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Baking: It’s both a science and an art, which means it can be way more complicated than cooking. And when you’re whipping up homemade gluten-free treats, baking can become even more challenging. You’re swapping all-purpose flour for gluten-free alternatives and subbing less common grains and starches – which can mess with your recipes and the final results. But gluten-free baking doesn’t have to frustrate you.
Perfect the art of gluten-free cakes, cookies and loaves with some helpful hacks. Try these 8 tips, tricks and tools for trouble-free, triumphant gluten-free baking.
1. Respect the power of the flour
Swapping rice flour for wheat in a traditional recipe? That can only lead to trouble. Achieving the proper combination of gluten-free grains, starches and gums is key, as you’ll need to mimic the properties of gluten and add elasticity, structure and texture to the final product. Make your own gluten-free flour mix, or buy a one-to-one blend.
And don’t forget to check the ingredients if you’re going store-bought. If your blend doesn’t have xanthan gum or guar gum – magical binding agents that keep baked goods from falling apart – you’ll need to add your own. You’ll need about ½ teaspoon of xanthan or guar gum for every cup of flour, though you can adapt as you go; that’s just a safe starting point. But don’t overdo it; too much makes cakes, muffins and breads gummy and gelatinous.
2. Measure like it’s a science
Sure, regular baking is a science, but gluten-free baking requires even more precision and careful measuring. Gluten-free flours are less forgiving, so accuracy is your guiding star. They’re finer than wheat flour, hard to distribute evenly in measuring cups, and dipping a cup into those tiny little pouches is messy and cumbersome.
Instead of relying on cups, look at grams and ounces. Weight, not volume, is more accurate; you should use a kitchen scale for precise and reliable results.
If you are using a measuring cup, treat it like a science. Spoon flour into the cup, gently shaking it to let flour settle (don’t pack it in). Overfill the cup, then use an offset spatula or the back of a butter knife to scrape across the top of the cup and level it off.
3. Add more moisture
Without gluten, baked goods often come out dry, brittle and hard. If that’s the way your cookies (or muffins, scones and breads) crumble, you need to amp up the moisture. Increase liquids to fully hydrate flour. You may also want to go with a full-fat liquid, as the fats in whole milk, cream or coconut milk can improve tenderness.
Another easy way to add moisture and fats? Include almond flour in your gluten-free blends for healthy fats, plus protein and nutrients. We suggest using a finely ground version to avoid grittiness.
You can also mix in applesauce or pureed bananas to add softness, lightness and natural sweetness. Just remember all that additional liquid has to go somewhere! You’ll want to increase the baking time to evaporate excess moisture, or you’ll end up with mushy muffins or gooey, gummy scones that are a bit too moist.
4. Lighten up your batters
If gluten-free cakes aren’t falling apart, they often turn out heavy and unpleasantly dense. That’s because gluten creates little pockets of air, so baked goods turn out springy and fluffy; gluten-free flours and grains are lacking this crucial element.
So, you’ll need to add a little more air into your batters while you’re mixing. Sift your gluten-free flour blends before adding them to recipes to lighten them up and work in air (this is especially important for almond flour, since it tends to clump). Then, stir, whisk or beat longer than usual to aerate the batter – a step that’s vital if you’re adapting a recipe.
Typically, wheat-flour formulas caution you not to overmix batters, since excessive beating or kneading develops gluten and makes baked goods rubbery and tough. However, without gluten, you don’t have that problem. Don’t be afraid to mix, mix, mix!
5. Let your batter rest
If your gluten-free muffins and scones are ending up gritty and sandy, you may be rushing the process. Gluten-free batter needs a bit of down time after mixing, so its starches can absorb as much liquid as possible. Fully-incorporated moisture creates a softer texture, uniform crumb, better structure and rise (which is crucial for faster-cooking items like quick breads, muffins and biscuits).
After mixing your batter, give it a little nap. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes before transferring the mixture to baking pans. Do the same for breads and biscuit doughs; they’ll firm up some and be easier to handle and shape.
6. Swap metal bakeware for silicone
Gluten-free dough is sticky, messy and frustrating to work with. And without gluten’s structural and binding benefits, baked goods are less resilient and prone to crumbling or cracking when you try to get them out of their metal pans.
To make gluten-free baking easier and less frustration-inducing, upgrade your bakeware. Switch to muffin tins, loaf pans, cake pans and baking sheets that support gluten-free baking. Silicone is ideal; the flexible material and nonstick surface allow you to effortlessly slip baked goods from their pans without breaking or splitting. Or, use silicone baking sheets instead of parchment for cookies, biscuits and scones. For donuts or shaped rolls or breads (like challah), spare yourself the mess and frustration of trying to wrangle temperamental gluten-free dough into a form and invest in a few silicone molds to replicate specific shapes.
7. Don’t rely on your eyes
When it comes to gluten-free baking, your eyes may not be able to catch the proper level of doneness – and that can lead to under- and over-cooking. “Lightly browned,” “golden” and other visual cues just aren’t reliable for gluten-free baking.
Instead, stick to tools that’ll show you exactly where your baked goods are at. If you’re making bread, insert an instant-read thermometer in the center of the loaf almost to the bottom, but without touching the pan itself; the temperature should be about 205 to 210 degrees F when it’s done. For muffins, cakes and rolls, insert a toothpick into the thickest part to test for doneness. And if you’re adapting a gluten-based recipe, you’ll need to adjust baking time, since gluten-free blends tend to require a little extra time in the oven.
And if you’re frequently pulling burned baked goods out of the oven, you aren’t alone. You can avoid over-browning, which is common with gluten-free flours, by reducing the oven temperature by about 20 degrees and slightly increasing the cooking time.
8. Bail on crust
Gluten-free pie crusts are hard; they’re sticky and fragile, and transferring them to a pie dish is darn near impossible. The easiest solution? Just… don’t.
Bail on crusts altogether and tweak recipes so that the grain base seems almost superfluous. Make crustless pumpkin pie (like panna cotta), use hash browns as the base for quiche or turn cherry pie into a crumble, for example.
If you’re committed to making a crust, finely grind gluten-free cookies in a food processor, add butter or coconut oil and press into a pie dish instead of rolling. Or, just cheat! Pre-made gluten-free crusts usually outshine homemade versions. You can keep a few backups in the freezer for fast, last-minute desserts.
For more gluten-free baking ideas and inspiration, try these recipes:
Featured recipe: Gluten-Free Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti with Dark Chocolate Drizzle