The Gluten-Free Conversion Conundrum

I know, I know, I know! It’s such a royal PAIN to have to change your lifestyle when it comes to your diet. You go from the comforts of wheat-based bread and pasta to searching for ANY gluten-free product that doesn’t feel like sand in your mouth.

On top of THAT, you have the added inconvenience of needing to replace your well-loved and often memorized childhood recipes with new ones; recipes with ingredients that you’ve never used or tasted; some you may not be able to pronounce, even.

Wait, what’s that stuff called? Is it EX-an-than gum?

Can’t we just make these old favorites with gluten-free flour and cross our fingers for the best?

Well, you could, but even the finest optimism wouldn’t help you. Trust me, I’ve been there, throwing the tried and true birthday maple cupcake recipe together in gluten-free fashion without making any alterations. The result? Small piles of maple cake crumbles and a very sad birthday boy!

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We begin the conversion process with an acceptance of the things that will work and those that will not. Your time and ingredients are hard-earned, so I hope reading this brings new confidence to your gluten-free baking and invites you to take some chances on experimentation. But first, two easily remembered suggestions:

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1) For making cakes, muffins, cookies and yeast doughs, meet Stand Mixer, your new baking BFF! The power of the paddle attachment will stir your blends, aerate your batters, agitate your doughs and hydrate your gums better than mere muscle alone. If you don’t have one already, it’s the best investment you’ll make – next to shedding gluten from your diet!

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2) When adding xanthan (zan-than) gum to a recipe, use about 1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour. Blend it evenly into your dry ingredients before mixing.

Have you ever spilled x-gum on your work space and tried to clean it up with a wet sponge? Unless you want a counter-top slip-and-slide (not to mention a few bucks down the drain), it’s best to use a bench knife for cleanup, so you can maneuver the gum back into its container.

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The Cookie Question

Gluten-free cookies. Crumbly. Dry. Gritty. Just to name a few of the most common complaints.

How important could gluten be to cookies, anyway? Gluten not only helps provide the elastic strengthening network in yeast breads, it also is able to bond with wheat starches in a way that minimizes a potentially gritty/powdery mouth-feel.

In the absence of gluten, and with a low hydration rate, fat is one of the few ingredients that can be helpful to cookies. It can help smooth out the mouth feel by reducing the perception of unhydrated starch – which is what causes that sandy feeling in your mouth.

Fat has a low hydration rate; even though it feels wet and slippery, it has very little, or no water in it. So increasing its level in a cookie recipe will not encourage a cake-like texture. Butter and shortening can be increased by up to 2 tablespoons, and high-fat nut flours such as almond or hazelnut can be used to replace a portion of the flour in the recipe.

Xanthan gum, though intended to lock in moisture, enhance texture, and control spread, has a very low level of water to work with in a cookie dough. Resting the dough for at least an hour (overnight is best) before baking is the best way to ensure that the gums and starches are hydrated to their full potential. Because of the lower level of liquid in cookie dough, the hydration rate is slower; thus a longer rest is necessary.

Can I leave out the xanthan gum? Sure you can. Totally doable, though the cookies will spread out and be thin, fragile, and crisp. I would only recommend taking this risk with a drop cookie recipe. Definitely use the gum for shortbread, butter, and rollout-style cookies.

Adding liquids (egg, water, milk) will increase hydration and develop structure, but keep in mind that they may also promote a cake-like texture. Using fruit purées in place of some of the liquid content can help aid in building structure.

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Yammering About Yeast Breads

Gluten-free yeast doughs are not convertible due to the many alterations needed for leavening and structure. Eggs, air, yeast, xanthan gum, and sometimes even chemical leavening agents are necessary to produce an ideal result along with sufficient hydration (a higher ratio than with wheat-based breads).

The short answer? Save yourself a painful and expensive trial-and-error game and locate a gluten-free recipe for yeast bread.

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A Cake Catastrophe?

I hope not. Surprisingly, cakes are one of the easier, more straightforward treats to recreate without gluten.

Cakes, too, need a calibration of xanthan gum (1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour is sufficient) and additional liquids. I usually suggest adding an extra egg to efficiently provide leavening, structure, and liquid.

Though it’s important to aerate a cake batter, take care not to over-beat, as it can cause deflation in the oven. Baking cake to an internal temperature of 210°F ensures minimal sinking as the cake cools.

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Loaf-style quick breads and muffins require the same ingredient guidelines as cakes.

Giving cake and quick-bread batters a 10 to 15 minute rest before baking will allow the starches and xanthan gum to fully hydrate. Also, if you’re adding fruit, chocolate chips, or nuts to your batters, complete the rest before stirring them in, to prevent them from sinking to the bottom during the bake. When the flour and xanthan gum are hydrated, the batter will thicken and be able to suspend any added elements successfully.

Wanna hear more? Well there IS more where that came from, so please, PLEASE send me your requests. Are ingredient substitutions on your mind? Using different flour blends? How one starch differs from another? I may not have all the answers (I can guarantee I don’t!), but I have just as much interest in finding them as you do, so ASK ME!

Stay tuned;  this blog post is the first in a gluten-free self-help mini-series of sorts. If you send me your gluten-free baking quandaries, I’ll incorporate the answers into a blog somehow or another. Deal?

