Strategies to Substitute Wheat in Gluten Free Baking

Wheat may be the most popular and widely used grain in baking and bread making, but it is not the only grain, that is able to provide structure to baking products and, moreover, it can be debatable that it gives the best taste to the variety of products.

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From the point of diagnosis, I was never preoccupied how to substitute wheat flour and find an alternative which I can use “cup for a cup” to recreate my favourite dishes of pre-coeliac era. I always used pragmatic, functional approach. What ingredients do I have to use to get the structural support during baking? How to mix all ingredients to allow their interaction create the taste and texture I want? I have to confess, that after my first unsuccessful bake of orange and almond cake from famous cookbook, I never went back to any of gluten free cookbooks for a recipe. I simply applied my imagination in order to create a product I wanted. And I do not regret it. I can happily admit, however, that I have  found many blogs, both on gluten free baking and baking in general, that were both informative and inspirational. It is an ocean of unlimited knowledge out there.

Every person, every family have different circumstances, different dietary challenges and different philosophies about nourishment, and life in general. I never advocate or push my own views on nutrition, I can only share my views, and some reasons behind those views. Taking into consideration long-term digestive health and general wellbeing, I use the following preference order for different type of ingredients used in gluten free baking (in descending order).

  1. Almond and other nut meal (hazelnut, walnut, cashew nuts, pistachios etc.)
  2. Wholegrain individual flours (brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, white rice etc.)
  3. Wholegrain individual flour mixes, preferably of my own making
  4. Seeds (flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, chia seeds, sunflower kernels etc.)
  5. Wholegrain and seeds mixes
  6. Fruit and vegetable purees (apple, orange, quince, carrot, pumpkin, beetroot, eggplant and others in combination with almond meal or wholegrain flours)
  7. Soft cheeses (ricotta and cottage cheese mainly) in combination with almond meal or wholegrain flours
  8. Fruit, vegetable purees, soft cheeses and individual wholegrain flours combination
  9. Commercial premixed plain and speciality gluten free flours
  10. Highly processed starch based flours

Wheat substitution with flour mixes

As a rule, I do not use commercial flour mixes for batter cakes, muffins, pancakes.  It is my personal choice. I have to say, that some of those plain and speciality flour mixes provide an exceptional quality of the final product, are very tasty and are affordable. They are convenient products, especially for hectic family lives where time is everything. For me, baking is pure joy, when I feel well enough. I can take my time and enjoy every minute of it, but I doubt it is the reality in many households. So, those boxed premixed products can make gluten free baking more accessible for many, especially immediately after the transition to gluten free eating.

I personally use commercial flour mixes, which are very good quality and reliable, only as a last resort, when the dish quality and taste, I set to achieve, is impossible by using combination of any other natural, unprocessed ingredients. I can name a few gluten free dishes, some of which are not baking products strictly speaking, on this list.  I use commercial gluten free flour mixes to make crepes, homemade pasta dough for ravioli and dumplings, and some speciality pastry dough. I would never be happy with the inferior product, just to satisfy the requirement for wholegrain flour. Delicate pastries and elaborate cakes we do not eat on regular basis. But when we do, I always use common sense, try not to get carried away and limit the enjoyment of food by only nutritionally balanced healthy options. Indulgent and decadent desserts are there in our life to enjoy and celebrate special occasions.

The products from this range that I use on regular basis are:

Orgran gluten free plain all purpose flour

  • shortcrust pastry
  • Napoleon pastry

Well&Good gluten free plain flour

  • crepes
  • Tuile biscuits

Well&Good gluten free pastry flour, the best I tried so far for pasta dough

  • pasta dough
  • ravioli dough
  • dumplings dough

Well&Good gluten free Crusty Bread mix

  • yeast dough for savoury and sweet buns, pies, pastries and scrolls

Well&Good gluten free Chia, Linseed and Sunflower Bread mix

  • bread
  • plain and savoury buns
  • savoury pastries

I have tried plain flour mixes from other brands and they were not as good as the above. I occasionally buy some specialty mixes for pancakes, and when I do find excellent product or find a different use of the product, I write review about it. I do not use cake and muffin mixes. I my opinion it is easy to make your own batter using simple natural ingredients without any preservatives, additives, emulsifiers. However, there are many sources for information and reviews for these products available on the net.

Wheat substitution with individual wholegrain flours

There is an abundance of individual gluten free flours commercially available now not only in health food stores, but in supermarkets, too. Brown rice, white rice, buckwheat, millet, maize, quinoa flours to name just a few. White rice flour, polenta and quinoa flour (in the photo below) shown are not packaged, because I use then often and store in separate containers.

