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Gluten Free Baking

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I want to start this by saying I am not an expert on Coeliac disease, nor on gluten intolerance, and I am most definitely not a gastroenterologist.  Hell, I giggled when my Dad was explaining to me about him having issues with his villi (there were some Viagra jokes bandied about, can you see where I got my sense of humour from…?) Jokes aside though, the effects of a gluten allergy are serious and following the advice of medical professionals is incredibly important. No one should have to put up with the often debilitating symptoms of gluten allergies, but neither should they have to give up on ever having yummy, great-textured baked goods again.

Gluten free lemon cake layered with coconut cheesecake and Italian meringue buttercream. No dry crumbly cakes here.


When it comes to gluten free baking, there are some very different approaches to it, and over the last few years I have read a lot and picked and chosen bits and pieces that work for me. So this post is most definitely a “this is how I do it” rather than a “this is how you should do it.”

I began baking gluten free when my Dad was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease about four years ago, and I have based what I bake around what he can and can’t have, and the information given to us by his gastroenterologist and GP. His system can handle foods that are derived from wheat but are highly processed (such as glucose syrup made from wheat) while some people can’t tolerate even that much.

Our kitchen is not 100% gluten free. I live with my parents (poor things can’t get rid of me) and my Mum and I still eat gluten. We could have chosen to go gluten free as well, but we decided we didn’t like the idea of cutting something out of our diets that we’re not actually allergic to. In general, the meals we all eat together as a family are gluten free.

Over the last few years, between the three of us we have developed a system in the kitchen that works for us. Dad has his own side of the toaster, his own butter/margarine and spreads. Probably 95% of what is in our kitchen is gluten free, we just have the bottom shelf of one of our pull-out pantries where Mum and I keep a packet of biscuits, whatever my breakfast of the month is, and wheat flours for when I bake for other people. Before getting our new kitchen, all the gluten free food in our tiny pantry was labelled with blue stickers. We still use the blue stickers in our newly renovated kitchen, but they’re not so necessary now. In our main freezer, everything is gluten free, and we have a small freezer in our garage where we keep wheat bread and the occasion box of Trumpet ice creams.

Just up there I mentioned I still bake with wheat flour. While all of the baking I do for the family is gluten free, I make and decorate cakes as a hobby, and they’re generally for people who can eat gluten. Gluten free flour is expensive compared to wheat flour (we’ll get to that in a minute) so using it for cakes that don’t need to be gluten free is a bit of a waste. But when I do bake with gluten, when I’m done, the scary (slightly obsessive-compulsive) cleaning lady that lives inside me comes out. Dettol cleaning spray is my friend, and paper towels cower in fear. Every bowl and baking utensil that has been used goes in the dishwasher. I don’t use plastic bowls and utensils when baking with wheat as they are too hard to get properly clean.

So that’s our kitchen situation, let’s get on to the baking side of things.


Baking Bits

When I first started baking gluten free food, I think I probably did what everyone does and bought a gluten free baking mix from the supermarket. We weren’t impressed. Now I’m not heading down the “baking mixes are evil” path, they certainly have their place. In fact, pikelets I made with Healtheries baking mix were some of the best I’ve ever made, sooo light and fluffy. But what I didn’t realise at the time is that GF baking mixes aren’t just straight substitutes for wheat flour. I moved on to trying a few different brands of gluten free flour blends, and eventually began mixing my own.

These days we have a pantry bursting with gluten free flours/grains/starches

Rice flour
Brown rice flour
Tapioca flour
Potato flour
Cornflour (cornstarch)
Coconut flour
Glutinous rice flour
Almond meal/ground almonds
Buckwheat (buckwheat isn’t actually wheat, it’s related to rhubarb)

I won’t get into the science of it all (coz, erm, I don’t even know enough to pretend I know what I’m talking about) but gluten free flours work so differently to wheat flour that there is just no straight substitute for wheat flour in all its gluten-y glory. Gluten Free Canteen has a great page describing the attributes of various GF flours. As does Gluten Free Goddess.

While I do use all of the flours mentioned above, I am definitely not suggesting you need to run out and buy them all! The ones I use regularly are the first five I mentioned, rice flour, brown rice flour, tapioca flour, potato flour and cornflour/cornstarch. My “Fab Five”, if you will (and, in fact, even if you won’t). Rice flour and cornflour are readily available in supermarkets (Edmond’s cornflour is gluten free, and Healtheries brand have rice flour in a green bag). Tapioca, potato and brown rice flours are available at specialty food stores, Asian food shops and organics shops. Buy superfine rice flour if you can find it.

Gluten free flours do tend to be more expensive than buying a bag of good old Edmond’s Standard wheat flour at the supermarket. But in a lot of cases, buying readymade gluten free baked goods is even more expensive, and they often taste like lightly flavoured cardboard. If you can find somewhere that sells GF flours in bigger (1kg+) bags, and you have the room to store them, you may find it doesn’t end up as expensive after all.

