The trickiest thing for a lot gluten free beginners is knowing what ingredients you can use and why, so here is my handy guide to essential gluten free ingredients and what they are useful for:
There are lots of naturally gluten free flours. Many bakers opt to mix their own blends of flour, but I think there are some pretty awesome ready made blends out there.
Here in the UK it’s pretty easy to get hold of Doves Farm Gluten Free Flour which is available in a few different blends, including Doves Farm Gluten Free Plain White Flour which is suitable for pastry and biscuits and Doves Farm Gluten Free Self Raising White Flour which is very similar to the plain flour blend, but contains added raising and binding agents, such as Xanthan Gum and is best used for cakes, brownies, cupcakes, scones etc. In the US Bob’s Red Mill flour blends are a popular choice.
There are so many types of gluten free flour which are useful for all sorts off things. Two quite useful flours include Cornflour which is great for thickening up anything from sauces to custard and Rice Flour is useful for kneading dough, biscuits and pastry etc.
There are far too many gluten free flours to name them all, but a couple of my favourites include Oat Flour, Coconut Flour and Buckwheat – which is gluten free, despite the fact that it contains the word ‘wheat’.
Many bakers use ground almonds which are a great alternative to flour and are used in lots of recipes, including macarons, brownies, amaretti biscuits and flourless chocolate cakes.
Polenta is another popular choice, often used to make lemon cake, but I usually use it instead of bread crumbs!
Gluten free oats are another good flour alternative and can be used to make oatcakes, flapjack, cookies or granola and they are great sprinkled on top of an apple crumble. They can also be ground up to make oat flour too which I’ve used in gluten free bread recipes. At the moment I am using ones I bought from Delicious Alchemy which I think are the best I’ve tried. Some Coeliacs find they can’t tolerate gluten free oats so be sure to double check before trying them.
So, the tricky thing about gluten free baking is that there is no gluten to help bakes rise and without it you might have difficult time getting ingredients to bind together. This is where rising and binding agents come in handy.
Xanthan Gum is a typical binding agent used in gluten free baking and a lot of flour blends already contain it. I know there are lots of coeliacs who are sensitive to Xanthan Gum and recently I have been trying to bake without it – in some recipes the ingredients bind together just fine without it, for example, a cake where the recipe calls for lots of eggs.
There are few bakes which are tricky to make gluten free, like bread, which really does rely on gluten to work. One ingredient that a lot of gluten free bakers swear by is Psyllium Husk. When Psyllium Husk is mixed with water it becomes like a very stretchy sticky gel which helps to bind ingredients together and because it’s stretchy it does the same job as gluten. Did I also mention it’s a colon cleanser? Yep, I’m really not kidding. If you want to get your hands on some you can find it with the other colon cleansing products in the health food shop.
Like in normal baking, I use rising agents like Baking Powder and Bicarbonate of Soda to give bakes some rise. Be sure to make check they’re in date or they will be useless and not all brands are gluten free so be sure to read the label before you buy.
White Wine Vinegar and Cider Vinegar are fine for coeliacs, but in my opinion it’s best to steer clear of Malt Vinegar, even if some brands are considered safe because they contain very low levels of gluten. Vinegar is great mixed with Bicarbonate of Soda and can be used to add that extra bit of oomph to a gluten free bread recipe.
Eggs are almost always used in baking recipes and you may find that some recipes ask for more eggs as they can help bind ingredients and help bakes rise. They are also used to make a lot of naturally gluten free bakes, like meringue!
Milk is another useful ingredients in gluten free baking and I often use it to give bakes a little bit of added moisture.
Products such as Sugar Paste, Glacé Cherries, Marshmallows, Food Colouring, Marzipan etc are all usually fine but it’s always a good idea to double check these just incase, as sometimes they can be made in a factory that contains gluten. I am always sure to double check chocolate and sweets too, as there are a lot of brands that are not gluten free.