The role of gluten in baking
Understanding the role gluten plays is often the key to finding ways of overcoming it's absence. For example in a cookie- the role of gluten is to keep the cookie from falling apart, but it also adds texture. Those crispy edges in a chocolate chip cookie and the snap in a ginger snap, come from gluten. You can replace the gluten with other ingredients like ground nuts for example, to improve the texture and taste.
In bread, gluten is pivotal. Gluten is what gives a loaf of bread its crispy crust, it's light crumb, it's defined shape and its taste. A French Baguette without gluten has little in common with a French Baguette. It is possible to make great tasting gluten free bread, but there are compromises and discoveries to be made along the way. Improving the texture, the curmb, the flavour and most importantly the taste means you must abandon your preconceptions of how traditional bread is made. There will be no requirement for kneading, and you will need to think about using a variety of different gluten free flours to enhance the texture and taste of your loaf. Using steam, proofing times, and even the size of tin you select, will determine how successful yor loaf will be.
Cakes are possibly the least troublesome of baked goods to recreate without gluten. Adding a combination of ground almonds and gluten free flour, in varying proportions can usually yield a decent gluten free cake. Using a repertoire of traditional cake making techniques will see your results improve dramatically.
And then there is pasty, which can be the undoing of most sane and civilised people. Certain pastries, like shortcrust and choux can be as good if not better then their gluten containing cousins. They are lighter and have a more delicate texture. The trick here is to select the right binding and rising agent that will give you lift, In the case of choux. With shortcrust we need the gluten to keep the pastry cohesive and pliable whilst rolling it out. Other pastrires like puff and filo fall into the category of nearly impossible. The reason being is that the lack of gluten completely hinders the elasticity. You can’t have a non elastic filo dough. Even large doses of xanthan gum, will not give you the elasticity required to make filo. With puff pastry, the gluten makes the pastry stretchy enough to keep layers of butter encased in thin layers of flour. I’ve seen gluten free puff pastry made on you tube. It looks possible, (although I have not tasted the results) but the amount of time required would make this not an option for most sane people.
The jury is still out on hot water crust pastry, the kind you use to make meat pies. I am not sure whether or not a gluten free alternative is possible. I attempted the real thing with the aid of my neighbour, an expert in the pie making field a few weeks ago. This pie looked seriously impressive and my expectations were high. Unfortunately the pastry proved problematic and although the filling inside the pie was successful, a pie without pastry is alas, not a pie. I’m blaming the size of the tin and not my neighbor, and it is back to the drawing board on this one.
Thanks Adriana. Please see the direct message we have sent.
Hope some newbie Coeliacs find this explanation use as to why gluten free baked goods are never going to replicate gluten products.
For all Newbie Celiacs ... I have written a primer on flour that will be of significant help. It's free and you can find it at:
It will identify, by name, flours that contain gluten and those that do not. It will tell you successful ratios for blending flours. In addition it will talk about binders and leveners. Please feel free to print it off and share it with friends ... happy baking!
Hi Irene, not sure if I've read your email incorrectly, but the point is that some baked items can be very successfully replicated without gluten if you know what you are doing. Doing a bit of research and practising and failing lots of times, will eventually improve your gluten free baking.
Adriana is correct ... with a bit of science, a lot of knowledge and some creativity, many things can be replicated. My cakes, cupcakes and muffins are light, fluffy, taste great and have an excellent crumb. Many people think they're nicer than wheat.
The meat / pastry combo is trickier, but I have achieved an excellent tasting, high quality Beef Wellington by bending the rules and being creative. Gluten Free pastry will not hold together if you bake it directly on the meat ... but there is the alternative! I promise to post it on my web site in the very near future. It was our New Year's Day dinner last year and got rave reviews.
Food Challenges: www.foodchallenges.ca
I'm currently working on creating a GF gingerbread recipe for cookies and houses. I'll post that as well. In the meantime, if you're baking for the holidays try sugar plums or shortbread cookies! The recipes are under Recipes... Sweet Treats on the Food Challenges web site.
i find that its the elasticity thats lacking without the gluten. it literally binds everything together, so without it you can have great taste but the texture is all wrong. bread is too dense and biscuits too crumbly.
that said, the baguette that you can buy in morrisons/sainsburies/waitriose are great, you would hardly tell the difference and similarty other GF products. its just v hard to reproduce at home.
muffins and cupcakes are ok, and a a good cheat is to make things like millionaire shortbread. the shortbread taste 100% normal and the caramel and chocolate stops it being too crumbly. We always just make GF food for us and our guests. People hardly ever notice any difference to none-GF stuff.
