Gluten Free Vegan Baking In the Comfort Zone
It’s taken me two years to get somewhat comfortable with gluten free baking…
All my life, I had only used wheat flour for baking, and suddenly at age 65, I couldn’t any more.
I didn’t realize how much I depended on gluten for success in baking until it was gone. I had to use all these ingredients I didn’t know the first thing about, I didn’t know the rules, and other bakers didn’t seem to know more than I did about gf baking.
And how would I tell who did or didn’t know what they were talking about anyway?
It was like moving to a different country where I didn’t speak the language or know the customs. I couldn’t do anything right.
Finally, after two years of study and experimentation (ongoing), and getting help from a few bright lights such as Ricki Heller, I feel like I’m no longer baking in the dark. I’ve learned enough to turn out tasty baking that satisfies glutenous taste buds – fairly consistently.
I’ve developed quite a few gluten free recipes good enough to go on my website.
So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned, hoping it helps other bewildered gluten free bakers.
What I’ve Learned About Gluten Free Baking:
1. Buying Gluten Free Flours and Starches:
All purpose GF mixes available in supermarkets will usually work, but they are very expensive, and the quality varies. It’s much cheaper to buy the ingredients and mix your own.
Most of the gluten free flours come in 1 – 2 lb packages, which is a big gripe of mine. I long for the day when I can buy the ingredients in 5 – 10 lb bags. Meanwhile…
Online is the best source I’ve found for reasonably priced gluten free baking ingredients. I’ve ordered from Amazon, Vitacost, iHerb, Swansons – anywhere I can get the lowest prices and free shipping – if I order enough, that is. Shipping costs can be very high, so watch out for that. Amazon Prime seems like a good deal at first, but the prices are often higher to compensate.
The bulk bins at my local natural food store are another source of gluten free baking supplies. Everybody’s Whole Foods stocks garbanzo bean flour, buckwheat flour, arrowroot starch and organic corn starch in bulk.
Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores have been a good source. I’ve found 3 different varieties of millet flour, amaranth flour, teff flour, garbanzo bean flour, sorghum flour and rice flour. Asian markets are another source for tapioca and arrowroot starch, and sweet rice flour.
Organic is always best, of course, but organic flours are more expensive and harder to find. Frankly I don’t worry about it. If I can find finely ground gluten free flours at a decent price, I’m happy.
2. Properties of GF Flours and Starches:
One of the biggest challenges in gluten free baking is coming up with flours that are fine enough to produce the right texture in cookies, cakes, muffins etc.
Many gluten free flours tend to have a gritty texture, mainly because they are not ground fine enough. There I said it! Bob’s Red Mill is the worst, Arrowhead Mills is a little better. That affects the mouth feel of the baked goods, which is a big deal to gluten eating recipe testers.
You need a combination of finely ground grains, beans and starches in correct proportions to approximate the starch/protein/texture profile of wheat or other gluten flours. I tried many different mixtures, before coming up with two gluten free flour mixes, one for breads, and one all-purpose, which work for all my baking.
Here’s a list of gluten free flours and their attributes:
Millet flour (semi-whole grain) is easy to find, inexpensive (comparatively), has a neutral taste, and is mostly the light yellow variety. Indian grocery stores sometimes sell a dark millet flour which has a coarser texture and is nice in breads.
Sorghum flour is similar to millet flour, but a little softer in texture. They are both like whole wheat pastry flour in consistency.
Teff, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat are whole grain gluten free flours that are darker, heavier and stronger flavored than millet or sorghum, and often more expensive. They can replace part of the millet or sorghum flour in mixes. They are best in breads or pancakes. Buckwheat flour is supposedly closest to whole wheat flour in protein and starch content and texture, but I haven’t put that to the test.
Oat flour is useful, because it’s light colored, soft and moist, sticky, and has a nice flavor. Unless it’s certified gluten free (and therefore expensive), it may have a small amount of gluten from being processed in the same equipment used to grind wheat flour. That doesn’t affect me, but it would matter to someone with CD. I’ve found that sorghum flour is the closest match.
Corn flour is also mild flavored, and seems to be best suited for dredging, batters or thickening sauces. I’ve never seen it mentioned as an ingredient in gf flour mixes, and it’s not the same as Masa Harina, made with wood ash or slaked lime, used to make corn tortillas. In other places such as the U.K., AU or NZ, cornflour is the same as the cornstarch used in N. America, and much confusion results.
