Gluten Free Substitutions Part VIII: The Flours

by Jenn on August 30, 2010

in Flops,GF Substitutions,Gluten Free

2 cups of gluten free flour Rolling out the Détrampe

Welcome to the next installment of of the gluten free substitutions series here on Jenn Cuisine!  We’re currently in the process of investigating various GF baking ingredients, and why they may or may not be useful.  Last week I did a post about starches and why they can be important in baking, and previously I had discussed various binding agents to use.  So this week we are pressing on to the flours!

Truth be told, at the moment I’m not feeling so awesome about my abilities to discuss gluten free flours with you .  I had a bit of a baking flop this weekend.  I mean a real flop.  I attempted puff pastry.  Maybe I was being too ambitious? I don’t think so, after all there is more than one very successful looking gluten free puff pastry recipe out on the web, namely by Jeanne of Four Chickens and Helene of Tartelette.  My last gluten free puff pastry attempt unfortunately didn’t puff.  Yesterday, neither did this attempt.  After talking to the Twitterverse I don’t think it was all from my flour combo, instead I am thinking it is also my lack of decent puff pastry skills.  But I did use some less starchy flours, and maybe that also contributed to its downfall.

Oh well, everyone is allowed a flop here or there.   Maybe one day someone can teach me exactly how to do this and show me when I go astray… until then just don’t expect to see any cute little vols-au-vents here on the site!

Folding the butter packet
Once I’ve decided on a starch:flour ratio to use for a recipe, my flour choices are actually pretty simplistic.  My main determining factor? Taste and coarseness.  I’ve learned that if you use a coarser grained flour (like my amaranth flour is) and no finer stuff (like my white rice flour), then things fall apart more.  But other than that my logic is not so complicated.  I’ll sum up in a few bullets the main things that go on in my head when picking flours:

  • READ the package.  Just because it’s sorghum doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be GF. “may contain gluten” or “produced on machinery shared with gluten” are a bummer, but don’t take the chance if you are gluten intolerant/celiac!
  • Choose at least 2 flours to go along with the starch and binding agent
  • Don’t have more than 1/3 total GF mix as bean flours, they’ll taste too strong
  • Don’t have more than 1/3 total GF mix as coarse flours (quinoa, amaranth, etc.) else things will fall apart
  • Make sure at least one flour is of a medium/finer grain
  • And I will add – for things you are going to be rolling out, go higher on the starchiness/finer flours!

So what is my grand list?  Everyone likes to see lists.  I like to see lists.  They help me immensely to make sense of things, and the many ingredients we have here definitely need some making sense.

“Grainy” Flours:

  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa
  • Stone ground corn
  • Coconut meal

“Less Grainy” Flours:

  • Teff
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Brown Rice
  • Chestnut Flour, other nut flours

“Medium” Flours:

  • Millet
  • Sorghum
  • Bean Flours (chickpea, soy, etc.)
  • Finely Ground Nut Flours (like a v. fine almond)

“Fine” Flours:

  • White Rice Flour
  • Potato Flour


  • Cornstarch
  • Tapioca Starch/Flours
  • Potato Starch
  • Arrowroot Powder
  • Glutinous Rice Flour

Binding Agents

  • Xanthan Gum
  • Guar Gum
  • the other agents (gelatins, eggs, etc.)

So looking back at this list, what was I missing? Too much emphasis on the coarser flours, no medium/fine ones.  Puff pastry is a delicate thing, and maybe I needed more delicate flours to help it hold together and win the fight against the butter.  I think my problems with flour choice were exacerbated by my temperature issues, and the result was a total fail of a puff pastry.  Why does my pasta dough roll so easily? I think it is because I only have  25% as a grainy flour.  As you can see in the picture above, I chose about 50% here for my puff pastry dough (teff/buckwheat), which actually was a large change from either Jeanne or Helene’s recipes.  The more I think about it, the more I think my flour choice was definitely a contributing factor to this puff pastry’s demise.

