FAQ

These are some of the most common questions I receive in emails and comments. I am collecting them here for easy reference. This section will be expanded/updated frequently!

Q: I can't eat/can't find (ingredient). What can I substitute?
A: This depends on the ingredient and what function it contributes to the recipe. Sometimes, it may be necessary to make additional changes for the recipe to work well, due to the properties of individual ingredients and the interactions between certain ingredients. Other times, an ingredient is interchangeable with other ingredients in the same category (see below). **All flour/starch substitutions must be measured by weight - the density of different flours can vary too much for accurate volume measurement.**

  • Generally speaking, starches can be used interchangeably. (Examples: tapioca, potato starch, arrowroot, corn starch)
  • Generally speaking, whole-grain/bean flours can be used interchangeably. (Examples: buckwheat flour, brown rice flour, sorghum flour, garbanzo flour, pea flour, quinoa flour, millet flour, amaranth flour, teff flour.)
That said, there are subtler differences in their properties - while a recipe may technically still work, the texture, flavor, or appearance may be altered. The larger the proportion of a single flour in a recipe, the more noticeable these differences will be. There are also some exceptions to keep in mind - these include:

Oats: if you've ever made oatmeal, you've probably noticed that oats become more gel-like or gluey than most other grains. This is not due to gluten (which oats do not produce), but rather a type of polysaccharide called beta-glucan - it binds water in a way that is similar to some of the binding meals we use. Some recipes take advantage of this property, so substitutions that cannot provide these properties may not work as written. If you need to substitute, try using one or more whole-grain/bean flours, along with adding/slightly increasing the quantity of psyllium husk, chia seed, and/or flaxseed. 

Sweet rice: There are two kinds of starch: amylose, and amylopectin. When we talk about starch, we are actually talking about both of these types, which are present in varying proportion depending on the starch source. Sweet rice's starch is ~100% amylopectin, with no amylose - this gives it its particular sticky, gummy qualities and results in a starch with a much slower rate of retrogradation (recrystallization of starch, which we perceive as a "dry" or hard texture in breads). No other readily-available flour has such a high proportion of amylopectin ("sticky" variants of sorghum, corn, and some other foods exist, but to my knowledge, none of these are currently available to home bakers). This makes substitution tricky if a recipe depends on the properties of amylopectin, for instance if you will be pre-gelatinizing the starch, as for pate a choux. Tapioca may make a decent substitute, depending on the recipe - its starch is ~83% amylopectin, slightly higher than most sources.  

Nuts: Flour/meal made from oily seeds, such as pepita (pumpkin seed) or sunflower seeds, can be used in place of almond or hazelnut meal. Chestnut flour is starchy rather than oily - if you need a substitute for chestnut, I suggest light buckwheat flour, bean/pea flour, sorghum or other grain flour, or a combination of these.

Psyllium: A small number of people are allergic to psyllium husks. Its binding properties can be approximated by using other binders, though there are some additional factors to consider. Psyllium husks nearly dissolve into the texture of breads, while whole-seed binders like chia and flax are a bit more noticeable. Using a gum in place of psyllium may result in a denser, more cakelike texture. If you cannot use psyllium, I'd recommend experimenting with a combination of guar gum and chia and/or flax in varying proportions, along with possibly adding/slightly increasing the amount of pectin. (I don't have a lot of experience with substitutions for psyllium yet - if you find something that works, please let me know!)

Q: Why do gluten-free recipes call for so many flours? Can't I just use one? 
A: I keep a lot of different flours in my pantry because they all have different properties that I like exploring. Kind of like having a large range of different spices. These differences include things like how much water the flour absorbs, what kind of texture it contributes, its flavor, and its structural properties. Flours are combined to get a balance of these properties - this is partly down to personal preference as far as how distinct or subtle you want certain qualities to be. (Again, like spices, consider the difference between using one spice versus a more complex seasoning blend.) Some people like to use one "all-purpose" blend for everything - these blends tend to be formulated to absorb liquid in the same proportions as wheat flour. However, I feel this kind of limits the potential of having such a wide variety of flours available. I generally prefer tailoring flour blends to each recipe depending on what qualities I want. The resulting flour combinations are just one way of doing things. In fact, I rarely make exactly the same thing twice, because I have so much fun finding different ways to make something good!
Some recipes do use just one flour. These include a lot of traditionally-GF recipes, such as nut meal cookies, potato starch cakes, and a variety of single-flour flatbreads.

Q: Why do you sometimes post pictures of bread with no recipe??
A: I hope to share the recipes soon! But I have big plans that require me to keep certain recipes under wraps for now. A more detailed explanation can be found in this post


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