Thursday, February 16, 2012

Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101: Vegan Banana Bread and the Top 5 Ingredients to Have in Your Gluten-Free Pantry

Whenever I write a post in this series, I leave you all with an invitation to send me a recipe you'd like to have me convert in some way. A few weeks ago, I got a request from a lovely woman named Yolanda to make banana bread. Yolanda's two-year old son was recently diagnosed with Autism, and she has started him on the gluten- and casein-free diet. Finding recipes the whole family can enjoy has been very important to her, and she knows they all love banana bread. So Yolanda sent me a link to this recipe for Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread, and I've been working on this recipe ever since. What I came up with is a sweet treat suitable for a snack or dessert (too much sugar for breakfast, in my opinion, although probably less than in most sugary cereals). While Yolanda's son does okay with eggs, I decided to make a vegan version for today's post. But it's equally easy to make this loaf with or without eggs, so I'll put in directions for both.

Now before I tell you how I converted this banana bread, Yolanda also asked me to share my thoughts on which flours she should stock in her pantry. I'm including part of her e-mail because I think we can all relate to this initial fear of gluten-free baking:

"I haven't baked anything yet 'cause I'm a chicken, and not to mention my brain goes to mush trying to figure out the best flours to use when it comes to GFCF baking. So maybe you can give some suggestions on which flours would be good to keep on hand. The only flour I use right now is brown rice flour when I fry foods sometimes. I'm open to learning all that I can!"

So, Yolanda, here's my answer. And what I would keep in mind is that this list is completely subjective. It's based on my own flavor and texture preferences, and my way of baking. Another gluten-free baker would give you a completely different response. Just as two painters may know the same color theory but create extremely different paintings, so can two bakers take the same basic knowledge and use it in completely unique ways. I'm basing my suggestions here not just on my favorite flavors and textures, but also on which flours I can use to create healthy recipes. I love the flavor and texture that sweet white rice flour imparts, but it's not exactly the healthiest option. And following a gluten- and casein-free diet is not just about taking out those two offenders. In my mind, it's also about substituting them with healthy options that will nourish your body and restore you to a healthier place. So keeping that in mind, here are my top 5 gluten-free pantry ingredients:
  1. Sorghum Flour - Sorghum is very basic. It has a mild flavor that is reminiscent of sourdough, but overall is relatively bland. This makes it a perfect background flour for many different types of recipes. I've used it in cakes, cookies, breads, you name it. It's easily swapped in recipes calling for quinoa, garbanzo, millet, white or brown rice flour, and if I could only keep a few flours on hand, sorghum would definitely be one of them.
  2. Blanched Almond Flour - High in protein and heart-healthy fats, almond flour is a must for anyone who can have nuts. Recipes baked with almond flour have a sweet flavor that will allow you to get away with using less sugar. In many cases, you can use almond flour alone without having to add any other flours or a starch. This makes for very simple recipes, which I love. I've also found that I can get a fluffy texture using almond flour that is really difficult to do with other gluten-free flours. In fact, my almond flour recipes (like my yeast-free English Muffins) are often the most popular with my non gluten-free friends. Almond flour is expensive, but I think it's worth it to keep your fridge stocked. It is generally more affordable to order in bulk online from companies like Honeyville or
  3. Teff Flour - Before I started my baking guides, I had never used teff. Now it is one of my favorite flours, and I bake with it all the time. It is very light, which means you can create recipes that will rise well without eggs. And I absolutely love the flavor, which has a hint of sweetness that I find unrivaled in most other gluten-free flours. I have found that it is one of the more difficult flours to find in stores, so I often purchase mine online from companies like and Bob's Red Mill
  4. Potato or Tapioca Starch - While I would love to bake without starches, I find it very hard when baking egg-free. It can be done, but converting a recipe to gluten-free is really simple when you have a starch to work with. Potato and tapioca starch work very similarly, so try them both and then use whichever one you prefer. I generally keep both on hand. Arrowroot starch is also a good option, but is more expensive than the other two, so I don't use it often.
  5. Flax seed meal, chia seed meal, or whole psyllium husks - While not technically flours, I have found all three of these ingredients to be integral in my baking. For years I used xanthan or guar gum as binders. But once I started hearing about using these ingredients instead, I gave it a try, and am now hooked. This is a great way to get more fiber into your diet, and I personally prefer the texture of many of my baked goods made with flax, chia, or psyllium husks to those made with gums.
  6. All-Purpose Mix - I'm cheating by adding a sixth ingredient. I rarely use all-purpose flours. It doesn't give me enough control over the flavors and textures I want. But if you're a new baker or don't want to be bothered with mixing flours, all-purpose mixes can be really helpful. I've only used Bob's Red Mill myself, and I like it just fine. But this is one of those cases where you really have to try a few and see what you like best. AP mixes can often (but not always) be used in recipes that call for a variety of flours. Just tally up the total cups of flours and starches, and use that quantity of an AP mix. This does not generally work for recipes that call for coconut or almond flour, since they work quite differently than other gluten-free flours. 
Okay, so now that you know which ingredients I like to use, I would love for you to leave a comment for Yolanda letting her know what your must-haves are in your gluten-free pantry.
And now on to banana bread! I started with this simple recipe for Cinnamon Swirl Banana Bread. Muffins and quick breads are probably the easiest recipes to convert to gluten-free, so you can use many of these tips for any similar recipes.
  • This recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of flour. For this, I decided to start with 1 1/2 cups of Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Mix. While I like to use my own flours, I think it's also helpful for readers to know when they can use an AP mix. I prefer to substitute by volume (cups) rather than weight (grams).
  • This recipe calls for 1/3 cup melted butter. I used 1/3 cup canola oil, although any mild flavored oil would work. Melted coconut oil would be my ideal (healthiest) ingredient here, but because it's not particularly affordable, I save it for special occasions. 
  • This recipe calls for 3/4 cup sugar. That seemed like an unnecessarily large amount of sugar on top of the bananas, so I cut it down to 1/4 cup. However, to replace some of the bulk of sugar, I added in 1/4 cup of chia seed meal. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone here because the chia would replace some of the sugar and also make xanthan or guar gum unnecessary. Chia seeds expand in liquid, helping to create a nice rise while simultaneously binding ingredients together.
  • This recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking soda. I noticed in the comments for the original recipe that a few people mentioned it did not rise as nicely as they had hoped, so I decided to add 1 teaspoon of baking powder for a little added oomph. Gluten-free baked goods also have a more difficult time rising, so extra baking powder is generally a good bet. 
  • I reduced the 1/3 cup sugar called for in the "swirl" to 1/4 cup. It's not a big difference, but any chance to reduce sugar is always a good thing. This is a very sweet bread so some of you may prefer to leave that sugar swirl out altogether. 
  • I kept all of these ingredients as originally written: 3 overripe bananas, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, dash of salt (1/8 teaspoon)