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I deliberately omitted soy and other legumes flours. I can’t have soy in my diet, so I have no experience with this flour. More extensive use of soy flour in many commercially available breads and gluten free flour mixes, is one of the reasons I had to get involved in bread making. The formula of the bread I had for many years was changed to include soy flour, and I had to say good-bye to the only bread I liked. Chickpea flour, on the other hand, on paper looks appealing. It is also widely used in many cultures. This flour has high protein content, their amino acid content is most balanced. I do not use it for 2 reasons. Their protein is not the easy one to digest, and can cause, if not damaging effects, but uncomfortable symptoms in many coeliac sufferers with already damaged digestive tract. The second reason is that this flour can have specific bitter taste and smell, that can be very difficult to overcome in baking, particularly in deserts. Depending on the type of baking all the above flours can be an excellent ingredient. The format of this post does not allow me to write in detail about benefits and specific features of each flour. Again, that type of information is readily available.

I use many of these flours on regular basis and always expand the list of new products.

Brown rice flour

  • muffin mixes
  • yeast bread mixes
  • yeast sweet dough for buns and scrolls
  • savoury crackers

Fine white rice flour

  • shortcrust pastry for biscuits and tarts
  • Napoleon pastry
  • sultana and fruit cakes
  • additional ingredient to some orange, apple and almond cakes

Buckwheat flour

  • sweet shortcrust pastry, alone or in 1:1 mixture with millet flour
  • savoury crust for tartlets and quiches
  • fruit cakes, alone and mixed with other flours
  • sweet double bakes crackers
  • muffin mixes

Millet flour

  • yeast dough for bread
  • sweet yeast dough for pastries and scrolls
  • sweet yeast dough for Danish pastries
  • sweet yeast dough as a base for puff pastry
  • sweet shortcrust pastry in combination with buckwheat flour

Corn flour (polenta)

  • orange and polenta cake
  • baking tin dusting to make crunchy crust

Quinoa flour

  • pasta dough
  • ravioli dough
  • dumplings dough
  • yeast dough for bread
  • sweet yeast dough for pastries and scrolls
  • sweet yeast dough for Danish pastries
  • pancakes and gallettes

Individual starches in baking and cooking

From the variety of gluten free flours which are starches, I use corn flour, tapioca flour and potato flour. Corn flour is excellent in custards and pastry creams. I also use it as a thickener when making traditional Latvian sweet cranberry soup with vanilla cream.

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Tapioca flour is on of the latest additions to my pantry. I started to use it when making formulations for my own bread mixes and yeast dough, both fast and overnight. Tapioca flour is very good when used for dusting in rolling Napoleon pastry. It gives pastry particular crunch and makes all the difference in vanilla horns. Potato flour gives excellent results, when used as a starch component in bread flour mix formula.

Almond meal and other nuts in baking

Almond meal is one of my favourite ingredients in gluten free baking. It is much healthier and tastier alternative to any other ingredient. It practical terms it replaces 2 main components in any pastry: flour and butter. Cakes and pastries made with almond meal from either blanched or whole almonds taste wonderful, keep moist and do not dry out for a long time. They do not go stale.

almonds-2

The only negative aspect of using almond and other nuts meal is their price. It costs more to use almonds in baking, compared to individual flours or flour mixes. If you buy almond meal it is necessary sometimes to do extra grinding at home, after sifting the product which can be too coarse. It is not convenient, takes time and you need reliable grinder. But in a gluten free household it might be a wise investment, if you bake on regular basis.

almonds-6I use whole almonds, coarse and fine almond meal, from whole and blanched almonds, as well as sliced almonds for cake and biscuit decoration. Almond meal is the main ingredient in many products I bake.

  • fruit puree cakes: orange and almond cake (all varieties), apple and almond cake, quince and almond cake
  • soft cheese cakes: ricotta and almond cake, cottage cheese and almond cake
  • frangipane for tarts and tartlets
  • apricot and other dried fruit slices
  • grain free bread
  • variety of muffins
  • variety of batter cakes with or without extra grain flour ingredient

From other nuts I use walnuts for strudels and walnut meal for truffles. Pistachios are used mainly for decoration purposes and hazelnuts for making meringues.

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Using seeds in gluten free baking

Initially, I used only poppy seeds as an ingredient for baking. All other seeds (flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower kernels) were just for decoration purposes. It is completely different picture now. I grind seeds and use their meal as a structural component in baking, mainly for making grain free and grain and nut free bread. Special capacity of some seeds to absorb moisture is very handy when using them in making healthy pancakes and sweet treats in the form of truffles. Lately, I have started to use whole chia seeds without grinding to make delightful jams from frozen berries, thick fruit sauces and sugar and dairy free lemon curd.

