After our first collection of gluten-free recipes was published in The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook, we fielded lots of general and specific questions from readers. Here is a selection of the ones we heard most often, along with our answers and advice.
There are so many gluten-free flour blends available to buy. How important is it to make and use the ATK flour blend called for when making your recipes?
One of the biggest misconceptions about gluten-free baking is that all gluten-free flour blends are roughly the same. They are not, and in fact, different flour blends can behave very differently when plugged into the same recipe. All of our recipes have been finely tuned to work with one of our two flour blends: the ATK All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend or our ATK Whole-Grain Gluten-Free Flour Blend (which is included in our new book The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook Volume 2). We have had success swapping King Arthur, Betty Crocker, and Bob’s Red Mill blends for our all-purpose blend in most recipes, however there often were textural and flavor differences, which we have noted in the testing lab notes that accompany each recipe. Unfortunately, we did not find an acceptable substitute for our new whole-grain blend (for more on this see below).
Does it matter which brand of rice flour I use when making the ATK blends?
Yes, it does. We used Bob’s Red Mill sweet white and brown rice flours when developing all of our recipes. We did test a few other brands of rice flour and found that some worked well—including EnerG, Living Now, and King Arthur—because they have a fine, even grind similar to Bob’s. Other brands did not work as well—including Arrowhead Mills and Hodgson Mills—because they are more coarsely ground, which affects how they absorb liquid in the recipes. If buying rice flour from a bulk bin, make sure that it has a texture similar to cornstarch with no more than a hint of grit.
Why don’t you use super-fine rice flours in your blends?
In the beginning of our recipe development, we were expecting to fall in love with super-fine rice flours. In fact, we stocked up the pantry with them in anticipation. Boy, were we wrong. Not only are they hard to find, but they made things very dense and leaden.
Is there a substitute for the potato starch in the ATK All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend?
Yes. After learning that many GF folks are allergic to nightshades (potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and such) we quickly came up with two possible substitutions for the potato starch in our all-purpose blend. Our favorite substitute is sweet rice flour, although arrowroot flour (aka arrowroot starch and arrowroot powder) will also work. Simply swap in an equal weight of either for the potato starch. Note that the weight and cup amounts of these flours are all different. To substitute the 7 ounces of potato starch in our all-purpose blend, you’ll either need 7 ounces (1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) of sweet rice flour, or 7 ounces (1 3/4 cups) of arrowroot flour.
Is weighing the flour blends really better than using measuring cups?
Yes! In fact, if you email us to say that a recipe didn’t turn out as expected, one of the first questions we’ll ask is if you measured or weighed the flour. The reason that cup measurements don’t always work well with GF flour blends is because the blends have a very fine and somewhat tacky texture that makes them nearly impossible to measure consistently. We’ve included cup measurements in the recipes (along with a specific method for how to measure the blend using measuring cups in the front of the book) but we strongly suggest that you use a scale.
Is there a substitution for the xanthan gum in your recipes?
We found xanthan gum to work extremely well as a binder in many of our recipes, especially cookies. Yet we understand that some people have a sensitivity to it or just don’t want to use it. We did have some success substituting guar gum and psyllium powder for the xanthan our recipes, but you might need to alter their amounts (see chart below). Note that drop cookies are different than other types of baked goods in that they will require a lot more of the guar gum or psyllium powder.
Xanthan Gum Substitutions
Baked Goods (except drop cookies)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum = 1 teaspoon guar gum
1 teaspoon xanthan gum = 2 teaspoons psyllium powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum = 3 teaspoons guar gum
1 teaspoon xanthan gum = 5 teaspoons psyllium powder
Is there a substitute for psyllium powder?
Unfortunately, we have not found any decent substitutions for psyllium powder, a key ingredient in many of our gluten-free bread recipes because it gives the dough flexibility and ensures that the baked loaf has a good chew. We tested several other binders in the breads—including guar gum, xanthan gum, and hydrated chia seeds—but they don’t work as well.
Why do you recommend Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour as a substitute for the ATK All-Purpose Gluten-Free Blend in the first book, but not in Volume 2?
A lot has changed since we published our first gluten-free cookbook, including the number of all-purpose GF flour blends you can now find on supermarket shelves. When we were working on our first GF cookbook, there were only about 5 brands of all-purpose GF flour blends on the market for us to test. By the time we started working on our second book, there were about 10 widely available GF all-purpose blends on the market. One of these newcomers, All-Purpose Gluten Free Rice Blend made by Betty Crocker, turned out to be much more similar to our all-purpose GF flour blend than Bob’s Red Mill, which is why we now recommend Betty Crocker as a substitute.
