Alternative Flours and Starches Offer Amazing Gluten-Free Results!

Gluten-free shortbread-cookiesThis week, I was asked how we (the gluten free) can bake delicious shortbread cookies without ‘flour.’ Here’s a brief primer of  popular alternative flours and starches that bakers rely upon to create amazing gluten-free baking, as offered by Juliana Goodwin of News-Leader.

I’ve included pictures from Real Food Made Easy in Victoria, British Columbia as inspiration!

gluten free cake

Almond Flour is one of the most popular alternative flours locally. It’s a low carb option.

Almond flour has 5 grams of carbs in ¼ cup whereas a ¼ cup of wheat flour would be about 30 grams. It’s significantly higher in fat and calories though, said Seaton.  ¼ cup of almond flour has 14 grams of fat; versus less than 1 gram of fat in regular flour.

Carpenter also stressed that while almond flour is lower in carbohydrates, if you use it to bake a cake with sugar, it’s not necessarily healthier if you’re diabetic (who tend to gravitate toward this flour).

Almond flour is a good source of fiber and protein and it’s loved for its sweet, slightly nutty flavor. Almond flour is best used in sweets and pizza crusts, said Osborn. Substitute it for graham cracker crumbs in a no-bake crust.

gluten free cakeArrowroot Starch is best used as a thickener for sauces, puddings and fillings for fruit pies. Here’s a tip when using it to thicken a sauce: Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-low heat, and then whisk ¼ cup water and 2 tablespoons arrowroot starch together in a cup. Stir that mixture into the simmering sauce and heat for one minute or until thickened.

Amaranth Flour was used by the Aztecs and is made by grinding the seeds from the amaranth plant. It has a grassy taste and is best in savory dishes like pizza or quiche. When blending, use 25 percent amaranth flour blended with other flours.

gluten free cakeCoconut Flour is one of the most popular alternative flours, it is rich in protein, fiber and fat, which makes it filling. Coconut flour is also a good source of lauric acid, a healthy saturated fat, said Carpenter.

Coconut flour is popular in baking, has a sweet smell and great flavor, said Osborn. It  requires an equal ratio of liquid to flour for best results. If you’re blending, use 20 percent coconut flour but you will need to add an equal amount of liquid to compensate. For tips on working with coconut flour, visit Nourished Kitchen.

gluten free cake 8Bean Flours from garbanzo to fava and black bean are high in carbohydrates, will have a similar amount of carbohydrates to regular flour, but  will be higher in protein and fiber, said Carpenter.

Garbanzo Bean is one of the more popular bean flour choices, according to local experts. Use it in baking or to thicken soups and gravies.

Guar Gum is used as a thickener in sauces but is also used as binder to mimic the effects of gluten. To use guar gum instead of xanthan gum (also popular) in baking, use 1½ times the amount of guar gum. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon xanthan gum, you should use 1½ teaspoons of guar gum.

gluten free cake 4Oat Flour is a favorite of MaMa Jean’s customers. The same way oats are good for you, so is the flour because it’s simply made by pulverizing oats. The flour is light so it’s useful in cakes and cookies (like oatmeal raisin cookies). Use a blend of about 25 percent oat flour. For a host of recipe ideas from Canada’s #1 Pure oats manufacturer, click here!

Potato Starch is just the starch from the potato and is often used as a thickener in sauces.

Potato Flour is made from the entire potato; it can also be used as a thickener, but it will give your foods a strong potato flavor. It’s ideal in potato bread though. If a recipe calls for potato starch flour, use potato starch.

gluten free cakeRice Flours just as there is a variety of rice, similar rules apply to the rice flours.  Brown rice is better for you and so is brown rice flour. Brown rice is high in protein, iron, fiber, potassium, vitamin B and manganese. Rice also comes in different grains, and those impact the flour. For example, short-grained rice makes nice rice flour because it’s starchier. In general, rice flours work well in baking and can also thicken sauces and gravies.

Sorghum Flour, native to Africa is high in protein, iron, antioxidants and dietary fiber. The starch and protein in sorghum take longer than other similar products to digest. It tends to have a smooth texture and is slightly sweet. Add 15 to 20 percent sorghum flour to your flour mixes for baked goods such as cakes or cookies.

gluten free cakeSoy Flour is a great source of protein and it is high in dietary fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. If you want to experiment with soy flour, replace up to 30 percent of regular flour with it. Soy flour browns more quickly, so keep an eye on your baked goods or just use a recipe designed for soy flour.

Tapioca Flour, also known as tapioca starch: comes from cassava plant, which flourishes in South America. The root is dried and ground into flour. Its starchiness makes it a good gluten-free flour, but it must be blended with other flours and used in moderation, said Osborn. Mix it with almond flour to make pizza crust, suggests Osborn. It’s also a good thickener for pies or sauces.

gluten free cake 2Teff is actually a grass native to Ethiopia. It is high in dietary fiber, iron, protein, calcium and carbohydrates. Teff is a good binder in baked goods but has an almost gelatinous texture. Osborn believes sales of teff will increase in the future. Some states, like Kansas, are starting to produce it. It’s nice in baked goods like banana bread and waffles. It is good mixed with sorghum flour, said Osborn.

For the very best selection of gluten-free flours in Victoria and Vancouver Island, look no further than Lifestyle Markets on Douglas Street. Their gluten-free department is amazing and staff are happy to take special requests!

gluten free flour weight conversions

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If it sounds confusing, it can be, but Janice Mansfield of Real Food Made Easy in Victoria, BC is here to help! Each picture in this post is proof of her amazing pudding!

“When I first began baking gluten-free products, I was stymied as to why some baked goods turned out well while others were disastrous, and simultaneously began to wonder why I wasn’t baking by weight as I do when baking wheat-based products.  Given the high cost of many gluten-free flours, this was not only an exercise in frustration, but was becoming costly for my baking “fails”.

This idle thought quickly brought me to a point of frustration, as I discovered that the many gluten-free flours I was working with all had different weight-volume ratios!  i.e. a cup of sorghum flour IS NOT equivalent to a cup of potato starch … or rice flour!

Out of frustration, and because I do a fair bit of customized baking and recipe development, I pulled together this chart of gluten-free flours and their weight-volume equivalents.   I hope you find it useful — some has been gleaned from packaging,  and some has been double checked by my own measurments.  I also use this to calculate the gram-per-cup measure of some of the more common flour mixtures I use for my baked goods (simply calculate a weighted average for the flour mix of your choice).”

Gluten free resource guide

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For the definitive Resource Guide on Gluten-Free Baking, Lisa Diamond and Areli Hermanson share the secret traits of gluten-free grains, bean and nut/seed flours and what you should know about hydrophilic and protein binders, liquids, foams, sugars, and fats. The tips, tools, techniques, and visuals they share will help you demystify gluten-free baking forever!

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