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Preparing delicious, healthy, gluten-free meals isn’t that difficult once you understand what works, what doesn’t and why. Sometimes our kitchen experiments work out, sometimes they don’t; but in every case, we learn something new about the science and art of gluten-free cooking.

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Baking Basics: Gluten-free Flour Blends

Submitted by on January 13, 2010 – 8:40 am10 Comments
Baking Basics: Gluten-free Flour Blends

When I started baking gluten-free, I went through a big learning curve to understand the properties of various gluten-free flours, and how to mix them to get the results I wanted.  I studied cookbooks, took some gluten-free cooking classes, and did a lot of experimenting. Ultimately, I arrived at some basic conclusions that I think you’ll find are helpful.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: there are so many gluten-free flour blends available to buy these days, why bother mixing your own?  While I agree there are many excellent “all-purpose” blends out there, consider that professional bakers would not use a “one-size fits all” approach for everything from cakes to bread.  It simply doesn’t work as well as using cake flour for cake, or bread flour for bread.  Similarly, I have yet to find a gluten-free flour blend that works well for every application.  They also tend to be expensive.  So, I mix my own.

A Tale of Two Flours: Protein/Fiber Flours vs. Starches

Most gluten-free flours fall into one of two types of flour: those that are what I refer to as protein or fiber flours (which includes rice flour, bean flour, nut flour, sorghum flour, millet flour, and several others) and starches (such as tapioca starch, potato starch, corn starch, arrowroot starch, and sweet rice flour).

Protein/fiber flours provide structure, stability, flavor, color, texture, and nutrition.  Some are very mild in flavor, color and texture, and therefore very versatile for baking.  These flours, such as brown and white rice flour, sorghum flour, millet flour, and chestnut flour, are great “primary” flours to use as a base for your blend.  Others add a variety of flavors, colors, and textures to baked goods, and are often highly nutritious.

Starches are very fine in texture and cause baked goods to be lighter with a softer crumb and smoother texture. Certain starches, such as tapioca starch, help brown and crisp baked goods, while sweet rice flour will increase the pliability of rolled dough – a necessary quality for making pie-crusts or cookie dough.

Successful gluten-free baking, however, begins with using the right flour blend – using both protein/fiber flours and starches together to get good results.  Protein/fiber flours are are heavy and baked goods end up very dense.  Starches alone can not provide enough structure for baked goods to hold their shape. The right combination can produce excellent results, often indistinguishable from baked goods made with wheat.  The trick, though, is knowing what blend to use, depending on what you are trying to make.  After much trial and error, here are some simple guidelines that seem to work.

gluten-free flours

Gluten-free flours and starches. From L-R: Sorghum, Millet, Potato Starch, Sweet Rice Flour

Blending Guidelines

  1. Use an appropriate ratio of protein/fiber flours to starches.  In my experience, the following ratios work best:
    • Yeast bread, biscuits, pizza crust: 1 cup of protein/fiber flour for every 1-1 1/4 cup of starch
    • Muffins, cakes, pancakes: 2 cups of protein/fiber flour for every 1 cup of starch
    • Piecrusts, crackers, cookies: 2 cups of protein/fiber flour for every 1 cup of starch
  2. Exploit the characteristics of different flours to enhance the desired result:
    • Yeast bread, biscuits, pizza crust: base flours such as sorghum and millet work well in bread and biscuits, providing mild flavors and soft crumb.  Rice flour tends to make dense loaves of bread, but adds a nice crispiness to pizza crusts.  Gluten-free Oat flour, Montina flour, corn flour and others add wonderful favors and textures to bread.
    • Muffins, cakes, pancakes: base flours such as sorghum and millet work well, providing mild flavors and soft crumb. Rice flour works, but can create a grainy texture, especially if the product is refrigerated.  High fiber flours, such as nut flour, GF oat flour, flaxseed meal, and bean flours, work exceptionally well in muffins and pancakes.
    • Pie-crusts, crackers, cookies: brown and white rice flours work the best when the final product is crispy, crumbly, crunchy, and/or chewy.  Nut flours and bean flours add flavor and texture.
  3. Select just a few base flours you want to use that are easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and will work in many applications.  Watch out for strongly flavored flours (such as bean flours) and allergens (such as nut flours), especially if you are baking for others.  Experiment with other flours and have fun creating your own unique flour blends.

Example Flour Blends

Basic “White” Bread Flour Blend (1:1 ratio)

  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 3/4 cup sweet rice flour
  • 1 1/2 cup sorghum flour
  • 1 cup millet flour
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 1/4 cup potato starch

Variations:

  • for pizza crust, increase rice flour by 1 cup, decrease sorghum and millet flours by a 1/2 cup each
  • instead of brown rice flour, try gluten-free oat flour, Montina flour, or amaranth flour

Muffin/Cake Blend (2:1 ratio)

  • 1 cup sorghum flour
  • 1 cup millet flour
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 cup tapioca starch

Variations for muffins:

  • reduce sorghum or millet flour by 1/2 cup and add 1/2 cup of bean, nut flour or GF oat flour
  • reduce sorghum or millet flour by 1/4 cup and add flaxseed meal or coconut flour

Cookie/Cracker Blend (2:1 ratio)

  • 1/3 cup sweet rice flour
  • 2 cups rice flour (brown or white)
  • 1/3 cup potato starch
  • 1/3 cup tapioca starch

Variations:

  • use white rice flour for light colored cookies, such as sugar cookies
  • use brown rice flour for drop cookies, such as chocolate chip
  • reduce the rice flour by 1/2 cup and add 1/2 cup nut flour or bean flour for drop cookies

10 Comments »

  • Melissa says:

    Thank you for the information. I am excited to try it! I’ve had so many unsuccessful attempts, that I was about to stop trying. Off to bake…

  • selina says:

    I’m glad the article was useful for you. Let me know how things turn out!

