So-called “health food,” i.e. vegetarian and vegan food, has made a lot of headway in gaining respect among chefs and other industry folks, thanks to tasty concepts like by CHLOE in New York.
Still, there’s maybe no word in the culinary lexicon that draws as much ire as “gluten-free.” Most food-centric folk regard it as the hyphenate from hell–a senseless trend and more criminally, a ruiner of baked goods. Gluten-free baked goods are thought of as dry, crumbly things–a cheap suggestion of whatever kind of pastry, cake, or cookie whose good reputation they’re sullying.
That doesn’t change the fact that gluten-free goods are in demand. If you’re selling dessert, you’d be wise to have some gluten-free options–and that means getting familiar with your gluten-free flour options.
Gluten-free flours aren’t actually a single kind of flour, but a blend of several flours that, used together, have similar baking properties as wheat flour. A good general rule is to choose one from each category listed below, in a ratio of 1:2:2
Of course, it depends a lot on what you’re making. Certain flours, like chickpea (a medium weight flour, FYI) have a distinct flavor, and therefore only work well in certain applications. Which flours you use, and in what ratios, will also depend on the texture you’re trying to achieve. For something dense like a pound cake, you might use more heavy flour, and possibly a bit more starch to help tighten up your batter.
Gluten-free flour blends are all about trial and error, but cracking the code can make a huge difference for your menu.
Light Flours & Starches
Potato Starch: Great for its neutral flavor and ability to add moisture, potato starch is a safe bet for many applications. [NOTE: Make sure you’re getting potato starch and not potato flour.]
Corn Starch: This is a great beginner option because, chances are, you’ve already got some. If you’re making gluten-free bread, corn starch will help your loaf develop an outer crust.
Arrowroot Flour: Similar to corn starch, and especially good for thickening sauces and pie fillings.
Tapioca Starch: If you’re baking something with a lighter texture, tapioca starch is probably the way to go. Also, like arrowroot, it’s a great thickening agent.
Millet Flour: With a protein structure similar to that of whole wheat flour, millet is great for making a general-purpose flour blend. It’s also pretty starchy, though, so keep that in mind.
Oat Flour: Oat flour is nutritionally dense, and can be used on its own since it provides a good rise for baked goods.
Quinoa Flour: Like the grain it’s made from, quinoa has a distinctive flavor (it’s more bitter as a flour than as a grain) that makes it great for savory baked goods–especially dense ones, since quinoa is so protein-heavy. Let’s get real specific and recommend making biscuits.
Sorghum Flour: Many gluten-free bakers swear by sorghum as the closest thing to wheat flour in terms of texture, to the point that it can be used on its own in certain applications, e.g. pancakes.
Brown Rice Flour: This flour can be used alone to yield a dense product if that’s what you’re after. Make sure you get the superfine ground variety to avoid gritty texture.
Buckwheat Flour: Use this dense, nutritious flour in combination with a medium and a starch, for sure.
Coconut Flour: If you’re using coconut flour, you simply shouldn’t use that 1:2:2 ration we talked about. Coconut flour is very absorbent and can suck the moisture out of whatever you’re making. For scones, though, maybe consider using coconut flour.
Teff Flour: Teff can provide a dense, almost gelatinous quality to a baked good, and like coconut flour, shouldn’t be used in equal parts with a medium flour.