Going gluten-free doesn’t have to mean giving up your favorite baked goods. Unfortunately, the gluten-free substitutes in chest freezers and specialty bakeries can be overwhelmingly expensive. If you can’t afford $2.00 cupcakes and $10.00 loaves of bread, your best bet is to turn to your own kitchen. The good news is that with some practice, homemade gluten-free treats can taste even better than the bakery.
1. Get Equipped
It is almost impossible to remove all gluten from every nook and cranny of used baking equipment and appliances. If you have a moderate to severe sensitivity, you need to get rid of things like toasters, waffle irons, breadmakers, baking pans, wooden spoons, rolling pins, spatulas, and mixers. Small amounts of old flour or dough could come out into your food while baking, making you sick. For the same reason, you should not buy used baking and cooking supplies. Set aside a certain amount of money each month to replace your baking supplies with new ones.
Recommended reading: 10 Best Gluten Free Appliances for your Kitchen
Many gluten-free recipes require mixing heavy batter for several minutes at high speed. A cheap mixer will burn out quickly. Start off with a heavy-duty, professional stand mixer (such as KitchenAid) and it will pay for itself in durability.
2. Start with Mixes
Gluten-free doughs are not what you’re used to. Most bread and pizza crust, for instance, come from a batter that is poured or spread instead of a kneaded dough. Use a good quality mix as a baseline for how something looks and feels like a dough, and tastes as a finished product. Later you can save even more money by baking from scratch.
Betty Crocker makes excellent gluten-free cake mixes and Bisquick, which are available in most grocery King Arthur Flour makes great bread, brownie, and muffin mixes, but you may have to order them online. Bobs Red Mill mixes are available in stores, but they tend to be strongly flavored with sorghum flour and some have a dry, slightly gritty texture.
3. Start Simple
Made-from-scratch gluten-free bread and flaky pastries are tricky. Start with something much simpler, such as cookies or scones, to learn how different gluten-free flour blends behave. This also lets you experiment without a mixer or other expensive equipment.
If it doesn’t require rising and contains a lot of egg or other binders, you can just swap out the flour in a regular recipe with a homemade or commercial gluten-free flour mix. Cookies and brownies are very forgiving when it comes to mismatched flours.
4. Know Your Flours
Despite the advertising, there really is no such thing as a perfect substitute for wheat flour. There are some rough approximations sold as “cup for cup” or “one to one” substitutes, but they will work better in some recipes than others (and are expensive). They are usually a combination of three to four flours and starches made from potato, tapioca, corn, white, brown, and sweet rice, sorghum, fava, coconut, almond, millet, or quinoa. There are usually binders added to replace the sticky gluten protein of wheat flour, like xanthan or guar gum. If you are using a flour mix that already has gum in it, leave out any additional gum called for in the recipe.
There are many recipes online from folks who mix their own multi-purpose or all-purpose blends from three or four gluten-free flours and starches. Make a small batch at a time and test it in several recipes before deciding it’s right for you. You may find that you end up with separate “all-purpose” flours for pancakes and muffins, pastries, and bread.
Research the behavior and effects of the different flours and starches, by doing an internet search for wheat flour substitutes (or for a specific flour). In general, starches add binding and crust, and flours add bulk and crumb. Higher protein flours increase chewiness. If a recipe calls for flour you don’t have, switch it for one with similar weight and properties (i.e. potato starch for corn starch). Some flours, like sorghum, masa, and millet, have a strong flavor that may affect the recipe.
5. Be a Test Kitchen
Make sure you record the recipes that didn’t work and why. Later you can learn something from the patterns. Do you generally not like the flavor or consistency of recipes with a certain flour? Did the recipe that worked better have more starch or eggs? Understanding the effect each ingredient has on the end result will later allow you to develop your own recipes or see how to adjust someone else’s for best results.
Look for recipes with reviews, and pay attention to the comments. Many reviewers will rate a recipe they haven’t even tried yet. Make sure you have the flours and other ingredients you need. Bob’s Red Mill makes almost every type of gluten-free flour substitute and is a good starter source. Amazon.com offers many of them with free shipping. We recommend buying it whole and grinding it at home with either a grain mill or food mill.
Learning how to bake gluten-free is like any other skill. You start simply and work at it until you develop the tools you need. The reward is feeling less deprived without spending a lot of money. You may decide is worth the effort.