Ask the Chef: Help! What Can I Use in Place of Cornstarch?
Our expert answers reader questions on gluten-free cooking and baking.
Q: I am allergic to corn. Which starch is the best substitution for cornstarch in the recipes in your magazine?
A: Each starch has slightly different properties, with cornstarch and arrowroot powder producing the lightest baked goods and tapioca starch/flour and potato starch producing a slightly denser texture. Nevertheless, as part of a flour blend, you can replace one starch with another on a one-to-one basis with excellent results.
Q: I’ve noticed that my flour blend has an unpleasant odor lately. What could be the culprit?
A: Check the date. Some flours, especially those with a high-protein content like amaranth, flax meal, almond and millet, can become rancid fairly quickly. If your blend doesn’t smell right, throw it out and buy a fresh supply. Another smelly culprit can be tapioca starch/flour. I’ve found that some brands are a bit gamey and have an unpleasant odor. If that’s the case, toss it and replace it with another brand or use an equal amount of arrowroot powder, potato starch (not potato flour) or cornstarch instead.
These ingredients are expensive. I’m as guilty as the next person of hanging on to gluten-free flours long after their “best use” date—but it isn’t good practice. Conduct the sniff test regularly on all your flours and keep an eye on their expiration dates. Extend their shelf life by storing them in the refrigerator or freezer. Flaxseed and almond flour, which contain the highest amount of oil, are best kept in the freezer.
Q: Can you offer some baking tips for converting recipes so they’re safe for people with fructose malabsorption?
A: Those who avoid fructose can use glucose, also called dextrose, instead of sugar. Glucose powder can replace granulated or confectioners’ sugar; glucose syrup can swap for honey. The conversion is a one-to-one substitution but be aware that glucose is not as sweet as sugar.
If you substitute glucose for sugar, you may need to increase the wet ingredients or decrease the dry ingredients in your recipe, as glucose absorbs more liquid than regular sugar. Furthermore, if you cook with glucose and your saucepan isn’t covered, watch your recipe carefully; you may have to lower the heat a bit to prevent the glucose from getting a burned taste. If glucose is mixed into cake batter, the baking temperature doesn’t need to be adjusted. No temperature adjustments are required for glucose syrup, which helps keep baked goods moist.
Several cookbooks are now available that specifically address baking with glucose. Look for them online by searching for “fructose malabsorption cookbooks.”
Q: When my bread comes out of the oven, it looks lovely. But the moment I set it on the cooling rack, it begins to fall. The internal temperature is 200°F and I follow the recipe exactly. It tastes great so I want to make it again. Please tell me what I am doing wrong.
A: I’m putting on my official “Bread Doctor” hat to diagnose your ailing loaf. You describe one of the most common problems of gluten-free bread baking: The bread rises beautifully but sinks as soon as it begins to cool. This tells me the ratio of wet to dry ingredients is off. In this case, there is too much liquid for the dry ingredients.
There are a number of reasons why too much liquid is getting into your recipe. If your recipe calls for eggs, you might be using extra-large rather than large, which adds a bit of extra liquid. (I’ve done that myself.) Or you may be measuring incorrectly. Double-check your measuring cups to make certain you’re using the correct ones. If nothing like this seems wrong, remove 2 tablespoons of liquid from your recipe. Add back this liquid a little at a time until the batter forms a smooth, shiny dough. You will not need all the reserved liquid.
Q: What’s the best bread machine for gluten-free breads?
A: There’s never been a better time to make gluten-free breads at home. Several manufacturers are now selling machines with special settings specifically designed for heavy, dense gluten-free dough. You can choose from a number of brands. Check out machines from Breadman, Breville, Cuisinart, Hamilton Beach, Oster, West Bend and Zojirushi. For instructions on how to successfully make bread in your bread machine, check out “A Lofty Loaf” in our August/September 2014 issue.