Whilst you may be thinking that eating gluten-free is restrictive, I want to prove that it doesn’t have to be, as long as you are equipped the right knowledge! Generic cakes and biscuits in the supermarket almost always use wheat flour as the primary ingredient. With gluten-free baked goods, it’s a case of mixing and matching a bunch of different flours and starches to get a similar texture to the wheaty products. This resource gives you a rough foundation for getting started!
I’ve not found that there is any hard and fast rule for substituting flour with gluten-free ingredients. Different flours have different qualities which make them useful for different purposes.
Generally, a good rule is to use a 40:60 ratio of whole grain flours to starches when creating your substitute flour. The 40% whole grain can come from the likes of brown rice flour, buckwheat, and quinoa flour. The 60% starch can be potato or tapioca starch, white rice flour, and cornflour. It’s a whole different kettle of fish when it comes to things like coconut flour!
For every 1 cup of flour you use, you should add 1-2 tsp of baking powder, depending on how high you need it to rise.
And for every 1 cup of flour, you should add ½ to 1 tsp of xanthan gum to act as a ‘glue’ to keep it all together. The amount might differ if you use a different binding agent.
This is just a basic understanding of gluten-free baking, and again, is not a fool-proof remedy.
The 40% Whole Grains
“Without my wheat bread, where will I get my fibre from!?” Worried about fibre? Sub brown rice flour in your baking. It is a nuttier flavour than normal rice flour, but has similar characteristics. It rises quickly and cooks at a slightly lower temperature, so keep this in mind when following any of my recipes or dabbling in some of your own experimentation.
Brown rice flour has a tendency to go rancid if stored for too long, so make sure you don’t bulk buy it unless you know you will use it up soon. I always get many from Holland and Barrett. I haven’t seen it in ordinary supermarkets, so let me know if you spot it!
Buckwheat is a cute little heart-shaped seed that can be ground down to make flour. Be wary though, it’s name is misleading – there is no wheat in it! And it is a seed, not a grain.1
It has an earthy taste, akin to brown rice flour and is very fibrous. It is amazing for chocolatey baked goods, like brownies and cookies. It is also used to make noodles and pancakes.
Buckwheat flour is one of my favourites to bake with.
I buy my buckwheat flour from Holland and Barratt because it’s cheap but I also recommend the Amisa brand’s organic buckwheat flour.
Sorghum has a sweetness that makes it suitable for baking but maybe not so much for savoury dishes. It works well in gluten-free flour blends because it is high in fibre. It also boasts antioxidant properties and can help to fight heart disease!2
It is African in origin and is derived from a cereal crop.
Sorghum flour can be kinda pricey and difficult to locate. I got mine in Whole Foods. I’ve only seen it on Amazon otherwise.
Cornmeal is made by grinding dried corn kernels into different textures: fine, medium, and coarse. Polenta is the end product that is produced when coarsely ground cornmeal is cooked.3
It’s great for adding crunch to food, like roast potatoes or on the base of pizza dough. You can even make chips with it!
I really like using cornmeal with ground nuts to make cakes and for making flourless American-style cornbread. It’s a lovely yellow colour.
I buy mine from local Asians shops where you can get 1kg for around £1.50, but you can also find it in most supermarkets and Holland and Barrett.
I don’t tend to use oat flour in most of my recipes because Michael is allergic to avenin, which is a protein similar to gluten that is found in oats, certified gluten-free or not.
I tend to substitute oat flour in recipes for other flours like buckwheat or by grinding millet or quinoa flakes.
Don’t worry about buying oat flour – just blitz some gluten-free oats in a food processor or coffee grinder, using a 1:1 ratio of whole oats to the required amount of flour.
The 60% Starches
You may see recipes that say potato ‘flour’ or ‘starch’ and you should know that these are slightly different. 4 They are obviously derived from potatoes, which are naturally gluten-free and grain-free. The starch is used as a thickener in soups and stews, whereas the flour is more commonly used in baking, and works to keep the end product more moist!
I personally always bake with starch because I have not found it easy to locate the flour, and I’ve not had any major issues, so don’t panic if you can’t find it either!
Check out your local supermarket to see if they stock it, but if not, Holland and Barrett sell potato starch, and most Asian supermarkets do too, which is where I buy mine from.
Tapioca starch is made from cassava, which is a woody shrub that looks sort of like a brown sweet potato.5
It can be used to replace cornflour as a thickener, or used in combination with whole grain flours in baking!
I buy mine from local Asian supermarkets but you can get it from, you guessed it, Holland and Barratt.
Rice flour generally refers to white rice, and is ground from long or medium grain rice.
It is a heavier flour and is best used to bulk out flour blends used in baking.
It is also fantastic for making pasta. Michael and I visited an Italian restaurant in Prague called Al Riso, and it was 100% gf, making everything from pasta to Tiramisu with rice flour!
