Playing With Alternative Flours
Baking or cooking with alternative flours, all of which are naturally gluten free, can expand the range of flavors, textures and nutrition to your food. All flours have a unique taste that can enhance or subtly change the flavor of your recipe. Some flours have a shy taste and others are bold enough to hijack your food. Another consideration when using these flours is their texture. Some starches or flours have a powdery texture and can billow around when you try to use them, while others have a slightly fibrous texture. Additionally, many alternative flours can have a significant impact on the nutritional quality of your food. For example, there isn’t much of any nutritional value to tapioca starch, while lentil and bean flours can add protein. Nut meals can add a wide variety of nutrients from protein and calcium to magnesium and more.
Every alternative flour has its own little personality, each unique in its own way. There are similarities in them whether its texture, nutrition or flavor strength. I tend to group flours based upon their flavor and how it compliments, argues or clashes with the other flour/s that I’m using in a recipe. To give you an idea about the flavor personality of alternative flours, here is my breakout of flours based on their temperament.
Glossary of Flour Temperaments:
A. Shy – Quiet flours that have a slight flavor. Their overall affect on the flavor of a recipe is minimal.
B. Contented – These flours have a little more flavor, but they work well with other flours. Their overall affect on the flavor of a recipe is mild.
C. Perky – These flours have a little stronger flavor, and work well with other flours. Their overall affect can range from mild to robust depending on how much is added to a recipe.
D. Cheeky – These flours tend to be bolder and work well with other flours when their portion of a recipe is smaller. The larger the amount that you use their influence on the flavor of the food will be stronger.
E. Smart Aleck – Flours that are assertive in flavor. Large amounts in a recipe will produce a more intensely flavored food.
F. Imperious – These flours are intensely flavored and they will significantly impact your food even in small amounts.
A. Shy Flours: arrowroot starch, corn starch/flour, potato starch/flour, sweet rice flour, tapioca starch. (Use in any amount that you would like to try in a recipe, just be aware that the more you use the more your flour blend will have a starchy flavor.)
1. Arrowroot starch – Some packages of arrowroot will have a menthol-like aroma when you open them and a stronger flavor. Once the package is opened the stronger aroma will eventually dissipate, although the slightly stronger flavor will persist. When this happens, use less arrowroot in the recipe, so that the other flours can blend over this flavor.
2. Corn starch/flour – Made from the starch of the corn kernel, this flour/starch has the wonderful ability to add crispness to baked goods. If you make waffles, tuiles or ice cream cones add corn starch/flour (approximately 1/4 cup/ 30 grams) to the recipe.
B. Contented Flours: brown rice flour, white rice flour, sweet potato flour, millet flour, corn flour/meal, oat flour, chestnut flour, almond meal, sunflower seed meal, cashew nut meal. (These flours can be used in larger amounts as they have milder flavors and blend well together. If you are substituting one of these flours, for part of the wheat flour called for in a recipe, then replace between ¼ to ½ cup/ 30 to 60 grams.)
1. Brown & White Rice Flours – Some manufacturer’s of this grass/grain mill their product on a fine setting, which can still give your foods a grainy texture. Make sure to obtain your rice flours from a source that mills this grass/grain on an extra fine setting. (i.e. Authentic Foods, Bob’s Red Mill, Barry Farm)
2. Oat Flour – This flour is naturally gluten free, but is contaminated with gluten due to common growing practices as it is a crop put in rotation in the same fields that grow wheat. Additionally, this grain is processed with the same equipment that is used for the wheat crop. Oats contain a protein called avenin which is a prolamine. There are those with celiac/celiac sprue disease who cannot tolerate the protein in oats. Before you bake for someone with this disease make sure that they can tolerate oats. For those who can tolerate oats, make sure to purchase oat flour from a certified gluten free source. These vendors and growers carry certified gf oats: Bob’s Red Mill, Glutenfree.com, Glutenfreemall.com, and Cream Hill Estates.
3. Chestnut Flour – This flour has a short shelf life (1 month). Store this flour in the freezer when you aren’t using it.
C. Perky Flours: sorghum flour, buckwheat flour, teff flour, coconut flour, cassava flour, pecan meal, pumpkin seed meal, pistachio meal, macadamia nut meal, chia seed meal (Salba meal). (These flours are a little stronger in flavor and if used in large quantities they will affect the overall flavor of your food. If substituting one of these flours for a portion of the wheat flour in recipe, then replace ¼ to 1/3 cup/30 to 40 grams with the flour of your choice.)
1. Sorghum Flour – This flour is a wonderful addition to breads or savory dishes. If you are going to use it with a dessert recipe, use it in smaller amounts so it is an accent flavor.
2. Teff Flour – Use the same as you would sorghum flour.
3. Chia Seed Meal – Chia seed is mucilaginous, which means that when added to water the seed will create a gel around the seed. This gel can be used to help gluten free foods hold together or it can be used to replace eggs in a recipe. Mix the chia seed meal with other dry ingredients before adding any liquids. The gel develops quickly when chia seed meal is added to liquids. The gel doesn’t incorporate into the other ingredients as it becomes firm and lumpy.
