Why rice you may ask? Well, our family can go through a 50-pound bag of rice from Costco in a month and I’m not talking about the rice I use for baking. With my love of Asian food and my husband’s Japanese heritage, we usually have at least one bowl of rice with our main meal of the day. Rice is also relatively inexpensive and widely available. It only seemed natural that I use what was at hand, as I began my journey into gluten free baking that I start with something familiar and branch out from there.
I also decided that I wasn’t going to make a flour blend. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get a bunch of little bags of flour, figure out the amounts, dump them into a bigger container and hope I mix it well enough so that the mixture is homogeneous. I think it is much easier to have a few larger containers in the fridge with my main ingredients and a few little bags in the door of the fridge for my additives than have a giant bucket that sits in the pantry waiting for me to be inspired. Considering that half the flours I like are stored in the refrigerator section of my local health foods store, I would rather keep them in there than on a shelf in the pantry because the bucket doesn’t fit.
When it comes to grinding rice, I’ve learned to do it by ear. You do it often enough you can tell when the rice has changed from grains into flour. It just has a quieter sound, like sand vs. small rocks. I also measure my rice as I put it into the grinder, usually grinding ¼ cup at a time. This will vary from grinder to grinder. If you have a counter-top grain mill that is dedicated to gluten free flours it would more than likely be very easy to measure out your entire amount and grind it that way; making sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
When I convert a recipe, I will use brown rice in place of white rice, sorghum, almond, chickpea or whatever the main type of rice is in the recipe. Brown rice has a nutty flavor that is on the mild side and it is very versatile. Brown rice does take more moisture in a recipe than white rice and I usually use a 1:1 ratio of rice flour to liquid when I convert the recipe. For example, if I use 1 ½ cups brown rice in a recipe, I’ll use 1 ½ cups of liquid. If I use white rice, say I ran out of brown and I won’t be able to get to the store until tomorrow, I would use 1 ½ cups of white rice and 1 cup of liquid; making sure to add more if the dough feels too dry. The best thing about grinding my own rice flour is it is economical. I can buy a 20 lb bag of brown rice at Costco and turn it into flour for about $.70 a lb, which is almost half of what you would spend on store bought rice flour. One thing to note is that rice (and most other gluten free flour for that matter) has more calories than wheat; 574 per cup of brown rice flour to 407 per cup of whole-wheat flour. If you are looking to lose weight by going gluten free, you might want to keep that in mind.
In the last few months, I have started branching out into using different flours in my cooking. I have found that quinoa (KEEN-wah) flour, though it turns all my dough a slightly yellow color, adds protein to my recipes and I do like its flavor in combination with other flours. I have been known to substitute quinoa for millet or sorghum in a recipe, but I don’t think I like the flavor enough to use just straight quinoa. This flour has an advantage as it contains the highest amount of protein for a vegetable source as well as being a complete protein. This is a good one to use when I think the kids have been skimping on their protein and I just want to give them a little boost without them knowing it. I also like the economics of this one as I can buy a 5 lb bag at Costco of the prewashed (very important to have it either washed or prewashed as it has a coating that is bitter) and bring it home and grind it myself. I also like to use it in combination with oat flour.
Now oats are a little controversial in the gluten free community. It still bothers some people even if they buy the gluten free oats. When I use it, I try not to eat more than one serving a day. I do eat it all the time, but in moderation so as not to upset my already fussy digestive system. This one is also easy to buy the whole oats, such as Bob’s Red Mill GF oats, and grind it in your coffee grinder or food processor. The food processor is great if you want a coarse grind such as a substitution for quick oats in your favorite cookie recipe, but the coffee grinder does a great job of making fine flour. I like this flour for pancakes or cookies as it is fluffy and light. I have yet to try this, but I hear it is good in scones, as that was the original flour used in scones. It is also a type of flour I have yet to like as a standalone flour.
Sorghum has a nutty flavor that is stronger than rice and the flour feels courser than rice does. I like using this flour as part of a recipe if I want a nuttier flavor by just adding some to equal the original amount of flour used in a particular recipe. Some recipes require sorghum flour because of the flavor and texture it provides. I don’t think it would be possible to make a good pita bread without this flour. There is just something about sorghum that makes gluten free pita bread taste like its gluten filled original. However, I have yet to find a local seller of whole sorghum that I can grind myself inexpensively, so I use this only occasionally in my recipes.
Potato starch is a staple in my recipes. I usually use at least 2 Tablespoons in my dry ingredients just to add a little lightness to the dough. It works great as a thickener, much like cornstarch, and I use it in combination with sesame meal for dusting chicken, fish, or tofu before deep-frying them. In addition, a rule of thumb of mine is that if I have starch in the recipe and I need to knead, I use that starch for dusting the table or pastry frame, vs. the flour, as it helps the dough to become more elastic without making it dry. This is the same for arrowroot starch, but I usually only use arrowroot for cookies or if I just have to have a starch and the store is all out of potato starch as arrowroot has a stronger flavor.
White Sesame Seeds:
I use sesame meal as I mentioned above, but I also like it when I make a roux or as a replacement for Parmesan cheese in a savory dish. I also grind my own when I make hummus in place of tahini, because I never go through tahini fast enough to warrant buying a whole jar of it. I usually just get the toasted white sesame seeds that can be found in many an Asian section in the grocery story. The Japanese use sesame seed a lot in their home cooking in conjunction with miso and I hope to share some of those recipes with you in the future.
I use flax seed, from that little blue flower pictured on the right, mainly as an egg replacer. The mixture I use is one tablespoon of flax seed, grinding it, then adding 3 tablespoons of hot water and letting it rest for about 10 minutes before adding it to the recipe. This amount is equivalent to replacing one egg. I do not use more than two eggs worth of flax seed to a recipe as it is not a strong enough ‘glue’ to bind a recipe that requires a lot of eggs. If you are vegan by choice or just egg sensitive some dishes are just not easy to recreate without using eggs. Really, don’t try to make a soufflé with flax seed. However, there are very good cake recipes out there that don’t have much in the way of egg or egg replacer that are perfectly light and fluffy. It’s also an added bonus that flax seed is a great source of omega 3 oils and no cholesterol. I also love to toss a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseed into my smooties, just for the omegas.
Guar gum has a funny name, but it is what replaces gluten in baked goods. Made from a bean, this powder is generally used 1 tsp to a cup of flour blend, depending on the dough. I add more gum if I want a really sturdy dough, like pizza dough, or less if I want a hint of glue, like pumpkin pie. I use this in place of xanthan gum as I did a little research and they grow xanthan on corn and soy, so if you are sensitive to either one it could cause you some problems. If you are sensitive to the legume family (beans) however, you can easily replace the amounts for guar with xanthan. The other bonus of guar gum is that it costs about 1/3 of xanthan, but it can be harder to find at the grocery store, as xanthan is more popular.
Cream of Tartar:
Again, a funny name but very useful if you want light and fluffy. Cream of tartar is the other half of the mix with baking soda to create baking powder. It is also common in meringue. I stay away from baking powder because of my son’s corn sensitivity because cornstarch is used as filler in baking powder. There are corn free baking powders out there, but this way I have a little more room in my spice cabinet and more money in my budget for other things. The conversion from baking powder to baking soda/cream of tartar is 2 teaspoons baking powder to ½-teaspoon baking soda and 1-teaspoon cream of tartar. I’ve also noticed that with being at a higher altitude it is always better to have a little more cream of tartar than not enough. If you are at a lower elevation, or your recipe comes out too high, you can always back off on the cream of tartar by a little bit.