Gluten-Free Baking in Your Home or Bakery Business


Gluten-free baked goods and other foods have gained popularity in recent years as research into gluten intolerance has grown. Gluten intolerance often occurs in the form of Celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune disorder. Celiac disease, also called Celiac sprue, affects the small intestine, which is damaged by eating gluten and other proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats. Many ailments have been linked to gluten-intolerance and Celiac disease, hence people are making gluten-free choices more frequently. Learn what important things you need to do in order to provide gluten-free options for all your customers.

In This Article You Will Learn:

  • The basics of Celiac disease and wheat allergies
  • Fundamental tips on baking gluten-free baked goods
  • Suggested gluten-free ingredients
  • Flours to avoid when baking gluten-free items

Overview of Celiac Disease & Gluten Intolerance

Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and, to a lesser extent, oats. For someone with Celiac disease, ingesting gluten causes an autoimmune reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine, making nutrient absorption difficult. This may cause digestive problems such as bloating or diarrhea and can even lead to malnutrition and other such complications. Studies show that approximately one out of every 133 people in the United States suffer from Celiac disease, although only about three percent of those have been diagnosed.

What Causes Celiac Disease?

There is no precisely known cause of the disease, although scientists are suggesting there must be a genetic predisposition to the disease in those who are diagnosed. Often there is also a trigger, either during early childhood, from a stressful situation, pregnancy, or a similar situation. There is no known cure for Celiac disease; the only currently effective way of combating it is engaging in a strictly gluten-free diet.

Gluten Intolerance

Some peoples’ bodies do not accept gluten very well, but this does not necessarily mean that they have Celiac disease. It may simply mean that their bodies do not respond well to foods with gluten. Often consuming gluten causes headaches, indigestion or some other ailment to people with gluten intolerance. Many people prefer to remove gluten from their diets as a measure against uncomfortable digestive issues, and many find that it helps, even if they are never diagnosed with Celiac disease.

Celiac vs. Wheat Allergy

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are not the same as a wheat allergy. Those with a wheat allergy usually need to use even greater caution when eating food outside their own kitchens to be sure it is completely devoid of wheat.

An allergic reaction to wheat is much different than an intolerance to wheat. Although both can be serious and difficult to manage, an allergic reaction to wheat can be immediately life-threatening. A person with a wheat allergy may experience hives, nausea or difficulty breathing, or in serious cases, anaphylaxis may occur immediately upon consuming anything made with wheat.

Go Dairy-Free

Many of those who are diagnosed with Celiac disease or any other form of gluten-intolerance also find that they are sensitive to the proteins or sugars found in milk. If you are considering baking gluten-free products in your home or business, you may also consider baking dairy-free items as well to cater to a wider audience, or to be a more convenient source of both types of items for your family, friends and customers.

Baking Gluten-Free

Those who must adhere to a diet free of gluten are faced with two choices: eat only meat, vegetables and rice, excluding all baked goods, or attempt to find alternatives to products made with wheat and other sources of gluten. Baking gluten-free requires an entirely new way of baking, from the kitchen space to the ingredients used.

Gluten-Free Cooking Space

For bakers who prepare baked goods to sell to the public, it is essential that all gluten-free food be prepared in a certified commercial cooking space that is 100% gluten-free. The kitchen must be completely dedicated to non-wheat items, since even the tiniest of particles floating in the air can make their way into baked products and affect the consumer. For a commercial gluten-free bakery, the equipment must be used solely for gluten-free food preparation.

When baking at home for yourself or a friend, there is no liability involved since the products will not be sold to the public. You can use your own equipment and supplies, but be sure that the supplies and utensils used for gluten-free items are thoroughly washed, rinsed and dried between uses. Or, have a dedicated set of gluten-free supplies on hand. People with wheat allergies are more at risk than those whose bodies simply don’t do well with gluten, but either way, preventing contamination is essential.

Gluten’s Role in Baked Goods

Gluten is challenging to replace in baked goods because it provides important physical traits to dough and batter, including elasticity and stability.

Structure. Gluten is a protein that combines with water to provide the basic structure of breads, cakes, cookies and other baked goods. Gluten forms a web-like structure within dough, developing a structural building block in baked items. The lack of structure in gluten-free flours is just one of the challenges inherent in gluten-free baking.

Elasticity. Gluten acts as an elastic agent, giving dough its stretchy, doughy characteristics. It may help to visualize bakers tossing pizza dough into the air. The gluten in the dough helps it to remain intact despite the stretching, tossing and spinning.

Proofing. Gluten molecules are broken down when kneaded, forming a web-like structure of doughy, elastic bands. These help catch the air bubbles that form when the yeast gives off carbon dioxide, expanding and making the dough rise and achieve that fluffy, full texture.

