How Do I Substitute Gluten-Free Flours in a Recipe That Calls for Wheat Flour?

Aerial close-up shot of cut gluten-free blondie squares with chocolate chips.

Dear Ruthy, I’m throwing my girlfriend a surprise birthday dinner party and want to bake a cake. I was flipping through one of her Bon Appetit magazines and came across a recipe for upside-down pear cake that she flagged. It calls for regular all-purpose flour but some of the guests are gluten-free. How do I substitute gluten-free flours in a recipe that calls for wheat flour? Is this even possible?

You’ve come to the right place! I’ve spent many years playing around with gluten-free substitutions for gluten flour-based recipes, as I long ago discovered that I have a gluten sensitivity. Substitutions can get a little complex for doughs that are more “elastic” (think bread) or pastry that’s flaky. However, the game is much easier when you’re dealing with batter rather than dough. It gets its lift with the help of a chemical leavening agent (baking powder or soda rather than yeast) and yields a moist, springy cake.

For this recipe, I’d suggest to try a 1:3 ratio of gluten-free “starches” to gluten-free “flour” (put otherwise, for every cup of wheat flour, use ¼ cup of gluten-free starch and ¾ cup of gluten-free flour).

pear upside down cake on a white platter with a silver serving lifter next to ripe green pears with leaves
(Photo from Bon Appetit)

It would be delicious to incorporate the malty, caramely flavour of teff and the nutty, sweet flavour of sorghum to compliment the caramelized pears. So why don’t you give this a go: substitute the total amount of flour called for in the recipe with 25% starch (half tapioca and half arrowroot), 25% teff flour, 25% sorghum flour and 25% brown rice flour.

Be warned: nutrient-rich alternative grains bring some super exciting flavours to the table, especially compared to nutritionally void all-purpose four. You just might never go back to the plain ‘ol white stuff!

Good luck, and happy birthday!

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