I remember the day I found out I was Gluten Intolerant, I didn’t know what to make of it, except that maybe it might just make me feel better. It wasn’t long into changing my whole lifestyle that I realized I would likely never be able to cook like I used to. For an avid baker this was heart wrenching. It took a long time and an awful lot of research into the many types of gluten free flour available (and a huge amount of trial and error) before I was able to truly bake again. So if you’re anything like me and all you want to do is bake like a gluteniser, then read on!
Everything you need to know about Gluten Free Flour!
So let’s break it down shall we? Gluten is a mixture of proteins specifically found in wheat and other cereal grains such as rye and barley. In a percentage of the population it can be incredibly debilitating, especially if left un-diagnosed or untreated. In fact it’s approximated that 1 in 70 Australians are currently recognized as a Coeliac and that doesn’t include those of us that are Gluten Intolerant. I won’t go into the nitty gritty of the disease or it’s side effects, however it is a horrible thing to live with. If you’d like to learn more about Coeliac Disease please visit Coeliac Australia or speak to your GP.
What part does Gluten play in cooking?
Gluten is one of those sneaky hidden ingredients and it’s not always as simple as avoiding things like bread and pasta. Gluten can be found in all sorts of products, often used as thickeners or binding agents. Some to keep an eye out for include soups, sauces and dressings, particularly those you buy pre-made in a jar.
The simple but annoying fact is that there are very few ingredients in the world that will act and do exactly what gluten does. In baking in particular, gluten is what gives your dish it’s elasticity and structure. You know, the very thing that makes bread fluffy, light and keeps it holding together! So you can see why baking with gluten free flours can be so problematic. Trying to replicate that can sometimes feel like a herculean effort, trust me, I know!
So what do we do? Give up baking all together?
Simple answer? NO!
There is a way to make gluten free flour and baking work well for you. It sometimes just requires a little bit more forethought. My goal here is to help you understand the gluten free flours on the market and how and where you can use them in your cooking.
Oh and if you’re wondering if it’s possible to make something that doesn’t taste gluten free? I can assure you. IT IS POSSIBLE!! I have tasted, eaten and made food that not only looks like a gluten product but it tastes that way too. Like I said, it’s all about knowing what flour to use and where.
The great thing is that science and food production techniques are catching up. I’ve been eating gluten free now for close to 5 years and even in that short space of time I’ve seen some amazing changes in what’s available! Not so long ago you could walk into a supermarket and find only the smallest of Health Food sections. Now though? Well now you can walk into almost any supermarket anywhere and find almost an entire aisle full!
The big companies are cluing in too. There are so many packaged foods on the market that are gluten free by ingredient. But because they were made in a warehouse that produces gluten containing products they were never able to list them as being gluten free! Large companies such as Nestle, Smiths and many others are now taking the steps to eradicate this problem. Which is fantastic! Because now it means you can enjoy more of your favourite products and dishes!
Let’s talk Gluten Free Flour.
There are so many gluten free flours on the market that have become readily available that it can honestly make your head spin. Like seriously, what on earth is tapioca flour and why do I care? Well, yeah you should care, because it’s an ingredient that may just make your life a whole lot simpler! Check out the break down flour by flour below, then continue down to see some fantastic recipes to try yourself!
Almond Meal / Hazelnut Meal
With the rise of sugar free, fructose free, ‘clean eating’ trends these two nut products have become not only incredibly popular but readily available too. The best thing about using a nut product like almond or hazelnut meal (or any of the other nut flours out there) is that they are incredibly moist and give your baked goods a beautiful flavour.
The downside is of course they don’t really have any structure or fluff to them, meaning they’re not going to give your sweet treats any rise. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them in baking though! They go perfectly in things like cookies (check out my amazing Nutella Cookies for an example) or simple moist cakes, like my Seriously Simple Syrup Cake. To really get the benefits from these ‘flours’ I suggest combining them with a good Gluten Free All Purpose or Plain Flour.
The only other major downfall these flours have is their price. Nuts being what they are (and almond meal essentially being just ground down almonds), they are quite pricey. Overall, definitely look into keeping Almond Meal or similar stocked in your pantry, you’ll find heaps of recipes that call for it now. I guarantee, you’ll come to love this product as much as I do!
Not to be confused with Potato Flour, see below. Potato Starch is readily available and commonly used here in Australia. Simply, potato starch is made from the starchy component of peeled potatoes, then dried and powdered.
It’s a great product to keep on hand if you, or someone in your house, happens to also have corn allergies as it can be used to replace corn flour in most things! So whenever you need to thicken a gravy or sauce (or even bechamel sauce in your lasagne) you can turn to potato starch instead. The thing to always keep in mind if using it in this capacity is it can’t be boiled as it will stop thickening. So always add it to your sauce off the boil.
