Until they need to go gluten free, most people never give a thought to the role gluten plays in their baked goods. It is gluten that makes baked goods bind. The proteins in gluten arrange themselves to trap gas bubbles. Their alignment also provides elasticity in the dough. It is gluten this makes the airy cell structure we associate with beautiful bakery bread and cakes. Up until about 5 years ago flour alternatives were primarily rice, corn, pea, potato and tapioca flour. Even when properly ground, baked goods made with these flours were gritty and or rubbery in texture, and the taste was often ‘off’.
In the last 5 years the demand for gluten-free products has grown immensely. Our store shelves now contain a variety of grains and flours from these grains, such as millet, kasha, amaranth, coconut flour, quinoa flour, bean flours, nut flours, gluten-free oats, and teff. These new flours now offer better flavors and textures in baking. Also, products such as xanthan gum, guar gum and other binders are now available, again improving the taste and texture of your recipes.
Here are 5 tips for improving the texture of your recipes as you move to gluten free recipes:
1. Replace milk or water in recipes with buttermilk. Buttermilk will give a finer and lighter overall texture. Carbonated water also substitutes well for regular water in recipes such as pancakes – again giving a lighter texture.
2. Unflavored gelatin can be used as a binding agent in baking – and it will help prevent crumbling. Remember to soften the gelatin in the liquid of the recipe before adding.
3. A combination of gluten free flours usually produces a better result than single flours.
4. To prevent crumbling you can use xanthan gum or guar gum in baking. Remember to add the gum to the dry ingredients. Note: some people have better results with the xathum gum as the guar gum can produce stomach ache in some.
5. Let your dough sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature to soften for a better texture in the final result.
In general there are a few basic differences in gluten-free baked goods that you will need to account for in converting old recipes. Gluten-free bread dough will be stickier and softer. If you try to make it appear like your old recipe it will likely be too heavy, dry and crumbly. Also, the baking times will differ. Gluten free recipes tend to be better when baked for a longer time in a lower temperature. You may need to tent with foil to prevent overbrowning while allowing the entire bread or cake to cook through.
Your best asset when going gluten free is one or two cookbooks where you can learn the tips and tricks that will make your foods turn out well every time. Once you are comfortable with the substitutions, and changes in characteristics of cooking times, etc., then you can start converting old family favorite recipes into new gluten free family favorite recipes.