The Story Behind My Gluten-Free Flour Mix

by Jeanne on November 18, 2009

[Flour Mix Recipe is at the end of this post]

In the comment section of my pie crust post, reader John asked if I had any info about the gluten-free flours that I use. I’ve been meaning to post something on this topic for awhile now–and I’d like to thank John for reminding me.

I was diagnosed as being gluten intolerant right after my daughter was born, in 2000. Up until that time, I was an avid wheat baker. And I had no plan on stopping. But, gluten-free (gf) baking seemed to be a whole different world from wheat baking. And everything tasted awful. I actually spent days crying over the fact that the thing that gave me the most joy in the world, baking, was taken away from me. I obsessed over the fact that I wouldn’t be able to teach my daughter how to knead bread when she got older. It was a “dark night of the soul” period for me.

At a certain point, I decided that if I wanted to continue baking good-tasting things, I had to do a lot of research and experimentation. And by good-tasting, I don’t mean simply edible–I mean yummy. In 2000, gf baking was nowhere near where it is today. All of the commercially available things were awful. The best you could hope for from gf baked goods is that they not be too dry, too crumbly, or too hard. And, home baking seemed not really worth it–all of the recipes seemed to have an air of “here’s something you can bake but it will taste gross, so good luck” about them. If you didn’t have to eat gluten-free, you wouldn’t bake or touch these things with a 10 foot pole, much less eat them.

I determined that the main obstacle to gf baking was the flour component. And, from that day on, I was on a search for flours that made gf baked items taste good. At first I tried using single flours. For example, I would bake something with just white rice flour. It became clear very quickly that this was not a good idea. One of the big problems with any single gf flour is that they are not the correct texture for most baked goods. They each have their own “disposition,” to use the term Bette Hagman, The Gluten-Free Gourmet, used. Further, they don’t have gluten to hold them together, so the final product is crumbly. And dry. I started thinking that combining several different flours was probably the best route to go. Becca, my gf friend and mentor, and I would have debates about the relative merits of measuring out different flours for each baking project vs. using a mix. One thing that was key for me was that I hated having to get out several flours every time I baked and measure out different amounts of each. This took time and it wasn’t very fun.

Then I happened upon the books of Bette Hagman, the “Gluten-Free Gourmet.” Everyone who cooks and bakes gluten-free owes Hagman an enormous debt of gratitude. I met her once at a gluten-intolerance awareness fundraiser and made quite a scene with groveling at her feet to show her how thankful I was for the research she did on gluten-free cooking and baking. She’s the main one, I feel, who brought baking back to the gluten-free population. She wrote several books on gluten-cooking and baking. The one I used the most is her The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread. Indeed, when Girlfriend was 1 yr old, and we were out of the “oh-my-gosh-I-have-a-baby-and-can’t-do-anything-else” phase, I spent almost every day baking bread out of Hagman’s book.

It was from Hagman’s books that I discovered the concept of mixing gluten-free flours to make a cup-for-cup gf substitute for wheat flour. Her favored mix contained garbanzo and fava bean flour. She liked this combo because she felt that the protein in the beans helped gf baked goods to have a good texture and because they have a high nutritional value. I made and used her Four Flour Bean Mix for awhile. This mix contains garfava bean flour, sorghum, cornstarch, and tapioca flour. I found out that I didn’t like the taste of this mix–primarily because of the bean component. And the dough or batter made from it (e.g., cookie dough) tasted awful. Unless you’re making something that specifically calls for a bean flour (like papadum), I don’t think bean flours are a good component of gf flour mixes.

After discovering how strong the bean flours could taste, I started to pay attention to the taste of each gf flour. It hadn’t dawned on me before this that the flour could add a taste to the item with which it’s baked. It was then that I decided to clarify my goals for my gf baked goods. I determined that my primary goal was to make gf baked goods that tasted like they did when I made them with wheat flour. I wanted a chocolate chip cookie or a cake to taste and feel like what I remembered them to taste and feel like pre-gf days. And so did everyone around me. I love to bake for other people, so it wouldn’t work for me to bake things that taste differently than people expect them to.

