I confess that I am a flour junkie. I love trying new gluten-free flours, and I love having great number of flours from which to choose when I’m creating something in the kitchen. I keep a variety of gluten-free grain and grain-free flours in our refrigerator and in a large cabinet; in fact, I have so many flours on hand that we had to put a refrigerator in the garage just to have room to store them (most gluten-free flours should be kept refrigerated after opening, to prevent them, to keep them fresh). I get really excited about the choice of gluten-free flours now available!
This fact about gluten-free cooking bears repeating: the difficult part of gluten-free baking is that a combination of flours is required to replace the work of the gluten protein in wheat and other gluten-containing flours do in a recipe. The exciting part of gluten-free cooking is that the combination of flours necessary for gluten-free baking inspires one’s creativity in the kitchen. Many gluten-free cooks prefer to have a flour blend on hand, to use as an all-purpose flour. I avoid making blend to use as all-purpose. Just as a variety of wheat flours exist specifically suited for specific purposes (all purpose flour, with a medium protein to starch ratio; bread flour, with higher protein to starch ratio for structuring bread; cake flour, with lower protein to starch ratio for baking light, airy cakes, pastry flour, with a protein to starch ratio between that of all purpose and cake flours, for baking tender, flaky pastry), one needs to vary her mix of gluten-free flours depending upon what she is baking.
Some gluten-free cooking sources say that a good ratio for a successful all-purpose gluten-free flour blend is 70% protein flours to 30% starch flours. Other sources say that a good ratio for a successful all-purpose gluten-free flour is 60% protein to 40% starch. I can’t decide which ratio works best, but since I am usually trying (as are most gluten-free cooks) to create baked products similar in quality to those created by wheat flour, I decided to look at the ratio of protein to starch in wheat flour as a guide to knowing which ratio of protein to starch a successful gluten-free all purpose flour will have. Wheat flour actually has a fairly low protein to starch content, with the protein levels varying depending upon the type of flour (all-purpose, bread, cake, or pastry). Thus, to recreate as closely as possible gluten-free flour that mimics wheat flour, the 60% protein to 40% starch ratio seems to be the more reasonable ratio.
Although wheat flour actually contains a much lower protein to starch ratio than 60% to 40% (and rice flour has an even lower protein to starch ratio), the proteins contained in wheat flour allow for the elasticity that accounts for the structure of gluten-containing baked products.Gluten-free flours, without the benefit of the structure-building proteins of wheat flour, need more protein to help sustain the structure of gluten-free baked products. Of course, depending upon whether one is baking a cake or a loaf of bread, she will want to fine-tune this ratio so that she uses a high starch to protein ratio for cakes or cookies, or a higher protein to starch ratio for breads, etc. People who bake gluten-free items will want to add an additional source of protein, such as an extra egg or ground chia seed, to their baked goods to aid the gluten-free flour in providing the protein structure necessary for a perfected gluten-free baked good.
Unlike wheat flour, gluten-free, gluten-free flours vary widely in density. I weigh my flours, instead of measure them; this way I guarantee a more uniform consistency in the foods I bake. Since gluten-free flours vary in density, they will not weigh the same per cup. Moreover, any number of conditions, from the weather to the method used to spoon flour into a measuring cup to the moisture content of the flour can change the way flours measure or weigh out. When flour is weighed instead of measured, one ends up with the same amount of that flour every time she uses it to bake something. Baking without gluten is so precarious to begin with, any step toward consistency one can take is a step toward more successful gluten-free baking.
I have found sources of cup to grams equivalents for gluten-free flours online; however, the weight in grams for the types of flour listed on these other sources vary from source to source. Since these gram to cup equivalents for all gluten-free flours vary so widely, I don’t really trust gluten-free recipes (ironic, for sure, given that I write a blog in which I provide gluten-free recipes!). I mostly adapt gluten recipes to be gluten-free, adjusting the number of eggs and liquid as needed to compensate for the natural dryness of gluten-free flours. Recipes that use all purpose flours are more dependable; a cup of all purpose wheat flour has about the same weight no matter who weighs it, and it has about the same density no matter who spoons it into a cup measure. When I adapt a regular recipe to be gluten-free, I weigh my gluten-free flours based upon the hint I found in Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies, which states that the best way to change a gluten-containing recipe to a gluten-free recipe is to match the gluten-free flours gram for gram with the all purpose wheat flour.
Interestingly, all sources one finds that discuss the weight of all purpose wheat flour, unlike sources that list the weights of various gluten-free flours, consistently list the weight of a cup of all purpose flour as between 120 and 125 grams: most list the weight as 125 grams. Since the weight of all purpose wheat flour is consistent, I use the weight of the wheat flour as my guide. If a recipe calls for three cups of all purpose wheat flour, for example, I just make sure that whatever blend of gluten-free flours I’m using weighs, in total, 375 grams. Matching the total number of grams of whatever blend of flours I’m using to the number of grams of all-purpose flour in a recipes has been successful every time. If a recipe fails for some reason, the failure is usually due to some misjudgment I make in adjusting other ingredients in the recipe. This method of figuring out the correct amount of gluten-free flour necessary for a recipe may sound complicated, but it’s really very easy.
The following flours are those that I use most often in my cooking and baking. I do not use bean flours; they have an odd flavor and leave an unpleasant after-taste.
Protein Gluten-Free Flours:
Almond (blanched, fine grind – NOT almond meal)
Brown Rice (superfine grind only)
Sprouted brown rice
Starchier Gluten-Free Flours
Cassava (dried, ground whole cassava root – not tapioca starch)
Chestnut (unlike other nut flours: low in fat, high in starch)
Fibrous Gluten-Free Flours
Apple (Anti-Grain Foods)
Chia seed (ground)
Flax seed (ground)