Gluten Free Substitutions, Part 1: An Introduction

by Jenn on July 11, 2010

in GF Substitutions,Gluten Free


I don’t know if you remember, but a while back I said I wanted to develop a guide to gluten free substitutions.  The gluten free online /cookbook communities are full of many many great and diverse recipes to replace just about any glutenicious food you might have missed, from tarte shells to puff pastries and virtually everything in between.  Being able to cook and bake rather than relying solely on processed food products is incredibly freeing.  Hopefully this new weekly feature here on Jenn Cuisine will help liberate your cooking and give you more confidence in your gluten free kitchen!

So let’s start with the simplest case, the one we all tried to master first when we found out we were going to be cooking gluten free – the one that answers the questions of – What types of dishes are the easiest to make gluten free?  Where I can just throw in an ingredient and not worry about how it will come out?  Like making a quick pasta dish using gluten free pasta, or using gluten free cookies to make a cookie crumb crust.

_PAG0942crust copy

We’ll start our journey here, with the basics, the easiest ways to substitute ingredients in order to make a dish gluten free.  In these cases, it’s not really any more difficult than making the original dish, it’s just knowing what your options are.  Knowing what you can do is just as important as knowing what is off limits.  And learning even just some of the small adaptations that are possible to convert a dish can open up your culinary diversity immensely.  Being able to thicken a sauce means opening such doors as a simple béchemel sauce for topping chicken cordon bleu to a fancy mac & cheese.  Neither of these require any particular gluten free voodoo, they just require you knowing that you can make them gluten free.  In my opinion, these are the best dishes to start with.

PAG2801bleu-332x500Gluten Free Mac & Cheese

Next, we’ll move to a bit more intermediate level of gluten free substitutions.  As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m terrible at following directions.  Not that I can’t follow them, but frequently I choose not to, usually for convenience or cost reasons.  In fact, making substitutions to other gluten free recipes is probably one of the most common forms of substitutions that I do – and some of you may be wanting to do the same!

For example, say you found an awesome gluten free recipe you’re just dying to try, but it includes some crazy expensive/exotic ingredients that you either a) can’t find or b) can’t justify paying for.  What do you do?  How do you rework the ingredients that you have/can easily get in order to make the recipe successful for you? What ingredients can’t you do without, and which can you compromise on?  I’d argue that these are easier questions to answer in the world of gluten free baking compared to coming up with your own recipes.  What works easiest for me is to break down gluten free ingredients into three major groups: flours, starches, and binding agents.  I do my best to keep the ratios of these ingredients the same as the original recipe I am working from, and then do any substitutions from within each group.  Gluten free substituting is not a black box though, and some recipes are more sensitive to changes than others.  I find that straying too far from the ratios of these ingredients can give some less desirable results. For example, this was supposed to be delicious fluffy gluten free sandwich bread.  But not including a binding agent meant they were destined for flatbread rounds instead:


When a recipe has been developed with a certain set of ingredients in mind, there’s most likely  a very good reason for it!  We’ll be moving through each group of ingredients, I’ll give you some of the guidelines I’ve made for myself to follow, and then discuss how they may (or may not) work together when transforming gluten free recipes.

Lastly, my end goal is to help provide some more detail into my guidelines for adapting a regular glutenicious recipe to be gluten free.  You know, the kinds that don’t require simple one ingredient substitutions.  I’ll go through some case examples of recipes I’ve adapted – both successes and failures.  We can talk together, engage in dialogue.  Learn what thought process to go through, what works, and what doesn’t.  I expect this to be a learning experience for both me and you – as you know I’m not expert in gluten free recipe development, but sometimes I’ve gotten lucky.  I’m finding lately now that I’m either “getting lucky” more often or I’m actually starting to figure things out (hmm maybe my wishful thinking? lol). And of course, with everything, it always takes practice – like the crust for this quiche, I think I could make it in my sleep now.


But this part won’t be just about me “teaching” you, because I’m sure you have a lot of great experiences to share as well!  The thing that makes the wonderful network of gluten free cooks online so great is the over-arching sense of community.  We are all here to help each other, to support each other.  I’d be hard-pressed to find a bunch more tight-knit and supportive than the gluten free folks I’ve met/interacted with.  Without you all I (and this blog) surely wouldn’t have come as far as I have today.  So let’s continue our exchange of ideas, and learn from one another.  A total of 15 parts are planned, with a final 16th part from you!  The very end will culminate in a roundup of some of your lovely recipe adaption experiences – more details will follow soon, I promise :)


So join me in this new weekly series!  From now on I’ll be posting each installment to this series 12:00 a.m. Mondays, my timezone (GMT +1).  I expect it will be as informative for me as it will be for you – together we can help each other become better gluten free cooks!

Also linked to – Gluten Free Wednesdays