I used to love to bake when I was a kid–and OH, did I love to eat what I baked! When I was still in single digits, I had an Easy Bake Oven, which was just a plastic box with an incandescent lightbulb inside. I’d mix up the mix in the tiny bowl, and pour it into the tiny tin and use the plastic shoving tool to shove the tiny tin over the light bulb, and then wait. And then CAKE!
It was magical. And because it was a tiny tin, I got to eat the whole cake, myself.
Years later, when I was in college, I went back to that experience when I wanted to bake a cake for someone. I’d buy a box and the stuff listed on the box, follow the instructions, and then there would be a cake! It wasn’t quite as pretty as something from the bakery, but I could afford it, and it was fun to make it myself.
Eventually I graduated to box mixes with ingredients that weren’t listed on the box, and then finally trying out making things from scratch. I got pretty good at it, too. My favorite was to bake chocolate chip cookies using “grandma’s secret recipe” (read: the recipe on the bag of store-brand chips, which I liked much more than big brand name recipes).
But then disaster struck. I started getting sick any time I ate. Eventually I narrowed it down to anything that had flour in it, and well, you guessed it, anything that contained gluten. I had to stop baking. I had to give up what felt like a major part of myself–two major parts, really: the eating and the baking.
I tried gluten free baking, but everything turned out like bricks. There was no rise, a lot of times there was no color. They were dry and grainy. And I felt like a failure.
Now, one of my most favorite movies from the ‘80s is Mike Nichols’s Working Girl, which is about a young woman trying to break out of secretarial work and into the world of male-dominated Business. She comes up with a brilliant idea to help the CEO of a mega-corporation expand its reach, but her boss steals her idea and delicious drama ensues. Things happen, yadda yadda. It’s a great movie, and I highly recommend it. But anyway, near the end, the CEO tells a story about the giant big rig truck that gets stuck, wedged under a bridge. Nobody can figure out how to get it out from under the bridge. Finally, it’s a little girl that suggests letting the air out of the tires so that the truck can get free.
Little girls with their Easy Bake Ovens take the cake, y’all.
Once I went “let the air out” of my ego and went back to my Easy Bake roots, using gluten-free mixes to make baked goods (with a grown-up oven), things turned the corner for me. It turns out that baking gluten-free is a different skill set from baking with wheat. Like, the rules are completely different.
🧑🏻🍳 You want to measure by weight, not volume. Even when you’re baking with wheat, there’s a huge difference between sifted flour and packing it into your measuring cup, but that difference is magnified when you’re baking gluten free. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, I recommend OXO brand. You’re going to want a scale that can switch between grams and ounces/pounds. Honestly, many gluten-free recipes offer measurements in grams. It’s more precise than ounces. I also like that OXO scales have a pull out display so you can see around your larger mixing bowls. This one is great and can handle up to 11 lbs, for when you’re mixing big batches in your largest mixing bowls: https://amzn.to/3H0Uw1e *
💧Gluten-free flours absorb liquid at different rates. Some are incredibly thirsty–anyone who has ever tried to bake with coconut flour knows about this. Some need less liquid. Until you have an idea of which flours do what, be sure to follow recipes as written, so that you’ll have a successful bake.
⏲ Not only that, but they usually need a little bit more time to absorb the liquids. GF doughs and batters like to rest 15-30 minutes at least before they go in the oven. I’ve also seen plenty of recipes that call for the dough resting in the fridge overnight. This is important! Let your dough rest.
🥣 Different GF flours also each have different ratios of starch to protein, which affects the structure of the bake. You may be able to replace one starchy flour for another, but it starts getting tricky when you try to sub out a starchy flour for a protein flour.
🥄 One-to-one flours are sold as gluten-free replacements for wheat flour. This is true to a point, but each flour has its own strengths and weaknesses–and flavor. Some are better for pastries, some for bread, some for cookies, some for cakes, just like how you could find wheat flour that’s sold as all-purpose, bread flour, or cake flour. There is no one flour that Just Works for everything.
In short, if you’re missing all your favorite baked goods, making them yourself is an excellent option. Just remember that you’re new at this and prepare accordingly. And never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.
I’d love to hear your story of a skill that you have. Were you always this good at it?
Stay strong and keep reading your labels!
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