, pretzels, and wraps. Brazilian dinner rolls are a popular recipe made with tapioca starch. I use tapioca starch to dust my work surface and bread pans when making french bread and homemade marshmallows. It works best combined with other GF flours. I use Authentic Foods or Thrive Market brand tapioca starch.
A note on GF flour weights: Not all flour manufacturers go by the same weight chart when converting 1 cup of flour into grams. A quick google search will show you the results for 1 cup of coconut flour converted to grams ranges from 90 to 130, a huge difference! It is important that you consistently use the same weight in grams when you make your recipes. This may take a few trial recipes, but once you get it, write it down, highlight it, circle it or rewrite the recipe and toss the old one(s) out. I have started to use 128 grams per cup or 8 grams per 1 tablespoon, for all of my GF flours in recipes.