Making your own gluten-free flour blend at home is certainly possible. However, before you start it is good to get informed. In this article I explain what you must pay attention to if you replace wheat flour with a gluten-free one. I explain what gluten is, what its function is in baked goods and what the best ingredients for a gluten-free flour mix are. Finally, I share a universal recipe for a gluten-free flour blend that you can make yourself at home.
What is gluten and what are the functions of gluten?
Gluten is a mixture of proteins that occurs naturally in grains, such as wheat (including spelt), rye and barley.
The role of flour in a baking recipe is to provide “body” and structure. Wheat flour is most commonly used in traditional baking for making everything from bread to cake. Wheat flour has a neutral taste. And wheat flour contains gluten. Gluten plays an important role in traditional baking. Namely, gluten provides elasticity. Gluten creates a strong, elastic framework that is very effective at trapping air. The higher the protein content of the flour, the stronger the framework.
High-protein wheat flour is labelled as ‘hard’ and has a protein content of about 10-14%. Hard flour is used to make stiff dough that is used for baking pastries or bread. Bread has a lot of air bubbles and a chewy texture that needs to be sawn apart with a serrated knife. Soft flour has a protein content of about 8-10%. It is used to make batter that is liquid and moulded and hardens during baking. It is often called cake flour. Soft flour pastries crumble when cut.
What are the main properties of flour?
If you can’t/don’t want to eat gluten, you’ll need to find a substitute that mimics the four key properties of wheat flour:
- Structure: elastic and sticky;
- Texture: strong enough to bind air;
- Hydration: able to take its own weight in water;
- Taste: mild, doesn’t affect the overall taste.
No ingredient works as a direct substitute for wheat flour because no single ingredient possesses all these four properties.
The key to replacing wheat flour is to replicate its protein and starch structure. This can only be achieved by using a combination of protein-rich flour(s) and starch(es).
In general, universal gluten-free flour blends use a ratio of 60% protein flour and 40% starch. This is a higher protein content than wheat flour because without gluten, more protein is needed to hold a pastry together. The ratio you should use is not fixed and depends on the recipe.
If you want a denser texture, you’ll need to add more protein flour into your mixture. And if you want a fluffier, crumbly texture, then you should use a larger proportion of starch in your gluten-free mixture.
The most commonly used ingredients in gluten-free flour blends
Ready-to-use gluten-free universal flour blends are usually a combination of brown rice flour, tapioca and potato starch, and xanthan gum.
Starch provides the structure of the dough but is otherwise light and neutral in taste. Flours with a high protein content are more prominent. They determine the structure, texture, colour and taste. Remember that different types of flour provide different results. Some are dense and grainy, others are light and spongy.
Here are the most common examples of protein and starch used in the gluten-free bakery:
- almond flour
- amaranth flour
- buckwheat flour
- chickpea flour
- cornmeal (aka polenta)
- quinoa flour
- soy flour
- teff flour
- brown rice flour
- white rice flour
- millet flour
- tapioca flour
- sweet rice flour
- arrowroot powder
- corn starch
- potato starch
Can you use a gluten-free alternative for any recipe?
Yes and no. If you have a lot of experience and/or don’t mind experimenting for a long time in the kitchen, you will be able to find the best ingredients and proportions for your recipe. And some recipes are simply better suited to removing gluten than others. When removing gluten from a recipe, be realistic about changes in texture and taste. Generally, recipes which are based on a batter are easier to adjust than recipes requiring a dough.
Universal Gluten Free Flour Blend (All Purpose) Recipe
Ingredients (for 1 kg of flour)
- 300 g brown rice flour
- 300 g white rice flour
- 150 g tapioca starch
- 150 g potato starch
- 30 arrowroot powder
- 20 g xanthan gum
Mix all ingredients well. Store in a tightly closed container in a cool, dark place.
It is not wise to follow a gluten-free diet if it is not necessary. A gluten-free diet is complicated, and the risk of a nutrient deficiency is high. More about dangers of gluten-free diets follows soon.