Welcome to my blog, through which I hope to be able to share my experiences of gluten free cooking, baking, experimenting and eating.
When my daughter was diagnosed (age 6) with Coeliac Disease, our world of eating changed overnight. From breads, pastry and pasta to cakes, biscuits and puddings.......... suddenly most of what we knew was 'off the menu'. I think I must have tested every available gluten free product on the market, seeking out replacements to try and keep things as normal as possible. I was disappointed to find that what was available was often dry, crumbly and flavourless.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to turn my kitchen into a laboratory, turn all I knew about cooking on its head and start creating!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Gluten Free Flour & Flour Blends

Flour choice and combination is probably one of the trickiest things to adjust when going gluten free. In my 'old life', baking seemed relatively straight forward. I  had a bag of plain flour and a bag of self-raising flour. Occasionally, a recipe called for a more 'specialist' flour which I hurriedly sourced. I had no idea how many flours there are out there or how wonderfully versatile they can be. I still haven't got round to trying them all.................

My gluten-free larder is a very different place. Tub after tub of powdered grains, nuts and seeds lined up, each with different qualities, flavours and textures - many nutritionally superior to traditional wheat flour.

How you use and combine each flour will dictate the lightness, denseness, texture, flavour, crispness, moistness and richness of the finished product. Achieving the desired result for each recipe can be a mind-boggling process and is often a matter of using some basic principles with a lot of trial and error thrown in. I still have a lot to learn and explore, but the journey is proving fascinating and fun.

Although commercially prepared gluten free flour blends are not always necessarily the best substitute for wheat flour, if you do not have the time or inclination to make your own, they can be a good alternative. I have used Doves plain and self-raising blends (which are easy to obtain in most supermarkets) with reasonable results. Orgran all-purpose plain flour and Barkat flour-mix have also proved pretty successful and versatile.

flours, nuts, seeds & grains in my larder


Brown & White Rice Flour - Rice flour is an absolute staple base flour. Made from finely milled rice, it is versatile, easy to obtain, easy to digest and relatively cheap. Best when mixed with other more powdery flours (such as corn and tapioca flours) as it can give a slightly gritty texture, particularly in biscuits.

Potato Starch (Flour) - Another essential in the larder, potato starch flour is made from washed, dried potato starch and can be easily found in many supermarkets. It readily absorbs liquid, has a neutral flavour and particularly good binding ability. Because of these qualities, it makes a perfect addition to most flour mixes used for baking.

Tapioca Flour - Made from dried starch extracted from Cassava. Tapioca flour is lighter than potato flour, but also has good absorption and binding qualities, making it particularly great when baking cakes and biscuits. It has a slightly sweet flavour, combines easily with other flours and on its own, works well as a thickener for gravies and sauces or as a flour coating. Extremely versatile, it can be easily sourced in many large supermarkets.


Corn Flour - Also known as Corn Starch, is made from the finely powdered starch of the maize grain. Found in the baking aisle of supermarkets, this very light and versatile flour is an essential ingredient in most cakes, biscuits and pastry. Has a tendency to be dry and powdery, so is best mixed with other, more moisture-retaining flours (eg. potato flour or ground almonds). As it is virtually tasteless, with superb thickening qualities and turns clear when cooked, it is perfect for use in sauces and fruit or vegetable coulis. Well known as the base flour of custard.

Ground Almonds - Well worth the extra cost, ground almonds have a higher oil content so help make cakes rich, moist and decadent. Cakes made with almonds seem to improve with age.  Delicious in pastry and biscuits as well. I can't get enough of their sweet, nutty bite which seems to make the difference between a good bake and a great bake..... They are high in protein and low in carbohydrate and there appears to be a growing body of research that suggests they may also have fantastic cholesterol-reducing and other health-improving properties!

Almond Flour - Made from finely ground, blanched almonds, almond flour has all the nutritional value and qualities of its ground sister above. Because it is more dense in volume, it needs to be weighed with care, as it cannot be substituted on a volume for volume basis with ground almonds.

Chestnut Flour - Finely ground chestnuts make a flour with a deep, rich, nutty flavour. High in carbohydrates, but with a surprisingly low fat content, chestnut flour makes a delicious addition to breads, cakes, pastries, and other baked goods and 'crumbs'.


Oat Flour - Made from ground oats (see method below), this is another of my favourites .......Although not tolerated by all coeliac sufferers, this wonderfully versatile cereal grain is actually gluten free. Source from a supplier certified gluten free however, to avoid cross contamination which may result from the growing and production process.
A good source of protein, fibre, vitamin E and calcium, oat flour adds a wonderful creamy, but slightly chewy texture and oaty flavour to the whole range of baked goods. Needs to be combined with plenty of added moisture to avoid a dry, crumbly result.
Sorghum Flour - Produced from sorghum cereal grain, milled to a soft, fine flour. Sorghum flour has a light, but slightly gritty texture and needs combining with other flours for best results. Bland in flavour, but adds a lightness to baking. As it is quite dry, it requires added moisture. Difficult to source in the UK without going through specialist stores and suppliers.

