Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Gluten free Flour {what to use when}

This is a more technical post to be sure. But I'm asked about gluten free baking all the time. Not just friends, strangers stop me in the grocery store.

GF flour lists are overwhelming, and I feel, short on the most practical info. Namely, when do I use each of the twenty varieties of flour? What flours are most economical? etc...

This is a brief explanation of what I've learned so far.

Let's start with the first two things newbe gf'ers want to bake. Bread and cookies.

For bread {or yeast dough, pizza included}:
  • Bean flours: adds good texture and protein to bread, bean flavor has time to bake away
    • types: garbanzo, black, yellow split pea, lentil, black eyed pea
    • Yellow split pea is my favorite in bread
    • If you grind your own, avoid kidney and pinto beans - they can give you serious stomach cramps if they don't cook thoroughly
  • Rice flours: add starch that prevents bread crumbling, extended baking time reduces sandy texture of rice flour
    • types: brown, white, sweet, wild
    • Brown rice is the highest in fiber
    • I personally prefer sweet rice for its texture. Sweet rice is also called glutinous rice; it just means sticky. No gluten is involved. The asian market carries it for around $1/lb.
  • Flour ratio: 1/3 bean flour, 1/3 rice flour, 1/3 other whole grain flour {listed below} 
  • Important extras
    • Xanthan or Guar Gum: I always use gum in breads. I only use gum in breads.
    • Yeast: double the usual amount
  • What I don't use in bread:
    • Oats - dry out dough
    • More than 1/3 rice flour - makes bread sandy
    • Boiled flax or chia seed in place of xanthan gum - I've tried it several times, but never with much success
For cookies:
  • Almond meal
    • great flavor for cookies
    • doesn't absorb liquid readily which doesn't matter as much with cookies
  • Certified! gluten free oat flour:
    • great flavor and texture for cookies
    • Rolled oats can be ground to flour in a coffee grinder or food processor
    • Absorbs more liquid that other flours; good combo with almond flour
    • Did I mention, they must be certified gluten free?! Assume all oats are dripping gluten unless otherwise labeled
  • Soy flour: great texture for cookies
  • Tapioca flour
    • lacks grainy texture of rice flour
    • doesn't add substantially to flavor
    • Asian markets carry for half the price of a regular grocery store
  • Flour ratio: 2/3 whole grain, 1/3 starch
  • What I don't use:
    • bean flours - Not enough baking time to get rid of bean flavor, plus I like to eat cookie dough, and raw bean flour ruins it
    • Rice flours - short baking time means sandy cookies
All purpose flours: These flours can mix into any baked good with good texture and flavor
  • Whole grain:
    • Quinoa: milled flour is very expensive {see note on economy below}
    • Millet
    • Sorghum
    • Brown/wild rice
    • Buckwheat: best flour for pancakes
    • Amaranth: complete protein, but milled flour is hard to find
    • Corn flour {different from meal}: crumbly texture and lame nutrition
    • Soy or Soya: cheap and versatile
    • Sweet potato flour: hard to find, but adds wonderful flavor cookies or muffins
    • Flax seed meal: contains its own oil, so you need to adjust accordingly
  • Starches
    • White rice/sweet rice
    • Tapioca flour: high in starch for lighter, fluffier baked goods like waffles or popovers
    • Potato starch: messier than tapioca, but bakes just as well
    • Arrowroot: expensive
For other types of baked goods:
  • Pancakes: 100% buckwheat flour
  • Muffins/quick breads/biscuits
    • Combo of all purpose flours
    • Ratio: 2/3 whole grain flour; 1/3 starch
    • Avoid bean flours
  • Cakes/Popovers/Pastries/Waffles
    • Ratio: 1/2 starch, 1/2 whole grain
    • Soy and corn flours are best whole grains for white cake. Other flours make light brown cake
    • Avoid bean flour
  • For thickening soups
    • Arrowroot or tapioca
  • For breading
    • Stone ground cornmeal
  • For crackers
    •  I've had miserable luck baking my own crackers. Must work on that this summer
  • For hot cereal
    • Amaranth: our favorite
    • GF oats
    • Quinoa
    • Kasha
  • For boxed cereal
    • GF boxed cereal
    • Hot cereal {see above}
    • Homemade granola {remind me to post the recipe}
No flour is a perfect substitute for wheat, so you must combine flours. The more you study the properties of wheat flour, the better you will know how to combine other flours to mimic wheat.

A note on economy: milled gluten free flour can be very expensive. If you are on a life-long gluten free diet {not just a no-wheat weight loss plan}, I suggest investing in a grain mill. After much research, we purchased a WonderMill last fall. Before you choke over the price, it has almost paid for itself in less than a year. As an example, I buy quinoa for $2.50/lb. Quinoa flour from Bob's Red Mill is $10/lb. Then consider that homemade chocolate chip cookies cost less than $1/dozen and store bought cost $5-7/dozen. The grain mill is a wise investment.

Finally, a note on 'gluten free' weight loss plans: You lose weight because you can't eat out. If you adhere to 'exclusively whole wheat' {which we did for years}, you will lose just as much weight. The gluten free highly processed stuff is still full of sugar and low quality flour. It's no better for you. If you want to give it a shot anyway, I suggest avoiding the types of food that have flour in them: bread, pasta, fried food, box cereal. It is much simpler for a limited period. Gluten free baking takes a lot of time, trial and many, many straight-to-the-trash attempts. Probably not worth the effort, unless this is a lifetime switch.

If you have a question, I haven't covered, feel free to ask. I might not know the answer, but I'll do my best.

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