When it comes to gluten free baking many people feel daunted. And understandably so. But over time I’ve begun to realise, that all baking can be tricky. And even with standard bakes, things don’t always go to plan.
The real ‘push’ for me to get into gluten free baking was when I discovered that most of the time, I was able to make much better-quality gluten free cakes and bakes than the ones I could buy. And that by making my own from scratch, I knew exactly what was going into them. Baking from scratch also brings far more variety into your diet. Which can only be a good thing.
I thought it may be helpful if I just jotted down a few hints and tips of my own that help me when it comes to rustling up some very yummy gluten free treats:
Master the basics
This is my number one tip. As once you get the hang of making basic gluten free recipes there will be no turning back and it will throw the culinary door WIDE open to what you can then use these recipes for. So, yes spend the time to crack gluten free pastry, scones and a basic sponge and you will be away!
Quick thing to mention about gluten free pastry. You don’t need to rest it after you’ve made it. As the only reason you do this with pastry is to relax the gluten and of course there isn’t any in gluten free pastry.
Switch standard recipes into gluten free ones
Almost all recipes will work as a gluten free version. Pick out your old favourites and switch the ingredients to make the recipe suitable for you. And don’t be put off treating yourself to a new cookbook just because it’s not a dedicated gluten free one. Of course, gluten free cookbooks are fab too (got to say that… I write a blog sharing gluten free recipes!!) as the recipes within them have already been tried and tested as a gluten free version. I have listed a few exceptions at the bottom of this post of things that may not work out that great as a gluten free version.
Find your showstopper (we all have one!)
Ok, I will tell you mine, it’s the carrot cake cupcakes you see pictured at the top of this post. But, I’m also a huge fan of rustling up a sponge cake. I love its versatility and that I can have a batch of mixture whipped up in about 5 minutes. What’s your showstopper?
Keep a well-stocked (and previously checked) gluten free ingredient cupboard
By keeping a well-stocked cupboard with all your gluten free ingredients at hand, you can grab whatever you like out of the cupboard and whip something up really quickly to enjoy. Super handy and nice to get a bake on, when it’s a bit yucky outside!
Use the very best gluten free ingredients possible
When I refer to ‘the best’ ingredients I don’t mean the most expensive, but rather the ones that are of the best quality and that will produce the most fabulous bakes. So, for example; find your ultimate gluten free flour that performs really well for you (mine is Sainsbury’s), the best rich cocoa powder and chocolate for your cakes and cookies, great quality dried fruit and nuts etc. I have to add here, that full fat milk makes the very best sauces and custards…..just saying!
Some gluten free recipes will benefit from Xanthan gum
Certain gluten free recipes will be helped on their way, with a little sprinkle of this magic ingredient. Xanthan gum acts like an edible glue, replacing the gluten in gluten free bakes. And whilst it’s beneficial in a lot of bakes, you certainly don’t need to add it to everything. You will probably find that most gluten free self-raising flour already has Xanthan gum in there. And for light sponges, the amount already within the flour will be sufficient. However, for scones and rich fruit cakes it would be beneficial to add a touch more. I personally no longer add it to gf pastry as I feel it makes it a little hard.
Use chilled lard or butter instead of suet
It can be quite difficult to get hold of gluten free suet. But if you weigh out the equivalent piece of lard, butter or dairy free alternative instead. Wrap it well in some greaseproof paper and pop into a freezer bag and into the freezer for about ½hr. This can be then grated into the gluten free flour or mix and be used to replace suet. Perfect for gluten free dumplings.
Preventing cross contamination in a shared kitchen when baking
Our kitchen isn’t completely gluten free as Neil is on a ‘normal’ diet. So I’m always mindful to give our worktops a good wipe down with some nice hot soapy water before I start a bake. And once I’d discovered that I was able to make great gluten free pastry, cakes and bakes that both me and Neil enjoyed, I stopped buying standard flour. This has made life much easier and safer. As should I miss any traces of flour when cleaning down (flour dust really can get EVERYWHERE!), it won’t have any ill effect on me now. And, the more I experiment with gluten free flour the better my bakes seem to be getting too! I also ensure that when I’m baking, I use butter from my dedicated pot and that all our baking trays and utensils are kept nice and clean. And unless covered, I will always put my bakes on the top shelf of the oven to ensure nothing can fall into them.