Potato Starch is also a common ingredient in gluten free flour blends as it’s high bonding and adds quite a bit of structure to your baked goodies. You’ll find it used in most of the main stream self-raising and plain gluten free flour blends that you can buy pre-packaged at the supermarket. For this reason potato starch can be used in almost any cakes, muffins, cupcakes etc as long as it’s in equal quantities to another gluten free flour!
Simply put Potato Flour is made from whole potatoes (cooked or raw) ground down into a flour. It’s not incredibly common, at least not in Australia and really I don’t think there’s much need to stock it in your pantry. It has quite a sticky, gummy texture when used in baked goods, especially if used in excess. One way to incorporate potato flour into your every day cooking is to use it as an added gum in flour blends. (similar to Xanathan Gum.)
Another popular use for potato flour is to use it in savory based dishes. Since it doesn’t get overly processed it maintains a thick white consistency and holds a strong potato flavour. Hence it would make a nice addition to breaded products.
Is a favourite of mine and is something I keep stocked in my pantry all the time! Tapioca Flour is a highly used ingredient in Gluten Free Flour Blends, like this one I LOVE, which happens to make perfectly light and delicious cakes. The great thing about Tapioca is it’s versatility. You’ll also commonly find it used in a lot of Asian dishes. But it’s also great for adding a nice crispness to things, like crumbed chicken. If you’re struggling to find Tapioca Flour in your supermarket, try the Asian food aisle.
Thanks to the high availability of Tapioca flour it’s also incredibly well priced and can often be picked up for only a few dollars. The only real downside to using tapioca flour is it’s complete lack of nutrients. From a whole food stand point and in comparison to other gluten free flours it is lacking. Always try to keep a flours’ nutritional benefit in the back of your mind when selecting flours, some are definitely far superior.
White Rice Flour
An absolute staple. I believe every good gluten free baker (and in fact, every good baker) should keep white rice flour in their pantry. This basic and well loved flour has been used in a certain Australian classic recipe since forever. The good ole’ Shortbread biscuit is just not the same without it! For this reason, White Rice Flour is highly available and every good supermarket will keep it stocked. Because of it’s commonality you’ll actually find it in the baking aisle at the shops and not (unlike a lot of the other GF flours) in the health food aisle!
At just $1.75 (at time of writing this article) White Rice Flour is incredibly affordable. It also has one of the longest shelf lives of all the gluten free flours on the market. Simply put, grab a few packets of this baby and keep it on hand for all those shortbread emergencies!
There is one obvious downside to using rice flour and that’s the grittiness associated with it. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to get around this, however it does lend itself well to certain recipes. To minimize this affect try mixing your White Rice flour with other gluten free flours to create a blend suitable for most baked goods. Alternatively look out for a stone ground rice flour instead! This is milled just that little bit more and helps lose a little bit of that grittiness.
Brown Rice Flour
The lesser known and far more expensive version of White Rice Flour is not as well loved or well known. However I do believe brown rice flour can add a certain depth and flavour to your baking. The wonderful thing about this flour is that it is significantly less processed, therefore it holds onto it’s nutrients. Brown rice flour is essentially a ‘wholemeal’ flour in the world of gluten free. It does keep an almost nutty flavour though and a different texture to it’s white cousin too.
Sadly brown rice flour is much harder to find and happens to have quite a short shelf life. So you can’t even stock pile it for those occasions when you need it! Ideally, buy this wholemeal gluten free flour in small quantities and use in part in cookies and cakes.Gluten Free means Gluten Free - It doesn't mean Gluten Sort Of!Click To Tweet
Glutinous Rice Flour (Sweet Rice Flour)
Contrary to it’s name this rice flour does not in fact contain any gluten! It actually takes it’s name from it’s sticky texture, hence it also being known as Sticky Rice. Glutinous rice flour is a staple in most Asian cooking. From Korea to Japan to Cambodia, sticky rice is grown and consumed everywhere. This makes it an excellent addition to your gluten free pantry. It’s also affordable and quite accessible (if you know where to look!).
Due to it being a staple in most Asian dishes you’ll generally find it located in Asian grocery stores or the Asian food aisle. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Erawan brand, which is not obviously labeled as glutinous rice flour.
Glutinous rice flour is perfect for any Asian inspired desserts or dishes. Think dumplings, dim sum or used in part in gluten free all purpose flour blends!
Another confusing one on the list. Buckwheat actually has no relation to standard wheat flour and does not contain any gluten. This high protein flour is a great choice if you’re looking to up the fiber levels in your flours. However this one can be quite dense and is best used in making noodles, pancakes and the likes. On a basic baking level I’ve not found a huge use for it other than baking bread. However it’s a great one to keep on hand if you like soba noodles!