D. Cheeky Flours: Montina flour, quinoa flour, amaranth flour, plantain flour, soy flour (Soya), pine nut meal (Pignoli), common walnut meal. (These flours are stronger in flavor and will affect the overall flavor of your food. If you are substituting one of these flours for a portion of the wheat flour in a recipe, then replace ¼ cup/30 grams with the flour of your choice.)
1. Montina Flour – Montina flour is from a native Northern American grass (Indian rice grass). It is ground into flour that is a mixture of powder and husk, giving it a rather fibrous feel. It has a wonderful flavor and goes well in breads and desserts with chocolate such as chocolate chip cookies. This flour will also add texture and fiber to your food.
2. Quinoa Flour – Some packages of quinoa flour can smell and taste grassy. If your package of flour is this way, reduce the amount of quinoa that you planned to use in your recipe. This grassy taste affects the overall flavor of your food.
3. Pine Nut Meal (Pignoli) – When grinding pine nuts into meal, make sure to use some of the flour from your recipe when grinding. Otherwise, within a matter of seconds you will have a lovely batch of pine nut butter rather than pine nut meal.
4. Soy Flour (Soya) – Reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees when baking with soy flour, as the flour will toast quickly.
E. Smart Aleck Flours: any bean flour (except soy), mesquite flour, flax seed meal (linseed meal), sesame seed meal, Brazil nut meal. (These flours have a strong flavor. Large amount of these flours will significantly alter the flavor of your food. If you use of more than ¼ cup/30 grams in a recipe, check the flavor of your dough as you will need to add additional sweetener to counteract the bitterness of larger quantities of these flours.)
1. Flax seed meal (Linseed) – Flax seed meal will add a grainy texture to your baked goods. Additionally, flax seed is mucilaginous, which means that when added to water the seed will create a gel. This gel can be used to help gluten free foods hold together or it can be used to replace eggs in a recipe. Mix the flax seed meal with other dry ingredients before adding any liquids to your ingredients. The gel develops quickly when the flax seed meal is added to liquids. The gel doesn’t incorporate into the other ingredients as it becomes slightly firm and lumpy.
2. Mesquite flour – Mesquite will add texture and a caramel like flavor to your food. Reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees as the flour will toast at higher temperatures.
F. Imperious Flours: yellow or green pea flour, black walnut meal. (These flours have real attitude. They become the dominant flavor of your food. Adding additional sweeteners will not help to reduce the affect these flours/meals have on your other ingredients.)
Creating Mellow Flour Blends:
When you start experimenting with alternative flours, make sure to sample the flavor of the flour before you begin measuring ingredients. Then add a pinch of the alternative flour to a slightly larger pinch of wheat flour or the other gluten free flours you are planning to use in your recipe, and then taste the blend. This will give you an idea of whether or not you like a particular blend of flours. This has the added benefit of checking flavors, before you bake.
You’ve got a flour blend you like, next comes dividing out the flour quantities in your recipe. If you are using wheat, then you reduce the overall amount of wheat flour called for in the recipe. For example, your bread recipe calls for 3 cups/330 grams of bread flour, you will reduce that amount to 2 ¾ cup/300grams. The remaining ¼ cup/30 grams of flour will be provided by your alternative flour, i.e. sorghum, millet, teff, etc.
When you bake gluten free, typically you will use an alternative flour blend in a recipe. By blending flours you will end up with a mixture that has a milder flavor, a lovely mixed texture and improved nutrition. While not typical, you can choose to use a single flour in your recipe. (ie. cassava flour, tapioca starch, sweet rice flour)
If you are going to make a gluten free flour blend, you can divide the 3 cups/330 grams of bread flour in several different ways. Each blend will typically have 2 different starches/flours and 1 to 2 stronger flavored flours. Here are a few different ways that you can divide the flour requirement:
1 cup/110 grams brown rice flour
1 cup/110 grams potato starch/flour
1 cup/110 grams tapioca starch
1 cup/110 grams brown rice flour
½ cup/55 grams sorghum flour
¾ cup/90 grams sweet potato flour
¾ cup/90 grams arrowroot starch
1 cup/110 grams brown rice flour
¾ cup/90 grams potato starch
1 cup/110 grams corn starch/flour
¼ cup/30 grams teff flour
1 cup/110 grams millet flour
½ cup/55 grams coconut flour
½ cup/55 grams tapioca starch
1 cup/110 grams sweet rice flour
Have A Baking Adventure:
If you have some alternative flours from making one of our Alternative Daring Baker/Cook Challenges, give them a try. If you don’t have any, next time you are at the store, pick one up. These alternative flours are unique, flavorful, nutritious, and delightful to eat.
Stayed tuned for another exploration of gluten free baking coming on March 6th here at The Daring Kitchen Food Talk.