A note:  I have noticed that many gluten-free bakers have determined that their goal with gf baking is health-related. These bakers use certain flours over other ones because they are more “healthy” than others. So, these folks don’t use rice flours because they feel they’re not as full of nutrients as, say, quinoa flour. This is fine, as long as you and they are aware of the different qualities these flours give to baked goods. Baking with these flours is the equivalent to non-gf bakers using whole wheat or rye flour in all of their baked goods because it’s “healthier.” As any baker knows, whole wheat flour by itself lends a certain taste and texture to baked goods that you don’t get with white flours. So, a whole wheat cookie is going to taste and feel differently in your mouth than one made with white flour. It drives me crazy when people tell me they think gf baking tastes weird and then I find out that it’s because bean or some other strong-tasting flour was used by the baker.

My goals for baking don’t fall into this category. I am a classic baker.  I like to think of myself as falling into more into the Julia Child category of bakers. I don’t bake brownies, for example, because they’re healthy. I bake them because I love to bake, I like the craft of baking, I want a treat, and brownies are yummy. So, unless I’m going for a certain taste/texture, like I do with my gf baguettes or graham crackers, I usually do not use the heavier and more strong-tasting flours like sorghum, teff, amaranth, and quinoa. I include this caveat here to explain why I use the flours I use.

Back to Bette Hagman. I think at a certain point folks must have communicated to Hagman that the taste of the bean flour mix wasn’t so good, for she then came up with her Featherlight Rice Flour Mix, which got rid of the bean flour. This mix contained rice flour, tapioca flour, cornstarch, and potato flour. This was better. But, not great. And the batter made with this mix still tasted awful. Another issue with both of her mixes is that they do not contain xanthan gum–which is essential for gf baking. You have to add it separately to each recipe. This drove me crazy for everyday baking.

A word about xanthan gum. Think of xanthan gum as the “gluten-replacer” in gluten-free baking. It acts as a binding agent. It holds baked goods together and eliminates the “crumbly factor” in gf baking. It provides the elasticity that gluten does.  I consider it a must. You don’t need to use very much in most baking–only about a heaping 1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour.  Some people substitute guar gum. Guar gum works the same way that xanthan gum does, but it isn’t as elastic. And, be aware that it has some issues around creating gastrointestinal problems in many people–it is also a laxative (it is often sold as such). And, given the problems gluten intolerant folks have with digestive issues, I don’t think it’s really a good choice, unless you can’t tolerate xanthan gum. One thing to note about xanthan gum is that it is often grown on corn.  My corn-sensitive friends have reported no ill effects from eating xanthan gum in my baked goods.  My food scientist friends tell me that the corn should be gone from the product once the process of making the xanthan gum is finished.  But, you need to check with your doctor to see what he or she says is right for you if you are corn sensitive.  For more info on all of the gluten-replacers, check out my GLUTEN REPLACERS post.  For an intense and scientific discussion of xanthan gum and guar gum, see this article.

Again, back to Bette.  After reading Bette Hagman’s books, I continued on my search for the perfect gluten-free flour mix. I stumbled across (it was in the window of my local bookstore) and read Karen Robertson‘s fabulous cookbook, Cooking Gluten-Free! I think this is one of the best gluten-free cookbooks out there. It was from this book that I found out about Wendy Wark’s Gluten-Free Flour Mix. Wendy Wark, the woman behind this mix, wrote a little gluten-free cookbook in 1998 called Living Healthy With Celiac Disease, and used this flour mix for her recipes. Robertson used the mix as the basis of her baked goods, as well.

