How to use nutrient-dense flours in your gluten-free baking
I wish I had a dime for every time someone tells me they’re afraid to bake with high-protein, high-fiber gluten-free flours. I’m talking about power flours like amaranth, buckwheat, chickpea, flaxseed meal, millet, quinoa and sorghum. These nutrient-dense flours offer so much more than the ubiquitous white rice flour-tapioca starch-cornstarch combo found in most gluten-free baking.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for the so-called white flours in our kitchens. But relying on these alone produces an empty carb load that stresses the body’s metabolism and contributes to obesity and diabetes.
In contrast, power flours provide more protein, as well as a host of vitamins and nutrients and they’re higher in fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol levels. What’s more, many are quite flavorful and they produce baked goods that help us feel fuller longer.
The higher protein content in power flours provides elasticity to baked goods too, an added bonus for gluten-free bakers. (Elasticity, a key to baking success, is often hard to come by in gluten-free baking.) The result is that finished baked goods are moister, have a finer crumb and better texture.
These seven power flours have the potential to become the darlings of the gluten-free world.
1 Amaranth is an ancient food used by the Aztecs. The seeds from this broad-leafed plant are milled into flour or puffed into kernels. High in protein, calcium and iron, this mildly nutty-tasting flour lends a natural boost to the structure of gluten-free baked goods and tends to help them brown more quickly. Amaranth flour may have a bitter aftertaste so it should be used sparingly (½ to ¾ cup per recipe). This flour works best in recipes with brown sugar or maple syrup to balance its taste. (¼ cup yields 3 grams fiber and 4 grams protein.)
2 Buckwheat, despite its name, is not a wheat; it’s a fruit from the polygonaceae family, which also includes rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat has a robust flavor that combines well with other gluten-free flours. A great source of protein (eight essential amino acids), this flour is high in fiber and B vitamins. It’s available in light, medium and dark varieties; light buckwheat flour is usually preferred for baking. For breads and rolls, use up to 1 cup per recipe to impart a taste and texture that comes close to whole wheat. Use less when baking delicate cookies or pies. (¼ cup contains 6 grams fiber and 5 grams protein.)
3 Flaxseed Meal is high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Whole flax seed is not digestible so buy flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed) or make your own by grinding the seeds in a clean coffee grinder. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of flaxseed meal per recipe for baked goods or sprinkle it on yogurt or cereal for a nutritional boost. Store in the refrigerator or freezer. Flaxseed meal can be soaked in warm liquid and used to replace egg in many recipes, like Flaxseed Meal Chickpea Rolls. One tablespoon flaxseed meal soaked in 3 tablespoons warm liquid is equal to one egg. (2 tablespoons yields 4 grams fiber and 3 grams protein.)
4 Chickpea (garbanzo) flour is high in protein, fiber and calcium. Other bean flours are terrific additions to gluten-free baking, as well. Varieties available as flour include bean (navy, pinto and red) and soy. Garfava flour is a blend of flours made from garbanzo, fava and Romano beans. Because certain bean flours, particularly garfava and chickpea, impart an aftertaste that some people find unpleasant, these flours should be used in small amounts, less than 30 percent of your recipe’s total flour blend.
Try mixing bean flours with tapioca starch/flour, cornstarch and sorghum flour for a hearty, nutritious blend that lends structure and texture to baking. Bean flours work well in breads, pizza and piecrust. A small amount (¼ to ½ cup) added to piecrust or wrap recipes makes these items more elastic and easier to roll out. Use in recipes containing brown sugar, molasses, chocolate or spices. (¼ cup yields 5 grams fiber and 6 grams protein.)
5 Millet is an ancient food, possibly the first cereal grain used for domestic purposes. Today, millet feeds a third of the world’s population. Nutrient-rich millet flour has a mildly sweet, nut-like flavor. This high-protein, high-fiber flour creates light baked goods with a distinctive flavor. For best results, use no more than 25 percent millet flour in any flour blend. (¼ cup yields 4 grams fiber and 3 grams protein.)
6 Quinoa flour, milled from a grain that’s native to the Andes mountains in South America, has high levels of calcium, protein, complex carbohydrates, phosphorous, iron, fiber and B vitamins. This flour is easy to digest and has a delicate, nutty flavor similar to wild rice. Mix it with other flours to increase the nutritional value of your recipes but avoid using it in large quantities (no more than 25 to 30 percent of the total flour blend), as it can overpower the flavor of your baked goods. (¼ cup yields 4 grams fiber and 4 grams protein.)
