Annalise Roberts (AR): I had done a lot of baking before I was diagnosed with celiac. I thought about how I baked with wheat and I realized that I used just two flours for the most part - an all purpose flour and a bread flour. I wanted my gluten-free baking to mimic my wheat baking as much as possible. I didn't want to have to reach for flour or five different flours every time I baked.
As a result, my recipes are carefully calibrated to use just two flour mixes: my Brown Rice Flour Mix (my all purpose flour) for cake, pie, muffins and cookies and my Bread Flour Mix (my bread flour) for crusty, chewy artisan loaves and tender sandwich breads. (i.e. I don't use white rice flour mixes at all).
My flour mixes are made up of whole grains (brown rice for the all purpose and millet and sorghum for the bread) that helps vary the taste, improve nutrition, add structure, and helps keep my baked goods fresher than gluten-free baked goods made with all white starch flours. The starches help lighten and improve the texture.
LTK: How do you feel about almond flour and coconut flour in comparison to the traditional white rice mix?
AR: Although I love to use almond flour in macaroons and a few other cake and torte recipes designed for it, I don't use it a lot. And I don't use coconut flour in any of my baking, although I have tried it. First, they are typically expensive and more fragile than even the whole grains I am using (they go rancid quickly). But more critical for me - my goal is to create classic baked goods with gluten-free flours.
Almond flour and coconut flour just can't give you a classic vanilla cake or chocolate chip cookie. I don't want people to notice a difference between my gluten-free baked goods and really good wheat baked goods.
Cakes, muffins, breads, cookies made with almond and coconut flour taste faintly of almond and coconut and have a different texture. There is no getting around it. They can be delicious! But they aren't classic in the traditional sense.
LTK: What do you feel is the greatest challenge for a gluten-free baker?
AR: The biggest problem that bakers have is knowing how to convert recipes. Many use a variety of flours and so they never develop a learning curve about how the flours work together. It isn't a matter of weight, as it is in wheat flour baking. All purpose wheat flour and bread flours are much more consistent in how they behave then say for example, extra finely ground brown rice flour and gritty sorghum flour, or tapioca starch and potato starch. The same weight of different flours equals different taste and textures equals a different baked good and no consistency in end product.
LTK: What are the hardest recipes to recreate without gluten?
AR: The hardest baked goods to recreate are good artisan breads because bakers rely on the gluten in the wheat and complex proofing techniques to give their breads the taste and textures they desire. Gluten-free bread doughs are softer, less sturdy and as a result, more reliant on the characteristics of the flours in the mix for their complexity.
Expert Baking Tips
LTK: Any tips regarding how to get a gluten-free pie crust to hold together?
AR: I use my brown rice flour mix, a touch of sweet rice flour for tenderness, and a bit of xanthan gum to help give it the structure it needs. I cut in cold butter and then mix in an egg for more structure and richness.
LTK: Lastly, what are your tricks for mimicking the soft spongy feel of glutinous baked goods with gluten-free ingredients? This always seems to be the main hurdle for so many baking recipes.
AR: There are several tricks. The first is to start with a really good wheat recipe, the best you can find. Then, mix whole grains with starches, use as little xanthan gum as you can to get a good rise (too much and the baked good becomes dense), and replace butter with canola oil when possible (helps lighten).
Many GF bakers will say that GF baked goods need more liquid and eggs, but I think that if you have the right recipe and right flour mix, they typically require less liquid. And I've never added an extra egg or egg white to any of my recipes.
Learn for Yourself
Trying the recipes in Analise's books is a great way to start developing expert GF baking skills of your own.