Tuesday, July 13, 2010

GF Baking 101: Gluten Free Flours

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies - Using arrowroot starch instead of tapioca

Some of the most frequent questions I get are about the types of gluten free flour I use in baking. Over the past four years I've used a dozen or more different types of flour. As with many who are new to being gluten free, I started using white rice flour, lots of starches like tapioca starch, corn starch, and potato starch, etc...

But soon after starting to bake gluten free, it became apparent to me that the popular starchy white gluten free flours used by most gluten free cookbook & recipe authors (while not hurting my gut) were doing serious damage to my blood sugar and my waist line.

Obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, etc... ALL run in my family. Research is starting to show how diabetes, celiac disease, and gluten intolerance are often linked genetically. Therefore, what are gluten free folks doing eating all of these super starchy, simple carbohydrate flours when diabetes and blood sugar disorders so are closely related to celiac disease?

I've been overweight most of my life. About two years ago I was diagnosed with the high blood pressure & high cholesterol that is so exceedingly abundant in my family. They were NOT diagnoses I was thrilled with. Seeing the pattern of being overweight and having elevated levels of these unhealthy medical problems has made me very aware of my diet and what I need to do to prevent the onset of diabetes. One of the first places I could start was changing the types of flours I used in gluten free baking.

One of my main goals in baking gluten free the past few years has been to create recipes that are not only delicious, but are as healthy and low glycemic as possible. Websites like Meghan Telpner's Making Love in the Kitchen, Elana's Pantry, and the Spunky Coconut have helped me to re-learn how to bake gluten free in ways that are much more healthy, low glycemic, and good for my body.

Gluten Free Grain Free (Low Glycemic) Baking

Most often these days I stick with low glycemic, mostly grain free baking. For baking recipes in this manner I use blanched almond flour, coconut flour, and for a bit of lightness arrowroot starch.

Honeyville Blanched Almond Flour.
It's the only almond flour I buy. The company doesn't pay me a dime (I wish they did! lol). It's just a good flour, period. I learned about using the Honeyville brand from Elana, and she's right... Other brands of blanched almond flour (in my opinion) just don't compare to the quality that you get with this brand. Almond flour is a naturally gluten free flour (and the Honeyville brand is CERTIFIED gluten free), it's high protein, low glycemic, and is nutritionally a great option. I love using almond flour for recipes because it's so insanely simple. So often you make recipes for cookies, muffins, bread etc... and just use this one flour. That's it. No xanthan gum, no combination of flours, etc... Simple. Easy. Healthy.

Tropical Traditions Coconut Flour.
I actually have not tried any other brand of coconut flour, so I don't know how they compare to the Tropical Traditions brand. I've been using coconut flour for several years. I actually started to use this flour before I tried almond flour. The neat thing about baking with coconut flour, is that most often the things you bake don't taste like coconut. (At least I don't think they do.) I personally prefer to combine coconut flour with another flour like almond flour instead of using straight coconut flour recipes. Coconut flour, while expensive initially, is often a practical & economical choice of flour because most recipes call for so little actual flour. Coconut flour is VERY absorbent and therefore you don't need very much of it to create a lot of volume. You generally use 3 eggs in a recipe calling for 2 tablespoons of coconut flour! If you would like to use coconut flour exclusively, check out this book by Bruce Fife.

Bob's Red Mill Arrowroot Starch.
The only starch flour I use anymore is arrowroot starch. It's lower on the glycemic index ( I cannot find the original information I used to verify the glycemic index -- yet while I cannot "prove" it's a better starch, I still prefer this gluten free starch to all others. --csf 8/25/11)  Like most starches it really doesn't have that many health benefits, but it does provide a lightness to gluten free baked goods without compromising your health. I haven't tried other brands of arrowroot starch, simply because I can buy it in bulk from Bob's Red Mill. One thing I really like about arrowroot starch is it's great both in grain-free gluten free baking and in whole grain gluten free baking. It means I only have to stock one little starch in my small pantry space! If you prefer not to use arrowroot starch in your baking, just remember you can use any other starch in place of it in a one-to-one ratio.

Gluten Free Whole Grain Baking

When I do use grains in gluten free baking, I stick with whole grains. What has worked for me has been to simply use 2 grains & 1 starch for best results. For example if I'm converting a recipe that calls for 1 cup of "regular" flour I'll simply use:
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour (whole grain)
  • 1/3 cup sorghum flour or millet flour (whole grains)
  • 1/3 cup arrowroot starch
  • + a binder = either 1/2 tsp. of xanthan gum or guar gum  -OR- **2 tbsp ground flax seeds (ground flax can be used in place of xanthan gum in MOST recipes -- please note that this does NOT work well in yeast breads!) Most gluten free baking requires a binder/texture ingredient such as xanthan gum or guar gum which sort of "replaces" the gluten that gives such great texture in wheat baking, especially for yeast breads. Many baked goods like quick breads can actually be made without the gums... since muffins, cakes, coffee cake etc... do not need to have the same somewhat resilient texture, tight-crumbed texture as yeast bread. 
That's it. I don't have any rhyme or reason as to why I choose a specific gluten free whole grain. Whatever is in my pantry I use. Generally I keep sorghum, millet, and brown rice in my pantry. Arrowroot starch is the only starch I keep in my pantry because it's lower glycemic & because it's not grain based. This simple ratio of 2 whole grains to 1 starch works for nearly every recipe I try. It's easy. It's simple to stock in my pantry. It's healthier than using white flours and grain-based starches.