It's not just gluten it's the properties of wheat that make wheat so versatile, look at Rye bread very dense and brick like.
When I was first diagnosed gf baking was seen as a black art and codex was King. I was curios by why the experts said that a mix of gf flours seemed to work better? and I wanted to know why.
The reason that wheat is so versatile is not only gluten but it's gelitizination temperature. This is the temperature that wheat starts to cook and it's around 48C. Whereas Soya flour starts to cook at 79C Rice flour 72C and Tapioca starch is 62C which's why most gf bakers use a gf flour mix that includes tapioca.
I also feel that the vast majority of commercially available gf products are far to processed and has to many additives and at the heart of a healthy well being is healthy nutritious diet. So I feel that the ability to be able to bake with healhty nutritious ingredients is an important part of many coeliac lifestyles.
My philosophy is that I eat myself healthy and it shows I also like cooking and have a scientific backround so understand the 'chemistry' of gf baking.
I also believe that we the consumer should be aware of what we really eat and don't think that many coeliac realise just how processed codex wheat is and that it is inert and has no nutritional value and if anything has a negative value as it contains traces of gluten. (It is washed repeatedly in solvents to rinse the bulk of the gluten out)
So I do feel that understanding the rudiments of gf baking and sharing them with other coeliac plays an important part in the health and well being of other coeliac.
Nice blog Adriana and response from Liana.
The best gf pastry that I have made is with a rich pastry mix that includes an egg and mashed potato! the potato has to be cooked the day before and left in the fridge overnight and then taken out 1/2 hour before making the pastry. And you use equal amounts of rich pastry mix and mashed potatoes.
This isn't as daft as it seems because potatoes have some strange properties after being cooked and cooled and are now used extensively in the rubber industry and help make very soft supple tyres.
Wow Jerry, I had no idea about potatoes and thank you also for the information on how different flours react at different temperatures. That solves a few mysteries and I shall be putting that information to good use this very evening with a few experiments I've got lined up. The potato pastry sounds really interesting too and will have a go at this. Lina, that's a brilliant document and really helpful to have all the information to hand.
Tony- elasticity is only part of the equation. You can definately get great texture and taste with pastry. Egg acts as a good binder and does help the process.
I laughed when Jerry said Gluten free Baking was a black art, as ths is so true. I would say that in the last 7 years since I have started cooking and baking gluten free, there has been a lot of change and a lot of progress. That's why I think this information is not just for newbies. Baking with gluten freeingredients is constantly evolving, and everyday I am making new discoveries thanks to the free exchange of information.
Hi Adriana, you gave someone advice on gf bread making a while ago and said how important it was to use a grain that was coarse rather than had been milled too fine and this is another stumbling block for coeliac as in countries like Vietnam they have got milling rice for thin batters down to a tee. And this is great for biscuits but useless for bread and I'd rather use ground rice for bread than fine rice flour.
And I remember when I read your explanation I thought blimey this person not only 'talks the talk' but 'walks the walk' so I'm sorry that some coeliac are making unpleasant comments about you on another forum. So my advice is rise above it as they are not your words they are the words of sad jelousy.
You were the one in Octobers Crossed Grain and not them and why is this?
So I'd just like to say how sorry I am that other coeliac will stoop this low.
And you are A OK in my book and you know what's what that's for sure.
Hi Jerry, Rice flour is an interesting one. I am working on a range of cakes and baked goods which are free from just about everything- and in my experimenting have run into problems with rice flour. It's fascinating (to me at least) that not all rice flours are the same, and what you've just said about the milling is spot on. You can have also sorts of milling grades and indeed all sorts of rice grains and the properties are different. In the cakes I am making at the moment, I've had to switch rice flour, because the one I was using was yielding baked goods with a very weird texture and smell. I won't mention which brand, but I then switched to a different brand, keeping everything in the recipe the same and the results were completely different. The fineness of the flour is definately important and the kind of rice used for milling is just as important if not more.
Now about the other topic- I do feel quite hurt by the way this group is behaving. Their attacks are very personal and I take huge exception to someone rubbishing my work and my reputation. Worse still is the fact that I am not allowed to defend myself or respond to these attacks as any response from me is immediately removed- leaving the offensive remark in place. I am confident in my abilities and really love what I do. What gives me most satisfaction is being able to share this knowledge with others- something I am no longer able to do on that particular board. I do hope there is potential for lively discussion, an exchange of views and differing opinions (expressed in respectful and curteous ways) on this forum.