Well, I never said I was an expert, just inquisitive, and I am hoping to ask the right questions to help us all get a better handle on our gluten free baking.  I may be a chemist, but food chemistry is certainly not my forté!  Trust me, there are certain chemistry topics that I could go on ad nauseum about and bore you all to tears (ha after all, I did spend 4 years slaving away in a lab to get that phd!), but they’re not really interesting in terms of food :) So I am learning in this process as much as you.  Part of learning is analyzing our failures – to see why something might not have worked, and how to change it for the better the next time.

Puff pastry, I’m not done with you yet!  They say third time’s a charm, right? Guess I will just have to try again, this time with a bit more knowledge about how to get it right.

So for some self encouragement, let’s look as some things I can do right!


Bagels, Gluten Free

Tarte Shells!


And a terrible photo, but an awesome lemon almond cake!

GF Lemon Almond Cake

Ok, now it’s your turn!  How do you decide which flours to use?  Are you able to analyze your flops and figure out how to fix what went wrong? Did I pick the correct diagnosis for my puff pastry issues?


Miriam/The Winter Guest August 30, 2010 at 8:22 pm

I like these series a lot, it’s good that you do the research and trials for us… 😉

Jenn August 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm

ha I try!! Next time I’ll have gorgeous and flaky PUFFED puff pastry, gluten free (the key is to stay optimistic, right?)

Lauren August 30, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I do it differently, seeing them each for what they bring. I look at the drying factor, how light they are and the flavour. I try to minimize the amount of flour that dries out a baked good, balance airiness with structure appropriate for the baked good and only use one or two that have a strong flavour, so as to compliment the dish but not compete or become overpowering.

I would suspect the puff pastry didn’t work because teff & buckwheat can both be fairly drying, so that would have worked better if there was more liquid or a higher ratio of neutral and moisture-retaining flours or starches. But honestly, it all just takes a lot of trial and error (as you know :) ). Sometimes they work and sometimes it takes a lot more tries. Good luck with the puff pastry! I’m sure you’ll figure it out :).

Jenn August 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Thanks Lauren! Yeah I ended up more than doubling the amount of water that was called for because of that, I didn’t even think of the hygroscopic issues of those flours when it came to doing the turns!

Rosa August 30, 2010 at 9:31 pm

We all experience flops… I’m sure the next time you’ll get it right. Don’t get discouraged. You’ve done so much already.



Jenn August 30, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Thanks Rosa! Yes, I will need to try again…

Theresa August 30, 2010 at 10:42 pm

I want some bagles now!!! My puff pastry kind of worked, but I added twice as much butter… stupid me. I’m sure your next attempt will work out ok though :) puff pasty is quite different to making other stuff ay, such a different feel and process.
LOVE these gluten free substitutions posts!

Jenn August 30, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Looks good to me, thanks for the encouragement!

Kim - Cook It Allergy Free August 30, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Jenn, this series is so wonderful. You are doing such a great service to everyone, oldies and newbies alike. I have been doing gluten free for over 5 years now and I still learned from this post!!
Great job!
And I have to laugh that you called your lemon cake a “bad photo”. None of your photos are ever “bad”, my dear!!

Jenn August 30, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Thanks, I’m glad you can learn from this! This is a post that I’m learning a lot from too (I love when blogging works like that!). And thanks about the “bad photo” comment! My husband even mentioned how out of focus it was…and what’s funny is at the time I thought it was the best photo ever. Glad to know I’ve grown some in my past year of photographing…

Meg @ Gluten-Free Boulangerie August 31, 2010 at 1:47 am

After looking at your puff pastry recipe I can see 3 main things that I think may be preventing it from puffing.

Millet flour – can make things stiff or crumbly, may be decreasing flexibility needed to puff

Sweet rice flour – when it is a high percentage of the flour blend, sometimes the dough ends up being too heavy to rise properly. This flour is kind of glue-y especially if the dough gets handled/stirred a lot, causing the crumb to be too close.

