A guide to using non-wheat flours
While I don’t need to avoid wheat, there are reasons why I love baking with alternatives to wheat flour. They’re often less processed than regular white wheat flour, and are more nutritious and flavourful.
A lot of my baking recipes use alternatives to wheat flours, or have an option for using one. When you step away from regular flour for whatever reason, you discover lots of different alternatives that deliver moist, light, delicious baking. Most people who have tried baking with other types of flours will have a disaster story though, as these flours do not operate like normal wheat flour (which has a high gluten content) and thus can give you unexpected results if you’re less experienced. The classic mistake is swapping out wheat flour for another type of flour in exactly the same quantity and creating something so dense you can’t cut it, or so flat it’s more pancake than cake! Here are the most common gluten-free and other flours you’ll find in my recipes, what’s great about them, and how to best use them – happy baking!
Despite the name, buckwheat flour does not contain any wheat and is gluten-free. It comes from the seed of a flowering plant and is actually a close relative of rhubarb strangely enough! Buckwheat flour is higher in protein, fibre, iron and is a great source of manganese. The great thing about buckwheat flour is that it can be swapped out for wheat flour in the same quantity with no issue in most recipes. However it won’t rise as much when baked, so doesn’t work as well for bread and cake unless you also include gluten-free bread flour in the mix or add extra baking powder or other raising agents like eggs. Buckwheat flour has a rich, nutty, slightly earthy flavour, giving your baking more complexity and taste. However a complete swap for buckwheat can sometimes taste a bit too strong for some people, so I find it’s nice to mix it with another flour that doesn’t taste as strong (like any of the others below). Soba noodles are traditionally made from buckwheat flour giving them that distinct earthy flavour. Buckwheat flour is also traditionally used in crepes and blinis across Europe. If you want to try out buckwheat flour, I recommend it in my pumpkin pie pancakes with bacon, apple and walnuts, or my date, carrot and cranberry loaf.
Coconut flour is made by simply grinding dried-out coconut meat until it forms a soft powder similar in feel to cornflour. It is gluten free and more nutritious due to the higher amounts of fat, fibre and protein it contains. It is very important to know that you cannot swap out normal flour (or any flour, really) for coconut flour in the same quantities when baking– it is very absorbent and therefore much more liquid is needed to get a good result! If you want to use coconut flour in place of normal flour you may need to experiment a little, but 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup coconut flour for 1 cup wheat (or other grain-based) flour should work. You will also need to slightly increase the amount of eggs and liquid in the recipe, and possibly add more raising agent. Coconut flour has a mild, slightly sweet coconut flavour that works deliciously in many baking recipes!
General gluten-free flour
When you buy gluten-free plain flour in the packet, you’re actually buying a mix of a few flours designed to mimic regular flour and produce similar results – how convenient! Maize, tapioca, chickpea and rice flour are often used in these mixes. Natural vegetable gums such as guar gum or xanthan gum are also added to these mixes to overcome the lack of gluten, helping mixtures stay together and not crumble. With most baking recipes you should be able to swap out normal wheat flour for a gluten-free blend in the same quantity and produce similar results. If you want to make your own all-purpose gluten-free flour at home, simply combine 8 cups of rice flour, 2 ½ cups potato starch flour and 1 ½ cups tapioca flour (makes 12 cups) for a mix that will work for most baking applications!
Nut flour can be made from any nut but most commonly, almonds. I love almond flour because it adds moistness, texture and density to baking. It’s also low carb, diabetic-friendly, gluten free and provides a great nutrient boost. Recipes that call for almond flour will generally have more raising agent than other recipes to account for the weight of the almonds. Keep this in mind when substituting almond flour for other flours in baking recipes. Also be aware that due to the lack of gluten, a recipe using almond flour may be more fragile and possibly crumbly than you would expect. Generally more eggs are added to non-gluten recipes to help bind the ingredients. A con of almond flour is that is it rather expensive compared to other flours – however it can be easily made at home in a food processor or coffee grinder. Use almonds that are blanched or with skin on – the latter will just have brown specks in it and is more commonly known as almond meal. One of my favourite recipes using almond flour is this deliciously moist mandarin syrup cake which as well as being gluten-free, is dairy-free and has no added fat in it. Be sure to try these almond and coconut friands as well – they’re light, delicate and delectable.
While not purporting to be a flour, desiccated coconut is worth a mention due to how often it shows up in my baking recipes! I love using desiccated coconut in my baking to add texture and that lovely coconut flavour. If a recipe calls for nut flour and you don’t have any, or are not a fan of nuts, desiccated coconut can be used instead – it has a lot of the same properties (and is a lot cheaper!). Coconut is also great in bliss balls of course, to get that light flaky texture – it reminds me of the chocolate rough we’d have as kids! Check out these choco-nut bliss balls, and this gluten-free banana, coconut and lemon loaf which both use desiccated coconut.
While not actually gluten-free, I often like using spelt flour in my baking as it has a better nutrition profile and can be substituted in the same ratio as wheat flour. Spelt is from the same grain family as wheat, yet is an entirely different species. It is lower in gluten than wheat flour, and therefore some people with only a mild gluten intolerance can handle spelt. Spelt is great in bread, where it makes a light, textured loaf with a slight nutty flavour. Try it in this kumara bread recipe in place of the wholemeal flour.
To be doing what I am today is a dream come true. It all started when I was 12 years old. I was watching TV after school one day and Jamie Oliver was cooking up a storm on The Naked Chef.