Gluten-free baking *guest post*

27 Oct

Just to get a little introduction out of the way – this is a ‘guest writer’ appearance by Rachel’s youngest brother, Andrew. I will be doing a guest post on the mysterious subject of gluten-free baking and will share with you some of my experiences about this little-explored subject.

I myself, am relatively new to gluten-free cooking and baking. As a classically trained chef, I am familiar with techniques and recipes that tend to use a lot of wheat flour and with that comes gluten. As such, the idea of coming up with methods for creating things such as gluten-free cupcakes appealed to me; any chance to broaden my horizons and skill set is something that I actively pursue. I happen to know some very dear people that are gluten/wheat intolerant and any chance to devise and scheme on their behalf is a challenge I want to take on.

I’m going to get the scientific part out of the way (apologies for this part…) The main obstacle facing coeliacs and those pursuing a gluten-free diet is the reliance on plain and self-raising flours used in traditional recipes. Plain and self-raising flour that are made from wheat contain gluten and so an alternative has to be sought for gluten-free baking. Unfortunately – gluten is the all important composite that lends elasticity and texture to our traditional baked goods. It also helps foods to rise by trapping air; it acts as a sort of flexible web, allowing our cupcake batter to rise and take on that wonderful shape. So if we can’t use the magical properties that gluten lend, how do we effectively replicate/mimic it?

Fortunately, cake batters don’t require a lot of gluten. Eggs, sugar and butter/margarine all help to aid moisture and flavour in our recipes. When sugar and butter are creamed together, air bubbles are trapped.  With the addition of egg yolks which help to emulsify fats, you can hold a lot of moisture in suspension in your mix without the aid of gluten.

But one complaint about gluten-free baking is that it is hard to get that same texture and ‘mouthfeel’ that you can get with regular wheat flour.

It’s all about getting the right mix of gluten-free flours to help mimic the characteristics of wheat flour. I’ve often seen recipes that call for mixes of cornflour, potato flour, tapioca flour, rice four, soy flour, maize flour…and the list sometimes goes on… A good base flour to use is brown rice flour, which isn’t dense or gritty. You could mix and match with cornflour or potato flour for example. The possibilities for experimentation are endless 🙂

Supermarkets are now carrying a greater selection of flours and gluten-free products. Glycerine can be added to batter mixes to help with moisture retention and thus texture. I have experimented with glycerine and the results don’t vary a huge deal. But, anything that helps right…? The same goes for Xanthan gum; it is used in gluten-free baking to aid the texture of the crumb. I have used it in a bread recipe once and it did an okay job. It’s more needed for bread making than cupcakes though, as bread needs strong, developed gluten to help achieve the texture that bread should have.

The first time I used a gluten-free flour combo, I simply substituted my normal self-raising wheat flour and I kept all the other variables such as eggs, butter and sugar, the same. I have to say that I was really, really impressed with the results. I was looking for noticeable differences in taste, texture and aroma; of these, only the aroma was different. Even then it was a very small difference, only ever so slightly ‘savoury.’ Most impressive for me was the achieved texture; this particular gluten-free flour mix was able to mimic that crumbly, moist texture that wheat flour gives. In a ‘blind’ taste test – 4 out of 4 family members could not tell the difference. And bear in mind these 4 subjects have been accustomed to baked goods with gluten in them for donkeys years!

Fresh from the oven...

This trial batch was sent away on the very same day to some relatives in Cardiff who promptly ate them all, without noticing that they were gluten-free. I kept a couple behind just to see how they would hold up after a day or so.

Two days later, these little hotcakes were still holding up okay. One of them even got blitzed in the microwave by grandma and survived. Until she ate it.

So there you have it. Gluten-free baking is no more technical than ordinary baking, really. It’s about the right mix of flours and trying to mimic what ordinary wheat flour does. As long as you experiment and find a good mix of flours, gluten-free cupcakes can be just as successful as the ‘normal’ ones…

Looks just like a 'normal' cupcake.

At the end of the day, any kind of cupcake is better than no cupcake, right?


