Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Gluten Free Baking 101: Comparing Gluten Free Flours

This was originally under my tabs as a separate page, but I'll be taking many of those tabs down soon to make room for new ones, so I'm adding this as a post so the information will still be here. 

When I was working on my baking guides with Brittany Angell, I needed a way to conceptualize what each individual flour did in a recipe. I finally found a solution when I was working on my Pancake and Waffle How-To Guide. Because my goal was to find a recipe that would work for any flour, I tested it with thirteen different flours as well as Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Mix.

I kept very detailed and scientific notes during this process - they were color coded and included descriptions like "blah blah." That, by the way, was used to describe a flour that gave the pancakes a "blah blah" flavor and texture. Also known as bland, which was another fancy word I often used.

For my experiment, I followed this recipe exactly, varying only the type of flour. What follows is my Gluten-Free Baking 101 Cheat Sheet. It's simple and it helps me tremendously. Now, whenever I'm thinking about what flours to use in a recipe, I go to my cheat sheet and look at the flavors and textures I want.

This also helps me when something goes wrong. Case in point? When I was making my recipe for Strawberry Shortcakes, I originally started out with a combination of white rice flour and potato starch. As soon as I put the cakes in the oven, I realized my mistake. If I looked at my cheat sheet, I would see that white rice flour makes baked goods very chewy, much like the Japanese confection, mochi. Potato starch also makes things very chewy. White rice flour plus potato starch? It was a chewy, gobby mess waiting to happen. The resulting cupcakes were gooey and chewy and completely lacked structure. But luckily I had already known that would happen and had a new batch ready to be popped into the oven. This time I skipped the starch altogether and just used the white rice flour. Perfection!

As usual, my cheat sheet came to my rescue!

Here's how to use this guide. The descriptions below are how these flours worked in my basic pancake recipe. This recipe is egg-free and you may find some flours work differently when eggs are included. However, you can assume that these flours will impart similar flavors and textures in most recipes, and can use this as a starting point when you're trying to decide what to use. I've included my exact wording from when I was making these, but will add notes in parentheses when it seems necessary. 

For more information on the individual flours and substitutions, read The Essential Gluten-Free Baking Guides, Part 1 and 2