    My first batch rose beautifully and tasted amazing. My only complaint was that I had baked it a bit too long (55 minutes), so it was not as moist as I would have liked. For my second attempt, I wanted to make my own mix of flours and take out the egg. Here's how I did it:
    • To replace 1 1/2 cups of Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Mix, I used my 1:1:1 method (equal parts one flour + one flour + one starch). As mentioned above, I love teff, so I used 1/2 cup teff + 1/2 cup teff + 1/2 cup tapioca starch
    • To replace the egg, I added 1 more tablespoon of chia seed meal and 3 tablespoons of unsweetened almond milk with 1/2 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. To help the bread rise without the egg, I added an extra 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.
    • I baked this version for five minutes less.
    The result was a moist quick bread that I absolutely loved. My friends thought the teff gave it a hint of molasses that they were unused to but enjoyed. The combination of sugar and bananas made for a heady treat, while the high fiber content of the bread kept me full for hours (and yes, I actually did eat this bread even though it's not on my list of approved foods right now). You can tell from the photos that the egg-free version did not rise as high as the egg version did, but the flavor and texture were comparable, and in fact, the egg-free version was slightly moister.

    Banana Bread (Print-Friendly Option)

    Moist and chewy with sweet pockets of banana, your whole family will love this bread. For some fun additions, try adding in chopped walnuts, raisins, or chocolate chips. Quick breads are forgiving, so a number of substitution options are included below. 

    For the Swirl:
    1/4 cup sugar (50 grams)
    1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

    For the Bread: 
    1 cup teff flour (155 grams)
    1/2 cup tapioca starch (60 grams)
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

    3 medium overripe bananas, mashed (296 grams)
    1/3 cup canola oil (71 grams)
    1/4 cup sugar (50 grams)
    1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds (36 grams)
    3 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk (40 grams)
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 8.5 x 4.5 inch bread pan. 
    2. Mix sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Set aside. 
    3. Whisk teff flour, tapioca starch, baking powder, and baking soda together in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. 
    4. Place bananas, oil, sugar, chia seed meal, almond milk, vanilla, and apple cider vinegar in a large bowl. Beat with an electric hand beater, starting on low then increasing to medium speed, until ingredients are completely mixed. The bananas can still have small chunks, but should be mixed in well. 
    5. Beat or stir in flour until completely mixed. You can also do steps 4 and 5 in a food processor. Fold in cinnamon and sugar. 
    6. Scoop batter into pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
    7. Remove from oven and let cool for ten minutes before moving to a cooling rack. 
    Makes 1 loaf.