Starches: Tapioca starch is made from cassava root, grown in warm climates, and it’s a prime ingredient in gluten free baking. It used to be cheap but the price has increased with demand. Corn starch has to be organic to avoid gmos. Arrowroot starch is a good stand in but more expensive, and it’s gotten scarce lately.
Potato starch is widely used in commercial gluten free mixes probably because it’s relatively cheap and widely available. But potatoes are on the dirty dozen list for agricultural chemicals, and they are in the nightshade family, which I avoid.
Brown rice flour is heavy, gummy, and almost always gritty, so I avoid using it, or use it sparingly.
White rice flour is finer because it’s mostly starch, and Asian brands of sweet rice flour have the finest grind. Authentic Foods makes a variety of superfine rice flours, but they are expensive with high shipping costs.
Sweet rice flour (Mochiko Brand is available in supermarkets) is a good stand in for the starches, as it has a high starch content.
Garbanzo bean or fava bean flour serves to replace the high protein binding power of gluten flours. Once they are cooked, any beany taste disappears.
3. Gluten Free Vegan Baking Tips:
Theoretically, you can sub GF AP flour mix 1:1 for wheat or other gluten flour (e.g. barley or spelt). But in practice, gluten free flours are drier and absorb more moisture. So I always either reduce the amount of flour in the recipe by 20% or increase the liquid by 20%. It usually works best to reduce the flour, to keep the same volume of batter or dough.
Increasing the fat just makes it harder for your gluten free goodies to rise. If anything, decrease the fat in gf baking.
For successful gluten free baking, you must replace the binding and rising capabilities of gluten flour, and there are several ways to do that.
To boost the rising power, increase the amount of baking powder you would normally use by 50%, add 1/2 tsp of baking soda per cup of flour, and include 1 Tbsp lemon juice or 1 tsp vinegar in the recipe (the acid reacts with the leavening).
To avoid a crumbly texture, add 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe. Bob’s Red Mill offers a corn free xanthan gum which is widely available.
If you don’t want to use either of the gums, try my version of The Gluten Free Doctor’s Pixie Dust: 1 Tbsp gr. flax seed, 1/2 Tbsp gr chia seed, 1 tsp psyllum husks. Pixie Dust doubles as an egg replacer in vegan gf baking.
Personally, I find that xanthan gum PLUS PD works like a charm in vegan gf baking.
Incorporating apple sauce, pumpkin or squash puree, or banana to replace up to 50% of the liquid in a recipe improves the texture amazingly, smoothing out the slightly gritty mouth feel of most gluten free flours, and helping to bind the flours.
Gluten free baking often takes a bit longer in the oven at a higher temperature. I’ve found that adding 5 minutes and 10 degrees works best for muffins or biscuits. 10 minutes for cakes, and 2 minutes for cookies is about right, but it all depends on your oven. It also helps to line the baking pans with parchment paper.
My best scientific theory is that because gluten free baking can’t rely on gluten to support rising throughout the baking time, you need a higher temp for a quick start and to maintain the momentum. The first 5 minutes of baking is make or break time!
That’s also where the increased leavening and lemon juice or vinegar comes in. Your gluten free baking is already rising when you put it in the oven, and the higher temperature keeps that going so your goodies don’t fall.
Also, with gluten free baking, it takes a bit longer to build a firm crumb and to brown than with gluten baking.
But for baking anything longer than 20 minutes, I recommend turning down the oven in the last 10 minutes of baking time, so your goodies don’t get TOO brown!
Fill the cups or pans higher than you would normally, and mound them up in the middle, because they won’t rise as high and tend to flatten out. This is especially important for muffins. Fill the cups to the top and beyond for proper muffin shapes.
Yeasted GF Bread:
Everybody wants to make bread when they go gf, because they really really miss toast! And sandwiches! Unfortunately, gf bread is tricky to make, and expensive to buy for something not at all wonderful.
My daughter Sarah, who is a champion baker, has produced nothing but gf brick bread, and her gf husband likewise. I baked yeast bread for many years, but I’ve never even tried it gf.
But I keep my ear to the ground and I’m happy to share some gf bread recipes I’ve pinned and fully intend to try (someday):
Gluten Free Eating Without Bread? Yes, it’s possible! I’ve shifted my diet so that I eat mostly whole grains, with some flatbread that I use to make wraps, and muffins or polenta added for variety.
I make dosa batter weekly – dosas are Indian crepes made with soaked and ground dhal & rice, and we eat those rolled up with vegetable fillings. A very satisfying meal.
For breakfast I usually make cereal with steel cut oats & amaranth, leftover quinoa or brown rice.