A Real-Life Gluten-Free Baker

Andi Spoor, baker and co-owner of GF Bake Shoppe in Denver, Colorado has perfected the science of baking gluten-free. Her pizza dough, cookie dough and “Savory Pockets” have made an impact on the lives of gluten-free eaters in the city, and she is hopeful that her products will soon appear for sale in the frozen section of local specialty grocery stores. »Learn More

Gluten is Found in Unexpected Places

Many bakeries use other items in their recipes, such as fruit, vegetables, cheese and nuts. It is important to make sure that you check every single one of the food items you wish to include. Some bakers have found that store-bought grated cheese is coated in a cellulose-based powder, which contains gluten. For your customers’ sake, be committed to the integrity of your product by investigating all brands and all suppliers to ensure that there is no gluten present in the food.

Gluten-Free Ingredients

Baking goods to suit a gluten-free diet can be a challenge, especially for the home baker. Gluten is found in many baking ingredients that help create the typical dough base required for so many cookies, crackers, cakes, pizza crusts and pie crusts. Flour may be one of the most difficult items to replace, since many common flours, such as all-purpose flour, barley flour and rye flour, are out of the question. However, there are many types of gluten-free flours that can be combined to create a viable alternative to wheat flour.

The most common types of gluten-free flours are described below:

Flour Purpose or Benefit:

Garbanzo bean flourPopular in Middle Eastern cooking and baking, such as in falafel.
Fava bean flourHigh in fiber and iron, described as having an earthy flavor. Often mixed with garbanzo beans to form Garvava flour
Sorghum flourA semi-exotic grain milled into a starchy flour. Absorbs flavors well and provides a good source of fiber and iron. Sometimes imparts a bitter aftertaste.
Rice flourMade with white or brown rice. Offers added pliability to crusts without any added flavors. Brown rice flour contains bran and is great for muffins and breads. Look for fine-textured rice flour for the best results.
Soy flourProvides a good source of quality protein, has a nutty flavor and helps create a pleasant texture. Particularly good for brownies.
Potato flourProvides a dense, moist crumb when mixed with other flours in baked goods.
Tapioca flourA starch extracted from cassava roots, also called cassava flour. Improves texture and lends a crispier, golden-brown crust. Also used in puddings and as a thickener in cooking. Use it to obtain a chewier texture.
Amaranth flourCombines well with other flours to create a smoother texture in cakes and some breads. High in protein, fiber, iron and calcium.
Potato starch flourMade from a complex process requiring the starch to be separated from the whole potato. Denser than potato flour and provides a good substitute for wheat flour.
Millet flourHistoric mainly in Asian cooking, and often combined with other flours. Known for its natural sweetness and imparts a crunchy crust in breads.

Flours to Avoid

A baker scooping flour from a bin

The following flours may not immediately seem harmful to those with gluten-intolerances, but they should be avoided at all times in a commercial gluten-free bakery.

  • All-purpose flour
  • Plain flour
  • Bulgar flour
  • Sauce flour
  • Bread flour
  • Self-rising flour
  • Brown flour
  • Semolina flour
  • Cake flour
  • Spelt flour
  • Durham flour
  • Triticale flour
  • Granary flour
  • Wheaten corn flour
  • Graham flour
  • Wholemeal flour
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Kamut flour

Other Ingredients to Consider

When it comes to gluten-free cooking, there are other important ingredients outside of flours that can help create an authentic taste, texture or structure without the presence of gluten. Consider these gluten-free ingredients that offer some interesting and sometimes essential additions to gluten-free baked goods:

Ingredient Purpose or Benefit:

QuinoaA complete-protein, rice-like grain. Great for breads, adds a nutty flavor and crunchy texture.
PolentaA cornmeal-based mush. An ideal component of gluten-free toppings or use in casseroles.
EggsA high protein, very important ingredient in gluten-free baking to add texture and stability. Also used to add extra moisture and protein to baked goods.
CornstarchA powder ground from the hearts of corn kernels. Lightens and softens breads and cakes, used as a thickener and also a key component of powdered sugar.
CornmealThis ingredient imparts a strong corn flavor, good for pancakes, waffles or cakes. It is often used in conjunction with flours.
Xanthan gumA food additive derived from a microorganism called Zanthomonas campestris. Great as a gluten substitute.
Guar gumDerived from the seed of a Cyamopsis tetragonolobus plant. Great as a gluten substitute.

Gluten-free baking has grown in popularity in recent years, but it takes a skilled baker to deliver a product that tastes just a good as traditional recipes. If you are just starting out, try a few of these ingredients first and see what you think. The best baked goods are often results of extended experimentation until a viable mixture and process is discovered.


About Author

Jamie Alberico

I've come a long way from peanut butter and ramen. Trust me. If I can figure out how to make a healthy and delicious meal-- so can you! And best of all, I'll share my do's and don'ts. (I've learned a lot of don'ts!)

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