Where to buy: Asian shops, supermarkets (KTC do bags of it in my local Morrisons), and Holland and Barratt.
Glutinous rice flour is different from ordinary rice flour in that it is derived from sticky or ‘sweet’ rice, so it is also called sweet rice flour too. Don’t let either of these names throw you off though – there is no gluten in it and it’s not sweet! The glutinous name merely refers to the gluey characteristics it holds, similar to that of gluten.
It is very high in starch so is a great thickener, and fantastic used in the starch blend to lend more elasticity to the mixture. It is used a lot in Asian cooking, particularly for making things like Japanese mochi, mmmm. Again, I buy mine in Asian supermarkets. It is one of the more tricky ones to locate, so I’d check out Amazon pantry if you’re in a squeeze.
Cornflour (also called cornstarch)
Cornflour is also derived from ground corn kernels, but is white and much finer.
It is usually used as a thickener early in cooking. It can be used to coat meat or vegetables which are then pan fried or baked for a crispier coating.
It is also great for making a softer cake crumb, great for light sponges.6
Available in pretty much every shop, and something you probably already have in your cupboard!
Something a little different…
Chickpea flour is made from ground dried chickpeas, and it’s name depends on the type of chickpea used. You might see it under the name besan flour, for example.
It is high in protein. It is great for binding but can be very stodgy and dense, so is good for yeast-free breads, but I wouldn’t try and use it as the sole flour source in a recipe, unless it’s pancakes.7
It has a bitter taste when raw, but this will not remain after cooking. It just means you can’t eat the cake batter… shame, really. I prefer it in savoury recipes, but it is still good in cakes and pancakes.
It can be used to make pasta, soy-free tofu, and is traditionally used in batter to make pakora!
I got mine in Tesco, but all the usual suspects I’ve mentioned will stock it.
I’ve spoken to my friend with coeliac disease and we agree that coconut flour is very tricky to work with.
Coconut flour sucks up liquid like a sponge, so it can never be substituted in a 1:1 ratio. As well as using a lot more liquid in coconut flour recipes, you need to use a lot less actual flour. For every 1 cup of normal flour, use ¼ cup of coconut flour. And for every 1 cup of coconut flour, you’ll need 6 eggs and 250ml of liquid.
It’s best used for recipes that have a denser texture, like bread. I like it in banana bread, and it’s also nice when mixed with oats or buckwheat flakes when making porridge-style breakfasts. It is rich in protein, low in carbohydrate, and grain-free and gluten-free, so great if you want a snack that meets these requirements.8
I typically use Biona Coconut Flour, but you can get it in Holland and Barratt. Don’t buy coconut flakes and dessicated coconut, however, because these are completely different products!
Almond flour is so pricey! So I don’t buy it. I use ground almonds or almond meal, homemade or shop bought, which may not be as fine as the flour but I find it works practically the same.
Almond flour is made from blanched almonds and meal is from almonds with the skins still on. If you need your end product to be very light, like a macaroon, then look out flour, but ground almonds or meal are great for bread, crusts, and biscuits.
Using almonds infuses a nutty taste in baked goods. It is best mixed with other flours (fantastic with polenta) and shouldn’t be used for breads that require yeast to rise since it is quite heavy. Its weight means that it needs slightly more rising agent.9
You can use other nuts other than almonds in baking, like hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, and pistachio, depending on what flavour combination you’re going for.
If you are allergic to nuts, you can experiment with different seeds as replacements, like pumpkin and sunflower.
I buy ground almonds in the supermarket, and have noticed I can get them cheapest in Lidl. If you decide to use other nuts, I highly recommend Lidl because the prices can be a bit cheeky elsewhere…
This can be a bit pricey, but you don’t use much at a time and the benefits it provides in gluten-free cooking are well worth it. It is a powerful thickening agent which acts as a sort of glue to bind ingredients together in the absence of gluten. It is produced in a fermentation process of different sugars. Some people react to xanthan gum, so keep an eye out for this.10
This is often used as vegan version of gelatin. It comes from red algae and is best used in desserts or other foods that require setting. It doesn’t melt in the mouth the same as gelatin, so it produces a firmer outcome. Do keep in mind though that gelatin is gluten-free though!
This is the fibrous material derived from psyllium seeds. It is often used to help supplement fibre in one’s diet and promotes healthy digestion by providing bulk… (sorry). It’s often added to gluten-free bread to increase the fibre content and to help bind the mixture together.
Chia and Flax
These are two separate seeds but perform the same purpose and are also high in omega 3 fatty acids, fibre, and protein. They are used a lot in vegan recipes as a replacement for eggs. Mixing 1 tablespoon of chia seeds of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water and leaving for a few minutes to thicken, provides the equivalent of 1 normal egg.
And there we have it! An introduction to gluten-free flours, starches, and binding agents that can help you in your quest to create homemade gluten-free goodies!