Gluten-Free Cooking FAQs

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

Drop Cookies
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 glutenfree@americastestkitchen.com.

34 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Cooking FAQs

  1. In Vol.2 you suggested using soy dry powder to replace milk powder in your flour blend. Being allergic to soy is there another substitution for dry milk powder?

  2. I have both your gluten free books. Costco, for one, is now carrying a new Bob’s Red Mill Flour called 1 to 1. The ingredient list is similar to ATK. Can this flour be used to sub for the ATK blend? It haas the xantham gum already in it.

    • Hi Mary, the book team did minimal testing with Bob’s Red Mill new 1 to 1 blend, but in general it did not work well. The baked goods turned out tight and overly starchy. Because the xanthan gum is in the blend, it is hard to know how much, if any, needs to be added and therefore how to adjust our recipes to work.

      Our storebought recommendations in Volume 2 for for our All-Purpose blend are King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Blend and Betty Crocker All-Purpose Gluten Free Rice Blend.

  3. I have both the GF books and love them! I have just started playing in the bread recipes in book 2. I have tried both the baguette and rustic loaf recipes. I can’t seem to shape the loaves and they end up tasting great but are very flat. I am using the proper flour blend, weighing and hopefully not killing the yeast! Where I begin to run into trouble is when the recipe calls to put the dough on a clean counter. My dough sticks to the counter and I can’t do anything with it. I’ve tried three times now and every time I end up lightly flouring the counter so that I can work with the dough and attempt a shape. I know it says that the dough will become less sticky after shaping but I can’t even get started! That said, I have a few specific questions:
    1) Is it ok to lightly flour the counter? If not, can I use parchment or wax paper? HELP!
    2) Is there a proper technique for shaping the loaves?
    3) How do you get the loaves onto the baguette tray or baking sheet? The dough is very fragile and my traditional baguettes ended up stretching and resulting in multiple breaks in the loaves after baking. The rustic loaves were a little easier because they’re shorter.
    4) Any other ideas for why they aren’t rising? I know that my water has occasionally been 115-118 but I didn’t believe that was enough to kill the yeast (and I am using rapid rise). I live in San Diego, could it be something with the climate?

    • Hi Jenn, glad you are baking with us! Hope this gives you a little guidance.

      First thing is to make sure your flour is room temperature. If you have it refrigerated or frozen, make sure to let it sit out on the counter a while to bring it to room temperature. If the flour is too cold, it will not absorb the water as well, therefore making a more sticky, wet loaf.

      To answer your 4 questions:

      1) You can try and lightly flour the counter, but use very little—and you can also try parchment paper. As a last resort you can spray the parchment with vegetable oil spray. The other thing we found very helpful was to wash and dry your hands once or twice as you begin to shape the dough, and it should come together nicely.

      2) We found the most important thing when shaping the dough is to wash your hands and dry them partway through. When you start to roll out the baguette dough into the 6-inch log, it will be very sticky. Stop when you reach the 6 inches, clean and dry your hands, and continue to roll the dough. We found that with clean hands, the dough became less sticky, and is easier to roll out. One other thing to try is to form the dough into a loose ball in your hands, so it becomes more cohesive, before starting to roll it out on the counter.

      3) Make sure to measure your water properly. If there is even just a tablespoon or two extra water in the dough, it can make it a bit too wet, making it more difficult to work with, move around, and it could result in a loaf that is more dense. We found that gently using two hands, and supporting the dough underneath the length of the dough, was enough to get it into the pan.

      4) There are a few things that could affect the rise. Try using water that is between 100-110 degrees; higher temperatures can affect the yeast. Also, it’s possible that your oven runs high. In step 1, we preheat the oven to 200 degrees and then turn it OFF. Then you start mixing the dough, which gives the oven a chance to cool off somewhat. If the “proofing box” (your oven) is too hot, that could kill the yeast and prevent the dough from rising. Try waiting longer before starting to mix your dough, to allow your oven to cool down a bit more, before placing the dough in the oven to rise.

