Baking with “Free-from” Flours
Today there is truly a vast wealth of online information about how to cook, or bake, food that is free from most common allergies. This can be very exciting while also incredibly overwhelming to those trying to navigate all of the information available in order to find recipes and ingredients that fit their specific dietary needs. One of the most challenging aspects in all of this is flour substitution. Whether it is wheat free, gluten free, corn free, or nut and/or legume free, there are options available, but the combinations and ratios depending on what you are trying to replace can become rather complicated.
Deciding what combination of flours to use and how much of each will ultimately depend on what flavors and textures you are trying to achieve or replicate, without the allergens. Some favorites and go-to flours that can be used for both dinners and baked goods, which are free-from most common food allergies, are:
Brown or White Rice Flour
Rice flours are incredibly versatile, simply made from milled or ground rice, and are often used in a lot of gluten free recipes. Brown rice flour is high in protein, iron, fiber and vitamin B. It is also rich in manganese, which is good for proper development of bones and cartilage and also to better absorb calcium. White rice flour is lighter, milder, and said to be slightly easier to digest than wheat flour. It is rich in carbohydrates and low in fat and is a great gluten free flour for baked goods, but you’ll get a richer, nuttier taste with brown rice flour than with white.
Coconut flour is made from dried and ground coconut meat, which is separated and strained from the coconut’s milk and baked at a low temperature to dry it out and create a powdery “flour.” What’s so great about it is that coconut flour is high in fiber, protein and healthy fats, and completely free from wheat and other grains. It is also low in sugar and digestible carbohydrates and calories, plus it has high levels of saturated fats. These are good for supporting a healthy metabolism and balanced blood sugar levels. In recipes, coconut flour is best used with other flours or self-raising agents, like eggs, when baking.
Millet is a secret super seed that most people only think of as an ingredient for bird food. But like quinoa, millet can be cooked and used in place of other grains within lots of different meals, or ground into a powder and used as flour. This super seed is praised for its high levels of magnesium, which can help reduce headaches, as well as how easy it is on digestion. This is because millet is alkaline, which makes it easier to digest and helps balance the body’s natural tendency towards acidity. It is also high in fiber, vitamin B3, which helps to lower cholesterol, and phosphorous that is said to aid in body tissue repair. Millet flour is often wrongfully overlooked when it comes to gluten free baking although it makes for an excellent addition to any baked goods by adding more nutrition and a good amount of protein.
While sorghum has historically been a staple in many diets around the world, it has only more recently become popular in the United States, and rightfully so. Sorghum flour is an excellent source of nutrition, being high in protein, fiber and iron, which also adds wonderful flavor to any baked good recipe. This flour is great because it is high in antioxidants, which support cardiac health, and the starch and protein in sorghum take longer than other comparable products to digest. Slow digestion is especially helpful for those with diabetes. Sorghum flour is often used in most gluten free flour blends, like the one I used in the recipe below, because of its smoother texture, unlike rice flour which tends to be a little gritty.
These four flours, rice, coconut, millet and sorghum are great in combination with one another to make an all-purpose flour substitute for baking. It is also good to include a starch or thickener such as xanthan gum, powder psyllium husk, guar gum or arrowroot powder (which is a great direct substitute for cornstarch) for a better texture and rise in your baked goods. Most recipes will use a combination of gluten-free flours, as opposed to just one, in order to create a better texture and balance of proteins. This is most important in baked goods where a certain raise in the dough is desired. They can also be individually paired with a pre-mixed gluten-free all purpose flour blend that you can make yourself or find great options from your local health food store. For those wishing to experiment with making their own gluten-free all purpose flour blends, a great book to consult is Learning to Bake Allergen Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking, by Colette Martin. This book breaks down, in much more depth, the different types of flours available, how to measure them, how to use them with gums, as well as, what types of flour combinations work best for which recipe and much more.
To use some of the flours talked about above, here is a recipe using my favorite super food millet flour and a gluten- free all purpose blend (containing white and brown rice flour, white sorghum flour, potato starch, tapioca flour and xanthan gum) mixed with sweet potatoes to make delicious, allergen-free waffles for breakfast on a cool fall morning.
Vegan, Millet & Sweet Potato Waffles
Makes about 3-4 waffles
• 1 ½ cups millet flour
• ½ cup gluten-free all purpose flour*
• 2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
• ½ teaspoon sea salt
• 2 tablespoons firmly packed coconut sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• ½ teaspoon ground ginger
• 1 ½ cups canned organic sweet potato puree (1- 15 oz. can)
• ½ cup coconut milk drink
• ½ cup coconut oil
In a large mixing bowl, combine millet flour, gluten-free all purpose flour, baking powder, sea salt, coconut sugar, nutmeg and ginger and mix together.
In another bowl, combine sweet potato, coconut milk drink, and melted coconut oil and mix well. Add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Place about 3/4 cup of batter on a greased waffle iron for each 8-inch round waffle and cook according to waffle maker manufacturer instructions. Finish with toppings such as coconut whipped cream, sliced pears, seeds, dried cranberries, honey or maple syrup, for something sweet, or for something savory (for those that eat eggs) sliced avocado and a fried egg on top. Last, but not least, enjoy!
*This blend is great because it is uses gluten-free flours that are free from most common allergies; however, it is unfortunately manufactured in a facility that uses tree nuts and soy. It also contains xanthan gum, which is a polysaccharide made from a pure culture fermentation of any carbohydrate, usually corn. So for those that are highly sensitive to corn or yeast, another great alternative is guar gum and here is a flour mix with that. However, that mix is also manufactured in a facility that uses tree nuts, soy, eggs and milk. But you can always make your own mix using these same flours and ratio guides available online!