My whole grain flours of choice that I may have rotating in my pantry are the following:

Brown Rice Flour.
A whole grain of brown rice finely ground into a flour. It's one of my favorite whole grain flours. I always have it in my pantry and it's usually the 1st whole grain I use in a recipe. It has a very mild flavor, it works well in every recipe I use. My husband would call it "low maintenance" (unlike his wife... lol) If you had to pick two whole grains to stock in your pantry, this is #1 choice I'd go for. I've always used Bob's Red Mill. Some people say that they prefer Authentic Foods superfine ground brown rice flour, but I've never had a problem with Bob's Red Mill. Gotta love buying in bulk and low shipping costs!

Sorghum Flour.
An ancient grain that's been used in other parts of the world for centuries, it's relatively new to the US food market. Sorghum flour is high in insoluble fiber and it has a slower digestion rate, which makes it not only suitable for celiacs, but also for people with diabeties or high blood sugar. If you wanted my pick for #2 whole grain to keep in your pantry, it would be sorghum flour. Some people don't like the flavor of sorghum, but I love it! I think it makes gluten free baked goods taste very similar to their wheat counterparts. Sorghum and brown rice flour are the only whole grains that are ALWAYS in my pantry. Again, I personally have always used the Bob's Red Mill brand and I'm very happy with it.

Another ancient seed grain that's been largely ignored in the western world up until recently. Probably more often than not you'll find it as the main ingredients in some bird seeds. My favorite aspect of millet flour is it's very mild flavor. Most people who do not like the taste of sorghum, really like the mild nutty texture of millet flour. For some reason I generally buy a box of sorghum flour and millet flour at the same time. I'll use all the sorghum flour first, and then I'll use the millet flour. Don't ask me why. I'll pretend it's for variety. I use them equally and exchange them 1:1 in baking. It's mildly flavored. A whole grain that's lightly colored (so it doesn't seem like a whole grain!) and it's healthy. Another win win! As with the others, I solely use Bob's Red Mill.

Quinoa Flour.
The most recent whole grain addition to my pantry. I really love the flavor of quinoa flour. I don't use it nearly enough. Quinoa (pronounced - "keenwah") is a hearty, high protein flour, high fiber flour that's really a great option for celiacs and those with high blood sugar, sugar sensitivity, or diabetes. Quinoa flour also seems to naturally bring out the sweetness baked goods (even when you don't use much sweetener!), it's a lighter high fiber flour, and it's really delicious. I definitely plan to use more quinoa flour in my future whole grain baking! Again, I purchase mine from Bob's Red Mill.

Notes on my recipes:
  • Tapioca starch - Lots of my older recipes use tapioca starch. I've realized over the past few years that tapioca starch tastes very bitter to me. I've also had readers complain about some recipes having a bitter taste. I've found that it's the tapioca starch that causes this bitterness. I don't know if it's a personal taste preference, if tapioca goes rancid quickly, or what exactly causes this. But I've stopped using tapioca starch, not only because it's so unhealthy, but because of the bitter aftertaste. I substitute arrowroot starch 1:1 for tapioca starch in any recipe calling for tapioca. If you have a baked good that seems to have a bitter aftertaste, check the ingredients for tapioca starch.
  • Sugar - I seldom, if at all, use sugar in recipes anymore. I will be doing a post soon on my preferred natural sweeteners. Generally in most recipes now, I use agave nectar, honey, or stevia.
  • Gluten Free Flour Substitutions - In ALL of my recipes, EXCEPT YEAST BREADS, you can substitute any whole grain for a whole grain, any starch for a starch. If I used brown rice flour and all you have is sorghum flour, use sorghum flour. If I used arrowroot starch and all you have is potato starch, use it! It will work! Yeast breads are the only recipes that break this rule. Yeast breads are tricky and the ratio of starches to whole grain is very important in getting a bread to rise correctly.


So there you have it... a glance of the ingredients in my gluten free baking pantry. What flours do you use most often in your gluten free baking? Why do you use them? What gluten free flour combinations seem to work best for you? Share your favorite gluten free baking ingredients in the comments below!

Pin It!