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Flaxseeds

  • galettes and pancakes
  • berry and fruit smoothies
  • gluten free yeast bread
  • savoury and sweet pancakes
  • grain free bread
  • grain and nut free bread
  • grain and yeast free buns and pies

Pumpkin seeds

  • dry fruit and seed truffles
  • grain and nut free bread
  • grain free cakes

Sesame seeds, both white and black

  • bread, bread rolls, buns and crackers decoration

Sunflower seeds

  • bread decoration
  • grain free bread
  • grain and nut and yeast free bread
  • grain and yeast free buns and pies

Chia seeds

  • whole seeds to make jams, sauces, curds
  • ground seeds in seed mix meal to make a dough for grain free bread, buns and pies

Poppy seeds

  • whole seeds in orange and other fruit puree  flourless cakes with almond meal
  • gluten free/grain free biscuits
  • ground to make poppy seed paste for strudels and scrolls

Fruit and vegetable purees in baking

The idea to use different fruit and vegetable purees in gluten free baking came from an orange and almond cake.

orangeandalmondcake-3

If it was possible to make wonderfully moist cake with intense flavour by substitution of some dry matter and butter/oil ingredients by cooked orange puree, why not use all other fruit purees to make cakes with different flavours and why not use vegetable purees in savoury baking? I started with apple puree for apple, honey and almond cake.

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I also like to use ripe quince puree, it is naturally thick and dense, has nice flavour and is easy to make. Apple and quince purees are one of the ingredients in marshmallows I make using agar-agar. They are my favourite sweets from childhood. I often substitute some almond meal for fruit puree in upside down cakes. The only problem with some fruit purees that they contain a lot of moisture and often have to be dehydrated before use, to make them dense and thick, or they can ruin your bake. More about fruit purees you can find here.

beetrootbread-1

The same applies to vegetable purees. I use carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato, cauliflower and beetroot purees not only in muffins and savoury slices, but as an ingredient in breads, particularly grain and nut free. Cauliflower became very popular lately and is widely used baked, steamed or even boiled, to make pizza crusts, savoury bakes and gnocchi. The best grain free bread recipe with vegetables, has cauliflower puree as one of its major ingredients.

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It is difficult to imagine that grain free bread can taste like rye bread and have truly bread texture. It was the most fascinating and challenging project for me, and I am glad that working with vegetable purees gave me the chance to create a decent grain free bread.

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To make vegetable puree, I usually steam vegetables, process them to puree, and if necessary, dehydrate them in microwave. Some purees I make in microwave only. When making a big batch, I freeze portions I need in future individually. I did not notice so far any difference between using fresh or defrosted fruit or vegetable puree.

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Using cooked potato puree in gluten free bread making is on my to do list and is inspired by Amish bread roll recipe and the recipe for authentic dough for Latvian speck pastries.

Soft cheeses in cake batters and pastry dough

From fruit and vegetable purees comes natural progression to soft cheeses, not only as a special component of the cake, as in cheesecakes, cheese tarts, but as a semidry ingredient mixed with eggs, butter and other wet ingredients to create different texture and give extra depth to flavours. I mainly use my homemade cottage cheese and commercial ricotta cheese in batter cakes, muffins, fruit puree cakes, rolled shortcrust pastry for biscuits, bakes with dried fruits and even as an ingredient in speciality yeast dough. Different European cuisines offer many recipes for everyday baking which include soft cheeses. Their incorporation in baking provides better nutritional value of the final product, enhances protein content and generally reduces the glycaemic index. However, it is necessary to mention, that many coeliacs have additional problems with dairy products, and using dairy is not an option, even if the product is lactose free.

I am fortunate to be able to have dairy products. Cottage cheese is on our everyday menu in different dishes. Just today I made cottage cheese, dried apricots and pancake bake, to use an excess of cottage cheese and as well as commercial gluten free pancake mixes. I had an idea when I began my blog, to try different brands of pancake mixes and write a comparative review about them. So, I bought all brands available and they stayed in my pantry for months. They are nice pancakes, but we do not eat these very sweet, fluffy pancakes. But I simply can’t throw food away either. A months ago I found the solution to this problem. I beat cottage cheese with eggs and light sour cream, add dried apricots and couple of serving spoons of pancake mix, vanilla, lemon zest or lemon juice – and we had nice and healthy desert. I loved it still warm with a glass of cold milk.

ricottabake-8

I tried the same approach with ricotta cheese and the result was the same. Nice slice with cake texture and taste, it stays moist for 2-3 days, it is not too sweet and is real food. I have only one pancake box to go. Another 3-4 bakes and I am never making plans to review muffin, cake or anything else mixes ever. But I have to admit, it is convenient, easy and on the budget, and that is why I am going to publish these types of recipes when on occasion I use commercial flour mix products..

This article is long, but I hope that it might give some new ideas to your cooking and baking gluten free.

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