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Gluten-Free Flour 101

9:48 PM

We have snow! The first official fall of the year (besides a few light dustings). It's perfect timing too, because Tanya and I took a hiking trip to the Great Smokies at the beginning of the week and had amazing 50˚ weather—now my 12-day vacation is ending with fluffy snow and an unmistakeable feeling of holiday.

The day after Thanksgiving, the women of Tanya's family begin an epic cookie bake. They bake mass quantities of twenty-something different cookies, then package them into tins and ship them out to friends. It's amazing—the sheer number of sweets coming out of that kitchen is mind-blowing.

Tanya and I help, of course, but we also do plenty of allergy-friendly baking in our own kitchen over the winter. Really, can you think of a better bit of snowday fun? If you (or your mom or Aunt Bernice) are new to gluten-free baking, we're here to help. The first thing you need to know: these four cardinal rules of flour substitutions. 

1. Wheat Flour Substitutes = Flour + Starch + Gum
This is confusing, so it's a common error that still trips up our friends and family. When you bake with wheat flour you simply measure out the desired amount and use it—unfortunately, substitutes aren't that simple. To replace gluten's sticky and gas-retaining properties, you'll need flour (brown rice, almond, oat, etc.) mixed with one or two starches (potato starch—not potato flour!, cornstarch, arrowroot or tapioca) and a gum (xanthan or guar).

2. Some Flours Require Moderation!
So you're onboard to mix your flours with your starches and your gum, but you can't choose any flour you want. Some work, some don't—some are heavier than others. We'll cover those differences in a Gluten-Free Flours 102 post, but for beginners we'd recommend brown rice flour, gluten-free oat flour, or sorghum flour. Until you're more comfortable (or unless you're following a specific recipe) stay away from coconut flour, quinoa flour and other heavy, protein-dense options.

3. Starches Are (Almost) All The Same
As you get more advanced, you'll begin to see the nuances between starches—for now though, consider them relatively interchangeable. The reason we suggest using two different starches is to even out those nuances (for example, tapioca bakes a bit more tough but browns nicely while potato bakes up light and fluffy so combining the two makes an awesome crust). But if all you have is potato starch, don't worry too much.

4. Gums Prevent Crumbles
While there is some debate about gums (some people feel they're unnecessary and difficult to digest), they're lifesavers for beginning bakers by replicating the sticky property of gluten to help hold your baked goods together. A little goes a long way so measure carefully, and note that xanthan gum is derived from corn so avoid it when baking for someone with a corn allergy!

Use this conversion chart (found here at gygi.com/blog) for helpful measurements.

If you're looking for the easiest option, we suggest picking up a gluten free all-purpose flour blend. These include flour, starches and sometimes gums (check to make sure, and if not add your own). We love:
Bake away! And send through any questions :)

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