For various reasons, I keep a supply of gluten-free flours on hand, mostly due to, I am sad to say, my brief efforts at gluten-free baking. These days, I mostly use these flours for specific recipes, and, sigh, thickeners. The lesson I took away from my naive, young, wide-eyed baking experiment was that it took too many ingredients, too much time.
Still, I’m glad I tried, so I could understand the process, and appreciate those who have the time and energy to perfect this process. Plus I learned a about gluten-free flours, and what I want from them.
As I use up the remaining flours, I’ve thought long and hard about what I really need to keep in my kitchen. This means coming up with specific “why” reasons when I decide to make a GF-flour purchase. The list below details the flours I use regularly…and why.
Depending on your lifestyle, you may wish to add or subtract from this list. I’ve generally listed them in order of importance for me. Your list may vary.
- Garbanzo Bean (Chickpea) Flour. As you know, I am a freak for chickpeas, so of course this flour makes the top of my list. I use this flour quite often, especially in flatbreads like socca. Actually, I love that this flour makes great flatbreads, or, if you will, the basis for a simple gluten-free pizza. This isn’t a flour for cookies or cakes as it does have a strong flavor, but that’s why I love it. I buy fairly small bags as bean flours can go rancid quickly (store in the freezer for best results).
- All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix. One of the challenges presented by gluten-free baking is the mix of flours needed to mimic most (but not all) properties of gluten-based flours. This presents a challenge as these flours absorb liquids differently, have different flavor profiles, and behaviors. As mentioned, I don’t do much GF baking, so I mostly use this flour for breading, dusting, frying, and even gravies and roux (using Alton Brown’s oven method). The brand I keep on hand is Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour
- Rice Flour. Rice flours, white and brown, can be ground very fine, and are awesome in these shortbread cookies, or very coarse, which makes them great for breading fried foods. While brown rice has a (slightly) nutty flavor, white rice flour is neutral. I use it as a thickener, as the basis for a Vietnamese crepe, and even for gravies or roux.
- Corn Flour / Meal. I keep masa harina, cornmeal, and variations thereof on hand for all sorts of recipes and purposes. South American cooking, including Mexican specialties for this purpose, is common to my repertoire, and we frequently enjoy polenta and grits with our meals (I love doing things like using polenta as a base for Benedicts). I also make quite a few corn-flour based breads, such as arepas, so this is a staple in my kitchen.
Now for a few more specialized flours. The next couple of items are among those that I bought for specfic recipes, enjoyed, and will use again. Not all, particularly the first item on the list, are right for every kitchen!
- Buckwheat Flour. Though I haven’t gone so far as to make my own (gluten free) soba noodles, it’s definitely on my wish list. As is buckwheat pasta (same concept, different shapes). Buckwheat has a great nutty taste that really appeals to me. I like to mix a bit of buckwheat flour with my chickpea flour to make a more robust socca.
- Almond Meal / Flour. I use almond flour for breading things like chicken fingers, and, ahem, for cakes like this one. If you’re so inclined, to can try your hand at macarons, which feature almond flour. Store almond flour in the freezer to keep fresh and from turning rancid (this is good advice for all nut flours).
- Coconut Flour. I was given a (large) bag of coconut flour as a gift, and have so far mostly used for baking. I’m still trying to get accustomed to how it absorbs liquids, but do like the fact that it’s low carb. For this reason, you’ll often see coconut flour in recipes geared toward the Paleo crowd, and it does well in desserts.
There are many, many, many more gluten-free flours out there (teff, amaranth, other nuts, other grains!), and they are fun to play with. They can also be pricey, so be wary before investing in a product you won’t use in the future. One key thing to note is most of these flours can be replaced by something else; knowing the purpose of the specific ingredient will help guide your purchases!
Tip of the Week
As I mentioned above, gluten-free flours are generally combined to make baked goods, and while some flour blends brand themselves as cup-for-cup substitutes, it is critical to know that each flour in a blend has different properties. If you’re just getting into GF baking, do a lot of homework as many online “bakers” simply repeat / repost recipes without actually testing them. Reliable sources will help you to success.
Gluten-Free Meal of the Week
As mentioned, I love polenta as the basis for a Benedict, and nothing makes a better brunch than Eggs Benedict, right? After making a stiff polenta (save the loose, creamy version for a side dish), cut it into rounds or squares and refrigerate them overnight. I then pan-fry the rounds to heat them and give them a crispy outer texture.
The actual Benedicts are built based on my mood (see this list for ideas). The final product makes for an easy brunch for two or ten (bake the polenta rounds if you’re serving a large crowd…so much easier than frying!), and most of your guests won’t realize they’re being served a gluten-free version of a brunch classic. You’ll get bonus points if you offer vegetarian or vegan options to your guests as well.
- Polenta Benedicts
- Fresh Fruit Salad