Why doesn’t my pie dough come together?
We get this question a lot. Gluten-free pie dough doesn’t look, feel, or act like pie dough made with wheat flour. It is very sticky and does not come together into a ball in the food processor as you might expect it to. While using our pie dough to develop the recipes for Volume 2, we discovered that we could pulse the butter into the flour mixture for longer (20 to 30 pulses) to ensure that the butter was more evenly incorporated. (We can do this because there isn’t any gluten forming to make the dough tough.) We also pulsed the sour cream mixture into the dough for longer finding that the dough came together more easily in large pieces around the blade. We roll out our pie dough between two sheets of plastic wrap to prevent sticking and allow for easy transfer to the pie plate.
Why do I have to rest the muffin batter and/or cookie dough for 30 minutes before baking?
Early on in our testing, we were commonly plagued by a sandy texture in our quick-cooking baked goods. (It was not noticeable in our baked goods with long baking times.) We tested lots of theories on how to get rid of this grit (grinding the flours further in a food processor, soaking them in water, heating them up before making the batter), but nothing worked well. Then, almost by accident, we found that letting the batters sit for 30 minutes before baking made all the difference. It simply gave the flours and starches time to absorb the liquid and soften before baking. It also helped batters become thicker and doughs to firm up so that they were less sticky. Be sure to cover the bowl of batter tightly with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out as it rests.
Why doesn’t my bread look like the photo in your book?
Gluten-free bread recipes receive the most reader questions. Below are the top 5 reasons why your GF loaves might not be turning out perfectly:
- You did not use the ATK flour blend or one of our recommended flour blend substitutions. Bread recipes are one of the more finicky types of gluten-free recipes. Small changes in ingredients or method can have a big effect on the finished baked loaves. For the best loaf of sandwich bread, use the ATK flour blends.
- You used measuring cups rather than a scale to measure out the flour. The difference in the amount of flour when using a scale versus measuring cups can be as much as 15 to 20 percent, which can have a significant effect on the finished bread.
- You did not add the psyllium powder. Psyllium powder is crucial to helping the bread create air pockets and hold its shape when baking; do not omit it. Without it, your bread will be hard and dense.
- You added extra water or flour to the dough. Many experienced bakers add extra water or flour to correct a dry or wet-looking bread dough, but don’t do this with any of our GF breads. Our GF bread doughs look and feel very different than traditional bread dough—they are very heavy, sticky, and feel more like cookie dough or sculpting clay.
- You killed the yeast. We proof the yeast in warm water that registers roughly 110 degrees; if the water is much hotter than this, it can kill the yeast. Also, some of our breads in Volume 2 proof the dough in a warm, but turned-off, oven. If the oven is too hot when proofing the dough, it can kill the yeast.
Is there a substitute for the oat flour used in the bread recipes?
Yes, you can swap sorghum flour for the oat flour in any of the bread recipes. Simply use the same weight of sorghum flour. Note that oat flour is heavier than sorghum flour, so the cup measurements will be different.
Can I use a bread machine to make any of your bread recipes?
No, we’ve found that bread machines do not work well with our recipes because their pre-programmed mixing, proofing, and baking times are quite different than those in our recipes.
When making bread, can I knead the dough by hand or use a hand mixer?
No, a stand mixer is a must for our gluten-free bread recipes. This is because the doughs are far too heavy and dense for a hand mixer (you’ll burn out the motor long before the dough is done) and are much too sticky to knead by hand.
Why does my bread have a purple color?
Psyllium powder darkens in color as it ages, which, in turn, can make bread look a bit purple. We found little flavor difference in bread made with older, darkened psyllium, but we did find that the height of the bread was slightly shorter and the crumb texture was a bit softer and less chewy.
There aren’t many whole-grain gluten-free flour blends available. What do you recommend?
We wanted a whole-grain flour blend too, so we developed one (it’s in our new The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook Volume 2). None of the commercial whole-grain blends we tried (we had to order all of our samples online) delivered baked goods that tasted or looked any different from those made with an all-purpose blend. Our whole-grain blend delivers the deep, earthy flavor and molasses-like color that you’d expect from a blend made from whole grains.
Do you have any advice for making recipes dairy-free?
The majority of the baking recipes in Volume 2 of our The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook, have a dairy-free variation that spells out exactly what changes need to be made. For a summary of what we learned about eliminating dairy, see our interview with Julia Collin Davison, Executive Food Editor in “What I Learned About Dairy Free.”
➜ See the full list of 190 gluten-free recipes included in the book.
Share your gluten-free questions and advice in the comments below, or drop a line to our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.