  • Patty says:

    Thank you so much. I’ve always wondered what purpose each flour served. You’ve taken a lot of the guess work out of choosing the right mix for each type of baked good. I was a little hesitant to buy various flours and try them out in case the recipe didn’t turn out and I had to throw out all that hard work.

  • selina says:

    I’m glad it was helpful. Let me know how things turn out in your recipes! Selina.

  • Illiah says:

    Thank you so much for such a helpful post.

    I was just wondering if you’ve ever baked gluten free things with lactose free milk? (still cows milk, not soy or rice milk). And at a stretch with glucose instead of table sugar? no matter what combination of flours I use, my biscuits turn out fine (although I have to add extra butter) but I can’t get my muffins and cakes to work properly and I suspect its a combination of using lactose free milk and glucose (although sugar free muffins don’t work either so maybe its just the lactose free milk).

    I’d be really interested to know you or anyone else has had success with these things.

  • selina says:

    Hi Illiah,

    I have not used lactose free milk or glucose in my baking. The only thing I can suggest is that you try using one of those substitutions in a recipe, but not both, to isolate which one is the problem. For example, try using rice or soy milk in muffins with the glucose. Or, try using the lactose free milk with regular sugar in the same recipe. One thing to consider is that if you are using glucose syrup, you may need to reduce the other liquids in your recipe to make sure your batter doesn’t end up too thin. That can cause problems with cakes and muffins.

    I hope that helps!

    Selina

  • Mary says:

    I have been expermenting with tapoica, brown rice and oat flours, i have mixed 2 cups brown rice to 1 cup oat and tapoica and so far have made cakes and brownies with much success, although i am looking for a recipe to make pie crust, I tried with this flour mixture, shortening and water with no success. Please Help????

  • Robbie says:

    Aloha Selina,
    I just came across your blog/site and would like to ask your help. I’m not celiac, but I am trying to help my ‘sugar’ number as diabetes run in our families. I’ve been trying to follow Dr. Peter D’Adamo’s Blood Type Diet for Type ‘O’ and found that my ‘sugar’ number has improved. Accordingly, ‘O’ is to AVOID Corn, Potato, Wheat, Sorghum, Dairy [milk/cheese], Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum.
    I have been eating Ezekiel’s 4:09 bread which is frozen and really dry, but because I can’t have wheat I’ve been eating it until I can try to grind my own flours to bake a good Sandwich bread. I would love to make a good Multi-grain Sandwich bread as well as a good brown or white one also. I would also like to grind my own flours to make a good pasta flour.
    I have tried several times to mix flour/starch combinations but have not been having much success.
    He claims that the following Beans are Beneficial for ‘O’: Broad, Fava, Northern bean, Flaxseed, Walnut, Pumpkin.
    The following are Neutral and can be eaten frequently: Spelt, Tapioca, Amaranth, Kamut, Quinoa, Teff, Cannellini, Garbanzo, Pea, White Bean, Almond.
    The following are Neutral and should be eaten infrequently: Buckwheat, Millet, Oat, Rice [white/brown], Soy.
    I have also come across Hemp Hearts which I was wondering if it could substitute for Xanthan Gum or Guar Gum.
    I would really appreciate any help or advise that you can provide. I look forward to hearing from you . . . Mahalo, Robbie

  • Catherine says:

    I’m hoping you can help me. I want to try a gf loaf of white bread with potato starch as the main flour. So the ingredients are as follows. In this order preferably. Potato starch, rice flour, tapioca flour, white corn flour, chick pea flour. Then Nathan gum, a small amount of potAto flour, baking g powder, yeast, and oil. A friend and I have a running discussion about using baking powder in that I feel we may have to use more of some of the cream of tartar and baking soda and possibly hold back on the cornstarch in the BP . No eggs or flax or egg replacer. And of course we’re concerned about how much water. Would you have any thoughts on quantities for these ingredients?

    Any help would be great!

    Thanks.

    Catherine

  • selina says:

    Hi Catherine,

    I love how you are experimenting with flour blends. I would recommend keeping the overall ratio of starch to protein flours at 1:1. So, your potato starch and tapioca flour combined should equal your rice, corn, chick pea, and potato flour combined. That way, your starches will help lighten your dough and the bread will rise more easily. Chick pea flour has a strong flavor – I would go light on that.

    For bread, you’ll need about 3/4 to 1 tsp of xanthan gum per cup of flour.

    For the bread recipes that I follow from Annalise Roberts’ book, Gluten-free Baking Classics, you’ll need about 1 cup of water for every 2 cups of flour that you use.

    Most recipes also call for either honey or sugar to feed the yeast. For 2 cups of flour, about 1 Tbsp of either should do it.

    For the baking powder, I would try about 1 tsp. to start. I’m not sure I would worry about the extra cream of tartar and baking soda. Keep it simple.

    I would love to hear how it turns out. Good luck!

    Selina

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