Tips & Tricks
While many foods are naturally gluten-free, gluten can be especially difficult to avoid in baked goods. Gluten is a complex protein found in wheat (and other grains) that functions like glue in baked goods and pastas. Gluten’s elastic structure helps baked goods rise and become light and fluffy by trapping gas produced by yeast. It’s the key ingredient that makes breads, pizza crusts, and quick breads tender and chewy. But gluten-free enthusiasts and savvy bakers are reaching new heights by getting creative in the kitchen.
Measure By Weight
In most recipes, a blend of gluten-free ingredients is necessary to create baked goods with a conventional shape and texture. For this reason, most health food stores and many grocers sell blended, all-purpose gluten-free flour mixes that simplify gluten-free baking. There are some notable differences when baking with gluten-free substitutes, including a few that break the conventional rules of baking. Gluten-free flours are, in general, milled finer than wheat-based flours. The fine grind helps gluten-free flours blend better with other ingredients and prevents your baked goods from becoming gritty. On the other hand, the fine flour is more difficult to evenly pack into measuring cups and dense gluten-free flours have different weight to volume ratios than conventional wheat flours. In short, you can’t always substitute a cup of gluten-free flour for a cup of wheat flour, and you’re better off using a kitchen scale to measure gluten-free flour for accurate measurements. The labels on most gluten-free flours feature a cup-to-grams conversion to ensure accuracy.
Consistency & Shape
Even with the right flour mix and measurements, a gluten-free batter or dough won’t usually handle exactly like a conventional dough. For example, gluten-free pie crust tends to be more crumbly and is more apt to split when you try to fold it. To keep the dough in one piece, roll it between two sheets of wax or parchment paper, which also makes it easier to transfer the dough to a pie plate. Be sure to use and egg wash on pie dough, instead of a milk wash, as a milk wash will more easily soak into the dough instead of resting on its surface. With gluten free breads, be sure to use a pan with sides, because the dough typically won’t stand easily on its own.
The strong and sticky bonds formed by gluten play many roles in baking, including moisture retention. While gluten-free flours typically include gums and starches to hold moisture, the resulting dough still tends to dry out faster. To avoid a tough texture or crummy edge on cakes and cookies, consider adding things like egg yolks, yogurt, and fruits (where appropriate) to increase moisture and add flavor. After baking, you can freeze gluten-free baked goods (tightly wrapped in freezer-safe bags) to prevent them from drying out.
Times & Temps
Traditional doneness indicators, such as a clean, dry toothpick in a cake or the hollow sounds when thumping a loaf of bread, are not always accurate for gluten-free baked goods. In fact, some gluten-free baked goods might feel soft to the touch and look wet inside even though they’re completely cooked – requiring a cool-down time to firm up. Follow the time and temperature recommendations in gluten-free recipes closely, because the traditional visual cues aren’t the same as wheat-based goods. Oftentimes, gluten-free recipes feature lower oven temperatures and extended baking times to drive out excess moisture.
If you’re new to gluten-free baking, don’t be intimidated, but do follow reliable recipes closely – as gluten-free recipes don’t always take well to adjustments, swaps, and add-ins. There are some good gluten-free cookbooks out to help with finding good recipes. I suggest, Gluten-Free Baking Classics, by Annalise Roberts for beginners, who know they need (or just want) to switch over to gluten-free or alternative flours when baking, but aren’t totally sure how to make the conversion. Gluten-Free Baking With the Culinary Institute of America: 150 Flavorful Recipes From The World’s Premier Culinary Collage, by Richard J Coppedge Jr.is geared toward professional bakers or those with an interest in the food-science side of things.
“Work With What You Got!”
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