Building Flavors with Flours

June 17, 2013

Every week, Shauna Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef -- and Gluten-Free Girl Everyday -- will be sharing smart tips and smarter recipes that will please even the most devout gluten-eaters among us. Come one, come all -- we're going flourless. 

Today: Start using whole grain and nut flours in your baked goods, and taste their flavors change for the better. 

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Sometimes, when people taste the chocolate chip cookies I bring to the preschool potluck or the brownies I carry to the table after dinner, they say, "What is it? Why are these cookies so good?" If I were a different kind of baker, I might smile slyly and say, "Oh, you know. Family secret!" 

However, I'm much more likely to start gesticulating wildly and say, "Teff! You have to try it. It has this faint chocolate taste in the flour. In the flour! So when you pair it with chocolate in a baked good, it intensifies the taste of the chocolate. That's why these cookies are so good." 

If they are interested in food, they might ask me more. Sometimes they back away at my enthusiasm. But they usually take another cookie before they turn to go. 

I'm not saying that every baked good I make is good. Some of them are wretched failures. I just don't think of them as failures anymore: I'm playing with flours and I'm learning as I go. 

Baking with Whole Grain Flours
When I first began baking gluten-free, I made the same choice that most of us make. I reached for the white gluten-free flours, trying to replicate the texture of that old familiar flour. After a few years of making baked goods that mimicked those bleached white goodies, I realized something: white flour is boring. It serves its purpose, but without any real nutritional value, or interesting taste, basic all-purpose flour can be a bland option for baking. 

Everything in my baking changed when I realized I can build flavors with flours. Do I want to create a nutty taste without adding nuts to the cookies? I try buckwheat flour. The faint taste of corn and a bit of sweetness? I reach for the millet flour. An assertive, grassy taste? Amaranth. (I still haven't figured out what baked good is better with an assertive grassy taste. However, if you have, let me know in the comments!) There are endless choices when I start playing with whole grain flours. Simple peanut butter cookies taste far more refined with some roasted soy flour. I'll try quinoa flour when I'm making a new focaccia. 

Beyond the Grain
And then there are the nut flours. Think of the creamy sweetness of raw cashews, the roasted warmth of hazelnuts, or the green piquancy of pistachios. Grind them down into a flour — I usually use a spice grinder for small amounts — and throw some into pancakes, quick breads, even doughnuts. Everything tastes a little bit new. 

It's not just gluten-free flours that are full of flavor. Friends of mine like building flavor in their baked goods with barley, kamut, and spelt flour. There's a growing movement of home bakers reaching for little bags of unusual flours, playing with the taste of them in family favorites and surprising their friends with something new. 

Build flavor with your flours and you'll never go back to your boring white flour again. 

Photos by Shauna Ahern

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • icuqt3.14
  • Sophia R
    Sophia R
  • scott.finkelstein.5
  • Leona Shemza
    Leona Shemza
  • passifloraedulis
Shauna writes about food. Danny cooks it. We grow excited every Saturday morning to go to the farmers' market. This time of year, a Billy Allstot tomato is enough to make us look like goons at the stand, jumping up and down with excitement. We will eat one slice with sea salt, standing over the sink. Another goes to our baby daughter. The rest might go into the smoker to make smoked tomato salsa, or thrown together with watermelon and good olive oil for a watermelon gazpacho, or stacked with smoked salmon and drizzled with horseradish sour cream. Every day is new. I have no idea what we're having for dinner tonight. But I'm sure interested to find out.


icuqt3.14 June 23, 2013
Could you post or email me a recipe for your teff chocolate chip cookies? Sounds amazing!
Sophia R. June 18, 2013
I haven't baked with Amaranth yet but if it has an assertive grassy flavour I would try using it in citrussy cakes and/or cakes made with olive oil where you want to underline (rather than hide) the olive oil flavour - e.g. the cakes made with whole boiled oranges, rich chocolate cakes made with little flour and maybe some orange zest and/or paired with some orange segments and a creme fraiche ice cream?
scott.finkelstein.5 June 17, 2013
I have some big old bags of millet and sunflower flour in my cabinet. Hopefully, they're still good.
Does anyone know good ratios of gluten-free flour to bread flour to approximate all purpose, pastry, and cake flours? That would be a great way to quickly adapt any recipe not directly calling for bread flour.
scott.finkelstein.5 June 17, 2013
Let's assume King Arthur just to keep things standard.
Leona S. June 17, 2013
I love Teff flour with Oat flour for cookies and brownies too! I use it for zucchini bread also, my family loves it.
passifloraedulis June 17, 2013
Shauna, how do you use teff flour? I'd love some suggestions.
glutenfreegirl June 17, 2013
Well, as I wrote, I use it in anything I bake with chocolate. The next time you make chocolate cake, try 10% of the flour as teff flour. It will enrich the chocolate taste immediately!