Demystifying GF Flours for Holiday Baking Fun

December is upon us. Cookie season is here. I have already had emergency calls about gf flour choices and substitutions in creating something gf when the baker is not gf and is more than a little confused. So I am reposting this flour treatise from before Thanksgiving, in the hopes that folks will read it and use this information to have the beset possible results. GF baking is more technical than wheat flour based recipes. Substituting is more tricky especially flour subbing. So before you make those gf cookies for a family member read up on the differences so you use the right flour.

So, I am writing this post for a friend who wants to cook gf dishes for someone in her family for the holidays. I want to go over the flour issue particularly for someone new to cooking gf meals. It is slightly tricky so I am going to try to make it clear for everyone: here goes.

you could use this rice flour for gravy making

There are individual gf flours like rice flour, buckwheat flour, oat flour, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, potato starch, cornstarch, sorghum flour, brown rice flour, etc.! A bewildering array of choices as almost any grain can be ground into a flour. Flour can then be processed to create a starch, which tends to be nearly flavorless but often has a big purpose in gf baking. I rarely use just one flour in a baking recipe. Why? Because a single flour is often missing an important characteristic of what we want in a baking result. A mixture has different kinds of flours to replicate all purpose flour (wheat based) or whole grain flour (also wheat based). With out the gluten there are a number of ways to make it a useful blend for cooking or baking. That said, I use just single flour blends in sauces. Just for sauces people!

I usually use blends for baking, 2-6 flours that work together to mimic wheat-based flour in different applications like bread, cake, cobbler, cookies, pastry or pasta dough. I have a number of them but my favorite is one you can buy in most stores.  King Arthur’s Basic GF Blend; made of a proportional blend of brown rice flour, potato starch and tapioca starch.  I use it for over 90% of my baking and cooking needs. There are a number of blends available from companies like Bob’s Red Mill or Jeanes. There are many, many blends provided in gf cookbooks.  It can be a lot of jars/cans/zip lock bags of blends labeled and stored in your freezer or fridge.  Some of these blends have a gum like xanthan gum included. The gum helps your finished bread/cookie/cake hold together – in wheat based recipes it is the gluten that is the “glue” that holds things together. My blend doesn’t have it so I add it based upon my recipe. Doesn’t take much xanthan gum; ½-1 tsp is often enough.

I have used this blend and had good results. : Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour, 44-ounce :  Grocery & Gourmet Food
Bob’s Red Mill calls it 1 to 1 Baking Flour; same idea as measure for measure.

In recent years measure for measure blends also called 1 to 1 or cup for cup have appeared. They have a different use; they are for when you want to make a normally gluten based recipe but use a gf flour. FYI: most gf recipes have been altered from their original recipe or are created just for gf flour. If you want to take those cookies you can’t enjoy and sub in gf flour these new measure for measure blends are perfect to do that. You don’t need to alter your recipe or add gum. The flour blend is made to mimic regular all purpose flour. It is not interchangeable with things like the Basic GF Blend from King Arthur that I mention above. Don’t use measure for measure in a gf based recipe. King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill or a few other companies have a measure for measure blend so get that if you want to take your gluten based recipe and change it to gf.

King Arthur Flour Baking Mix, All Purpose, Gluten Free | Flour & Meals |  Edwards Food Giant
I used an image for King Arthur baking mix as this is the only premade mix I have tried. It works great!

One more thing, many companies now have gf baking mixes that can be used to make muffins, cookies, cates, etc. They are different from the blends described above. Do not substitute those blends for a basic blend like the one I use. These blends already have gum, baking powder, salt, etc. added to the flour. They are very convenient and there are lots of recipes for using them.

To repeat; there are single flours, there are blends with or without gum added, there are measure for measure blends for use in gluten based recipes you want to recreate as a gf dish and there are baking mixes that can be used as a starting place for a quickly constructed baked good like a cake, cookie or muffin. I know, it seems complicated but read your recipe carefully so you get the right kind of flour to make it successfully. The wrong flour will give you a poor result as gf baking is relatively unforgiving of big errors like that.

pie made with King Arthur Basic GF flour blend

My recipes generally tell you which flour blend I used. You cannot sub in measure for measure for a basic blend.  Nor can you use a baking mix for anything but a recipe meant specifically for a baking mix. Get the right flour and you will have a great start towards a delicious result. I hope I have educated you on this issue so you can be successful if you need to bake gf this holiday season. Have fun baking!