Gluten Free Baking is quite a bit different from conventional baking because gluten is such an integral part of the process. Gluten is the stretchy substance that gives structure to products as they rise.
Think of a whole bunch of tiny balloons filled with air. The air is caused by the chemical reaction of your leavener (yeast, baking powder, baking soda). Structure, the part that holds the air in, like the rubber of the balloon, is the gluten.
In gluten free baking, the leavening is done the same way; yeast, baking powder, baking soda, in addition to some mechanical leavening with egg whites, carbonated water or gluten free beer. These substances create the air inside the balloon. Where you run into trouble is with the structure. With no gluten to hold the air inside the balloons, it just escapes and as the item cools it collapses. That’s why gluten free products tend to be smaller and denser, It's also why, when you look in the oven at your cake or muffins they look beautiful and puffy, only to flop soon after you pull them out.
So the challenge in gluten free baking has been to achieve that nice light, airy texture and keep the product from going flat. A number of ingredients are used for this. The most common are xantham gum and guar gum. Both are highly processed additives which some people find don't sit well with their tummy's. Still they do provide some of the structure needed although not to the same degree as gluten. Many pre-blended gluten free flours already have gums added. Some gluten free recipes call for more eggs or egg whites than their conventional counterparts because the egg provides structure. So this is another approach to replacing gluten in gluten free baking.
Flours used for gluten free baking are a bit more complicated too. There is no single flour that does a good job of replacing wheat flour in baking so you usually end up with a blend of flours. Similar to wheat flour though, different ones work better for different purposes.
Quick breads are a type of bread like product that is leavened with baking powder or baking soda rather than yeast. Think of things like muffins, banana or zucchini bread, biscuits, corn bread or even pancakes. They are a little easier to make than yeast breads and even the ‘glutinous’ members of the family love them. I have a few varieties of breads and muffins that I like to keep around, but I’d say the banana bread and the carrot muffins are the most popular. Hubby likes the cornbread too ;)
You may find that once you get the hang of it, you can still use some of your old favourite recipes. This won't work for yeast bread or fluffy cakes, but if you are making apple crisp or quick breads you can convert your conventional recipes quite easily. You can substitute all purpose wheat flour cup for cup with a gluten free all purpose flour blend. Many gluten free baking recipes call for xanthan or guar gum. If you are converting a recipe start with 1/4 teaspoon of gum per cup of flour. But first, take a look at the flour you're using, it may already have gum included in the blend so you don't want to over-do it.. Some people are sensitive to gums so if you think this might be you, you can leave it out of most quick breads.
These are nice to have as treats. I often take something like this when I’m going to someone’s house for dinner. That way I know there will be a dessert that I can have, and it’s a good opportunity to share and let others taste and see that gluten free baking can be appealing and delicious - and not weird.
Similar to how quick breads convert to gluten free more easily than yeast breads, cakes that are naturally more dense like a carrot cake or a fruit cake or brownies will be less tricky than something you expect to be light and fluffy. Squares and crumbles like apple crisp also convert very easily to gluten free. Just pull out your favourite recipe, substitute the flour for a cup for cup gluten free flour blend and give it a whirl.
I guess some people think using a mix is cheating, but for me I think sometimes it's a convenience that just makes sense, especially if you're not a particularly experienced baker. Gluten free baking can be tricky so why not take advantage of a little help. I make these Duinkirken biscuits pretty frequently and for a sweet treat I often mix up some Bob's Red Mill brownies. The national brands like Betty Crocker have gluten free cake mixes that taste good and bake up quit nicely. Check out the products page for some of my favourite mixes.
Of course this is where the rubber meets the road. Below are quick links to some of my favourite gluten free baking recipes or go to the recipes page for more options.