Xanthan gum – Unless that is a typo, 2 tablespoons of xanthan gum will really glue the dough together too closely. For two cups of flour, I’d suggest more in the range of 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of each gum.

You also might try a small amount of chestnut and/or buckwheat flour – I don’t know how finely ground the type you have is, but I generally consider these to behave as medium/fine.

I hope this helps!

Jenn August 31, 2010 at 5:38 am

Hi Meg, thanks for your suggestions – The actual flour blend I used this time (because it’s what I had at home) was tapioca, sweet white rice flour, teff, and buckwheat. But I think the key is where you said a “small amount”, and the buckwheat/teff made up close to half my flour mix! Oh trust me, there were many things wrong with that first failed attempt as well!

Maggie August 31, 2010 at 2:15 am

Ah I love seeing the bagels pop up every now and then! It’s fun to inspire others! And I’m glad they contributed to your successes! This is another great post Jenn. I love so many of those flours. I wish we could do it all without the starches but we do need them! Looks like Meg has some great tips for your puff. I love reading everyone’s comments!

Jenn August 31, 2010 at 5:40 am

Maggie I love those bagels! Have you made a cheese variety?? I am so missing some cheese bagels!

Anna Johnston August 31, 2010 at 2:28 am

Excellent information. Many thanks.

Jenn August 31, 2010 at 5:49 am

Thanks Anna!

InTolerantChef August 31, 2010 at 3:12 am

I bet your flop was still tasty! I think you need finer flour and more moisture. You don’t want anything too gummy or the layers might gum together instead of getting the laminating effect that make layers and gives that lightness and crunch. This is a great series,and good luck!

Jenn August 31, 2010 at 5:49 am

Thanks! Yeah I think that’s the consensus diagnosis as well. Next time I’ll get it right!

Prerna@IndianSimmer August 31, 2010 at 3:40 am

Great post! Thanx for sharing it with everyone. People like me who have hardly been with someone gluten intolerant really needs info like this.

Jenn August 31, 2010 at 5:50 am

Thanks, I’m glad it helps and that everyone can learn from my mistakes :)

Deanna August 31, 2010 at 9:52 am

Love this series, Jenn!

I’ve found that which flours or how many flours are needed has a lot to do with what I’m making. A lot of my cookies I can get by with just sorghum flour. (I really dig sorghum flour.) Or oat flour. Both of those function well as an all-purpose flour in cookies.

Finer things – like puff pastry, of course, need a blend.

I haven’t done any gluten-free puff pastry, and it’s been a long time since I did any gluten puff pastry, but from the pic, and what I remember, it looks like your butter may have been a bit thick to start with. I remember sort of pounding the butter flatter for the first turn. But, like I said, it’s been a while….

Jenn September 3, 2010 at 6:16 am

Thanks Deanna! Ok good to know about the shape of my butter, I’ll see if that makes a difference! Yeah I love sorghum flour too, haven’t found any in Europe yet… I think it will be on my list to buy next time I am Stateside…

Sandie {A Bloggable Life} August 31, 2010 at 5:08 pm

The information you are presenting here is so important. I’m off to tweet this post right now—as I love your gf substitutions features—so useful!

Jenn September 3, 2010 at 6:16 am

Thanks Sandie!!

Kelly September 2, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Hm. I never tried to categorize flours before. I tend to see them as fairly individual entities. I find, for instance, that rice flour really gives me more chew than I like in most stuff–at the beginning, it was my go-to flour because so many recipes seemed to use it and it seemed so, well, neutral–but I almost never use it anymore. I think also that the texture or “graininess” of flour is highly location-dependent. Here in Germany, I can find millet, buckwheat and corn flour milled so fine that they are nearly as fine as starch. But there is also millet flour here that is milled fairly coarse. Here I can make crèpes with straight buckwheat flour, eggs, salt, and water, and they turn out very similar to “normal” crèpes (as opposed to crèpes de blé noir). Not at all what you would expect. It would be interesting to know average particle sizes on flours before buying, wouldn’t it?