Masa Harina (white & blue) - Maize flour traditionally used in Latin American cuisine. Masa Harina comes in white and (rarer) blue form. Makes authentic corn tortillas and tamales, which are difficult to find in the UK. I make my own tortillas, using a 70-30 (white to blue) flour ratio, because somehow, they just taste richer and yummier! Also works well in alternative flat breads including gluten free chapatti recipes alongside Gram and other flours. Source on line for the best variety and value.

Gram Flour - Produced from ground chickpeas, gram flour is an essential ingredient in Indian and other cuisines from the Indian subcontinent. Has a good protein content and is also high in carbohydrate. Gives a good texture and wholesome flavour to gluten-free flat breads.

Coconut Flour - Made from dried, ground coconut meat, coconut flour is low calorie, but high in protein and fibre. Use with care as it is extremely dry and absorbent, so requires very high ratios of liquid when cooking. Adds a distinctly coconutty flavour and slightly chewy texture.

Buckwheat Flour - Despite its name, buckwheat flour has no relationship with wheat. It is produced by grinding the kernels of the buckwheat plant into a fine powder. Although it is naturally gluten free, ensure your source has no risk of cross-contamination from adjacent growing with gluten containing crops or milling equipment. Best mixed with other flours, buckwheat has a strong nutty, but slightly bitter flavour. Nonetheless versatile and often found in gluten free pancake recipes, batters and some pastas.


Amaranth - Flour is made from grinding the seeds of the amaranth plant, however the seeds themselves can also be used whole or flaked in a variety of ways. It can be found in breakfast cereal; used as a meal accompaniment in a similar way to rice or couscous (note couscous contains gluten); sprinkled on salads when sprouting, used to make 'pop corn' or in flour form contributing to baked recipes. Amaranth is high in protein and is also a good source of essential vitamins and minerals (including calcium, iron and vitamin E).

Soya Flour - Full of protein, soya flour is produced from ground, roasted yellow soya beans. It retains moisture well and has good thickening properties, so is a good addition to bread mixes, pastry and sauces. It has a strong flavour however which is not to everyone's taste.

Polenta - A native Italian ingredient, with a slightly sweet taste, polenta is made from ground cornmeal. Traditionally eaten as an accompaniment to fish and meat in a similar way to mashed potato. In its finely ground form (and particularly when combined with other flours and ground nuts), it adds a slightly dense, nutty bite to baked foods.

Quinoa Flour - Milled from the quinoa grain, this flour combines well with other flours in breads, biscuits, pastries and other baked goods, to add a strong, but slightly nutty flavour. Nutrient-rich, it contains more protein than other flours.  

Xanthan Gum - A natural gum produced by fermenting sugar and 'friendly bacteria'. The use of xanthan gum (or alternatively guar gum) is essential to most gluten free baking as it provides the elasticity which would otherwise be achieved from the now removed gluten. Used carefully, it gives dough and mixtures a sticky consistency and helps to bind, thicken and give 'stretch' to gluten free flours. A natural binder, it is essential if you are to avoid dry, crumbly results.  

Guar Gum (made from guar beans) is more difficult to obtain, although it does the same job.


Ground Chia Seed - Chia seeds come from a plant in the mint family which originates from central and southern America. Rich in Omega 3, fatty acids, protein, sodium and fibre, Chia seeds have been identified as a 'superfood' for their nutritional qualities. They will also absorb up to twelve times their weight in liquid when soaked.

Nutty in flavour, Chia can be sprinkled into cereals, on yoghurts, salads, or added to energy bars. Finely ground, it makes a fantastic binding agent (a good alternative to xanthan or guar gum), which works particularly well in breads and pastries. It can also be used as an egg replacer.

Ground Hazelnuts - Also known as the Cobnut or Filbert, Hazelnuts can be eaten shelled and raw, or can be ground (either raw or roasted) into a coarse or finer flour or paste.

Hazelnuts are rich in protein and unsaturated fat and are also high in vitamin B6 and thiamine.
They have a sweet, creamy nut flavour and are perfect for use in biscuits, meringues, chocolate-hazelnut spread, nut butter, cakes, pralines, crumbles and sweet pastries.

Millet Flakes - Another seeded grass, Millet is not just bird seed! It is used in many parts of the world for making beer, porridge, in stews and bakes. It is rich in B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iron and some other minerals.

Depending on the cooking process, the texture of millet will vary. It can be creamy like mashed potato, fluffy like rice, porridgy like oats or add a nutty texture to bakes, crumbs and coatings. For an extra nutty flavour, the grains can be roasted before processing.

