Sunday, January 23, 2011

Getting Started in Gluten-free Baking

If you're already familiar with the ins and outs of gluten-free baking, go ahead and skip over this post.

If this is all rather new to you, and you're regarding the whole thing with a "deer in the headlights" sort of expression - here are some starter tips.

There are all sorts of gluten free flours.  You can buy commercial blends (King Arthur, Namaste, Bob's Red Mill, just to name a few).  Or you can stir up your own.  There are all kinds of recipes out there for other blends.  Most tend to be some combination of rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, and corn starch.  Their properties vary slightly, but it's not too hard to experiment with what you like best.

When it comes to all those flours, there are a few things to know.

First, you don't need them all.  And you certainly don't need them all to start out with.  Flours are made from pretty much every grain known to man.  Quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, the list goes on and on.  To start with, try recipes that use a blended flour, then add the various "whole grains" one at a time as you become more comfortable.  Each has its own distinctive flavor and working profile.  You'll find that you prefer some to others.

Second, it is important to pay close attention to the exact flour specified in your recipe:

   Potato flour and Potato starch flour are two different products and not interchangeable.  Both are used in gluten free baking, but for different purposes.

   Rice flour and Sweet Rice Flour are not interchangeable.  Sweet Rice Flour is made from glutinous rice, and has a higher carbohydrate content.

  Rice flour is often gritty and objectionable.  Potato starch, corn starch, and tapioca starch all help to mitigate this problem.  Now, the white rice flour available from Asian food stores is ground more finely and yields a better product BUT - it isn't guaranteed to be gluten-free.  It may be processed on equipment that also processes wheat products, so trace quantities of gluten may be present.  Be aware.

  The lack of gluten will require the use of some sort of binder.  Most often, xanthan gum or guar gum.  Some recipes will even call for both.

Also, shop around.  Prices for gluten free products can vary widely.  The price on a specific brand of mix or one kind of xanthan gum will vary by as much as $3 from store to store.

So - get ready, gear up, and we'll be ready to start baking!

2 comments:

  1. Can you elaborate on the potato starch/potato starch flour issue? I was making bread and the recipe called for potato starch flour but at the store I found potato flour and potato starch - obviously different from each other. I went w/the potato starch since I sub that for corn starch all the time, but I was left pondering the difference and wondering if I made the best choice.

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  2. Sure! Potato flour is made from whole, dried, ground potatoes. It's heavy, cream colored, and has a definite potato flavor. In gluten free baking it sometimes gets used to increase the ability of certain bread or other dense doughs to hold on to moisture.

    Potato STARCH flour is made from the starch extracted from potatoes. It's pure white, very light in texture, and responds much like cornstarch or arrowroot. It has no noticeable potato flavor, and is usually used as a neutral, starchy portion in various gluten free flour blends.

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