Anyone who has tried to bake a delicious, gluten-free cake and ended up with a dry, crumbly, flat sponge will know that free-from baking can be a minefield.
You see, gluten-free baking can be notoriously tricky – and expensive, too! From scratching your heads about which flour to use, to feeling confused about leavening and even oven temperatures, it can feel a little overwhelming.
Yet, with more and more people suffering from intolerances or choosing to limit their gluten intake, there’s never been a better time to get to grips with gluten-free baking. In fact, whether you fancy dabbling with ground almonds or teff flour, or perhaps adding a sprinkling of quinoa flour to your next batch of waffles, then there are plenty of choices out there.
If you’re thinking of creating your own free-from showstopper of a cake, then here are our top tips on getting the perfect gluten-free bake, every single time. Tie up your aprons, grab your whisk and let’s get baking!
1) Pick your recipe
Trying to make a light as air gluten-free sponge cake is not for the amateur baker. If you are new to GF baking, start with something with more structure and texture - they work really well even without gluten - for example our Flapjack mix makes great bakes with a few interesting additions like this Energy Bar recipe.
2) Pick Your Flour
Take a stroll down any supermarket free-from aisle and, chances are, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of gluten-free flours and options available. Nowadays, there are all sorts of free-from flour alternatives to try. For starters, there’s almond flour, amaranth, arrowroot, cornflour, tapioca starch, buckwheat, rice flour, socca (chickpea flour), potato starch, quinoa flour, coconut flour and teff flour.
The thing is, they all have different properties, tastes, and (believe it or not!) personalities. The key is to experiment! For example, buckwheat works beautifully in pancakes (check out ours!) or gluten-free pastries. We love teff flour in brownies, while ground almonds work a treat in flourless chocolate cakes. Meanwhile, chickpea flour makes a great gluten-free pizza base. The key is in experimenting – give each flour a go, and see what happens!
Just to complicate things a little more, though, it’s worth remembering that many of these flours won’t make a perfect bake on their own. The best results usually use a combination of gluten-free flours, such as almond flour for moisture mixed with arrowroot to provide structure.
And if you aren't up for experimenting, there are actually some pretty good flour blends now on the market. Take a look at Free From Fairy or Dove's plain flours. Both have a good blend for lighter style bakes.
3) Adjust Temperatures
Many of us have attempted a gluten-free cake, only to look in dismay in the oven at a flat, overly-browned (OK, you got us: black) sponge. The thing is, gluten-free cakes and bakes often brown faster on the outside than they cook on the inside.
For this reason, try lowering your oven temperature by 10-20C, and allow for a slightly longer cooking time.
4) Increase Leavening
Gluten-free bakes (bad ones, at least!) are infamous for being dense and heavy. Yet, with a little know-how, you can work on this. For a lighter, fluffier bake with plenty of rise, try upping your amounts of baking powder and bicarbonate of soda by around a quarter. For example, if a non-gluten-free recipe uses one teaspoon of baking powder, switch it up for 1 ¼ teaspoons instead.
5) Consider Some Gummy Help!
By its very name, gluten is the part of a bake which acts as the glue, binding ingredients together and providing stickiness. To avoid crumbly bakes, you may want to consider a helping hand from some gum.
You could try adding guar or xanthan gums to your cake mixes (although it’s worth considering that many sensitive tums struggle with xanthan gum), or you could use powdered gelatin or vegan-friendly agar agar instead. For breads and doughs, try using a teaspoon in your mix for every cup of flour used, and ½ a teaspoon for every cup of flour in cakes.
Of course, all gluten-free bakes are different, and you may not need any help at all! So, this is one to have a play and experiment with.
6) Add Moisture
To avoid those typically dry bakes, it’s crucial to get your moisture balance right! If you’re adapting from a beloved recipe, try to plump for recipes that are already high in moisture, such as carrot cake. Or simply add in your own moisture – grated courgette works a treat (bonus veggies!), and you could also try apple puree, pumpkin puree or slightly more butter or oil. When making cakes, a good rule of thumb is to aim for a batter that falls easily from the spoon. Try adding a spoon of water or milk at a time until you hit the perfect consistency! Just remember, you may need a longer cooking time if you are adding moisture.
Also, it may help to consider switching up your sugars, which hold moisture. This is why low-sugar gluten-free recipes can be a disaster. Instead of using white sugar, try using honey, maple syrup, or even dates and bananas – healthier, and handy for that all-important moistness.
7) Add More Flavour
When using stronger-tasting flours, such as buckwheat or brown rice flour, you may need to add an extra dash of flavour to help your cake stand out. We like to add plenty more vanilla (find a qood-quality paste or even powder in place of cheaper extracts of essences) and cinnamon to our favourite cake recipes!
8) Have Fun!
Our most important tip of all? Have fun, and enjoy experimenting! Let’s face it, we’ve all created some gluten-free disasters – and there will be many more where they came from! - but just smile and go with it. After all, it’s always fun to test cake, right?
And, if all else fails, you can fall back on our delicious gluten-free Sweetpea Mixes! Happy baking…