This was what I was looking for! Finally, a flour mix that closely mimicked wheat flour, contained no bean flour, and had the right amount of xanthan gum. This mix contains brown rice flour, white rice flour, tapioca starch flour, sweet rice flour, cornstarch, potato starch flour, and xanthan gum. Robertson even got the gf company, Authentic Foods to carry this as a packaged flour mix, Multi Blend Gluten Free Flour. This made it easy for folks to use the mix without having to mix it themselves.

This mix was my standard flour mix for a couple of years. But, over these years, as I baked for other people, I started encountering difficulties with this mix. First of all, it was a hassle to mix–so many ingredients and one of them, the potato starch flour, was hard to find (I liked mixing it myself rather than buying it pre-mixed). Second, I have a gluten-free friend who is also corn-sensitive. This wasn’t good, because she was one of the main recipients of my baked goods. So, I started substituting arrowroot starch for the cornstarch. This, ultimately, wasn’t satisfying because the arrowroot flour seemed to go bad fairly quickly, which made it taste awful, and it was hard to get. Also, around this time, I had another friend with a gluten-free daughter (another recipient of my baked goods), who is nightshade-intolerant–which meant the potato starch didn’t work for her. This led to my decision to eliminate the potato starch.

So, I started playing with the concept of simplifying the mix and the ingredients in the mix. All the ingredients had to be fairly easy to get, either here or online, and the ingredients had to be as allergy-neutral as possible. This is how I came to develop the mix that I call Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix. This mix contains just brown rice, white rice, and sweet rice flours, mixed with tapioca flour and xanthan gum. It’s easy for me to mix on my own, and it stores well in the fridge. People ask for it all of the time. And best of all, I can use it as a cup-for-cup substitute for wheat flour in most of my recipes. Yay!

I get my gluten-free flours and xanthan gum from Bob’s Red Mill, whose products are widely available in Seattle stores, or from Authentic Foods. I also use the brand of sweet rice flour from Koda Farms called Mochiko. This is available in regular grocery stores in the “ethnic” section. You can also order it online.  All of these flours are available online.  All of these flours are made in facilities that adhere to gluten-free manufacturing practices. And, they are made with bakers in mind, so the grind of each flour is “fine” and they work well.  You may also find some of these flours in Asian grocery stores.  Please note that if the package is not labeled “gluten-free” you cannot be sure that it is not cross-contaminated.

I don’t know where to get these flours in your hometown because I don’t live there. :)

Also, when I refer to a gf “flour mix” in my recipes I mean one that is designed to be used as a cup-for-cup substitute for wheat flour. I do not mean a pancake mix or a baking mix that includes other ingredients like baking powder, soda, vanilla, or salt. Pancake mixes will not work well when you’re baking from scratch and using a recipe that calls for “flour.”

Go here for how to convert this mix to  SELF RISING gluten-free flour.

Before you post a comment with a question about the mix (where to get flours, how to substitute for one or more of the flours; substitutions for for xanthan gum; cost of flours), check out this post “Answers to Questions About/Substitutions For My Gluten-Free Flour Mix”–your questions might be answered there!

Before you post a comment with a question about xanthan gum or other gluten replacers, please see my post Let’s Talk Gluten-Replacers in Gluten-Free Baking.

Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix

Mix together and store in a cool, dark place for about 6 weeks, or in fridge for up to 4 months or in the freezer for 7 months (or even longer).

1 cup of this mix equals 140 grams. Use this mix cup-for-cup or gram-for-gram in all of your recipes:

1 1/4 cup (170 g) brown rice flour
1 1/4 cup (205 g) white rice flour
1 cup (120 g) tapioca flour
1 cup (165 g) sweet [white] rice flour (also known as “glutinous” rice flour or under the brand name, Mochiko.)
2 scant tsp. xanthan gum (scant means: “falling short of the measurement.”  Scant in this case means not quite 2 teaspoons.  That said, don’t over-think it.  Just measure and move on.)

PRINT FRIENDLY RECIPE

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