In the Kitchen: Which mixer attachment is best for gluten-free recipes?
Our expert tackles reader questions on baking pans, flour, bread and more.
Food editor Beth Hillson answers your questions about special-diet baking.
Q: My stand mixer came with three attachments: a paddle, a whisk and a dough hook. Which one is best for gluten-free recipes?
A: The paddle attachment gets my vote for everything from gluten-free cake batter to yeast bread. The dough attachment, perfect for conventional yeast loaves, isn’t great for gluten-free dough, which creeps up the neck of the blade where it collects and doesn’t mix properly. You can keep that attachment in the drawer. The whisk attachment is great for whipping egg whites and cream. Like the dough attachment, it is not up to the task of beating dense, sticky gluten-free dough.
Q: How do you measure a bread pan? Across the top, bottom, inside or outside?
A Baking pans are measured across the top, not the bottom. To measure the pan’s size, use a ruler and measure from inside edge to inside edge. For the height, stand the ruler on the kitchen counter and measure straight up and down. Do not slant the ruler even if the sides of the pan are sloped.
Q: How do I select the right pan size? How much does it really matter?
A: Use the pan your recipe calls for. Generally, the correct size corresponds to the amount of flour in your recipe. For instance, 3 cups is the average amount in a bread dough that fits an 8½ x 4½-inch loaf pan. But if you’re making quick breads, there’s room for flexibility; the batter can be divided into two smaller pans, muffin cups and even several mini loaves. Baking times will change accordingly.
When it comes to yeast breads, pan size matters more. A larger pan with more surface can create too much rise, especially if the recipe recommends letting the bread rise to the top of the rim. This over-proofing produces large, uneven holes in the baked loaf and increases the risk that your bread will rise too much and then sink when it’s pulled from the oven.
Q: What is konjac flour? I notice that it’s an ingredient in one of the crackers mentioned in a recent issue of your magazine. I wonder if I can use it as a substitute for xanthan or guar gum, neither of which is good for me.
A: Konjac flour, also called glucomannan or shirataki, is made from the root of a perennial plant that’s native to eastern Asia. Popular in Japan, it’s the secret ingredient behind gluten-free “miracle noodles.” When warm water is added to konjac flour, it becomes a thick substance.
It can be used in place of either xanthan or guar gum in baking. Begin by replacing the gum with an equal amount of konjac flour and see how that works. You can increase the amount as you see how it behaves in your recipes. Like gums, however, konjac flour should be used in small quantities, as too much will produce dense, heavy baked goods.
Q: I followed a gluten-free bread recipe to the letter and it fell. It looked so nice when I took it out of the oven but within minutes, it was half the height. I understand the dry-to-liquid ratio; I measured carefully. I took it out of the oven when its internal temp was 200°F.
It was a very soggy, heavy loaf, not light and fluffy like its picture. What am I doing wrong? I’m craving some real bread.
A It sounds like you have too much liquid for the amount of dry ingredients. Extra liquid can unintentionally sneak into a recipe in a couple of ways. First, make sure you’re using large eggs, not extra large. If the recipe calls for powdered milk, check the type you used. If you added milk buds rather than powdered milk, it can make a big difference in results. Milk buds absorb liquid differently. If everything checks out, try reducing the liquid in your recipe by 2 tablespoons.
For bread recipes that produce a light and airy loaf every time, check out “A Lofty Loaf” in our August/September 2014 issue.
Q: Some of my gluten-free recipes call for baking soda and others call for baking powder or both. Why do recipes call for one or the other of these leavening agents? What’s the difference?
A: This question is as old as baking itself. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is generally used when there’s an acidic ingredient in the batter, like buttermilk, yogurt, honey, molasses, vinegar, fruit juice or cocoa (not Dutch cocoa, which is already alkalized). When combined with an acidic substance, baking soda creates carbon dioxide bubbles, which produces lift in the batter.
Baking powder is a combination of baking soda and one or more acid salts, plus a filler like cornstarch. Because it already contains its own acidic ingredients, it behaves similarly to baking soda. It just doesn’t require an acidic ingredient in a recipe to be reactive and create the necessary lift.
When just baking powder is used, the flavor of any acidic ingredient in that recipe may be slightly more pronounced since there’s no additional baking soda to neutralize it. The texture of the baked good may also be a bit finer. Baking soda characteristically creates a slightly coarser texture (more defined air pockets/holes) than baking powder.
What’s your preference? You may favor the flavor and texture of things leavened with baking soda—or you may prefer baking powder. Try a recipe both ways. Just remember you can’t use baking soda in place of baking powder unless there’s something acidic in the recipe. And the amount used will differ.
Always blend baking soda and baking powder thoroughly into the dry ingredients before combining the dry with the wet ingredients. This wards off the risk of getting a bitter, metallic-tasting pocket of leavening when biting into a baked item.
Because gluten-free batter tends to be heavier than its conventional counterpart, I sometimes add an extra pinch of baking powder when I’m developing recipes. You can try this, too, but don’t use more than an additional ½ teaspoon or the taste may overpower other flavors.