You don’t have to be afraid of Gluten Free Baking! Even on a gluten free diet, you can still enjoy cakes, cookies, breads, and more. The batter and dough you make might look a little different than you are used to. But with the right ingredients, techniques, and a few tips, you can make delicious baked goods that everyone will love!
When I first had to go gluten free, I really thought the part of my life that included cupcakes was over. I love to create and share recipes that make it easier to live the gluten free lifestyle every day without needing a ton of special ingredients or costing you an arm and a leg. But sometimes you just need a darn cupcake!
I truly believe that gluten free baking is possible for everyone. It’s all a matter of having the right ingredients, plus a few tricks and tips. You also need to reset your expectations. Things are going to look, feel, and, and occasionally even taste a little different. You might need to experiment a little.
But with the right recipes and a little practice, you’ll be baking treats that everyone will enjoy. And they might not even realize they are gluten free!
Let’s take this one step at a time!
Let’s start by talking about gluten. This is the protein in wheat flour that gives baked goods their structure. It creates elasticity in the batters and doughs that trap air from the leavening agents, usually baking powder and/or soda, yeast, or sometimes just eggs. It is these air bubbles that give the finished product its desired texture or fluffiness or chewiness, depending on what you are making.
Without gluten, you need to use a blend of flours, starches, and sometimes even an ingredient like xanthan gum to achieve similar results. Plus, you’ll need to remember a few tips.
Yes, you might eventually be buying lots of special gluten free flours and starches. But you’ll still be using ingredients you have always used, like baking powder, baking soda, and vanilla extract. Make sure you are familiar with my Guide to Gluten Free Label Reading when buying these items. Sometimes, depending on where or how these are manufactured, they could contain gluten ingredients or be a cross-contamination risk.
It may not be necessary to buy “special” gluten free versions of each, but you’ll want to know what to look out for so you avoid hidden gluten. When in doubt, buy certified gluten free products. And a lot of other ingredients, like eggs and butter, are the gluten free foods you already know you can enjoy.
Whether you are starting with a mix or baking from scratch, the last thing you want is for your gluten free baking recipes to stick to the pan. Sometimes, gluten free baked goods can be a bit tender, and you don’t want to destroy them while wrestling them off or out of a baking pan.
You’ll need to avoid the nonstick baking sprays that contain flour. And greasing and flouring a pan, is out, especially since gluten free flours and starches can get gummy, which doesn’t help the sticking situation.
If gluten free baking does have you a little intimidated, know that you don’t have to jump in right away with gluten free flour. Flourless cookies, cakes, and more are a simple way to get started with gluten free baking without worrying about the characteristics of gluten free flours. These recipes are designed to work without any flour at all!
Your inner baker will probably feel right at home with an ingredient list that contains things like butter, eggs, and sugar. Many recipes start with these basics, then only require you to add one additional thing to give them the right texture. Sometimes it is certified gluten free oats or oat flour you can make from blending those oats (Read Are Oats Gluten Free? for more info on that.). Other times it is almond flour or coconut flour, each of which has different properties from adding fat or texture to absorbing moisture.
One of the hardest things about gluten free baking is getting the right ratio of flours to starches to xanthan gum. So many companies have started making their own blends. An all-purpose blend typically does not contain xanthan gum, so you will either have to add it or use it in recipes that don’t require xanthan gum. You may see custom blends that are formulated specifically for cookies or bread.
And then there are the 1-to-1 blends. These are typically formulated to be substituted in a 1:1 ratio for all-purpose flour in any of your favorite recipes. Each brand contains a slightly different mixture, and most contain xanthan gum. Using one versus another might produce slightly different results. But they are a good starting place if you want to make your old favorite recipes without a lot of testing and fussing.
Working with individual flours and starches allows for more customization and precisely achieves the exact texture you are looking for. But this does require a bit more experimentation, and keeping more bags of ingredients on hand. The most common blend is brown rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch, possibly with some xanthan gum. You may also find recipes that incorporate almond or coconut flour. And some add white or sweet rice flour, sorghum flour, and more. All of the gluten free grain alternatives have different features and benefits.
The one thing to remember is that these gluten free grain flours have a limited shelf life, so be sure to buy small packages unless you will be baking a lot. And consider storing them in the refrigerator.
Baking with yeast always presents its own challenges, and this is especially true when you combine yeast with gluten free flour. As mentioned, without gluten, it is harder to trap that air. Gluten free “dough” is almost like a thick, sticky batter, so rolling or shaping requires a different approach and sometimes a lot more flour. However, you often don’t need to proof the dough twice, especially. But you do need to make sure you mix it long enough for the dough to absorb all of the moisture.
Also, don’t expect to just substitute a traditional recipe with a 1-to-1 flour. Yeast dough recipes have to be developed specifically for the gluten free flour since they often behave quite differently.
The last tip is that many gluten free baking recipes are freezer-friendly. Making some extra treats and keeping them in the freezer is a great way to always have something on hand when the sweet tooth strikes. This is especially true if you are the only gluten free person in the family, and you want to be able to have a cupcake for a birthday celebration, a muffin for brunch, or just some cookies and milk!
Happy gluten free baking!
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