Baking tips

Gluten-Free Flour List

Safe whole grains for gluten-free baking include: rice flour sorghum flour millet flour amaranth flour oat flour, and teff flour (a fairly high-protein grain). Grain Seeds buckwheat and quinoa, have a higher protein value. Bean Flours can be used, but I highly recommend using de-gassed beans and then dehydrating and grinding your own--or you might not be (ahem) happy with the results. Please note, there are a lot of cautions regarding oats.  Some gluten-free folks can't tolerate oats.  Others are fine with gluten-free varieties like Bob's Red Mill.  The oats we buy were tested at "gluten-free" levels for years despite their not being certified. For an extensive list of gluten free flours and their characteristics, check out this post at Beyond Celiac.

Some Sticky Help

Gluten is the part of wheat that gives it its "stickiness".  So when you bake gluten free, by definition, you are going to have a "less sticky" final result. There are some things you can do to make up for some of that, however.

Add Starch to the Mix

This is one tip I share with hesitancy.  I personally almost never use starches in my baking since we deal with digestive issues (including gut dysbiosis, which is just too much bad bacteria and not enough good.) Anyway, most gluten free baking "connoisseurs" recommending using a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of starch to whole grain when baking to give the baked goods a fluffy texture reminiscent of baking with all purpose flour. For me, our intestinal health is more important than having the perfect baked good around so I prefer to bake only using whole grains. The only exception is when I am baking cupcakes or cakes, particularly when making them for others and the "sagging in the middle" thing is a concern.  Then I will go "light" on the starch and maybe use a 1:3 ratio of whole grain to starch.

Blend Different Flours Together

Just as with alternative sweeteners, it is best to use more than one flour when making gluten-free baked goods.  It helps prevent just one flavor or texture from dominating the final product and also helps with texture. I tend to use about 1/2 sweet brown rice and then make up the rest with whatever flours I have on hand (typically that's buckwheat, brown rice, amaranth, and millet.) I really do love using homemade oat flour in almost all of my gluten-free baking, however, due to the lovely flavor and texture it adds.

Smaller is better!

Since gluten-free baked goods tend to crumble easily, making all baked good smaller tends to improve their quality and keep them "sticking together" more. Think mini cookies, mini muffins, and mini loaves of bread.

Increase Leavening Agents

When adapting a recipe to make it gluten free, increase the amount of baking powder and baking soda by 25%.  (The quick way to do that on your calculator is to take the amount called for and multiply it by 1.25.)

Crusty vs Soft Sourdough

Sourdough baking, like most baking, is as much art as science; don’t be afraid to color outside the lines! I have had some disasters and some pretty great outcomes. Tell us about yours in the comment section below… *By the way, that 85% hydration for the Malted Rootbeer Sourdough Bread worked out just fine—the whole grains eventually absorbed much of the moisture, so that by the time I was ready to shape and tension the bread, it was easy to handle.

Increasing Starter Volume

The starter should be activated four hours before needed. (If it has been dormant in the fridge, plan on six or more hours before using it.) If you are not after a long ferment, then you can simply feed it with double the amounts of flour and water for two loaves. For example, if you normally feed the start with ½ cup of water and ½ cup flour, just double the amounts for two loaves. And if you are baking more than two loaves, simply feed it more. However, it may take longer for the original start to “inoculate” the larger volume since the original start has more flour and water to digest before it becomes active. With a little extra time, it should become bubbly and double in volume. This is when it’s ready to use.

Using a Levain vs. Starter

Levain is a French term for a sourdough starter that will be completely used in making bread. For example, in the Pain au Levain recipe from a few weeks ago, it called for a 50% hydrated levain made by mixing  1 ¼ cups (150g) flour with ⅓ cup (75g) purified water and just a bit (⅛ cup [30g]) of active sourdough starter. This was left to ferment for 12 hours and the entire thing became the base of the bread recipe. Along the US West Coast, the word “levain” is the part of the starter that is added to the dough. When it is used as a leavening agent made from a mother culture, it is used to boost the activity of the starter by feeding it a larger quantity of flour and water. Levains usually have a larger volume than the usual sized start called for in sourdough bread recipes. This allows the baker to push the bread’s rise giving it a more mild flavor, but with many of the benefits sourdough offers.

Let the Dough Sit

After mixing the batter / dough, let it sit covered for 10-30, or even 60 min before baking. 30, of course is the happy medium. In fact, one reader stated that she let her batter (that contained bean flour) sit for 3 hours and that it made all the difference in her results. This is called "blooming" by some, but this technique gives the flours and starches time to absorb the liquid as well as soften before baking. Batters also become thicker and doughs firm up using this technique. Of course you would have to add leavening agents after this step as otherwise most will not work in the recipe and your resulting product will end up being flat.