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August 25, 2017

How To Use Starch in Gluten Free Baking

Post by Cinde Little

How to Use Starch in gluten free baking is the second in my series of monthly blog posts on gluten free flours. After writing How To Use Rice Flour last month it seemed only natural to tackle the starches commonly used in gluten free baking.

How To Use Starch in Gluten Free Baking
How To Use Starch in Gluten Free Baking -photo credit Jim Little

Why Flour and Starch?

Wheat flour is about 75% starch and 6-13% protein, depending on how it is processed. Gluten free flours often have a higher starch content which can cause a gritty texture to baked goods. The goal of gluten free baking is to combine flours and starches to mimic the role of wheat flour. Sounds straightforward? Not really.

Every gluten free flour contains a different amount of starch and protein and each behaves differently. Add to that the long list of gluten free flours available and it can be complicated. You don’t need to know the science of baking but understanding some basics will take you a long way in the kitchen. It will help you deal with the inevitable substitutions, improve inconsistent results, help you chose new recipes with confidence and make your baking experience more enjoyable…at least that’s the idea.

Flour is used to accomplish different jobs. Some of these jobs rely on the protein while others rely more on the starch. Depending on what job you are trying to accomplish different combinations of flour and starch may be better suited for the task.

Flour is commonly used to:

  • thicken sauces, gravies, soups and stews,
  • coat meats and vegetables,
  • create structure in baked goods.

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An Overview

All the starches do not behave the same (because that would just be too easy). My pantry includes all three of these; cornstarch, tapioca starch and potato starch. Here are some key points to know about starch in general, and specific differences for using each one.

  • Starches need time to hydrate before going in the oven so letting batter or dough rest for up to 30 minutes can improve the texture of some baked goods.
  • The high starch content of some gluten free flours (and blends) can result in a gritty texture. Many batters and doughs benefit from more liquid to properly hydrate.
  • More liquid may then require a longer baking time in some recipes.

Cornstarch

  • This powdery white cornstarch is not the same as corn flour. Do not substitute.
  • Not ideal for baking, too much cornstarch results in baked goods with a starchy texture.
  • Stirring too vigorously may cause a mixture to break down and thin out.
  • Cooking over high heat can cause lumping.
  • Best uses: as thickener for sauces and gravies, dusting on meat to help breading stick, an ingredient in breading to help with browning and crispiness. Also used to thicken pie filling and make puddings.

Potato Starch

  • Made from raw potatoes it has no potato taste. Potato starch is not the same as potato flour. Do not substitute.
  • Provides structure, tenderness and binding power in baking.
  • Too much potato starch gives baked goods a crumbly texture.
  • Best uses: muffins, quick breads and a gluten free flour mix.

Tapioca Starch

  • Tapioca starch is all starch but is also called tapioca flour in recipes. It is the same ingredient.
  • Gives chewy texture, elasticity and structure to baked goods.
  • Aids in creating a crisp crust.
  • Can be used as a thickener for pies and sauces.
  • Too much tapioca starch makes baked goods dense.
  • Best uses: cookies, a flour blend and moist breads like cornbread and Brazilian cheese bread.

Tapioca Starch vs Cassava Flour

Tapioca is the starch that is extracted from the root of the cassava plant while cassava flour is made by simply grinding the dried root of the plant to a fine powder. South American people tell me that Brazilian Cheese Bread is more authentic when made with cassava flour. I’m sure there is a difference in the taste and one day I’ll find and buy cassava flour. But in the meantime I’m making and loving those cheese buns made only with tapioca starch.

Is Sweet Rice Flour A Starch?

Technically no. Sweet rice flour contains some protein so it is not a starch. It has a higher starch content than other rice flours so acts like a starch and is often used in gluten free flour blends and recipes for baked goods.

Sweet rice flour, also called glutinous rice flour, is made from ‘sticky rice’ and is readily available at Asian grocery stores and online. Both Erawan brand and Bob’s Red Mill brand of sweet rice flour work well. Through trial and error, I stumbled upon the combination that I now call my gluten free flour mix. It contains sweet rice flour and potato starch and at the time this mix improved my baking significantly. I learned I could successfully reproduce old recipes for muffins and quick breads. I could also try new recipes and get great results.

The four flour and starch combination for my gluten free flour mix
Gluten Free Flour Mix -photo credit Jim Little

How To Use Starch in Gluten Free Baking

Baked goods present the greatest challenge in the gluten free kitchen. The idea of a cup-for-cup flour as a single replacement for all recipes using wheat flour is a fantasy. Americas Test Kitchen cookbooks, The How Can It Be Gluten Free and The How Can It Be Gluten Free Volume 2 provide a wealth of information for the gluten free cook. For maximum versatility they recommend a flour blend with three parts flour to one part starch. But even they have come up with more than one blend to cover all the different requirements for cooking and baking gluten free. So, the learning never ends.

For me the goal is simply to improve my knowledge to improve my baking. You can ask Google cooking questions all day long but when you find a recipe you love that works for you, keep it. Collect those recipes and make a tried-and-true list. Over time you will learn to vary them in different ways and expand your repertoire.

I do a lot of experimenting with this recipe for Banana Muffins.

Gluten free Banana Muffins just out of the oven.
Gluten Free Banana Muffins -photo credit Jim Little

How To Use Starch – The Recipes

Cornstarch

Little dishes of fresh berries topped with homemade lemon curd.
Homemade Lemon Curd -photo credit Jim Little

Potato Starch

A stack of Gluten Free Sugar Cookies drizzled with chocolate.
Sugar Cookies -photo credit Jim Little

Tapioca Starch

A bowl of Brazilian Cheese Bread
Brazilian Cheese Bread -photo credit Jim Little

Happy Baking!


This is the second in a series of blog posts on gluten free flours. My intention is to provide a basic overview for the everyday home cook, both new and experienced. Let me know in the comments below if you found any of this helpful and what you consider the biggest challenge with gluten free baking.

How To Use Gluten Free Flour series:

 

 

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