Baking without gluten, dairy or eggs is a bold choice, to say the least.
In gluten-free baking, eggs act as a binder and they provide structure in the absence of gluten. In vegan baking with ordinary flour, an egg replacement is usually unnecessary as you have gluten for structure and binding. When you bake without either, you’re entering a high stakes game of mental gymnastics.
After a year of gluten-free vegan baking, I have a good sense of the issues you may encounter when making free-from versions of your favourite bakes. Fortunately, the most commonly occurring mistakes in gluten-free vegan baking are easy enough to troubleshoot. Tender, light, fluffy gluten-free bakes await you.
Table of Contents
Why do we use gluten, eggs and dairy?
Gluten is an elastic protein that forms when water is added to wheat flour (and its cousins; rye, barley, spelt etc.). In the presence of heat (baking), gluten acts like a balloon and traps air to create air pockets.
The protein (gluten) and starch in wheat flour, together with, these air pockets are responsible for the crumb structure. In gluten-free baking, we are always looking for ways to increase the quality of the crumb structure.
Eggs are excellent binders and in gluten-free baking, they provide structure in the absence of gluten. In vegan baking with ordinary flour, I’ve found an egg replacement is less important as you have gluten for structure and binding. When baking without eggs or gluten we have to work a little harder to add structure and elevation to our bakes.
I never use a commercial egg replacer. My go-to is either a flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax and 2½ tablespoons water) or aquafaba (50g unwhipped in place of one egg) but I mostly skip the egg step altogether. Instead, I prefer to rely more heavily on my other ingredients. I use xanthan gum for binding, raising agents for leavening and add additional liquid for moisture.
Dairy is a good source of liquid, fat and acid. Luckily in vegan baking, dairy is easy to replace. Dairy milk can be subbed for non-dairy milk at a one to one ratio.
In pastry recipes, I replace butter with a non-dairy solid butter (in the UK I use Naturli vegan block). For cookies and brownies, I use non-dairy margarine and for gluten-free cakes, I prefer to use oil.
Acid is an essential part of the leavening process. There should be a source of acid in every recipe that requires a degree of leavening. Brown sugar and baking powder are good sources of acid as is dairy.
For an easy buttermilk replacement, add one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to one cup of non-dairy milk and swap Greek yoghurt with plain unsweetened vegan yoghurt (soy or coconut).
Mistake #1: you used the wrong flour
When it comes to gluten-free baking the flour you use is your lifeline. One of the most common mistakes people make is using a single GF flour rather than a mixture. Wheat flour is a combination of protein and starches and it is important to replicate that in the gluten-free flour you use. A single protein-heavy flour like buckwheat or brown rice is not going to produce light fluffy cakes. Similarly, a single starch like potato or tapioca won’t produce a robust loaf of bread.
There’s a lot to learn about each individual GF flour and how to combine them so for beginners try the gluten-free flour recipe by Minimalist Baker. Definitely add the optional xanthan gum and, if possible, go the extra step of blending it together in a high-speed blender to make the flour mix finer.
Blending the flour will help you tackle another one of the most common issues with gluten-free flour. A gritty texture. The grittiness in your bakes is likely coming from rice flour, either in your store-bought GF flour or one you’ve mixed yourself. If you can source superfine brown rice and white rice flour they will improve your bakes significantly (although they can be hard to find and pricey).
Are there any pre -mixed flours you recommend?
For cakes, cookies and brownies I often bake with Dove’s Farm gluten-free plain flour (a UK brand). I love the way it performs and I have never had a problem with grittiness.
What about bread flour?
Bread flour is it’s own kettle of fish and mixing your own bread flour blend is definitely the key to success. Again there is a lot to learn about mixing flours. A mix of 70% protein-rich flours (brown rice, buckwheat, sorghum) and 30% starch (tapioca, potato, arrowroot) is a good place to start. But before you dive in, try following some of the recipes below for yeasted bakes that use a mix of flours. These will help you get a feel for it.
Lastly . . .
Unlike wheat flour, GF flours can have their own strong distinct flavours. Chickpea flour has a very bitter taste and for this reason, it is no good for sweet baking and in my opinion neither is buckwheat flour. Buckwheat flour has a strong nutty flavour that is often at odds with the flavours in cake and cookies (it is excellent, however, in bread). Quinoa flour also has a very bitter flavour and I’ve stopped using it altogether.
Recipes with GF Bread Flour Mixes
Mistake #2: not enough raising agent
If you’re struggling to get your gluten-free bakes to rise try using baking powder AND baking soda. Gluten-free bakes always need a little more help. Both raising agents together have a greater leavening ability. Adding an extra ⅛ – ¼ teaspoon of baking powder in GF bakes will also give them an additional boost.
And on that note don’t forget to sift your dry ingredients together before adding the wet. Sifting incorporates air into the flour and will help you achieve lighter bakes.
Mistake #3: you didn’t use a binder
A binder will help prevent crumbly, poorly risen gluten-free bakes so don’t skip this essential ingredient.
Xanthan gum is a long-chain carbohydrate made by fermenting simple sugars. In GF baking, xanthan gum is used as a binder and stabiliser and mimics gluten by providing structure and an element of ‘bounce’. Essentially xanthan gum will hold your bakes together and is especially important in vegan baking in the absence of eggs. For sweet bakes try adding ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum for every 100g of flour.
