Announcement: The Great British Bake Off begins next Wednesday 6th August on BBC1.
Gluten-free baking is a challenge but it’s exciting
Is it okay to be wildly excited?
During the last series my friend, Naomi, started making notes and experimenting with baking gluten free cakes. Now, she hasn’t brought any of her cake into the office yet (hint, hint) but she has supplied me with her notes which I thought might be helpful to you. So here are Naomi’s…
Ten tips to get you started with gluten free baking
(…or how to get a moist gluten free cake…)
1) Sort out the flour! I’ve found, and I’m sure you have too, that single flour replacements can lead to a dry, crumbly texture, so always use a blend of various flours and starches.
There are some good blends of gluten free flour mixes out there, for example, Doves. But I always like to make my own.
To make your own flour mix I have always been told to follow the 50:50 method: For every oz of flour add a oz of starch and to always keep them as equal and accurate as you can. However, this never really worked for me and left me bewildered about which flours to use with which starch. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites available where the flour blend is suggested in the recipe. (Christine Bailey‘s books are useful for this as well.)
Some helpful bloggers also give their favourite/most used flour blends, such as the blog Glutenfreeonashoestring where the writer suggests four easy blends for either cake, pastry, bread or cookies.
A few examples of gluten-free flour includes: rice flour, sorghum flour, amaranth flour, quinoa four, millet flour, buckwheat flour, teff and bean flours, coconut flour, nut/seed flours, soy flour.
For your gluten-free starches keep a look out for: arrowroot, tapioca, potato starch, cornstarch. It is the gluten proteins that give gluten food their structure and stability, so use high protein flours for breads. However, it is recommended to use low protein flours for cakes.
Here are a few examples of high protein gluten-free flour: quinoa, millet, buckwheat, nut flours.
2) Resist the urge to add more flour!
Don’t be alarmed if you have to add less flour when converting a ‘normal recipe to a gluten-free recipe. But I do suggest that you always test the recipe first before altering it.
Often gluten-free mixtures converted from ‘normal’ recipes make a much more runny mixture, but that doesn’t mean it will rise to an appropriate amount. If you attempt to thicken the mixture you will more than likely to cause the cake to become really dry. I find that my bread dough resembles a thick cake mixture yet it rises well by the end of it.
3) Aerate the mixture
Gluten creates air gaps in cake and bread mixtures which gives gluten bread and cake their lightness. Therefore beat your mixtures well to aerate them and manually make these air gaps. Because there is no gluten to worry about, you can beat your mixture for longer periods of time, I always suggest longer then 5 minutes.
Also, to save time, you can add sparkling water to batter to help give an extra lift – I use lemonade in scones for a less dense final result.
4) Xanthan gum is vital!
5) Add moisture
Add moisture to your mixtures by adding extra fruit juice, milk or liquorice.
6) Retain that moisture
Use brown sugar rather than white as it helps to retrain more of the moisture in your cake. Also, when converting a normal recipe into a gluten-free recipe, I tend to add a bit more sugar as it makes the cake more tender and with a finer crumb.
Again, resist the urge to add without testing the recipe first – before you make the adjustments.
7) Add more flavour
The flavour of gluten-free cakes can sometimes be disguised by the dryness of the cake. To gain some more flavour, replace part of the liquid for coffee or fruit puree for an added richness.
8) Stick to certain types of cakes
If all else fails, avoid naturally dry cakes such as victoria sponge and go for the moist cakes such as carrot cakes – you can’t really go wrong there!
9) Hasty is best
I’ve always told to slow down in my cooking but when it comes to the timing of getting the gluten-free cake out of the oven – it is best to take it out as soon as it is baked even if it doesn’t look golden. Every minute it stays in the oven, the dryer it will get. And while cake doesn’t last long in my house anyway, gluten-free cake is best eaten fresh! Which is good news to most of us! Unlike normal cake, gluten-free cake doesn’t last for very long so enjoy it while its freshly baked!
10) Try and try again – don’t give up, and always be up for an experiment.