There is a small percentage of the population that cannot consume gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) due to medical reasons (such as Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy); and a larger percent of the population that has chosen gluten free eating as a dietary preference. Most of the recipes used in traditional American cooking and baking use wheat flour (containing gluten) as a base, which makes baking without gluten a challenge.
Gluten performs several functions in baked goods. The sticky protein helps create stretchy and elastic dough, trapping air bubbles and forming a light, airy texture. Gluten provides structure for breads and a tender crumb. Replacing gluten in baked goods can be tricky, and often requires a combination of flours to achieve similar flavor, texture and density to gluten-filled flours. For a list of wheat-free flour substitutes, look at the Kids With Food Allergies webpage.
Here are some tips for baking without gluten:
Add xanthan gum or guar gum to replace some of that structure that gluten provides (1 tsp per cup flour for yeast products and ½ teaspoon for non-yeast products).
Gluten free products take longer to bake, and usually at a lower temperature compared to a traditional recipe. This allows the dough more time to rise and hydrate.
Some gluten free flours (sorghum) or starches (chick pea) have a flavor not welcomed in baked goods. Try adding extra vanilla and/or spices to mask some of the off taste.
Gluten-free grains and starches have a shorter shelf-life. Buy small quantities and store in the refrigerator or freezer. To avoid soggy baked goods, transfer to a wire rack as soon as possible after baking to ensure proper cooling. Store leftovers in air-tight containers and freeze to preserve freshness. Thaw completely before eating.
Leavening agents such as eggs, baking soda and baking powder help form gas bubbles and give rise to dough. Try adding an extra teaspoon of baking powder or substitute with baking soda and buttermilk to leaven instead of baking powder. Dissolve leaveners in liquid from the recipe before adding to dough to produce a better rise to the product.
Gluten free flours tend to be more ‘thirsty’ than wheat flours. They are very dry and take longer to absorb moisture. Simply giving the batter a short rest of 30 minutes can help the flour to hydrate (as well as give extra time to rise). Use less (up to a tablespoon) of gluten free flour per cup of wheat flour in the standard recipe. Recipes that call for pureed fruit, sour cream or yogurt tend to be moister. Use brown sugar, honey or agave instead of white sugar to add a little moisture. Adding an extra egg may help with moisture as well as leavening.
Gluten free flours don’t absorb fat like wheat flour. You might find using a standard recipe and substituting the flour yields a greasy product. Use a little less fat (butter or oil) to avoid a greasy feel.
Use 1/4 cup ground flaxseed in 1/4 cup water for 1/4 cup flaxseed flour to increase fiber and nutrients in any recipe.
Use dry milk solids or cottage cheese or the moisture tips listed above to improve structure so products don’t fall apart as easily.
For more tips on Gluten Free Baking, check out this fact sheet from Colorado State University Extension.
Gluten Free Baking Tips and Tricks. 2016. Beyond Celiac. http://www.beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-diet/baking/
Recipe Substitutions for Wheat Allergy or Gluten Sensitivity. 2017. Kids with Food Allergies, A Division of Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/page/wheat-allergy-gluten-free-recipe-substitutions.aspx
Watson, F. and others. Gluten Free Baking. Colorado State University Extension. https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/foodnut/09376.pdf
Written by: Shannon Carter, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County
Reviewed by: Misty Harmon, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State Univeristy Extension, Perry County