Not All Flours are Created Equal

Most bakers use all-purpose flour for almost everything they make at home. In the professional bakeshop we would use four different kinds of flour. Each type of flour had its own set of properties, making it best for the baking product for which it was used. As I have been working with different gluten-free flour alternatives I thought it would be fun to come up with different baking mixes which will work best for each of these different kinds of flour. In truth, there are hundreds of variations on gluten-free baking mixes and we could likely come up with a different mix for every single recipe we come across. In Baking Pure & Simple I have many recipes which do just that. My recipes for Orange Flaxseed Muffins and Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini cake are just two examples of recipes specifically made with alternative flours to be gluten-free. But I digress.

The four basic types of flour you find in a professional bakeshop include:

All-purpose flour – which contains a little more gluten than pastry flour and is used for things like cookies and brownies, etc.

Pastry flour – which contains some gluten, but less than all-purpose flour and is used for pie dough, muffins, scones, quick breads, and Danish pastries, etc.

Cake flour – which contains no gluten at all and is used mostly for cakes.

Bread (high- gluten) flour  – which is used for breads and rolls, generally most yeast dough.

Why define these flours by the word gluten? Because gluten is what gives baked goods their texture. Gluten is what causes the nice elasticity in bread dough. It is what causes pie dough to shrink back a bit each time you roll it out and hold together when you lift it to place it in the pan. It is also what can cause muffins or other quick pastries to turn out tough or have tunnels if the batter is overworked. Traditional bakers need to understand how to use it and how it can cause problems. So, when we transition into gluten-free baking and remove gluten from the baking equation, it is important to recognize that in addition to replacing the structure and taste of flour, we need to replace the function and effect of gluten in our baked goods.

Xanthan gum is a commonly used food additive which has been around since 1968. It is commonly used in salad dressings as a thickening agent and has properties which allow the salad dressing to thin out when it is shaken up and then thicken up again once it is poured. When added to gluten-free baking mixes it restores some of the function and effect which naturally occurs in flour where gluten is present.

Gluten-Free Scones, Dried Cranberries, Lemon
Gluten-Free Cranberry Lemon Scones

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing recipes for baking mixes which can be substituted for each of these different types of flour. Eventually each version will be included in the Gluten-Free Baking page of this site. This first version is called Gluten-Free Pastry Flour and works well for scones, muffins, quick breads and pie dough. It is the product of several variations I worked on to make a batch of Gluten-Free Cranberry Lemon Scones – which are a variation on the scone recipe in from an earlier blog. I increased the sugar to 2/3 cup, reduced the nutmeg to 1 teaspoon, substituted about 1-1/2 cups chopped dried cranberries in place of the currents and added 1-2 tablespoons lemon zest. Of course, I used this Gluten-Free Pastry Flour in place of the regular flour. I was particularly happy with the texture of these scones. Let me know if you try it out!

Gluten-Free Pastry Baking Mix

1 cup rice flour

1 cup potato starch

1 cup tapioca flour

1 cup sweet white sorghum flour

1/2 cup corn starch

4 teaspoons xanthan gum

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container. Makes 4-1/2 cups.

One thought on “Not All Flours are Created Equal

  1. Thank you for this. I will try this as soon as I find white sorghum flour. I’ve never really been in love with any of the gluten free flours I’ve tried.
    I’m guilty of using all purpose flour for most everything I bake that isn’t GF.. And now I understand why my cakes are less than stellar. 😀


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