The Sinking Feeling: Gluten-Free Baking

Whether you are Coeliac, suffer gluten intolerance, or whether you just decide to cut it out of your diet, more and more people are eating gluten free food.

For most, this includes cutting out most forms of cake, pastry, breads, and baked goods (or paying ridiculous amounts for the privilege of a slice of toast!). However, this may not need to be the case! For the past two and a half years, I have been baking my own gluten free foods ever since I moved in with a friend with a gluten intolerance and wanted to share what I baked with her.

Over this time, I have learnt how to bake without depending on gluten and now I will share my secrets with you!

The main issue with gluten free baking, is that gluten is a mixture of proteins in flour that binds pastry and dough together to hold its form and help the mixture rise. In most cakes and doughs, the rise is important to avoid making dense rocks, and in most pastries and doughs, the gluten molecules hold the mix together avoiding a sloppy mess. As a result, when you are baking without gluten, something else is needed to get the rise and to hold the mix together.

Here are my tips for substituting gluten and making your gluten free food perfect:

Gluten Free Flour – Yes, unfortunately you are going to have to pay a little bit more for this than your standard 30 pence bag of flour, but it is worth it! Alternatively, you could use rice flour, soya flour, potato flour or cornmeal to various proportions, but gluten free flour is now relatively easy and affordable to get. It is usually easy to find in the Free-From aisle of any supermarket.

To avoid paying more by getting plain and self-raising flour, stick to just buying plain flour and if the recipe asks for self-raising flour add an extra teaspoon of baking powder to every 100 grams of plain flour (it’s exactly the same).

Xanthan Gum – Ever since I started using xanthan gum about a year ago, it now goes in everything I bake! Don’t be put o15050144_1399470103420392_1909150137_nff by the name, xanthan gum is actually a powder which you add along with your gluten free flour and works to bind everything together the way gluten does.

Although the pot may seem tiny for what you pay in the supermarket (about 100 grams for around £2), it goes a long way since you usually only use about a pinch to a teaspoon at a time. On the back of the packet there should be a guide of how to use it in whatever you are baking.

Check the Consistency – Using gluten free flour ultimately changes the consistency of what you are baking when you exchange it gram for gram. Although I have seemed to notice that this happens less since I started using xanthan gum, once the flour has been mixed in you need to use your intuition to decide if the mix isn’t right.

Usually the mix will be a little too sloppy and as a result you may need to add a bit more flour, so don’t be afraid to do so! Add a little bit at a time until you feel the mix is about right.

Don’t Give Up – My main piece of advice however is not to give up. Even after two and a half years, my bakes still sometimes come out with a massive dip in the middle, and I almost instinctively say “Ignore the big dip, it’s gluten free”, to any Mary Berry wannabes that judge my baking. And sometimes it may even be a disaster; I once attempted to bake a gluten free loaf of bread and when my friend came round to see it, she thought it was a joke and whacked it against the table several times.

It let out a massive thud each time and yet the ‘loaf’ didn’t even crumble (pictures no longer exist of the monstrous brick). Nonetheless, I kept going, learning from my mistakes, not letting a sinking cake get me down, and have since baked some really nice cakes that everyone could enjoy!

So if you are considering giving gluten free baking a go for whatever reason, just do it! Don’t expect ‘Hollywood handshake’ worthy miracles first time round, but with these tips and a bit of persistence, you’ll be able to have your cake gluten free and eat it!

Josh Caldicott

Featured image courtesy of ‘Artis Rozentals’ via Flickr.

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