Right after my celiac disease diagnosis, I remember standing in the grocery store looking at a wall of gluten-free flours, blends, and mixes. Every grain, seed, nut, and legume was ground and packaged as flour. (I'm one of the lucky ones; small town folks may have slim pickin's!)
Choosing an all-purpose blend was my first instinct as a newly-gluten-free baker — after all, I used regular all-purpose flour for years with great results. Surely it's a simple substitution?
Oh, if only that were the case...
Cut to two years and a dozen or more blends later, I was frustrated. One blend would work for muffins, the other for pizza, but try and use the good-for-muffins blend for pizza and I would get a slab of cardboard. Why wasn't my gluten-free baking getting any better?
The answer: all-purpose blends.
Now, don't get me wrong: gluten-free all-purpose blends are a great starting point. I would've been lost without them at the beginning. They're a solid, first step into the world of gluten-free baking.
In the long run, though, you'll hit a wall with blends and finally realize: there will never be one gluten-free all-purpose blend that can do it all.
All gluten-free blends are different. Some are starch heavy, some have bean flours in them; some have a binder (like xanthan gum), some don't. This means that you might find a blend that's perfect for cookies, but makes your bread a tiny, solid lump.
Look at two popular blends: All-Purpose Baking Flour and Gluten-free 1:1 Flour (both by Bob's Red Mill). The base of the All-Purpose blend is garbanzo bean flour (chickpea flour). The base of the 1:1 blend is sweet rice flour (made from sticky rice).
Imagine you have a handful of each of these bases: in one hand, chickpeas; the other, sticky rice. When you think of it like that, it seems obvious that chickpeas and sticky rice have completely different properties. This is why blends are not interchangeable and give you inconsistent results. (You wouldn't use rice for hummus; you wouldn't wrap your sushi in chickpeas...)
Sweet rice flour has high amounts of starch, giving it excellent binding properties. On the other hand, chickpea flour is high fibre and protein, with a distinct taste.
I get frustrated with online recipes that call for blends. They're not interchangeable, so in order to get the exact same result, I'd have to use that exact same blend. If I can't find it or order it, I'm outta luck.
Some recipes require me to make an all-purpose blend. While I’m more likely to get a good result, it means I need to buy all of the flours and mix them together first. All that work before I know if I like the recipe? And even if I do like it, now I have another all-purpose blend that is only good for one recipe. It’s a vicious circle!
And the worst offender is when recipes just say "1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour". Folks, that is the equivalent of saying 1 cup random-dry-ingredients.
Being frugal and being gluten-free are sometimes (almost always) at odds with each other. Between "upgrades" at restaurants and mark-ups on gluten-free items at stores, my credit card was screaming. Or maybe that was me. We'll never know.
That's because I didn't realize how much more I was spending by using blends. Occasionally, you can get a great deal on a brand name but typically blends are marked up (as they should be) for mixing all of the ingredients into a convenient package (or not-so-convenient, as we're seeing).
Let's get nitty-gritty for my fellow math nerds.
Compare those prices to the cost of the individual ingredients from my local bulk store:
In summary: you're paying at least double for all-purpose blends.
Why in the world would you pay significantly more for a pre-made blend? Especially a blend that's holding your baking back? You can get all of the same ingredients at a cheaper price — and get better results.
Here's the main reason your gluten-free baking isn't improving: when you use blends, you can't control the ingredients you're using, so you'll never know why your baking didn't turn out.
Did it have too much starch? Did it need a better binder? Even if you figure that out, you would need to add additional ingredients to your all-purpose blend, defeating the purpose of the all-purpose blend. Am I making any sense here?
Let me give you an example. When I tried making biscuits, I used all-purpose blends — but something was off. The texture was chewy instead of being soft and ever-so-crumbly. I tried another blend and got bone-dry biscuits that I had to toss the next day. That's when I had the realization that changed my gluten-free baking game for good...
I stopped using blends and started buying the individual flours, starches, and binders. You can tailor each of your recipes by selecting the right ingredients in the right amounts. It will give you a better result and — bonus! — will save you money.
By doing this experimenting, I found out that tapioca starch is to biscuits what the Joker is to Batman. (Translation: they're enemies.) Seriously, I made a batch with a ton of tapioca starch and they were the weirdest, stretchiest biscuits ever. One bite... then straight to the compost.
Most blends have tapioca flour in them, which gets in the way of your buttery biscuit heaven. (That first one I'd tried was clearly heavy on the tapioca.) Problem solved!
As a bonus, anything I make that I know is similar to a biscuit texture, I have an excellent place to start.
How did I get started? I read a lot. I gobbled up everything I could about the ingredients and their properties. I even bought a used, hard-to-find textbook from halfway across the world about gluten-free food science (not kidding). You don't need to do this; I'm a nerd.
Next, I looked at the most commonly used ingredients across several blends and bought them separately. Then I tried them in combinations that seemed appropriate for each recipe. Generally about 60-70% of the flour should be grains, like rice flours (white or brown rice) to give it structure, and then a mix of starches to give a better texture (tapioca, potato, corn). You also need a binder, like xanthan gum.
For example, if a recipe calls for 2 cups GF all-purpose flour, one might try:
(The amount of xanthan gum varies depending on the baked good; anywhere from a 1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour for cookies, to 1 teaspoon per cup of flour for breads.)
By doing this, you'll also get to know the ingredients individually and how they affect your baked goods. It will take your gluten-free baking to a whole new level.
Never fear. I know that sounds like a lot of work — and it is! That's why I created my gluten-free baking courses: I did the testing so you don't have to. I also explain why I'm using the ingredients I am, so you can learn how to adapt recipes on your own. (Without the heart-breaking trial and error.)
Simply saying "1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour" in a recipe isn't going to cut it anymore. I only offer recipes, tips, and techniques that have been carefully tested for the absolute best results.
Join me to start your journey to gluten-free greatness. Let's get baking!
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