Consider this page a reference that I'll keep updated with my favorite tips and tricks for diving into gluten-free baking with confidence and preparation. I am relatively new to the gluten-free baking world, but have researched and practiced extensively in order to gain knowledge, experience, and confidence to share delicious baking recipes that anyone can enjoy. (I do not follow a gluten-free diet, but have family that does. I dove into the world of GF baking from the standpoint of wanting to be able to build a repertoire of great GF recipes to share with my loved ones who need it, and to be able to bake for them both safely and confidently.)
GLUTEN FREE – BEFORE YOU GET STARTED
GENERAL TIPS + THINGS TO KNOW
1. Weigh your Gluten-Free Flours:
I HIGHLY recommend you weigh your ingredients whenever possible. Gluten-free flours are way too expensive to be ruining perfectly good recipes with inaccurate measurements. While it’s always a good idea to be weighing ingredients when baking, this is so much more important with gluten free flours. Because gluten free flours are particularly fine and powdery, measuring a cup of a gluten free flour by volume can vary WIDELY. When measuring by volume, pack down the flour like you would with brown sugar instead of just fluffing, scooping, and sweeping like you might with traditional wheat flour. If you are following a recipe on my site, you’ll always see me reminding you to pack the flour when measuring by volume. Seriously though, if you have ambitions to bake gluten-free recipes periodically, it is worth the small cost to purchase a digital scale. For a breakdown of the various GF flours and starches that I use in my pantry, click here.
2. There’s no such thing as over-working the dough*.
When jumping in to gluten-free baking for the first time, it’s important to set aside all of your instincts that you’ve worked so hard to perfect in traditional baking. With traditional baking, overworking the dough activates the gluten and causes baked goods to be tough, flat, etc. That is not the case with gluten-free baking! You can (and should) mix things very well. In fact, once I got up the courage to make my gluten-free bread dough in my stand mixer, my results improved greatly. Working in air bubbles helps to give gluten-free recipes their lift, so using a mixer is often a big help. Spoiler alert- all gluten-free bread is no-knead! (*The only exception to this is when mixing a dough that has a fair amount of “gums” in it. Technically those can be overworked because the gum can get over-activated, but I don’t find it anything to be too worried about.)
3. Educate yourself.
I can’t stress this enough. If you’re new to Gluten-Free recipes, please familiarize yourself with product labeling and ingredient lists. Some packaging is very clear- others are not, and unfortunately, too often the front of the packaging might say GF but when reading the actual ingredients you’ll find that there are gluten-containing ingredients listed and that they labeled the front incorrectly. I recommend following the Gluten Free Watchdog on Facebook to help you stay on top of products/labeling/formula changes/etc.
The following ingredients are gluten-containing ingredients to watch out for on package labels: (Please note that this is meant to be used as a guide, and is not a guarantee of a comprehensive list.)
- Wheat (bran, starch, germ, berries)
- Hydrolyzed wheat protein
- Wheat starch/modified wheat starch
- Barley (malt, extract)
- Malt (syrup, vinegar, extract) or
- Matzo meal
The following are ingredients that are particularly prone to cross-contamination due to their growing/processing methods and should be of concern to those with true allergies to trace amounts of gluten: If labeling is unclear, check the company’s website or call them to inquire.
- Caramel color/flavor – often made from barley
- Glycerides, diglycerides
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Modified food starch
- Natural flavoring, fillers, juices
- Oats/oatmeal/oat bran
- Rice syrup
- Soy sauce
- Seasoning packets often include gluten-based ingredients added to prevent clumping, or as a thickener.
- Canned soups, sauces, dressings- Sometimes products that are seemingly gluten-free contain gluten in the thickening agents/fillers that are used.
- Deli lunchmeat/hot dogs- watch out for gluten-containing fillers and additives.
4. Ignore Your Traditional Baking Instincts:
Never underestimate the amount of liquid required to hydrate the various Gluten-Free flours and starches you’ll be using. This is where it’s important to sort of ignore your traditional baking instincts. Gluten-Free batters and doughs are VERY wet and sticky compared to a stretchy ball of traditional bread dough that you might be used to. GF Bread dough is quite spreadable and has to be formed into the desired shapes. There are little tricks to shaping that I’ll be sharing in those recipes that call for it, as well as videos demonstrating the techniques.
5. Dedicated GF Ingredient Storage:
Your gluten-free ingredients are only gluten-free if you keep them that way. Be mindful that flour is airborne in your kitchen, so anytime you pour/sift/measure/move it, the flour particles will get into the air and onto all surfaces in the vicinity. If you store your regular flour on a separate shelf in the same pantry as your gluten-free flours, the risk of cross-contamination is very high. For this reason I recommend storing your gluten-free flours in multiple layers of ziplock bags and storing them in an area away from any other ingredients in your kitchen. I keep mine in sealed ziplock bags inside of a sealed tub that is away from any other food. (If you aren’t going to be using your GF flours within a few weeks or so, I recommend keeping them in the freezer to maintain freshness.)
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6. Cleaning tips for safety and to avoid cross-contamination:
- Wash hands thoroughly, and often. I saw a funny meme online about handwashing the other day that said something like “Wash your hands like you just minced jalapenos and you're about to take out your contacts.”
- Thoroughly clean kitchen counters and all surfaces before making a gluten-free product. Use clean cooking and serving utensils and don’t share them between gluten-free and gluten-containing foods. Change out all towels, apron, etc. before getting out your gluten-free ingredients.
- Prepare gluten-free foods first before preparing other foods.
- No Double-Dipping/Scooping/Spreading! For example: butter, jam, mayonnaise, etc. All of those condiments are immediately contaminated if your utensil has come into contact with gluten. A great alternative is to buy those super affordable clear squeeze bottles and label them Gluten-Free to keep them separate from your other condiments, or just purchase additional condiments and mark them very clearly.
7. Gluten-Free Dedicated Equipment
Cross-contamination is a very serious problem that can only be avoided with very mindful and intentional planning and preparation. This includes using equipment that is dedicated for gluten-free use only, and should be labeled and stored separately from your other cooking and baking equipment. Examples- rolling pin, banneton (rising basket), Silpat, mixing bowl, whisk, colander/sifter etc. Some equipment such as a stand mixer is not realistic to own a dedicated GF one (and since it is a hard surface, it is feasible to clean it thoroughly), so it is imperative to thoroughly sanitize all parts before exposing to any of your GF ingredients. Porous surfaces such as wood or fabric absolutely must be dedicated as GF to be safe.
Thanks for taking the time to browse these tips, and I hope you've found them helpful!