If you are opposed to adding gums to your bakes try adding a flax egg for binding, although I have had less success with this option.
In yeasted bakes, use a combination of psyllium husk and finely ground flax seeds or ground chia seeds for binding. Together they do a great job of retaining moisture and replicating the texture of gluten. You won’t need to add xanthan gum when using psyllium and flax in bread recipes.
Mistake #4: not enough liquid
Gluten-free flours absorb more moisture than their gluten-containing counterparts. Gluten-free yeasted doughs are usually very sticky before baking. If you have a dry dough, you’ll end up with dry, crumbly bread. In general, your bread dough will need more liquid than flour. In this bagel recipe, I’ve added 15% more water than flour.
The same rule applies to pastry. If your pastry is excessively cracking when handling, it needs more liquid. Add 1-2 additional tablespoons of cold water until it rolls out without breaking. You’ll be surprised how much extra liquid GF pastry needs.
For cake recipes, allow the batter to sit for a few minutes after mixing. The batter will thicken up significantly and, if it’s very thick, this is a good indicator of whether your mix needs more liquid. Try adding 10-15% more liquid.
Mistake #5: you used the wrong source of fat
For gluten-free cake recipes, try using oil instead of butter (or vegan butter). Oil is lighter than butter and as a result, produces lighter, loftier cakes. Gluten-free flour also absorbs more moisture than regular AP or cake flour and often makes dry cakes. Oil helps to keep GF cakes tender and moist.
Also worth noting that this is not the case for coconut oil. Much like butter, coconut oil is solid at room temp. Use a neutral cooking oil (you can also find them cold-pressed and organic) and skip the coconut oil.
For gluten-free, vegan pastry use a solid vegan butter rather than non-dairy margarine as it will give you a much flakier pastry.
For gluten-free, vegan cookies, non-dairy margarine is perfect. Beat your non-dairy marg with the sugar for 3 minutes to give you a better bake overall.
Mistake #6: your measuring was inaccurate
I can not emphasise enough how important accurate measurements are for GF baking. Gluten-free bakes are very temperamental and careful measurements will help you minimise the chance of a failed bake. The most accurate way to measure your ingredients is with digital scales and to measure by weight (grams or ounces) rather than volume (cups).
If you’re just starting out avoid adding a touch of this and pinch of that. Break out the scales and measure everything to the T.
Mistake #7: oven temp too high
Gluten-free bakes need longer in the oven. A lower temperature means your bakes won’t burn or dry out and, the rise of the cake is more gradual. All these factors aid in the development of crumb structure in the absence of gluten and prevent crumbling.
Bake cookies, cakes and brownies at 160C for the best results.
Mistake #8: you under/overbaked
It’s a very fine line between under and over baked in gluten-free baking. As mentioned in mistake #7 gluten-free bakes need to bake at a lower temperature and by default need longer in the oven.
If you under bake you run the risk of a structural collapse and your bakes will be dense and cloying. If you over bake then you’ll end up with dry, crumbly results.
In general when baking at 160C cookies will need 15-20 minutes, brownies 30 minutes and cakes 30-45 minutes depending on their size. Use the skewer test to check cakes, muffins and brownies for underbaked centres and after a few bakes, you’ll start to get a sense of how long they need in the oven.
Bonus Tip: bake cookies one tray at a time to prevent uneven baking (keep your second tray of cookies in the fridge while you wait for the first).
Mistake #9: you didn’t wait for it cool
Your gluten-free bakes should be STONE COLD before you handle or try to slice them. The gluten-free crumb structure is very delicate and will continue to form while your baked goods are cooling. Always leave your cookies on the tray to cool before handling and don’t even think about cutting that loaf of bread while it’s still warm. If you choose to ignore this advice, you will end up with crumbs!
Mistake #10: you skipped the fridge step
Gluten-free cookie dough should always go in the fridge before baking as it tends to spread excessively in the oven. In these small bakes, the butter/marg will melt quickly and without gluten to hold them reign everything in you can end up with one giant cookie instead of one dozen.
Place your cookie dough in the fridge for at least 1 hour before baking. This will solidify the source of fat and temper spreading. An overnight fridge step will also soften the flour and help prevent grittiness in cookies.
Mistake #11: you started too big
If you started your free-from baking journey with a three-tier cake or a large loaf of sourdough only to fail horribly and give up immediately, well you started too big.
There is an immense amount to learn when it comes to gluten-free, vegan baking so it is important to start with baby steps.
Small bakes like cookies and cupcakes or mini-muffins are the best place to start. Smaller bakes will rely less on intricate structure formation, will bake faster and are much more forgiving.
Quickfire Round: How To Fix -
Gritty gluten-free bakes?
The rice flour in your GF flour mix is to blame. Head to mistake #1
Crumbly gluten-free bakes?
Very dense gluten-free bakes?
Very dry and hard gluten-free bakes?
Cookies spread too much?
Put the cookie dough in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour before baking (mistake #10)
That’s a wrap!
Whether you’re new to gluten-free, vegan baking or have years of experience I’d love to hear from you! Comment below and let me know if try any of these tips or if you have any of your own.
Thanks for visiting!