On Gluten-Free “All Purpose” Flours:
I don’t believe in an “all-purpose gluten-free flour”. There are a lot of blends out there, but I don’t think any of them is a cup-for-cup replacement to wheat flour, because different flours work, well, differently when combined with fats and proteins and sugars, and we don’t want the same texture with a cake as we do a cookie.
I like blending my own flours for the control I have in regards to how much starch or gum I’m using, as well as utilizing the beautiful wide world of flours out there for the taking. When I interview pastry chefs for Serious Eats, I sometimes ask off the record how many flours they use; the answer is usually three or maybe four – all-purpose, cake, bread and maybe a rice flour. There are so many delicious grains to explore baking with. I find the reward of creating an earthy, complex blend for a specific baked good a far superior triumph than the ease of scooping directly from a box or bag.
(wiping the tears now)
But I get it. Blending is expensive and time-consuming, and if you haven’t been doing this for one or two decades it gets sticky in the beginning. I remember my first gluten-free pastry course with Rebecca Reilly and being completely overwhelmed by the language she used or I’d read by Betty Hagman. So, if you’re looking for a blend, here’s my quick-thoughts on a few all-purpose blends out there, which I’m way familiar with from work at Easy Eats (and for my recent Taste Test spread of 9 gluten-free flour blends in the magazine, click HERE):
- Bob’s Red Mill: This is so readily available, which is great. But because of the blend of flours I find it has a bit too much tang and weight for anything but hard-core chocolate recipes (I used it when creating my Beer Brownies while at my dad’s house). They’re my line in general for all of my flours, as my local Fairway has dozens of them, but as far as blends go, I stick to their baking mixes and don’t readily use the all-purpose.
- Pamela’s Products are blowing me away right now – she really has a sense of what works well all around. Big fan. I would consider buying in bulk if I weren’t so persnickety about my own blending.
- King Arthur is my favorite gluten-FULL flour and the blend is workable; you have to add your own xanthan gum, but I actually like that as I have control over how much pull I’m going to get. They’re flour is also very soft, which I appreciate especially in cake-making. And their gluten-free chocolate cake mix is killer. I use it when baking for a special occasion for my family at one of their places.
- Better Batter: I love Naomi and her company, but her blend is one I’d reserve for using primarily with her recipes. Her flour sucks up so much moisture, it’s hard to easily swap in a recipe without adaptation. Lots of people swear by it, though.
- Cup4Cup: I haven’t actually worked with this blend because it has dairy in it. Which stinks, because it was developed by a pastry chef at the French Laundry, and I highly trust Thomas Keller and his team. It’s also not cheap, but if you don’t have a dairy concern and have a special event coming up, I’d give it a try.
- Domata: This is a small company and I’m still working with it, but so far I’m liking it. More to come.
Flours I LOVE! (the short list):
- Quinoa: Yes, it’s expensive at about $11 a bag, but it’s my favorite go-to for something high in protein and fiber, like the “mother grain” that it is. I find it provides stability and a slightly nutty or bitter flavor to baking that’s great in cookies and pie crusts and not detectable in cakes. It’s also extremely easy to digest, much more so than rice or bean flours. *In any of my recipes, you can swap quinoa for millet…
- Millet: Very nutty and slightly sweet, it’s great in cookies and also extremely digestible for those with digestive stresses.
- White and brown rice: Very solid, stable flours. They can be a bit grainy – I find white more so than brown – which is why I never use them as my only flour. Rice is a binder so it can cause constipation for those with severe digestive issues. But it’s a staple in gluten-free baking and a stalwart when blended well.
- Sweet rice (or sticky rice flour): Great for adding a bit of pull needed in pastas and similar types of dough.
- Sorghum: Don’t really have too much of an opinion, but find it to be stable and not add too dark of a flavor.
- Buckwheat: This is a completely gluten-free grain, though the name may confuse you. I find it has a stronger flavor than others, which can be quite incredible in a pie crust, but it’s not my favorite for cookies or cakes.
- Teff: This is extremely high in protein but I find it has a really strong flavor, so I only use it in somewhat more savory recipes.
- Bean Flour: Again, higher in protein but with a stronger flavor. Great when blending with LOTS of other flours.
- Cabernet Wine Flour: This is one of the most uncommon flours I use, but I love it. I got mine from Marche Noir at $14 for 10oz and find it delicious. I find it brings a curranty, rich taste to my baked goods. But as it’s very grainy and can leave an aftertaste, so less is more.
- Mesquite Flour: I love this smoky flour in cookies and pie crusts – it brings a little New Mexico sunshine into my baking (that’s the image I have, roll with it). Great in gingerbread, animal cookies and autumnal baking, you only need a few tablespoons to change the flavor profile.
- Arrowroot Starch/Flour: This is my favorite of the starches, for no reason other than I find it the easiest to digest. *In any of my recipes, you can substitute arrowroot with tapioca, which is cheaper.
- Tapioca Starch/Flour: Also a starch I use regularly, because it’s inexpensive and you can’t taste it.
Blend it, Baby!
I make up my blend of flour in big batches to keep on hand. Storing flours in the fridge will help with their shelf life. Always sift flours together twice and then whisk. Whisk thoroughly each time before using.
In general these are the proportions I use:
- 1 cup solid flour, like white or brown rice
- 1/2 cup flavorful, nutty flour like quinoa or millet
- 1/2 cup starch, like arrowroot or tapioca
- 1 – 1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
There are obviously always exceptions – sometimes you don’t want so much starch, sometimes you want more. But this is my general rule.
This is the go-to blend I use for most things, and the one my mother and siblings have picked up and used with much success. I have 2 tsps xanthan gum in this blend of 5 cups of flour, which is on the low side. If you’re worried about crumbliness at 1/4 tsp more for every cup that you use.
- 1 cup white rice flour
- 1 cup brown rice flour
- 1 cup quinoa flour
- 1 cup tapioca flour
- 1 cup arrowroot starch
- 2 tsp xanthan gum
Cake Flour Blend
This is just a bit higher in starch, which adds some softness to cakes.
- 2 cups brown rice flour
- 1 cup white rice flour
- 1 cup arrowroot
- 1/2 cup tapioca starch
- 1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
- Gluten-free Chocolate Mint Beef Empanadas (thedustybaker.com)
- Gluten-Free Sponge Cake (thedustybaker.com)
- Homemade Gluten-free Flour Mix (sugarglutenfree.com)
- Gluten Free Flour Kinds (sugarglutenfree.com)
- Gluten-Free Pierogis and an Awesome Giveaway! (thedustybaker.com)
- Holiday In a Hand Pie! (thedustybaker.com)
- Rosemary Lavender Apple Galette (thedustybaker.com)