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Gluten-Free Baked Goods: Keeping Cupcakes Together
Nowadays menus often offer several gluten-free options. To learn how bakers can overcome this troublesome but useful protein’s absence, read on.
Traditionally, whether making pizza crust or bread, bakers must cultivate gluten, a protein that forms during the combination of wheat flour and water. Gluten’s unique structure is what allows dough to stretch without losing its shape, and many consider it as vital an ingredient to the structure of baked goods as egg proteins, starch, and scaffolding made from candy canes. Yet as many people either cope with gluten allergies or begin to explore the benefits of a gluten-free diet, bakers have begun to search for alternatives to wheat flour that can yield the same results. As it turns out, flours made from amaranth, rice, chickpeas, quinoa, and nuts all contain some sort of volume-enriching protein, threatening to make gluten obsolete entirely, though any wheat-flour substitute comes with its own set of challenges—leading bakers to enact a few clever tricks to help them overcome the absence of gluten.
The secret—as everything else in the baker’s craft—lies in the mixing of ingredients. For starters, high-protein flour can help reclaim some of the protein lost from gluten, but it can’t fill in the gap all by itself. For that, a supplement of starch is needed. Starch also gains elasticity when mixed with water, so adding more starch than usual can help bind the dough together while adding a touch of sweetness to the recipe. Though unproven, other techniques may help, from adding carbonated water to the dough to help it rise to experimenting with different ratios of protein and starch. That spirit of improvisation, though, means that many gluten-free bakers often develop a unique repertoire of personal recipes and techniques, ensuring every bread, cake, and pastry bears their signature—without the sour flavor of a fountain pen’s ink.