Editor's Note: I've been a huge fan of Aki and Alex of the blog Ideas in Food ever since I was a little chef-ling burning meat as a line cook in Boston. In fact, talk to any cook of my generation and ask them what they were reading when they were learning to cook, and chances are Ideas in Food will come up. It's the prototypical food nerd's cooking blog, packed with crazy ideas and inventive techniques.
Their first two books, Ideas in Food and Maximum Flavor were game-changers in culinary writing, proof that any cook can always learn new tricks. With their newest book, Gluten-Free Flour Power, they turn their considerable intellect to gluten-free recipes, developing unique solutions for folks who maintain a gluten-free diet. For the next couple weeks, we'll be featuring recipes and writing from the book, starting with three variations on a gluten-free flour substitute that will work in any flour-based recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. The full book is available for purchase right now. —Kenji
Get the Recipes
Gluten-free food is not a fad. It's here to stay. For a variety of reasons, mostly health-related, a good percentage of the population now chooses not to eat gluten. You don't have to have made that choice yourself to need a few great gluten-free recipes in your back pocket; you simply have to want to cook for someone who has.
This is exciting for us, because we love a challenge. When chefs started calling us to teach gluten-free workshops, we knew we had to step up our game. It's not enough to create recipes that are "great for gluten-free"; we wanted to create great recipes that just happened to be gluten-free. Leaving out the gluten was a crucial parameter in developing these recipes, but the defining measures of success were taste and flavor.
Making Flours Work Like Wheat
Let's start with the basics. At its core, wheat flour is a hydrocolloid, which means it absorbs water and creates gels. Wheat flours, which consist mostly of starch, are classified by their protein content. The amount of protein in the flour is what dictates the elasticity of your bread or pasta dough. Gluten is formed when two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, absorb water or another liquid. Gliadin is sticky and stretchy, giving dough extensibility, and glutenin adds strength and elasticity to a dough. Elasticity ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼refers to the ability of a dough to spring back after it has been stretched. These two proteins work in concert to create gluten.
When gluten absorbs water (a process known as hydration), it forms long, stretchy, elastic strands that define the structure of a batter or dough. Then when you cook it, the heat causes the starch granules to swell up, thickening and forming irreversible bonds with the water, the process called gelatinization. As the water inside the protein network heats, it changes into steam, which forces the network to expand; this is steam leavening. The final step is coagulation. Once the proteins reach a high enough temperature (165°F), they begin to solidify, setting the structure of the bread or cake.
If you don't develop enough gluten in your bread dough, it won't be able to stretch and the resulting bread will be heavy and dense. If you develop too much gluten in your cake batter, on the other hand, it will become too elastic and the cake will be tough and chewy. Finding the perfect balance with gluten is an art, and replacing gluten with something else entirely can be challenging.
Without the protein in wheat flour, you need to find a new way to build structure in your dough. We do this in our flour blends by using a combination of starches, gums, and proteins that mimics the effects of gluten. We've come up with three different blends to address a variety of dietary needs.
Making your own gluten-free flour may seem like an investment, and it may take some work to collect all the ingredients you'll need, but gram for gram, our homemade flour blends are less expensive than the gluten-free flours sold in stores. Once you've assembled your ingredients, all you need to do is whisk them together, and our blends have everything you need to recreate every gluten recipe in your recipe box.
Your All-Purpose Flour: What IiF Flour 3.0
What if you had a gluten-free flour that worked in any recipe as a gram-for-gram substitute for all-purpose flour? That was the question we asked ourselves when we developed this blend. "IiF" stand for Ideas in Food, our blog, where we published the very first version of this recipe. Alex came up with it for fun after reading the ingredient list on Cup4Cup flour (developed by Lena Kwak and chef Thomas Keller), and it worked beautifully. It's gone through a few changes since the original, hence the 3.0, but it remains the easiest gluten-free blend to work with. It mimics all-purpose flour in recipes, so you can use it as a gram-for-gram substitute anywhere.
The Whole Wheat Substitute: Batch-3 Flour
If you prefer a flour with the texture and flavor of whole wheat, give this one a try. Breads and cakes made with it have a slightly coarser texture and a more open crumb than those made with the other two blends. We eliminated corn products in this flour, swapping arrowroot for cornstarch to take advantage of its thickening power, added some sorghum flour for its sweet nutty flavor, and used guar gum instead of xanthan gum to add viscosity and elasticity. This flour has a slightly richer flavor than the What IiF flour, and results in a lighter texture than Aki's Blend.
For Food Allergies: Aki's Low-Allergy Blend
Alex named this Aki's Blend because she challenged him to come up with a flour blend without xanthan gum, guar gum, dairy, or soy. It's our low-allergen blend for people with multiple food sensitivities. It doesn't exclude all allergens, but it is as close as we could get to a gluten-free flour blend that just about anyone can use. The texture of baked goods made with it tends to be firmer and slightly chewier than what you get from What IiF Flour and Batch 3.