16 Responses to “Gluten-free baking *guest post*”

  1. Wiferama October 27, 2010 at 22:31 #

    Go on Grandma!!! Blitz that shiz!! Lovely post poppet xxx

  2. Wiferama October 27, 2010 at 22:50 #

    I knoooooiw I was popping him! But you’re a poppet too xxx

    • The Aff October 28, 2010 at 15:37 #


  3. The Aff October 28, 2010 at 00:08 #

    Yeah she really did blitz it – it changed colour and everything…!

    Poppetz 4 life.

  4. Vic October 28, 2010 at 10:46 #

    Rach – this is perfect – I was going to email you about gluten free baking to see what you knew – Chris’ sister is a/has (not sure which is correct there) coeliacs and I wanted to bake something to take to a family lunch in a couple of weeks! So just to check you’d go with your normal cupcake recipe just switch the flour?! I guess I should really thank Andrew – anyway thanks to you both!! 🙂 Perfect! x

    • The Aff October 28, 2010 at 15:33 #

      Glad to be of service 🙂 I just swapped the flours that’s all – kept the eggs, butter and sugar the same.

  5. Emily October 28, 2010 at 22:24 #

    OMG Andrew…. I’m coming to your restaurant and I’m expecting a gluten free menu, what can you do for me?……..

    Seriously, gluten free baking is easier then most people think, you just have to actually bake stuff and not buy the horrid stuff from the supermarkets! Being a Coeliac is just a case of experimentation… good luck, and thanks Rach x x x

    • Sash November 5, 2010 at 16:48 #

      Hi Emily, I am baking some gluten-free cupcakess for my grandparents diamond wedding. The actual cake part will be ok, but as a coeliac do you know anything about edible glitters, lustres and the other lovely things that make the cakes look FABULOUS?

      I really want the cakes to look super as they will be a gift an there will be lots of guests…
      any advice- from anyone would be really appreciated.



      • cupcakesandglitter November 10, 2010 at 14:43 #

        Hi Sash,

        I went to buy some more edible glitters the other day, and I asked the shop owner if she knew if they were gluten free or not, but she said she didn’t know. I know that Sugarflair colourings are gluten free, but it seems to be quite hard to find out about the other decorations… However I order some decorations online, and they generally give you a list of ingredients:

        I’ve just had a quick look, and there seems to be quite a few that you could use actually such as the sugar strands and some of the sprinkles.

        Hope that helps!


  6. The Aff October 29, 2010 at 22:46 #

    Of course Emily – i’ll sort it out 🙂 There’s a great poached chicken salad that i know that is coeliac friendly, but it’s fun and quirky. Not a scrap of flour in sight!

  7. Anthony November 10, 2010 at 13:47 #

    So what was the GF flour mix you used? did you mix it yourself or did you buy a pre-mixed blend? (please provide measurements/ratios/brand names)

    My brother-in-law has to eat GF and he’s also diabetic, having to change out real sugar for substitutes as well as getting a flour mixture that actually works (taste and texture) has been a challenge for me, so any variable you can remove for me to play with is greatly appreciated. 🙂

    • cupcakesandglitter November 10, 2010 at 14:33 #

      Hi Anthony,

      The GF self-raising flour we use is Dove’s Farm, and it’s pre-mixed (rice, potato, tapioca, maize & buckwheat). Dove’s Farm have a huge range of GF flours, and you can generally get them in large Sainsbury’s and places such as Holland & Barrett, or you can order them online here:

      Hope that helps, and good luck!


      • The Aff November 10, 2010 at 15:26 #

        You beat me to the punch Ike.

  8. thechantiki November 10, 2010 at 20:37 #

    This is a great post. My boyfriend recently discovered that gluten intolerance was the source of many of his chronic issues. I tried using GF flour with Xanthan gum to make cookies and they tasted fine to him but not even close to good for me. I will try the pre-mix you suggested for another batch!

    • The Aff November 10, 2010 at 22:08 #

      Thanks for the kind words – for me, trial and error was actually a lot of fun with this particular issue of g-f baking. The pre-mix suggested by my sister is fantastic. I’ve used the gluten-free plain flour made by Doves Farm to make roux’s, cookies and it’s been fantastic.

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