Have you ever baked a gluten-free bread, roll, cookie or cake, had it turn out just lovely, then bite in and see your efforts turn to a pile of crumbs?
For those times you’re baking and end up with less-than-desirable results, it could be any number of things. And the problem is, it can be difficult to determine exactly what the issue is without a multitude of repeat experiments.
Of course, with repeat experiments, some baking “truths” begin to surface. I’ve compiled a few basic guidelines we can use to help insure our gluten-free baked goods are light, fluffy and moist, and never dry.
First, let’s look at the most common complaints I hear about dry baked goods from readers.
Readers often complain their gluten-free baked goods:
- Have a dry interior
- Crumble when picked up
- Have an interior that falls apart as soon as bitten into
- Are dense and heavy
To understand why gluten-free baked goods dry out so, it helps to understand the qualities and properties of gluten, which are the properties we want our gluten-free flour blends to mimic.
What’s So Great about Gluten?
Gluten makes baked goods pillowy, chewy and elastic. Here’s why:
- Gluten is a protein. That is the reason it provides structure to baked goods so they don’t crumble apart. I think of it like this: In our bodies, protein is essential for lean muscle growth and maintenance. Muscles give our bodies structure. They make us strong. Think of protein in baked goods the same way. Gluten protein in baked goods provide strength, structure and keep them from “falling down”.
- Gluten also creates little pockets of air in the batter to produce light, fluffy baked goods. Even though gluten is nice and strong, it is also what lends that tender elastic crumb to cakes and breads.
There’s a lot more to gluten (especially when it comes to how it behaves around other ingredients in baking) but these basics are enough to give us an idea of the role gluten plays in our baking. Which leads us to our own gluten-free baking. It takes a bit of adjusting to, wouldn’t you say?
There are new flours to try, gums to consider and a whole new set of “rules” to follow. It can make for challenging times in the kitchen. To help us overcome some of the challenges of gluten-free baking, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common flour-related mistakes that can make our baked goods dry.
5 Flour-Related Mistakes that Lead to Dry Gluten-Free Baked Goods
1. Substituting a single gluten-free flour for gluten-filled flour in recipes (versus using a balanced gluten-free flour blend).
2. Substituting gluten-free flour 1-for-1 for gluten-filled flour in “traditional” recipes we want to convert to gluten free.
3. Using a gluten-free flour with too little protein. (Remember, protein means structure and stability!)
4. Adding more gluten-free flour to the batter (even when it is not called for in the recipe) because the batter appears too thin (relative to what we are used to in traditional gluten-filled baking). Many gluten-free batters tend to be more runny and not as thick as traditional batters containing gluten.
5. Improper measuring of dry ingredients (like scooping flour from the container with our measuring cup versus using the more accurate “spoon and level” method; more on this in a moment.)
Now for the remedy.
Tips for Moist,Tender Gluten-Free Baking Success
With the specific flours and starches listed below, use only those you can safely eat. If you have an allergy or intolerance to a specific food, do not use that flour or starch in your baking.
1. Never use a single gluten-free flour.
Use a blend of two or more gluten-free flours (at least one that contains significant protein) and a starch.
Examples of gluten-free flours: white or brown rice flour, certified gluten free oat flour, sorghum flour, amaranth flour, quinoa flour, millet flour, buckwheat flour, teff, bean flours (like fava or garbanzo beans), coconut flour, nut/seed flours (like almond meal, almond flour and chestnut flour), soy flour.
Examples of gluten-free starches: arrowroot, tapioca, potato starch (not potato flour), cornstarch.
You can learn about these, and more, as well as how to substitute one for another in your baking in my resource, Substituting Gluten-Free Flours and Starches.
2. Unless you’re using a true cup-for-cup gluten-free flour (a blend you make yourself or a store-bought product that states it is an all-purpose cup-for-cup gluten-free flour), you may need to adjust the amount of flour used when converting traditional gluten-filled recipes to gluten free.
One solution if you are not using a true cup-for-cup flour is to weigh your flour on a digital kitchen scale. One cup of wheat flour weighs approximately 125 grams. So, in a traditional recipe calling for wheat flour, measure out 125 grams of your gluten free flour blend. This is a good starting point for converting “old favorites” that are made with gluten-filled flour. See my resource, Gluten-Free Baking by Weight, for more on this.
3. Be sure you incorporate protein into your gluten-free flour blend.
Examples of high-protein gluten free flours: Amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, teff, bean flours and nut/seed flours. If you cannot find these in stores near you, you can either order prepared flours online or buy the whole product (for example, amaranth seeds) and mill your own flour. (This is what I do with amaranth, quinoa, oats and millet.)
4. Resist the urge to add more gluten-free flour or starch to a recipe until you’ve first tested the recipe as written, even if the batter looks too thin.
In general, gluten-free batters are not as thick as traditional batters made with wheat flour. For example, some gluten-free bread dough is so thin it must be poured into a pan – as thin as cake batter. Adding more flour or starch is nearly a sure-fire way to end up with a crumbly, inedible mess.
5. For gluten-free baked goods that really measure up to their gluten-filled counterparts, we must measure flours and starches properly.
Instead of dipping the measuring scoop down into the flour container and scooping, use the spoon-and-level method. Simply spoon the flour from its container into your measuring cup, then use a flat edge (like the back of a butter knife) to scrape across the measuring cup to level the flour.
Scooping down into the container is undesirable because it causes flour to be packed into the measuring cup. When that happens it is almost certain we will use more flour than called for in our recipe.
Using the scoop-and-level method insures we use the same amount of flour each time we bake for consistent results. (Measuring flour on a digital scale is the best way to be certain we always use the same amount of ingredients.)
You can see exactly how to measure your gluten-free flours (and how other methods can be inconsistent) in my short YouTube how-to video.
For more info on gluten-free flours, check out these free resources I created for you:
- Learn about storing, measuring and sifting gluten free flours here.
- Use these gluten free flour blends for your baked goods or as inspiration to create your own blend.
With this information and these useful resources, you’re on your way to gluten-free baking success! Have fun!