Is another high protein gluten free flour that can be used in conjunction with others to make a range of cakes, brownies and scones. Sorghum is actually quite accessible in Australia thanks to several species being grown and produced right here. Though I’ve yet to find a truly good reason to incorporate it into my pantry, sorghum can be used in most baked goods.
I classify it similarly to coconut flour in that it often creates a drier, crumblier cake. So to really get the most out of it be sure to up the liquid and fats in your baking when using it.
Has had quite the popularity boost in the last few years, again thanks to ‘clean eating’ trends. It happens to be incredibly high in protein, especially when compared to how many grams of carbohydrates you’ll glean from it. Coconut flour though has had a little bit of a bad wrap in the baking department. This comes down to it’s highly absorbent nature.
Essentially coconut four is made from the meat of the coconut once it’s completely devoid of fats. This makes it very dry, so I highly suggest you use it only in small quantities and include more liquid. A good rule of thumb is to use only 1/4 cup of coconut flour in place of 1 cup of standard flour.
Thanks to it’s slightly sweet flavour, Coconut flour is ideal for cakes and other sweet baked goods. I definitely think it’s a great addition to your gluten free pantry, especially if you also follow a Paleo diet. However, like a lot of gluten free flours it’s shelf life is short and it’s also fairly pricey.
Also known as Corn starch or corn maize, is a staple in most baking. However most commonly used corn flours are not in fact made of corn, but rather wheat! This is actually a really common way for people to be contaminated with gluten accidentally by well meaning family members. (*Ahem can you say Pavlova anyone?!) When shopping for corn flour look for a gluten free marked product to be sure it’s safe to eat.
Cornflour is the staple of all good cooks. Use it to thicken sauces, gravies and pretty much anything that’s too runny! But it can also be used in tortillas, and making melt in your mouth pastries and biscuits! Be sure to keep this one handy.
Also known as Besan or Gram flour, chickpea is not commonly used due to it’s almost ‘beany’ flavour. Chickpea flour is not really ideal for standard sweet baking, however it’s great for Indian cuisine. Think things like bhajis, pakoras and papadums.
Chickpea, like coconut flour, is also very high in protein, so is a great ingredient to work into your repertoire. In general cooking you can turn to it for thickening soups, gravies and sauces.
But what if I want just a plain Gluten Free Flour
Well there’s nothing wrong in that! I definitely love working with new gluten free flours and seeing how they work together but that’s just me. My goal here is to give you the knowledge to make some changes and experiment with your cooking. But sometimes, and I’ll be the first to admit it, you just need a good old gluten free flour blend.
In the world of pre-packaged gluten free flour blends, not all are made equal. I definitely have my favourites as I’m sure do you. To understand them a little more just pick up two different brands of gluten free flour mixes. Flip them over and have a look at the ingredients. You’ll find all of them will generally contain a combination of the above flours, it’s just a matter of in what proportions. For example having a larger quantity of potato starch can drastically change how the recipe will work out!
In all honesty there is not one single blend that will do it all! I mean if I could make one I think I’d be a genius and a millionaire. However some blends will definitely work better than others. My favourite for pretty much most basic baking would definitely have to be White Wings Gluten Free Plain Flour. Of all the store bought blends I’ve found this to be the easiest to work with. Honestly, it will make most things!
When it comes to trickier baking, where you need to achieve a specific result, such as bread, hot cross buns or sponge cakes. You’ll want a tailored blend or to make your own. There are dozens of all purpose gluten free flour blend recipes on the web, just start googling! Most are only very slightly different to one another too. Its those differences though that can give you the biggest variations in your results. Oh and if you’re interested in creating your own flour blends, then stay tuned for my next big tips post on how to mix your own!!!
Stick to the recipe where you can
The best advice I could give you, is if a recipe states a specific flour type or product, try and use it. Sadly we can’t guarantee the results if you don’t. I know I don’t recommend a product lightly, take my Hot Cross Buns for example. This recipe lists a very specific flour blend. Why? Because I tried half a dozen of them and most just would NOT work. It just so happened that the Orgran Alternative Grain Wholemeal Bread Mix did exactly what I wanted it to do! Wollah! Perfect Hot Cross Buns at your finger tips. I’d like to think that I not only made my own life, but yours a little bit simpler.
Enough gluten free flour – Let’s cook!!
OK So I’ve probably filled your head with all sorts of ideas at this point. But now I know what you really came here for. Recipes! Have a look below for just a few of my favourite recipes that use the above ingredients! It’s no good just knowing what flours to use for what. Now you need to know just what you can make with them! Remember, a lot of these flours work beautifully together as blends too! And the sky really is the limit with what you can now create!
Have I missed a gluten free flour off the list? Tell me, what’s your favourite brand/blend to work with in the comments below. Or join me over on Facebook to continue the conversation!
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