7 Sorghum (milo/jowar) flour is available in red and white varieties. It has a slightly sweet taste and is high in protein, fiber, phosphorous, potassium and B vitamins. It works best when blended with other flours. Use no more than 30 percent sorghum flour in any flour blend. Sorghum flour is darker in color than many other flours, so it isn’t a good choice for baked goods that you want to look white. Use sorghum flour as an integral component of an all-purpose flour blend or a high-protein blend (pages 29 and 64). (¼ cup yields 3 grams fiber and 4 grams protein.)
Ready, Set, Bake!
Baking with power flours is not rocket science. In fact, it’s easy once you learn these simple techniques and tips.
- Gluten-free baking requires a combination of flours. No single flour will do the trick. To avoid a heavy, dense texture in your baked goods, use up to 30 percent of any one flour. Generally, this means no more than 1½ cups of one flour for every 4 to 5 cups of flour blend. The exception is the strong-flavored flours, like chickpea and millet, which can overpower delicate baked goods. For these you can use a little less, about ¾ to 1 cup for every 4 to 5 cups of flour blend.
- It’s not difficult to create your own flour mix, based on your individual tastes and recipe needs. Here’s a working formula for a healthy all-purpose flour blend:
1½ cups power flour (amaranth, buckwheat, chickpea, millet, quinoa, sorghum)
1 cup neutral flour (white rice, brown rice flour, corn flour)
1 cup starch (tapioca, corn, potato)
½ cup alternate starch (one not used above)
This equation was applied to create High Protein Power Flour Blend.
Note that most power flours are interchangeable in equal amounts (not flaxseed meal, chickpea or millet flour). Neutral flours are interchangeable in equal amounts. Flours are not interchangeable with starches, as they have different baking properties.
- Store power flours in airtight glass containers with a wide mouth so you can measure over the container.
- To be on the safe side, refrigerate all gluten-free flours. This is particularly true for power flours with higher fat and protein content, such as amaranth flour and flaxseed meal, which spoil quickly at room temperature.
- Allow refrigerated flours to return to room temperature before you use them, unless the recipe states otherwise.
- Use a wire whisk to get rid of flour clumps before you measure.
- Be careful of contamination. If possible, purchase flour from a manufacturer that uses a dedicated wheat-free, gluten-free facility. Companies that produce both wheat and non-wheat products often mill and process them in the same location. Particles can linger in the air and on equipment surfaces. Most companies clean the equipment between the processing of different flours but that doesn’t guarantee against contamination.
- Experiment until you find the power flours that you like best for your dishes. If you don’t care for buckwheat flour, for example, try replacing it with an equal amount of quinoa or amaranth flour.
Orange Date Amaranth Muffins
MAKES 12 3-INCH MUFFINS
Orange juice and dates flavor these tasty muffins. Thanks to high protein and nutrient values, just one is filling. Amaranth flour can be replaced with an equal amount of buckwheat, millet or quinoa flour. For best results, do not replace the eggs in this recipe.
1¼ cups High-Protein Power Flour Blend
¾ cup amaranth flour
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons dried orange peel
1 cup orange juice
2 large eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup chopped dates or raisins
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with muffin papers. (For a pretty presentation, pick papers that are 1¼-inches high).
2. In a large bowl, combine flour blend, amaranth flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and orange peel. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, whisk together orange juice, eggs and oil. Whisk into dry ingredients, just to combine. Fold in dates.
4. Divide batter evenly among 12 prepared muffin cups. They will be quite full.
5. Set in the middle of preheated oven and lower the temperature to 375°. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
6. Turn muffins onto a wire rack and cool completely before storing or serve slightly warm.
Each muffin contains 200 calories, 7g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 35mg cholesterol, 312mg sodium, 31g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 3 protein.
Dairy Free and Egg Free
MAKES 12 ROLLS
A mixture of flaxseed meal and warm soy milk or rice milk replaces eggs and helps create lift in these wholesome vegan rolls.
1½ cups soy, rice or almond milk, divided, more as needed
4 tablespoons flax meal
2¼ cups High-Protein Power Flour Blend
¾ cup chickpea flour or buckwheat flour
1½ teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons instant active or dry active yeast
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup shelled, raw sunflower seeds
3 teaspoons poppy seeds
3 tablespoons safflower oil
3 tablespoons honey
1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Heat ¾ cup milk until very warm. Combine with flax meal and let sit until very thick, about 10 minutes.
3. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer or a medium-size mixing bowl, combine flour blend, chickpea flour, xanthan gum, salt, yeast and baking powder and blend well. Add sunflower and poppy seeds and blend.
4. Warm remaining ¾ cup milk. In a separate bowl, combine oil, honey and milk. Add to dry ingredients and add flaxseed meal mixture. Beat for 3 to 5 minutes or until smooth and thick. Add additional warm milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, as needed, to create a smooth and shiny dough.
5. Using a ¼-cup scoop, drop dough in roll-size pieces onto prepared baking sheets. Smooth rolls using a sheet of oiled plastic wrap. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size.
6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush tops with additional milk, if desired, for a shiny finish. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a roll comes away clean.
TIP For Flaxseed Meal Chickpea Bread, lightly oil a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Transfer dough to prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise to the top of the pan. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 190°F to 200°F.
Each roll contains 209 calories, 7g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 434mg sodium, 33g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 5g protein.
Hearty and Flavorful
MAKES 18 4½-inch PANCAKES
Here’s the ultimate breakfast comfort food. Applesauce can successfully replace eggs in these light, yet hearty, pancakes. If using applesauce rather than eggs, increase griddle temperature to 375°F and cook pancakes 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
1 cup High-Protein Power Flour Blend
¾ cup buckwheat flour or millet flour
⅓ cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1¾ cups milk, soy milk or rice milk
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup honey
3 large eggs or ¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
1. Preheat a griddle to medium (350°F).
2. Whisk together the flours, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, combine milk, vegetable oil, honey and eggs (or applesauce). Add liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix gently with a fork, just to combine.
4. Spray the griddle with vegetable oil or lightly grease the surface.
5. For each pancake, spoon ¼ cup batter onto the griddle and cook until bubbles begin to form on the surface and edges start to dry, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook another 2 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom.
6. Serve warm or keep warm in an oven set on low heat.
Each pancake contains 126 calories, 5g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 38mg cholesterol, 141mg sodium, 18g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 3g protein.
Quinoa Sesame “Wonder” Bread
MAKES 1 LARGE LOAF (16 slices)
The light texture of Wonder Bread combines with the sophistication of an artisan loaf. Sesame seeds add a bit of a gourmet flare and quinoa flour delivers extra nutrients. This recipe loses its light texture with an egg substitute.
1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1⅛ cups quinoa flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup + 1 tablespoon tapioca starch/flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3½ teaspoons xanthan or guar gum
1½ teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten, or 1½ tablespoons arrowroot + ⅛ cup water
1⅛ cups warm water (105° to 110°F)
3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
2¼ teaspoons instant active or active dry yeast
1. Lightly oil a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and stir until they begin to brown. Remove from heat and cool.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sesame seeds, quinoa flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch/flour, brown sugar, xanthan gum and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs (or egg substitute), water and oil. Add the liquids and the yeast to the dry ingredients and beat for 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed until the mixture is smooth. The dough will be thick.
4. Scrape dough into prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula to smooth the top. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise to the top of the pan, about 40 to 60 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake bread in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before slicing. Slice and freeze any remaining bread after two days.
Each slice contains 140 calories, 4g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 40mg cholesterol, 236mg sodium, 22g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 1g protein.
To make Quinoa Sesame “Wonder” Bread in a bread machine (1½- to 2-pound capacity), combine toasted sesame seeds with the dry ingredients (except for the yeast) in a large bowl. Combine the wet ingredients in separate bowl. In the baking pan, add the dry ingredients, wet ingredients and yeast in the order recommended for your machine. Set the machine for quick cycle, white bread or programmable cycle.
If the machine can be programmed, omit one knead and one rise cycle. If necessary, use a rubber spatula to assist the mixing during the kneading cycle. Use a lightly oiled spatula to smooth top after the knead cycle has finished. Remove the loaf when the bake cycle ends. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before slicing.
MAKES 3¾ CUPS
This multi-purpose, multi-grain blend packs a good amount of protein and fiber.
1½ cups sorghum flour
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup tapioca starch/flour
½ cup cornstarch or potato starch (not potato flour)
3 teaspoons xanthan gum
1½ teaspoons salt
1. Blend well. Place in tightly sealed container and refrigerate.
Each ¼ cup contains 121 calories, 1g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 234mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 2g protein.
Reprinted with permission from Gluten-Free Makeovers (Da Capo Press), by Beth Hillson.