Thank you for allowing me to be your resource, and for freeing the gluten. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

 

 

 

Amy Trage
About

Amy Trage is a native of Vermont where she spent much of her childhood skiing and training for the equestrian event circuit. With a strong desire to pursue food writing, Amy took her English degree from Saint Anselm College to the New England Culinary Institute ...

comments

  1. Jo-Ann

    I neglected to mention in my previous post about sweet potato casserole that the flour is used in a topping mixture of pecans, butter and flour. Can the King Arthur GF all purpose flour be used as a 1 to 1 substitute for the regular flour in this topping mixture?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour should absolutely do the trick, Jo-Ann. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  2. Jo-Ann

    My question is not about a GF baked good, but about a vegetable side dish.
    I want to make a sweet potato casserole as a side for my Christmas dinner. It calls for 1/2 cup flour.
    One of my guests is GF. In a recipe such as this (as opposed to a baked good), can I just substitute 1/2 cup of King Arthur GF all purpose flour for the regular flour?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yup! Gluten-free flour works just as well as traditional flour as a thickener. Enjoy! KatK@AF

  3. Susie

    I want to make some gluten free pound cake for a friend but she also has problems with xanthan gum. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Susie, we love that you’re so committed to making a cake for your friend with special dietary needs! We’d recommend guar gum in place of xanthan gum for your friend. You can use the exact same amounts of guar gum that you would use for xanthan gum. We haven’t tried it in all our recipes, but in our experience it’s a very good substitute. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  4. Caryn

    Hi Amy,
    If possible can you please provide guidance about how to use specific flours like coconut rice almond etc. ?
    Thanks. Caryn

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Caryn! Thanks for your interest in more detailed guides for specific flours. We’re happy to share that there is one guide on our website that may be helpful to you! This is our Baking With Almond Flour article, which goes more into detail about how to use this flour as well as some of our favorite almond flour recipes. While we don’t have guides for rice or coconut flour at the moment, we’re always experimenting with different gluten-free options in our test kitchen and sharing our learning on the website as we go. Hopefully, the resources we already have available will help you with your own baking experiments at home. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  5. Susan

    I have just recently been diagnosed with gluten intolerance and with baking season upon us I have a question for you. I have King Arthur gluten-free flour in the blue bag and I would like to use it in some of my regular cake recipes. I had read on another website that I need to add 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum per cup of flour in order to make the recipe come out OK. However your blog suggests that I need to add only 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum for every cup of flour. Is King Arthur flour different than other gluten-free flours? So I would like some advice on how much Xantham gum to add for every cup of flour needed the cake recipe.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Susan, it sounds like you’re using our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour. In this case, it’s designed to be used as-is, no xanthan gum needed at all! If you’re using our Gluten-Free All-Purpose flour, our recipes and blog posts are designed with our flour in mind, so 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum would be appropriate. Every brand’s formulation is different, so recommendations vary from one to the other. This should work while you’re using King Arthur Flour’s gluten free products, though. Happy gluten-free baking! Kat@KAF

  6. Sandy

    Thanks for the Glutin Free suggestions! But, what about KETO friendly recipes. My daughter is on the KETO diet for health reasons and can’t have any of hr favorites.
    I’m trying to make Pumpkin bread with Almond and Coconut flours. Help!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hey there, Sandy! While we don’t have any pumpkin bread recipes that are made using only almond and coconut flours, we do have some suggestions for you to try. Please keep in mind that this will be an experiment, but we would suggest trying our Chocolate Coconut Cake recipe and replacing two of the eggs with a 1/4 cup of pumpkin puree and adding some warm spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, etc.), also we’d suggest leaving out the cocoa powder and if the batter seems too runny just sprinkle in a small amount of almond flour until the consistency is a little thicker. We hope this helps! Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  7. Oldbroad

    All I can say is “I’m screwed”. With the baking season quickly approaching, my favorite cookie recipes are not welcomed any more due to the gluten-free trend. I just want some good basic recipes gluten free so I can enjoy baking again and sharing with friends. All this use this combo of flours, binders etc is too overwhelming for me. Anyone recommend a simple (with emphasis on simple) cook book and basic flour without all the weighing measuring etc. It would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We have exactly what you’re looking for, fellow baker! If you’re looking to bake gluten-free, look no further than our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour. You can use it to replace the all-purpose flour in many of your favorite recipe — no other changes need to be made. (The only exceptions are recipes that call for yeast. For those circumstances, you’ll want to use a recipe that’s designed to be gluten-free. We have a full selection of gluten-free yeast recipes on our website here.) We hope this helps clear up any worry about the coming holiday baking season. Happy GF baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Karen, our flour (regular wheat flour and gluten-free flours) are sifted before they’re packaged, so you don’t need to sift them again. The one exception is if the recipe you’re using specifically calls for sifting the ingredients together, in which case you’ll want to take the time to do so. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  8. donna Willoughby

    Replace part of your white rice component in your flour mix with sweet rice flour. Not too much. Your need for all gums will disappear.

    Reply
  9. Sue

    So glad I found this blog as we have just started going gluten free and I LOVE TO BAKE! Your blog has given me a lot of tips and insight. Thank you.

    Reply

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