Key Test Kitchen Discoveries
During the year we spent in the kitchen testing gluten-free recipes, we learned that cooking without wheat really is different. In many cases, we had to reinvent recipes and employ new techniques. Here are some of the key discoveries, which may be helpful if you are trying to adapt recipes already in your repertoire to work without wheat flour.
Thickening stays the same: In recipes where a tablespoon or two of flour is used as a thickener, you can generally use a gluten-free flour blend in a one-to-one replacement. This includes most stews and pan sauces. As with wheat flour, let the gluten-free flour cook for a minute before whisking in the liquid. This will cook out some of the raw, starchy flavor in the flour.
If you use cornstarch: You can also thicken liquids with cornstarch rather than flour. However, you must first turn cornstarch into a slurry by mixing it with cold water, and then use this slurry at the end of the cooking process. In general, you will need less cornstarch than flour.
For dusting proteins: Many breaded foods (everything from fried chicken and pork chops to eggplant Parmesan) are made with a bound breading—that is, they are dusted with flour, dipped in eggs or dairy, and then coated with crumbs. For the “dusting” part of the equation, cornstarch is a good replacement for the flour.
Make your own breading: We weren’t terribly impressed with the brands of gluten-free bread crumbs that we tested. We had better luck taking our top-rated gluten-free sandwich bread and then grinding it into crumbs. Note that fresh bread crumbs should be dried in the oven before being used as a coating.
Consider cornflakes: Cornflakes (as long as they are produced in a gluten-free facility) are another option that can be used in place of bread crumbs to top casseroles and such, though they are a bit sweeter than bread crumbs.
Replace soy sauce with tamari: Any recipe made with soy sauce (which generally contains wheat) can be made with tamari sauce (which generally does not contain wheat). A one-to-one replacement will work in most recipes.
Cut the butter and oil: Gluten-free flours don’t absorb liquid fat as readily as wheat flour does. In high-fat recipes, such as cookies or cakes, simply replacing the wheat flour with an equal amount of gluten-free flour doesn’t work. The baked goods are often much too greasy, which not only makes them unappetizing but can affect how cookies spread in the oven or determine whether pie dough holds its shape when baked. When reworking conventional recipes with gluten-free flour, we often trimmed a few tablespoons of butter or oil.
Look elsewhere for richness: While using less butter or oil solved the greasiness problem in many recipes, this also made them less rich. In some cases, we compensated by adding another rich ingredient, such as cream cheese, sour cream, white chocolate, or even almond flour.
Increase the leavener to lighten the load: Less protein means batters and doughs can’t hold on to air bubbles as well, and the end result can be heavy and dense. Gluten-free recipes often benefit from a bit more baking powder, baking soda, or yeast as compared with traditional recipes. Yeast bread often benefits from the addition of baking powder or baking soda.
Add a binder for structure and elasticity: A binder (xanthan gum, guar gum, or psyllium) helps in most baked goods. A little goes a long way, especially xanthan. Our cookbook includes more details on our testing of these three binders and when to use each one.
Boost browning: Gluten-free flour doesn’t brown as well as wheat flour. To improve browning as well as add richness, we included milk powder in our blend. A few recipes, such as sandwich bread, benefited from the addition of even a bit more milk powder. We sometimes added baking soda to help with browning, and often we sprinkled sugar on top of things (such as muffins) to encourage browning.
Add additional liquid: The high starch content of gluten-free flour can impart a gritty texture to baked goods. Many gluten-free batters and doughs need more liquid to hydrate properly.
Give it a rest: Many batters and doughs benefit from a 30‑minute rest before baking. The starches have time to hydrate before they go into the oven, and the final texture is much improved. Longer resting times are not recommended, especially as this can affect the performance of leaveners. Also, recipes that require a lengthy baking time don’t need to rest because the flour will have time to hydrate in the oven.
Extend the baking time: If you have added more liquid to help hydrate the flour blend, you will need to extend the baking time to help dry out baked goods, especially breads.
Don’t make too much: Gluten-free baked goods don’t last as long as regular baked goods, so don’t make big batches of cookies or muffins and expect them to stay fresh for days. We provide storage guidelines for various types of baked goods throughout the book.