The Science of Gluten Free Flours
There are lots of gluten free flours and they all have different characteristics. If you want to make up your own gluten free flour mixes, to get something that will respond well when making pastry, scones, cakes or bread, you generally need to mix two or more different flours together to get the right outcome.
You can buy commercially prepared gluten free flours as well, and for day to day baking I often use them. But I’ve found that even the commercial mixes are not perfect. I now get a couple of different brands and mix them together to get the flour mix that works for me, or I mix my own.
Gluten free flours and their characteristics.
Made from the seed of the amaranth plant, this four has an earthy taste and is great for pizza dough and savoury pie pastry. I find the flavour quite strong so either mix it (25% amaranth to other flours), or use it for something savoury with a strong taste.
Made from the root of the arrowroot plant. It’s a tasteless flour generally used for thickening clear sauces. It can also be mixed with other flours as a sort of glue to get them all to work together. Add this to cold or lukewarm sauces or ingredients. Otherwise it will lump and not create a thickened sauce.
Sometimes tapioca flour is labelled as Arrowroot flour. It depends on the plant it came from. It doesn’t really matter, but real tapioca flour is better for browning and adding “stickiness” to your baking mixes.
Made from roasted chick peas. Be careful with this one as not all besan flour is created equal. It can have a very strong taste if you get the cheaper stuff. Personally, I rarely use it, but some recipes will call for it.
Brown Rice Flour
Made from unpolished brown rice. It has a higher nutritional value than white rice flour, and is a heavier flour as well. It’s good for biscuits, pancakes and breads.
Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat at all. It comes from a plant that is related to rhubarb. It has a very strong flavour so you wouldn’t generally use it on its own unless you’re making a dish that is already quite strongly flavoured so it won’t be overpowered by the taste of the buckwheat. Blend it with rice or corn flour to weaken the taste. Use for savoury pastries or muffins.
Chick Pea or Garbanzo Bean Flour
Made from unroasted chick peas (garbanzo beans). Has a more pleasant taste than besan flour, and is a moist heavy flour.
Polenta or Cornmeal
This is a very coarse flour and is very absorbent. I love making polenta fritters or coating mushrooms in a polenta batter.
Potato Flour is a heavy flour and has a very strong potato flavour. You can use it to thicken casseroles and add it to pastries to make them crispy. Use sparingly, and only add to cold ingredients. If you put it straight into hot sauces it will lump immediately and you’ll end up with something like potato dumplings.
Potato Starch is a fine white powder and has none of the strong potato flavour of potato flour. It’s great for sponge cakes or shortbread. Again, only add to cold ingredients or it will lump.
Quinoa is actually a seed and is incredibly versatile. It’s a great source of proteins and amino acids. Quinoa puffs are a great substitute for couscous, and the flour is great for cakes and pastries. I also use quinoa in salads because of its high protein content.
White Rice Flour
Use in noodles, pastry, shortbread and bread. Only add to cold ingredients or it will lump.
Soy flour has a strong, nutty taste and is usually mixed with other flours as the taste is very strong. It’s a stronger flour with a high fat content. It works really well mixed with other flours for breads and biscuits. Because of the strong taste, I tend to not use it much, and mix it in sparingly with other flours when I do. I find the taste lingers and I’m not a fan of the flavour.
Tapioca flour is made from the root of the cassava plant. It adds chewiness to baked dishes, and helps with browning and crisping of baked goods. Only add to cold ingredients as it will lump if you add to hot sauces.
Most gluten free flours tend to not brown very well. If you want a nice brown finish to your baking, you might want to use an egg or milk wash. Tapioca flour helps with browning, which is why it’s often added to commercial gluten free flour mixes.
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