I am totally impressed that you tried out the puff pastry. Your pictures, description and links have inspired me to try it out myself, but I think I might have to start off using the Orgran Pastry Mix, which is heavy on the starches and uses rice flour, so so much for that… but I think I need to get a feel for the process first, especially as we are dairy (and soy!) free as well, so I will be trying it out with /gasp!/ margarine. I am not brave enough to jump in the way you did! But I would really, really, really love to surprise my husband with warm croissants one morning. Mmmm.

Jenn September 3, 2010 at 6:20 am

Interesting that you don’t group the flours together, and interesting about geographic variance in flour coarseness – so far en Suisse I haven’t noticed any huge differences in flour compared to what I had access to in the US, but maybe I need to take a trip up to Germany… I also haven’t seen Orgran brand mixes here, that sounds like something I should look into – are they easy enough to find at any reformhaus?

And I agree, being able to know particle size on the package would be useful!

Kelly September 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm

A trip to Germany can’t hurt although I can’t speak for the south (which is obviously much closer to you) since we live in the far north near Hamburg. I have heard there are some pretty scenic areas in Bavaria, though, and the Christmas markets are a ton of fun when it gets to that time of year. Worth a trip. We will be heading south for the first time in a few weeks to stay with some friends in the German Alps. I can’t wait! :-)

Anyway, I will try to order the Orgran mix through my Reformhaus since I won’t have to pay shipping that way. They don’t seem to find special-orders anything particularly troublesome and usually get orders within a few days. If their distributor doesn’t carry it, I will order it through either or In my searching, I think I also saw it in a Swiss online shop at

Have you found Sorghum flour there? I haven’t seen it anywhere here and no one seems to know what it is.

Jenn September 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Yes, I think we will definitely have to make a trip – there are many places in Germany I’ve been wanting to visit anyways! Thanks for the link to that shop, that is a new site to me and I’m sure it will be useful (prices don’t look bad either)! No I haven’t found sorghum flour yet (I think I may bring some back from the States next time I go)…but then I don’t know the name for sorghum in French or German either so that probably doesn’t help 😉 Sorghum, millet, and xanthan gum are the three things I haven’t had luck with. I think just about everything else I’ve figured out how to find now.

Kelly September 3, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Well, millet is Hirse in German, if that helps. Millet flour is Hirsemehl. I have to hunt a bit to get it here, too. I have found it in some Reformhaus, and in some Bioladen. I have heard you can get Sorghum in Indian-Asian shops, but haven’t had luck with the ones in my immediate neighborhood. Sometime I will just have to venture into the big Indian-Asian shops in Hamburg and look there.

Xanthan gum I have only seen in the Apotheke, and there it was crazy expensive. Like several Euros for 50g. You can also order it online from Out of neccessity, I tend not to use it. However, I make as few substitutions as possible in recipes I have never tried before, so I have a small stash of sorghum and xanthan gum (brought with on my last trip home) for trying out the many cool recipes I see in the blogs I follow.

Jenn September 3, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Thanks for all the useful info! I currently use guar gum instead of xanthan, and I will have to keep my eyes peeled for millet & sorghum. I can buy whole millet easily enough so I would assume millet flour is around too.

Sophie September 5, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Waw, Jenn!! Thanks again for this great post!! I learned a lot again!! These are all very useful tips!!

I haven’t tried all of the GF flours yet but I tried a few!


Kisses from Brussels to you!!!

Jenn September 6, 2010 at 6:00 am

Thanks, I’m glad it’s helpful for you!

Janelle May 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Just stumbled across this as I was searching for an explanation of why my scones were a crumbly failure last night. Problem solved! This post has saved me hours in the kitchen, thanks!

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