General baking hints and tips:
Get prepped. Weigh out all the ingredients you need and grease and line the tins you need. Give yourself plenty of time in the kitchen (if you can) and don’t rush things. Really try to enjoy the time you spend baking, rather than feeling it’s just another chore.
Bake with eggs that are at room temperature. If it bothers you to keep them out of the fridge all the time, take them out about 1hr before you need to use them.
Lurpak spreadable butter (not the low-fat variety) is great for making cakes that require mixing, as it is soft enough to use straight from the fridge.
Hard unsalted block butter is best for pastry, scones and recipes that require you to melt the butter. It’s also the perfect for buttercream and cream cheese frosting – just leave out of the fridge for about an hour before you need to use it.
Line baking trays with baking parchment to stop things sticking.
Paper loaf and cake tin liners are much more convenient to use.
Save crusts or slices of bread that are still OK but are maybe a little dry and whizz them up into breadcrumbs. Once blitzed transfer them into a freezer bag (or container), seal, label and pop them into the freezer.
Roll out left pastry and line a freezer-proof flan dish. Wrap the dish in foil label and then pop into a freezer bag and into the freezer to use when time is short.
Use cold fillings when making pies. This will prevent the pastry becoming soggy before you have had chance to bake it. And also will ensure the overall texture of the pastry is much better too.
If you require gluten free SR flour but you only have plain flour. Add 1 level teaspoon of gluten free baking powder to every 225g (8oz) of flour.
Make a batch of crumble. Transfer it into a freezer bag or airtight container and store in the freezer and use to sprinkle over fruit for a quick warming pud. The crumble will keep really well in the freezer for up to two months.
Freeze leftover plain or jam filled sponge cake and defrost and use at a later date to make a trifle or enjoy with a spot of custard.
Bake a batch of plain sponge buns and pop in the freezer. They will defrost really quickly and can be then either decorated with icing or buttercream. Or you can heat them with a spot of jam, syrup, lemon curd and enjoy them with some nice hot *custard.
Useful kitchen equipment
I’ve just listed a few things that I find really useful and what allow me to produce the recipes I share with you:
Silicon pastry brushes – these are great as can be thoroughly cleaned
Rolling pin – I got this wooden one from John Lewis and love it! And as I only use it for gluten free bakes and wash it separately all is good.
Colanders – I’m slightly obsessed with these ones I recently bought from Lakeland
A decent veg knife
Micro blade – ideal for grating lemon, lime and orange zest and garlic.
Scales – the electronic ones that you can place a bowl onto and reset zero to add more ingredients, are just the ticket.
Various size mixing bowls – Pyrex, pot and stainless steel are all ideal.
Baking trays – shallow, deep, large and small.
Small bun tins – for fairy cakes and tarts.
Sandwich tins – standard size 8inch (20cm).
2lb Loaf tin
Flan/quiche dishes – but only if they are your thing. I have a large collection of these, as I have my mums and grandmas ones too.
Stick Blender – marvellous for blending soups and sauces.
Mini chopper – perfect for chopping herbs and garlic/onions etc.
Electric hand mixer – wouldn’t be without this as yet not got myself a freestanding mixer.
Recognising what will and won’t work (and not feeling at all guilty about buying the equivalent instead)
Whilst most gluten free bakes will turn out fabulously, there are some things that miss gluten way too much and unfortunately no matter how much time and effort you put in, you will not be able to replicate a traditional bake. For Instance, making something like puff pastry that requires lots of obvious layers, would be a proper struggle. And personally, at this present time I wouldn’t even attempt making this. However, the great news is magically Jus Roll HAVE managed to do the unthinkable and have created a rather fabulous gluten free puff pastry. I’ve used this, and it’s great for making sausage rolls, pasties etc. I have even used it to make gluten free canapes.
Another thing I wouldn’t attempt for now, would be breakfast pastries, as I feel they would be another proper tricky one. Remarkably though, M&S have got it right, in the form of their rather gorgeous pain aux raisins. So, for now, whilst there are some products out there, that are far superior to the things, I can make I will buy them instead! And I’m not great at making gluten free bread either – so thank goodness for Warburton’s gluten free tiger bloomer and M&S gluten free white rolls!!
I do hope these hints and tips have helped and you are now eager to get into that kitchen of yours, pop on the radio and enjoy a good old bake!
Please drop me an email if you have any specific baking queries and I will do me very best to help.