Mixing your own flours may seem like a chore, but honestly after a while it just becomes second nature. I’m lucky that we have a large kitchen that can fit all of these separate flours in the cupboards. I prefer to mix my flours as I go, depending on the recipe. I usually start with white and brown rice flours, and tapioca starch, and add other grains or starches depending on the final texture I’m looking for (in general, grains are more robust, but can make things a little, er, grainy, whereas starches tend to lighten baked goods, but too much can make them overly delicate and crumbly.)

If you would prefer to mix up an all-purpose flour mix so it’s all ready to go when you need it, I would suggest trying Nicole’s D.I.Y. All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour over on her blog, Gluten Free on a Shoestring. While you’re there, I’d suggest ordering one (or both) of her books. They’re honestly the only gluten free baking books I would strongly suggest buying. (And no I’m not paid to say that, she’s just my gluten free baking hero.)

You can try different ready-mixed gluten free flour blends (for Kiwis- Orgran and Macro Foods brands make flour blends that are sold in supermarkets) but in my experience these blends often rely heavily on one kind of flour (usually rice flour or cornflour) which means they don’t always work well for different baked goods.

Long story short, flour-wise, it’s up to you to decide how you want to bake, and to balance what you have the time/money/shelf space for.


Quick Notes On…



I have a drawer full of measuring cups. They very rarely get used any more, except to scoop dry ingredients into a bowl on my scales. If I could suggest one thing that will improve your gluten free baking (or any baking for that matter) it’s weighing your ingredients. Scales aren’t expensive, they’re not hard to use, and they’re a sure fire way to get your recipe off on the right foot. I probably won’t be including cup measurements for dry ingredients in my recipes on this blog, if you don’t have scales or are really anti scales, then you can find converters online that will tell you how many cups to use. I’ll even pop in a link to one (coz I’m nice like that, but seriously, buy some scales!)  “Traditional Oven” Conversions

Xanthan/guar gums

Xanthan gum and guar gum are gums derived from plants, and they’re often used in gluten free baking to replace gluten. Again, not a scientist, so I won’t try and tell you how they work. Some people prefer not to use them (read Gluten Free Canteen’s post about Xanthan gum here.) I use Xanthan gum in much of my baking and we haven’t noticed any ill effects from it. I do tend to use it sparingly though, if you add too much your results will be a bit gummy. I would much rather have crumbly than gummy. Gummy bears, yes… but gummy cupcakes? Goodness no.


The short version of my waffling above
{and a few other bits}

* My gluten free recipes are based on what my father (who has Coeliac Disease) can and can’t eat. He can food made with ingredients that are derived from wheat such as dextrose from wheat, glucose syrup from wheat and maltodextrin – as these are so highly processed that they contain no detectable gluten.

* If you’re baking for someone with a gluten allergy, when in doubt check with them what they can and can’t eat. I can guarantee they would much rather you asked than accidentally make them sick.

* There is no straight gluten free substitute for wheat flour. You will either need to buy a pre-mixed gluten free flour blend or (ideally) mix your own from a variety of gluten free grains and starches.

* For best results, weigh your ingredients.

* For best results, weigh your ingredients. Did I say that twice? I must really mean it.

* After you’ve weighed your dry ingredients, sift them together and give ’em a whisk to mix all the flours (and gum, if you’re using it) together.

* Buy the best quality ingredients you can find and afford. Some gluten free flours can have slightly odd (er, different) flavours compared to wheat flour, but if you use good quality flavourings in your baking then you’d never know. If I could convince you to splurge on two things, they would be vanilla and cocoa. I use vanilla in almost everything, and I’ll only use pure vanilla extract. The difference in flavour between extract and vanilla flavoured essence is indescribable. Dutch cocoa has an intensely chocolately flavour, but if you can’t find it then a pure cocoa powder will do (you just want a nice dark one, and one without added ‘flavourings’ and fillers). There are some recipes for which Dutch cocoa isn’t suitable (due to science-y stuff to do with the alkalinity of the cocoa after it’s processed) so I tend to keep both kinds on hand.

* Gluten free cakes often don’t keep very long… one to three days is usual. There are some exceptions to that, such as mud cakes and cakes that include sour cream in them, like devil’s food cake and lemon sour cream cake. Gluten free biscuits/cookies and slices should keep a bit longer, in an airtight container.

* If you make a GF layer cake that seems a little dry, then brush each layer with a little bit of syrup before you fill it. I make plain simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, brought to the boil and simmered for a couple of minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved) and keep it in the fridge. If you want you can flavour the syrup with vanilla, liqueurs, coffee… anything really to match or complement the flavour of your cake.

* Try not to be too disheartened if things don’t turn out perfectly the first time (this here is a rule I can’t follow, my soul is crushed whenever something doesn’t quite work out… but still, try your best). Gluten free baking isn’t difficult but it can be fickle.

Anyway, that’s about enough gluten free waffling for now. Looking at all that it almost sounds like I’m an expert, but I’m far from it. I’m still learning things, trying different flours and learning to troubleshoot recipes, so if and when I learn something worth sharing, I’ll update this page.

I’ll leave you with a few useful links to gluten free websites and baking blogs.

Happy baking!




Useful Sites


Coeliac New Zealand

Gluten Free on a Shoestring

Gluten Free Canteen

Gluten Free Girl