    Possible substitutions:
    Sugar: Use any granulated sugar here. Coconut palm sugar would work just fine.
    Flour: Replace the teff and tapioca with 1 1/2 cups of an all-purpose mix. Or replace the 1 cup of teff with a combination of any of these two flours: quinoa, garbanzo, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, white rice or brown rice flour.
    Bananas: Try using a fruit puree, such as applesauce or pureed pears. I suspect that you might end up needing to use a little less than the 296 grams of bananas called for, but not having tried it with this recipe, that's just a hunch.
    Canola Oil: Use melted coconut oil or butter, grapeseed oil, or extra light olive oil.
    Almond Milk: Any type of milk is fine here.
    Apple Cider Vinegar: Lemon juice can be used or just leave it out if you don't have either. I've made it without, and the recipe turned out fine.
    Chia Seeds: This is a tough one. Flax seed meal or whole psyllium husks would be the best choice, but the amount of each would be different. I suspect that you may need a little more flax seed meal or a little less whole psyllium husks, but I really can't give you any definite suggestions here other than to play around. If you can have chia seeds, play it safe and just use those.

    To make this with eggs, only use 1/4 cup of ground chia seeds. Take out the almond milk and apple cider vinegar. Add 1 large egg with the rest of the wet ingredients. 

    Enjoy Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101? Have a recipe you'd like me to convert or a topic you want me to cover? Leave a comment or e-mail me at iris (at) 

    This post is linked to Inspire Me Mondays


    SuryaSmiles said...

    Your are a gluten-free vegans dream! Yeah, two recipes I can't wait to try! Thank you!

    Yolanda said...

    Again, I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate your helping me with this recipe!!!! All the information you gave was awesome!!!!!!!
    I'm gonna give this a try this weekend!


    GF Gidget said...

    Great tips! You broke down the science of GF/Vegan baking perfectly! I wish I had this post when I was first starting out.

    Stephanie said...

    Great post Iris- You write it out so clearly what I always have juggling around in my brain. Very helpful! Thanks for the resource to send people too!

    CowgirLiz said...

    First off this bread looks fantastic. I will have to try making it and actually follow the recipe. (A bad habit I have...)
    Second off, I am one of those that has slowly, very slowly been experimenting with GF baking. Somehow, almond and coconut flours have been the least intimidating for me so far.
    The way you describe the other flours and help with how to figure proportions just gave me a ton more confidence to experiment again.
    Third, I'm impressed by the amount of time and effort you put into developing this recipe. You have so much more patience than I.
    Thank you!

    fartygirl said...

    Great list!!! Thank you! I've heard wonderful things about teff, and definitely experienced the help of psyllium when I made your lemony cookies at Christmas time. Always appreciative of your expertise. :-)

    Stephanie E. said...

    I made this yesterday with the teff flour and no eggs. I cooked it in a glass pan and forgot to reduce the temp to accommodate for that so it got a little over cooked but it is still really good. I had it for breakfast with half an avacado. I skipped the cinnamon swirl and the nuts.

    Cara said...

    The science geek in me loved reading about your experimentation. And I learned some new things, like, I should really buy some teff flour. Thanks!

    Ella McDaniel said...

    I love the way you lay out your post! It's a great blueprint for converting my own recipes as well as what looks to be a delicious and well-tested recipe. It's really helpful to be able to follow your thought process, and I can't wait to try the bread!

    Katy said...

    Thanks, Iris! I made this using the following (suggested) substitutions & it turned out AWESOME: coconut butter instead of canola oil, coconut palm sugar (for the 1/4 cup sugar), 3/4 cup teff & 1/4 cup sorghum (just b/c I ran out of teff), and lastly, instead of the cinnamon swirl thing, I just added a little extra stevia to the liquids and 1 Tbsp cinnamon to the dry. It's absolutely freaking delicious! Thanks for being such a genius!

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    SLH said...

    Second recipe of you're I've tried and it turned out beautifully. I substituted pumpkin puree for the bananas and used pumpkin pie spice. Great texture, it rose wonderfully and good flavor. I only might add more oil for a more indulgent cake for next time...


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