Almond Flour
  • Texture: Chewy, soft
  • Flavor: Sweet, buttery, reminded me of Bisquick pancakes, *my favorite*
  • Liquid ratio: required half the amount of liquid
  • Best flours to substitute with: only other nut or seed flours. Do not sub with coconut flour.
Coconut Flour
  • Texture: Awful (Coconut flour is extremely difficult to  use in egg-free baked goods unless you're also using one or more other flours. However, it can impart a lovely sweet flavor to baked goods, so don't swear off of it. One of my favorite mixes uses coconut flour, white rice flour, and potato starch in a 1:1:1 ratio. I haven't tried that mix in this recipe, but I have used it successfully in other vegan baked goods.)
  • Flavor: Coconut! Sweet.
  • Liquid ratio: Required 3x as much liquid. 
  • Best flours to substitute with: None. Coconut flour is very unique. 
Teff Flour
  • Texture: Fluffy, crunchy. (This crunch is mild and is a texture I love in my baked goods. I use teff flour more often than almost any other flour because it is so light and rises well in egg-free recipes.)
  • Flavor: Sweet, reminds me of an English muffin.  
  • Best flours to substitute with: Buckwheat flour, although your final product will be more dense with buckwheat.
Millet Flour
  • Texture: Crispy outside, flaky layers inside, like a biscuit.
  • Flavor: Mild flavor of a biscuit but slightly bitter aftertaste. (I'm pretty sure my millet flour was rancid and that was the aftertaste. Millet goes rancid relatively quickly, so be sure to store it in the fridge or freezer.) 
  • Best flours to substitute with: White rice, brown rice, sorghum, quinoa, or garbanzo bean flour.
Buckwheat Flour:
  • Texture: Soft, dense. 
  • Flavor: Hint of molasses. Slightly bitter. (I have begun making my own buckwheat flour with raw buckwheat groats, and I find the flavor does not have the same bitterness as commercial buckwheat flour.) 
  • Best flours to substitute with: Teff flour, although teff is not as dense.
Quinoa Flour:
  • Texture: Soft, fluffy
  • Flavor: Like quinoa. (If you like quinoa, you'll probably like quinoa flour. If you don't, there are plenty of other great options for you. If you want the nutritional benefits of this flour without the strong flavor, we have a technique in our baking guides to mellow out the flavor.)
  • Best flours to substitute with: Garbanzo bean or sorghum flour.
Sorghum Flour:
  • Texture: Soft, fluffy. 
  • Flavor: Mild, but slightly sour. Like sourdough. (Sorghum is one of my go-to flours if a recipe calls for rice flour and I don't want to use that. The flavor and texture are neutral enough that it can be used in many recipe, although I find a mix of sorghum and another flour will give you a much better texture than sorghum alone.) 
  • Best flours to substitute with: White rice, brown rice, garbanzo bean, quinoa, or millet flour.
Amaranth Flour:
  • Texture: Lacking structure. Didn't cook fully inside. (I made batch after batch of oddly rubbery brownies for my baking guide before realizing it was the amaranth causing the strange texture. In small amounts, it can help give baked goods a silky smooth texture, but you definitely want to mix it with other flours for more structure.)
  • Flavor: Nutty. (My amaranth pancakes were nutty, but in other recipes I haven't like the taste of amaranth at all. I never use it anymore or only use it in very small amounts.)
  • Best flours to substitute with: Garbanzo bean, sorghum, millet, teff, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice and white rice flour. 
Garbanzo Bean Flour:
  • Texture: Soft. Very fluffy. (Garbanzo bean flour is great for making breads because it rises well.)
  • Flavor: Mild to me. (I'm pretty sure I wrote this because some of my fellow gluten-free friends don't like the flavor of garbanzo bean flour. It seemed pretty innocuous to me though.) 
  • Best flours to substitute with: Garfava, soy, sorghum, or quinoa flour.
Sweet White Rice Flour a.k.a. glutinous (not glutenous) rice flour or mochiko:
  • Texture: Chewy, like mochi.
  • Flavor: Bland.  
  • Best flours to substitute with: This is a hard one to substitute but the best choice is a combination of white rice flour and tapioca starch.
White Rice Flour:
  • Chewy, like mochi. (My sweet white rice flour pancakes and white rice flour pancakes tasted almost exactly the same. However, I have noticed a tendency for sweet white rice flour to have chewier results than regular white rice flour in most situations.)
  • Flavor: Bland.  
  • Best flours to substitute with: Brown rice flour or sorghum flour. If the recipe is made with only white rice flour, like my vegan french bread, substitute it with an all-purpose flour.
Brown Rice Flour:
  • Nothing special. (Pretty sure what I meant by that was that it wasn't as fluffy as some of the other pancakes - didn't have as much rise and structure - but wasn't as chewy as the white rice and sweet rice pancakes. It was just a pancake, nothing more, nothing less.)
  • Bland.  
  • Best flours to substitute with: White rice flour or sorghum flour.
Cassava (no starch):
  • Cassava flour can often be used without starch because it is made from the same root that tapioca starch is from. Tapioca starch isolates the starch, whereas cassava flour uses the whole flour. Therefore, I tried this recipe without starch. 
  • Chewy, like mochi. (Not really any different from sweet rice or white rice flour.)
  • Bland. 
  • Best flours to substitute with: None.
Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Mix (no starch):
  • All-purpose mixes already contain starch, so I did not use the starch in my recipe. I simply replaced the flour and starch with an equal amount of Bob's AP Mix.
  • Texture: Blah.
  • Flavor: Blah. (I could just as easily have written bland as I did with the preceding flours. I just got bored of that word. The mix was most similar in texture and flavor to brown rice flour.) 
  • Best flours to substitute with: Any all-purpose flour or to make your own, simply use this formula: 1 part flour (any flour) + 1 part flour (any flour) + 1 part starch (tapioca, potato, cornstarch, arrowroot).

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