Hello to everyone and many thanks to GlutenFreeNetworks.com for inviting me to participate in their Halloween/Fall event. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you what I’ve learned about baking gluten-free quick breads, such as Pumpkin Cornbread Squares, after 10 challenging months of adapting wheat flour recipes and experimenting with gluten-free flours, starches, and gums. Here are some of the questions I asked myself and the answers that I found.
Q: Why would I bake gluten-free when I can now buy a variety of gluten-free products at a grocery store?
A: You may enjoy baking and want to continue. Or you may want to save money and not buy packaged foods. Perhaps, you’re not happy with the quality or taste of what’s available.
Or perhaps you’re like me. I’m not only gluten-sensitive (recently diagnosed), but also lactose-intolerant and on a forever diet to keep Type 2 diabetes at bay. The result is that I can’t eat most of the gluten-free products in grocery stores or use most of the gluten-free recipes in cookbooks and blogs because they either use milk products and/or are too high in sugar and fat.
Also, I’m leery about using packaged gluten-free flour mixes because, although ingredients are indicated, the manufacturers don’t specify the quantities of the ingredients. As a forever dieter, I like to control the quantities of what I eat.
Q: How can I figure out which gluten-free flour to use? There are so many!
A: The gluten-free flour section of my food store is the baker’s equivalent of the Wild West. It’s where the old (wheat) rules don’t apply, and what’s wavin’ is amaranth, chickpea, fava bean, quinoa, sorghum—to name just a few of the 15 or so gluten-free flours.
Here’s the truth: No one can say what is the best flour or flour blend for you in terms of taste, texture, and nutrition. For example, I began with just white rice flour—too bland and no nutrients, then just brown rice flour—nutritious but gritty, and finally, just sorghum flour—nutritious but too heavy.
I decided to blend white rice flour with other flours. Sorghum and teff flours worked well, but I didn’t always like the taste. I’m still experimenting, but my favourite at the moment is quinoa flour which adds protein and has a slightly nutty flavour that complements chocolate, spices, and extracts.
Q: How exactly should I replace the wheat flour in a recipe?
A: Here’s what you need: your preferred flour blend, one or two starches to help add “lift” during baking, and one-half to one teaspoon of xanthan or guar gum to help the mixture hold together. (The gums are expensive but you’ll use very little per recipe so they last for a long time.)
For example, in a wheat recipe that calls for 1½ cups of flour, I would mix the following:
- ½ cup white rice flour
- ½ cup quinoa flour
- ¼ cup tapioca flour/starch
- ¼ cup potato starch (not flour)
- 1 tsp. xanthan or guar gum
The important thing to remember is that no single combination is the right one. You can pick and choose until you find what you like.
Q: What do I do about the rest of the ingredients in the original wheat recipe?
A: Other ingredients, such as baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, eggs, and shortening can remain the same. (I fiddle with sweetener, eggs, and oil to lower calorie count.)
However, I find that gluten-free flours are “thirsty,” and you may need to add more milk or other liquid. Start with the quantity required. If your batter is so thick that it just balls up, add liquid in ¼-cup increments until your batter is still thick but now flows.
Tip for handling gluten-free batter: You may find it hard to smooth out the batter’s surface with a spatula after pouring it into a pan. This is because gluten-free batter, unlike that made with wheat flour, is “sticky.” Wet your hands and use your fingers instead. The added wetness on the surface won’t hurt the batter.
Q: Do I bake using the same temperature and time as the original wheat recipe?
A: You need to bake a quick bread until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Generally, this works out to be the same temperature and baking time as in the original recipe. However, sometimes I add 5 minutes even if the knife comes out clean, when the bread is one I’ve made previously and it lost its “lift” after cooling. All the breads generally come out of the oven high and with a moist texture. Some, however, seem to sink and compress after a day or two. I don’t know why, and I haven’t yet discovered a stabilizer so I always cook them longer the next time around and this generally helps. If anyone out there has another suggestion, please let me know.
Q: But doesn’t experimenting mean I’ll end up throwing out a lot of what I make?
A: Nope. Just about every recipe I’ve made comes out of the oven looking, acting, and tasting like a quick bread. Sometimes I don’t like the flour blend; sometimes I decide to add or subtract sweetener, salt, or a spice. But not one of my experiments has been inedible, and plenty have been downright delicious.
Author Information, Claire Harrison, Ontario, Canada
In her blog, The Food Refashionista, Claire Harrison discusses food issues and adapts a wide variety of recipes for people who are gluten-sensitive, lactose-intolerant, and dieting for their health.