Gluten free flour and how to use it

Gluten free flour on shelfMy gluten free flour shelf

Gluten free flour is a necessary ingredient if, like me, you suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.  But with such a variety now available which do you choose, and how do you use them?

Your first choice is whether to pick a wheat flour that has had the gluten removed, or a naturally gluten free option.

Personally, although the first is safe according to the rules, I suffer badly after eating foods baked with it. Therefore, I prefer to stick to flours that have never contained gluten.

I was diagnosed with celiac disease back in 1960, as a baby, and it was extremely difficult to find ANY flour that was safe to bake with. 


There was one commercial mix available, which had to be ordered by post from abroad. Although my mother tried hard, most attempts at baking with it were unsuccessful but as it was expensive I had to consume the results. My only other option was a cylindrical tin of bread that was so dry I coughed after every mouthful.


In my teens, a few gluten free flours started appearing in health food shops. I remember rice flour, soya flour, potato starch and cornflour being the staples we had to work with. However, there was a missing component, which I will discuss later, making success unlikely at that time.


They were so new to the market that no-one had written any recipe books on how to use gluten free flour and of course the internet was a thing of the future! 


It was a case of experimentation.

Gradually gluten free flour mixes were created which made life a little easier. The early ones were a combination of those I listed above, so still didn’t work that well. Joy of joys some even had a basic bread recipe printed on the packet! No more tinned cardboard!!!

I am happy to say that over the years things have improved, and most of today’s mixes work very well. However, I still prefer to create my own mix, mainly to ensure the best possible nutrition.

Making your own gluten free flour

gluten free flours in wooden spoons

So how do you make your own?

Flour in its basic form is a grain ground into a powder. So to produce a substitute for the basic wheat, rye and barley (which are not allowed on a gluten free diet) you need two things…

  • A suitable grain, seed or even dried bean 
  • Something to grind it in

This is the process I went through when beginning to grind my own..

Coffee grinder: I started with a coffee grinder. This worked ok for tiny quantities but before long I burned out the motor!

Food processor: My food processor came with a liquidiser attachment but I found the blades were too high and there would always be unground ingredients at the bottom. It wasn’t really all that successful. 

Kitchen mixer: My ancient Kenwood Chef had a grain mill attachment which worked well, but after 25 years it wore out! Can't really complain about that, eh, but I needed another option.

Electric grain mill: This is what I am currently using and I am very happy with it.

Sadly there are some gluten free flours that would be difficult to make at home, but for the staples it is a boon and can save your money. 

Gluten free flour varieties

I have covered the common gluten free grains that can be made into flour on another page, so I won't repeat those here. But there are other foods that can be ground into flour, such as the following...

Seeds

  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Chia seeds

Nuts

Legumes (beans and peas)

  • Chickpeas
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Soy beans

Starches

  • Tapioca
  • Potato
  • Arrowroot

Using gluten free flour

Binders

If you have tried using gf flours before you will have realized they behave differently to wheat based flours.

Gluten is the key component that binds baked goods together, and when you use flours without it you need to substitute something else to do that job. 

The most commonly used addition is xanthum gum. When I read Wikipedia's description of what this is I found it off-putting, but it does work. Luckily, you only need a tiny amount in a recipe. I also discovered that too much of this ingredient caused my tummy to protest violently!

Another option is to use flax or chia seeds mixed with a little water into a gummy substance. 

Eggs are often used to bind a recipe together, especially if using coconut flour which is more absorbent than others.

Quantities

Because gluten free options often do not weigh the same cup for cup as wheat flour, mainstream recipes do not always work as expected. 

It is often necessary to use a number of different flours to replace the wheat. As these quantities are smaller I prefer to weigh the flours on digital scales for more accurate baking.

A cup of wheat flour weighs 140g. I created the following table by scooping out 1 cup of various flours and then weighing each scoop's contents on my scales. 

Almond flour 

99g (3.5oz)

Arrowroot

130g (4.5oz)

Brown rice flour

150g (5oz)

Buckwheat flour

150g (5oz)

Coconut flour

95g (3.4oz)

Cornflour (cornstarch)

125g (4.4oz)

Gram flour (chickpea)

104g (3.7oz)

Quinoa flour

122g (4.3oz)

Tapioca starch

118g (4.2oz)

Teff grain

193g (6.8oz)

As you can see there is a wide variation! I included teff grain at the bottom of the table for comparison.

Which flours to mix?

Different flours have different uses in your cooking. Using the right one will increase your chances of getting a tasty result.

I like to sort them into categories. If you find that you don't have a particular one to hand when a recipe calls for it, you can safely use a different one from the same category, as below.

Group A (starches): These provide smoothness to your mix

Cornflour, potato starch, tapioca and arrowroot

Group B: These provide the protein content of your mix.

Brown rice, cornmeal, quinoa, gram, teff, millet, amaranth, almond, coconut

Group C: These help to add moisture to baked goods

Potato starch and quinoa (yes I know these overlap with other categories)



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