    • Hi Jenn,
      I’m having the exact same problem up the coast in San Francisco. In fact, I have it when I make the hearty country flax bread and the sandwich bread from the first volume. Have you had any luck solving his problem?
      On my end, I’m certain that I’m not killing the yeast and I’m measuring the liquid carefully. Is it possible that I’m simply not working the dough enough when shaping? I agree with your assessment that I can’t even get started with it.

      • It was my understanding that we don’t knead GF bread dough bc you end up adding more flour which results in a dense crumb. Touch it as little as possible to shape and then let it go. Except that’s not really working, ha.

        I have tried a few times since the reply and let the oven cool for longer and used slightly cooler water but they’re still coming out flat. :/ delicious, but flat.

        If you figure it out let me know!

        • I’ve only tried once, but this is exactly the same problem I had! It was just a glob of mess on my counter. The only way I eventually even got a shape was to spray plastic wrap and use the wrap to shape my bread. It rose beautifully on the pan and I had such high hopes, but alas, it was super flat. It tastes amazing, but is wet inside and flat. I refuse to give up, but I’m glad (sorry) that it wasn’t just me (since my 6 year old said, “Um, something definitely isn’t right!” haha). If you find what works for you, please post so we know. I’m in Wisconsin, so our climates are a bit different 😉

    • I did find that the brand of psyllium husk made all the difference when rolling it out. I’d used other brands before and got the same sticking issue. I had to hunt to find their top recommended brand but it was worth it. The dough looked and acted like theirs in the pictures, no mess. I’m still struggling with the flat loaf issue too, though.

  4. I just got The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook (Vol.1) at my public library. Do you have an errata list for the recipes? The Flourless Chocolate Cake on p. 310-311 lists Confectioners’ sugar but doesn’t say how much and the directions don’t mention adding the sugar anywhere. I need a little help. Thanks.

  5. Last year I emailed ATK with a question about what to substitute for the almond meal that your Sugar Cookie recipe called for. I had made this wonderful recipe as stated in the book but soon discovered I’m allergic to almonds. I tried subbing the same weight of sorghum flour for the almond meal and used just a smidge (1 tsp?) more cream cheese and they were wonderful again.

  6. I’m enjoying volumes 1 and 2 (as is my son with Celiac) but IMO I bombed out with the yeasted doughnuts. I didn’t substitute any of the ingredients, I weighed, not measured, but the dough was more like a batter than a dough, and wouldn’t hold any shape at all when it came time to pat it out or cut it. I’ve got pictures of every stage. Any thoughts? TIA.

  7. Is it possible to use the all-purpose blend instead of the multigrain blend when making recipes from Vol. 2 (specifically the gingersnaps)?

    • Hi jbuerer, good question. One risk is that the baked goods will be too wet. We had to use more liquid in our recipes when we used our whole-grain blend—the flours absorb the liquid differently, and the protein content is different. Having said all that, you could try it out (this was not something our team has ever tested) and maybe try to reduce the liquid content in the recipe. Hope this helps!

  8. Hi, I’m working on the bagel recipe from volume 2, and I found that my dough was far too wet to shape. I carefully weighed all of my ingredients, and used a timer to ensure that I was mixing enough. I ended up adding about 2 oz more of the flour blend to achieve a workable dough. The flour was at room temp, and I had just mixed up a fresh batch of the flour blend. Anyone else had this problem? They’re in the oven at the moment, so I don’t know yet how the final product will turn out, but they look reasonably good.

    • I’ve been finding all of my breads are too wet. I made hamburger buns yesterday and cut back the water by 1 fluid ounce and increased the flour blend by 1 ounce. I also increased the rising time outside the oven to 30 minutes (by necessity, not as a workaround). They turned out well, but were still a bit too wet. I’ll decrease water or increase flour a bit more next time around.
      It would be great to figure out what the unknown variable is. I made a few of the breads from volume one and had the same issue.

