Substitutes for Gluten in Baking
There are many gluten free flour blends and individual gluten free flours available in good retailers to substitute wheat flour in baking. Blended gluten free flour mixes provide a simple one- ingredient solution to making cakes, biscuits and pastry but I have always preferred to blend my own ingredients, according to what I am making, to ensure the eating experience is as mainstream as possible.
The principle gluten free flours I use in home baking are readily available in good retailers and health food shops:
Rice flour is made from finely grinding white or brown rice grain to a fine, soft, neutral tasting, creamy coloured flour. Rice flour is highly versatile for gluten free baking but best blended with other gluten free flours as it can result in dense slightly sandy textured baked foods when used on its own.
Corn flour or Corn Starch
Corn starch is made from extracting and purifying the starch from the centre of sweetcorn kernels. It is a versatile bright white flour with a neutral flavour that lightens the texture of gluten free biscuits, cakes and pastry.
Maize flour is made by milling dried corn kernels to a fine, medium or coarse sandy textured powder, which varies from cream to intense yellow in colour. It is used widely in North, Central and South America to make tortillas, corn bread and muffins. Used in small quantities it adds a sunny yellow colour and a coarser crumb to cakes and a crisp, wholesome texture to shortcrust pastry and biscuits.
Polenta is ground Italian maize, otherwise known as corn meal. In baking it is used, like Maize flour to add colour and coarse texture to biscuits, pastry, cakes and bread.
Potato flour is made by extracting and purifying the starch from potatoes. It is a bright white flour that adds a gooey softness to gluten free chocolate brownies and fluffiness to gluten free scones.
Used as part of a flour blend, ground almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios and hazelnuts they add moisture, rich flavour, texture and nutrition to gluten free cakes, pastry and biscuits. Ground almonds and cashews are the most neutral in flavour and colour and are therefore the most versatile and most commonly used in gluten free baking. Ground walnuts. Pistachios and hazelnuts are best used in baked foods where their colour and flavour is an important characteristic of the recipe. Grinding nuts with their skins on will create a fibrous flour for use in wholesome cake, biscuit and pastry recipes.
Buckwheat flour is produced by milling the hard triangular seeds into a fine soft, speckled greyish brown coloured flour. Buckwheat flour has a unique slightly bitter, nutty wholesome flavour and forms the basis of Breton crepes and Russian Blinis. It is also delicious in wholemeal pastry, biscuits and muffins but can over power the flavour of baked foods where the flavour profile is expected to be neutral such as shortbread, shortcrust pastry or A Victoria Sponge. Its gentle binding properties when mixed with water makes buckwheat flour a very helpful gluten free flour as it adds robustness to biscuit and pastry dough.
Gluten free rolled oats are increasingly available to buy in supermarkets and health food shops and are enormously helpful for adding wholesome texture to gluten free crumble toppings and biscuits and of course make excellent granola bars and flapjacks.
Tapioca flour is a very fine, bright white starch powder extracted from the root of the tropical cassava plant. When mixed with water or other liquids it becomes slightly gluey and helps to bind gluten free mixtures together.
Coconut flour is a white fibrous flour that lends its characteristic flavour and texture to baked gluten free recipes. Unless used in baked foods where the coconut is the main flavour, it is best used blended with rice flour and corn starch in biscuits, pastry and cakes and with oats in granola and cereal bars.
Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide that with very strong binding powers. Even mixed in tiny amounts, say ½ teaspoon in your gluten free flour blend, it will allow you to roll out pastry and biscuit dough with ease. Using too much xanthan gum can result in food becoming gummy, dense and tough.