Flaxseed - Flax (also known as Linseed) has a high Omega 3 content (although not as high as Chia) and is grown either brown or yellow/golden. In its ground form, it is a great addition to flour mixes for breads, pastries and other baked goods. Seeds can also be sprinkled whole into the mix or onto loaves, muffins, cereals, breakfast bars etc, to add a nutty bite.

Once opened, Flaxseed can go 'rancid' if not used quickly, although its shelf life can be extended by refrigeration.

Glutinous Rice Flour - Glutinous Rice Flour (a short-grain variety) is also called sticky rice or sweet rice and is mainly grown in East and Southeast Asia. In Japan it is called 'Mochiko'. Despite its name, it does not taste sweet, nor does it contain any gluten, but when cooked it becomes particularly sticky or gluey. It is low in fat and rich in carbohydrate and is widely available in Asian and Thai supermarkets.

When the rice is ground into flour, it is white in appearance. Because it has a much higher starch content than other types of rice, it is a good addition to the gluten free larder for use as a thickening or binding agent in soups and sauces. It also works extremely well in flour mixes formulated for pasta, breads, pastries and cakes as it not only aids the binding process but also holds in moisture.

How to make gluten free oat flour

Gluten free oat flour can work out pretty expensive if you buy it ready-milled. I make my own which only takes a few minutes. Make sure you source certified gluten free oats to avoid any possibility of cross-contamination from adjacent or same field growing. These are now readily available in most supermarkets, many of which produce their own brands (found on the 'free from' shelf) at a reasonable price.


Use a food processor to grind gluten free pure oats until you have a fine powder. This will take about 15-20 seconds on full power.

You can grind on a weight for weight ratio for each recipe (same weight of oats as needed for required oat flour quantity).

Or....... grind a kilo or so at a time and store in an airtight container so that you always have it there when you need it.
 

 Alchemist gluten free flour blend (A)

This is my own blend. I have formulated it over many months based on my growing understanding the qualities of various gluten free flours, combined with a lot of tweaking and testing. I have also tried to take account of the easy availability of individual ingredients to the UK market as this is what I can access day to day.
This blend has (for me) produced cakes, biscuits and other bakes which are light, bind well and have a texture and taste which rivals any gluten-based flour mix. Where a recipe calls for an additional element to achieve the final hoped-for result, I may add something extra to the mix (some ground almonds, oats or any one of the flours listed above). This is done on a recipe by recipe basis.  

Ingredients (makes 650g) - store in an airtight container

200g white rice flour                    110g corn flour
125g brown rice flour                  120g tapioca flour
95g potato starch (flour)             5g xanthan gum
Weigh all the ingredients into an airtight container. Seal the lid closed and shake well to mix.

Note : Potato Starch may be labelled 'Potato Starch (flour)'. It should still be potato starch.

An alternative flour mix (B)

When we first had to eat gluten free, I tried a whole bunch of flour mixes before I settled on the one above. Quite early on I found this white gluten free four mix in the book 'gluten-free bread & cakes from your breadmaker', by Carolyn Humphries (2004) and found it worked pretty well in many recipes. It produces a heavier and more dense bake than my own mix, but I have reproduced it here as I still use it for some recipes (such as trifle sponges) where I want a texture with more density and bite. Thank you Carolyn!

Ingredients (makes 650g) - store in an airtight container

50g tapioca flour (or buckwheat flour)                  100g potato starch (flour)
50g corn flour                                                     450g white rice flour
Weigh all the ingredients into an airtight container. Seal the lid closed and shake well to mix.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated.

6 comments:

  1. An excellent round up of all the flours on the market. Love how you have given their nutritional properties too. I love experimenting with new flours. I've only recently disocvered Masa harina, so will have to try is as you suggested for tortillas

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    1. Thank you Katie. As you can see, I am very new to blogging, so I really appreciate that you have taken the time to read me! Good luck with the tortillas....

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  2. I have tried your cheese scones and they are delicious! Thank you so much for sharing. I was just wondering which recipes call for your flour blends. I have made up the first one but now dont know how to use it. I will definitwly be trying some of your other recipes or sure! Thanks hain, Sharon

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    1. I am so pleased you like them Sharon. I use my flour blends (mainly A) in just about anything I make (other than where I specify a specific individual flour). I use it as a substitute for the commercially available GF blends as I have found it to be less 'ricey/gritty' and it produces a far more even-textured bake which is more akin to traditional wheat textures. Some GF bakes call for specific individual flour (tapioca, buck wheat, sorghum, etc) combinations which I always specify (sometimes alongside the GF blend). Does that all make sense??

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  3. Nice! I am definitely going to try the Blend A! At present I use Doves but still find it a bit grainy. I have Bob's Red Mill to try too but import fees are pretty high. I have most of the ingredients you list in the cupboard. Will let you know how I get on!!!!! Awesome!

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    1. It's worked really well for me as a general 'go to'. Have now been using it for about three years! Much less 'ricey' than commercial blends...... seems to give it a better balance. Let me know how it goes.

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