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How to Bake Gluten-Free

 

Let's face it - we've all tried to bake gluten-free with less than satisfying results. You swap out the wheat flour in your recipe for that promising gluten-free flour from the store, and yet your baked goods are either dry and crumbly or dense and gummy. Before you get too discouraged & swear off gluten-free baking forever, know that this can be fixed!


 
For years, I've been researching & experimenting with gluten-free science at the bakery. And the truth is, there's no simple answer to what makes the best gluten-free pastry or bread. But by the end of this article, you'll start to understand the role of flour ratios, proteins, starches, and leaveners. This will help you figure out what went wrong, and what went right, when baking gluten-free!


 

 

WHAT IS GLUTEN?

 

For starters, we should know what it is we're trying to mimic. Gluten refers to the chain of proteins found in certain grains like wheat, barley, rye and spelt. These proteins are responsible for the strength & elasticity of your dough. They bind together during the baking process, which forms the structure of your bread or pastry, and they trap air bubbles, which enables the dough to rise.

 

If you remove gluten from a recipe, you have to find suitable replacements for the missing proteins. Otherwise, you'll end up with a dry, crumbly pastry or a gummy, dense bread.

 

The problem is, most gluten-free flours contain less protein than wheat flour. That means we have to pay attention to other elements, like starch, binders, and leaveners, too. 

 

But before you get overwhelmed, don't worry! We're going to break it all down here. You'll need to embrace experimentation & understand that there are no shortcuts in gluten-free baking. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there is no gluten-free flour that can replace wheat flour 1:1!

 

PROTEINS, TEXTURE & TASTE

 

We've already covered that proteins are what give baked goods their texture, and every gluten-free flour has a different protein composition. The secret to achieving the right texture in gluten-free baking is to use more than one flour! You'll find that certain flours work best as a base because their flavor is mild or neutral, but you'll need to add another flour to increase the protein content of your dough. Otherwise, things fall apart. Here is a list of common gluten-free flours & their protein composition. The higher the percentage, the higher the protein ratio by weight:

 

WHITE RICE FLOUR: 8.2% protein

BROWN RICE FLOUR: 8.8% protein

MILLET FLOUR: 10% protein

OAT FLOUR: 10.5% protein

QUINOA FLOUR: 13.4% protein

BUCKWHEAT FLOUR: 15% protein

 

Now, you might be thinking that if you just use the flour with the highest protein composition, you'll achieve the perfect texture, right? Not exactly. 

 


STARCH & STRUCTURE

 

We still have to consider the starch content of each flour, too. It's important to note that not all starches are created equal. They each function differently, depending on their viscosity aka their thickness or resistance to agitation. The amylose starch is what will create strong, interlinked bonds, similar to gluten, that hold your baked goods together. Each flour has its own amylose starch composition, too:

 

QUINOA FLOUR: 8% amylose starch

BROWN RICE FLOUR: 15.5% amylose starch

OAT FLOUR: 22% amylose starch

WHITE RICE FLOUR: 25% amylose starch

MILLET FLOUR: 25% amylose starch

BUCKWHEAT FLOUR: 28.5% amylose starch

 

You may notice as you begin experimenting that the flours with the highest percentage of amylose starch are typically the most dense. There are of course many factors at play, but typically, the lower the starch content, the more crumbly the result.

 

To mimic the structure of gluten, most recipes will call for additional starches to be added to your flour. Keep in mind that each starch behaves differently both when heated & after they cool. Here is a list of the more common binders & the things you should know about them:

 

CORN STARCH: commonly used, but high temperatures & extended cooking will thin its effect

POTATO STARCH: highest viscosity of any starch (so you can use less of it) and can withstand high temperatures

TAPIOCA STARCH: smooth & creamy texture, thickens at a lower temperature than corn starch, and remains stable when frozen

ARROWROOT POWDER: will thicken at low temperatures, won't be affected by acidic ingredients, and doesn't mix well with dairy

XANTHAN & GUAR GUM: can be used at a range of temperatures (doesn't need to be heated in order to thicken so it's good for ice cream) and very little can be used

EGG: not only are eggs a common binder, but they also add protein & volume

GLUTEN-FREE FLUFFY: Revolution Bakery's very own binder! This mix combines plant cellulose & psyllium husk for the ultimate binding agent. You can purchase a bag in our online shop.

 

You've probably also seen things like vegan yogurt being added to gluten-free recipes. This helps bind your baked goods together because it contains guar gum!

 

 

 

STILL FLAT & DENSE?

 

Now that we've covered protein & texture and starch & structure, the final piece will be your leavening agent. Despite everything you’ve just learned, gluten-free baked goods can still turn out dense or flat. This is because those gluten bonds are what trap air bubbles in your dough, causing it to rise & expand when heated. You'll need to rely on a few staples, like baking powder, baking soda, or yeast, to ensure that you get some lift. If you're converting a recipe that uses gluten, you'll likely want to increase the amount of leavening agents used.

 

BONUS TIPS

 

As if that wasn't enough to think about, there are a few more tips to help you achieve the best outcome.

 

MORE MIXING: You can't really overmix a gluten-free batter or dough. In fact, the longer you mix, the more air will enter the batter, resulting in a lighter texture.

LET IT REST: We prepare many of our doughs and batters ahead of schedule at the bakery. We let them rest overnight and bake with them the next morning. This gives the proteins & starches extra time to bond, resulting in more structure & lift.

 

READY TO GIVE IT A TRY?

 

I wish there was an easy answer to, "how do I make this gluten-free?" But the truth is, you've got to put in the work. You'll have to experiment with different flours & starches for each recipe. Put on your lab coat - uh, I mean apron - take notes, and be prepared to make some mistakes! Don't give up. The more you experiment, the better you'll get. And when all else fails, come on down to the bakery. We've always got you covered!

 


Statistic Sources: 

https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3417/11/14/6283

https://www.preparedfoods.com/articles/103747-specifying-starches