      • Hi & thanks for the questions. We’ve asked the book editorial team—an initial thought is if you’re bringing the ATK flour blend to room temperature before using it. We have found if the flour blend is too cold, the flour is not able to absorb the liquid as easily, and therefore the breads/baked goods can be too wet. Weighing ingredients is also our recommended technique, as well as beating the dough for the full time specified.

        • I’m so excited to hear that you’re talking about it! Here are some details from me:

          I’m using room temperature flour blend. I learned that lesson back in volume one when I baked an extremely flat hearty country flax bread.
          I’m beating for the specified time and sometimes a bit longer as I notice the dough thickens as the mixer works. I’m even using the high end of medium speed hoping that will help the flour absorb the liquid better.
          I’m weighing all of my ingredients that have weights specified.
          I use an instant-read thermometer to temp my warm water.

          I would love to hear if your team has any more thoughts. Thanks for so many great recipes.

          • One last parameter to think about: Is your oven calibrated? We have long cook times for our bread, so it’s possible if the oven is too low, maybe the breads are not drying out enough. Basically you have to over-hydrate the dough, to hydrate the flours and create a good rise, and then you need to cook the bread for a long time to dry it out.

  9. I had the same problem with the dough not being firm enough to shape. I found that the powdered psyllium husk brand I had been using actually had a small amount of sugar in it, reducing the percentage of psyllium husk. Once I switched to verified 100% powdered psylllium husk my dough has been shapable like the examples in the book.

  10. I bought both GF books after I tried the Classic Sandwich Bread recipe (LOVED IT!) I notice the yeast prep and proofing methods have changed from the first to second book. Would the new methods be preferable for the recipes in the first book, too? The second book’s method is what I always used when I used to make wheat-based bread, and it seems like I would get a better rise that way.

  11. Maybe I’ve missed it, but how much does 1 cup of the ATK gf flour mix weigh? I have a recipe for an gf Amish friendship bread that calls for 1 cup of gf flour, and I’d like to try it with your flour mix.
    Also any thoughts on how much xantham gum to add per 1 cup of the ATK gf flour mix?
    Thanks!

  12. It doesn’t matter because the weight can be different depending on where you live, the season, humidity, etc. So just go by the cup measure Also, don’t expect success on the first try. GF bread is the hardest thing to get right and it’s not so simple as just making a direct substitution. I’ve done a lot of GF baking and there’s really no magic number when it comes to bread (true, to some extent, even in regular bread baking). You will need to experiment. Good luck and don’t get discouraged.

  13. “…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.”

    What about using a food processor with dough blade?

  14. Thank you for these delicious recipe books! Everything I’ve made has been delicious.
    For those with the sticky baguette dough issues, I’ve had good luck with chilling my hands with a small ice pack before and during shaping as well as chilling the dough slightly before attempting to shape it. The loaves still come out nicely.
    To ATK…in book two, page 119, the fried fish recipe states to heat oven to 200°. The oven is never mentioned again. Is this an error?

    • Hi Shelly, thanks for the kind words & glad that you enjoy the recipes. For the fried fish recipe, the oven is used to keep the first batch of the fried fish warm—in step #5, “Transfer to paper towel–lined wire rack and keep warm in oven.” Hope this helps!

  15. “…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.”

    Can you use a food processor with the dough blade instead of a stand mixer?

  16. Is it possible to use a loaf pan for the Hearty Country Flax bread, and if so, what size would you recommend? Also would the baking time change? Thanks, this bread is delicious.

    • Hi Nancy, thanks for your question. Our editors do not recommend making this recipe in a loaf pan. If anything, you could try a 8 or 9-inch cake pan. The bread is baked in a skillet, to help keep its shape, so a cake pan would be a better bet. Definitely still use the parchment to prevent the bread from sticking. Good luck!

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