In savory cooking, the adjustments are usually much simpler than baking. If a recipe calls for flour as a thickener for sauces or fillings, you can use starch dissolved in water (called a slurry). This is a blending of equal parts of starch and cold liquid, often water, stock, or wine. You can use cornstarch, potato starch, or arrowroot depending on what you have on hand and any dietary restrictions your family may have. Start with 1 tablespoon starch with 1 tbsp cold water/stock/wine. Whisk them together and stir them into the hot liquid, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.
If you are breading something, you can use any gluten-free flour such as rice, sorghum, or millet. For a very crispy breading, you can use all starch or a combination of gf flour and starch. Almond meal and hazelnut meal are also delightful coatings for proteins.
When you have a traditional baking recipe that you want to convert to gluten-free, the first thing you need is a good gluten-free flour blend. No single gluten-free flour will do everything that gluten does. You need a combination of flours and starches to mimic the function of gluten, extra leavening provides lift, and gums help hold everything together. It can seem overwhelming, but the all-purpose flour you buy in the grocery store is actually a blend of different kinds of wheat with varying protein levels to produce a product that can be used in most applications. When you make your own gluten-free blend, you are doing the same thing!
You can use a purchases pre-blended product (such as King Arthur Flour’s Gluten-Free Baking Mix, Bob’s Red Mill’s 1-to-1 blend, or Jules Gluten Free Flour. To save money if you are baking all the time, you can make your own blend (see recipes here).
If your homemade blend includes rice flours, do yourself (and everyone else) a favor and spend a little more to buy super-finely ground. My favorites are those from Authentic Foods. I use their superfine rice flours in all of my blends and I never have any grittiness, sandiness, or other textural issues. You can buy them directly from the website – along with many specific blends and other gluten-free products – or use their Store Locator to find sellers in your neighborhood. They are also available from Amazon.
Weight vs. Volume
Weighing and using metric measures will give you the most consistent results every time. When you use a measuring cup, the moisture in the air, the way you scoop the flour, and whether it was compacted or light and airy changes day to day. A scale never lies! Buy a kitchen scale that goes up to 11 pounds and it will work for every project in your kitchen!
When converting recipes from regular to gluten-free, look at the flour measurement in the recipe. The magic number in gluten-free baking is 120 grams. This is the weight of 1 cup of virtually all the all-purpose flours available in the U.S. As long as you use 120g of a gluten-free flour blend for each cup of flour called for in the recipe, your batters will be very close to the original.
1 cup = 120g 1/2 cup = 60g 1/4 cup = 30g
3/4 cup = 90g 1/3 cup = 37.5g 2 tbsp = 15g
The exception to this is if you are making a GF flour blend with a higher percentage of whole grain flours which typically weigh more. In that case, shake or whisk your flour blend to lighten it, gently scoop a large spoonful of the blend into a straight sided 1-cup measuring cup (do not use a clear one with multiple measurements on the sides, those are for liquids). Use a ruler or other straight edge to push excess flour off the cup creating a perfectly flat top. Weigh this amount of flour and make a note of the weight. For that specific blend, that will be your per cup weight.
If you are using a store-bought brand’s gluten-free blend, look at the Nutrition Facts label for the serving size and weight. Do the math to figure out what 1 cup weighs of that specific blend and you’ll have your conversion! For example, King Arthur’s Measure for Measure weighs 31g for 4 tbsp (or 1/4 cup). That equals 124g per cup of that flour blend. The reason this is slightly above the 120g standard is because their blend includes brown rice and sorghum which weigh a little more than other flours.
Using this formula, I am able to convert nearly any recipe I want with little to no additional adjustments, and you can see many of these baking successes on my blog – especially on Chocolate Mondays!
Hints for Successful Baking
- Without gluten to give structure and support the rise, it often helps to add a little extra lifting power in the form of additional baking powder. Increasing the amount in the recipe by half again as much (if it calls for 1 tsp, use 1-1/2 tsp) is a good guarantee that your cakes and muffins will rise high and be light and not heavy.
- Adding 1/4 tsp xanthan or guar gum per cup of flour to your dry ingredients will help mimic the function of gluten in foods (add only if your GF blend does not already contain it!). Gums help with elasticity, structure/rise, retaining moisture longer, and keeping your baked goods from being crumbly. Some people do not tolerate gums well – if you’ve switched to gluten-free and are still having symptoms, it may be because of gums.
- My favorite substitute for xanthan gum is psyllium husk powder (use 1/2 tsp per cup of flour), especially in breads and pizza crusts where its added chewiness is a benefit. If a recipe calls for xanthan and you want to use psyllium instead, just double the amount called for. If the recipe has 1/2 tsp xanthan listed, use 1 tsp psyllium husk powder or flakes.
- If you cannot have eggs, you can create a slurry with either ground chia seeds or flax seed meal. To create a slurry, use 1/2 tsp mixed with 1 tsp boiling water per cup of flour. Stir vigorously to activate and thicken, then set aside to cool. Add the slurry with the liquid ingredients. There are also products available that will do the same thing.
- If you want a moister cake or muffins, you can substitute mayonnaise or sour cream for a portion of the liquids adding a richer texture and increasing the moisture. For example, reduce the liquids by 1/3 cup and add 1/3 cup of mayonnaise. If needed, you can add a tablespoon of water to thin the batter slightly.
For more information on gluten-free baking and converting recipes, take a look at my info in the pages under the Gluten-Free tab at the top of the page and visit these other talented folks’ articles: Jules Shepard, King Arthur Flour, and Shauna Ahern on Food52.