I may not be Martha Stewart or Betty Crocker, but I know a few things about baking and cooking. I have been playing in the kitchen for almost 25 years and loving every minute of it…well, at least until it’s time to wash the dishes – I am a 25 year fan of the “I hate to wash the dishes” club. I had my first bake sale when I was around 10, and I prepared all of my items from scratch. When I was in middle school, Home Ec was a big joke for me because it would take us 3 days of measuring, mixing and stirring just to make a recipe and I was BORED out of my mind! Then in high school, I began preparing most, if not all, of my family’s meals, not because I was forced to do it, but because I liked to cook! During this time I also started preparing healthier food, fewer fried and more baked items, and this is when I began to lose weight.
I have been on an almost life-long journey baking artisan bread and cooking good food, and boy has it ever changed in 25 years! I went from using fine, soft wheat cake flour to almond and coconut flour! I went from using white sugar to using stevia and small amounts of raw honey and coconut sugar. From margarine to real-deal butter. From fat-free skim milk (yes, I confess, I was one of those), to REAL milk or coconut milk. I went from fat-free and sugar-free Cool Whip to REAL cream that I whip myself.
Because of my love for the kitchen, this blog and my two cookbooks have been a dream come true! Before Connor was born, I was even blessed to prepare my recipes and sell them at the Farmer’s Market… it was hard work, but an awesome experience! Sharing with others my recipes and knowledge of food preparation just makes me happy! I am excited that I can help the 65-year-old grandmother prepare grain-free foods, as well as the teenager who is just beginning her food preparation journey. Knowing how to cook is a life skill that has been lost by this generation and it makes me sad. I believe everyone should be able to cook for themselves and their family, and I want to teach the world, one recipe and cookbook at a time!
I know some of you that follow my blog have been avid cooks for longer than I have been alive, while others have never set a foot in the kitchen until being forced to after giving up grains. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned pro, I hope this series of posts will help to make you feel more comfortable and confident with baking and preparing grain-free foods that you will be proud of and your family and friends will love.
Lesson 1: All about Common Grain Free Flours
There are 3 main flour types used in grain-free baking: Nut Flours, Coconut Flour & Seed Flours
1. Nut flours
Nut flours are just that…nuts that have been ground into a fine flour. One of the main nut flours used is Almond flour, specifically blanched almond flour.
Blanched almond flour is made by blanching almonds to remove their skin and grinding them into a fine flour or meal. These flours can be purchased online, in health food stores, as well as in larger grocery stores. (See Bottom of post about where to purchase them for best price.) The brands do differ in how fine their flours are, and for this reason, I recommend Honeyville Grains. Their almond flour is very consistent, it’s fine in texture and is reasonably priced. Other brands such as Bob’s Red Mill are VERY pricey and are not as finely ground. In a pinch, this brand can be used, but the final outcome may be a little denser in texture.
Natural almond flour is also an option. It is made from almonds that still have their skin on and is usually less expensive than blanched. When using natural almond flour in recipes, the result is a little more coarse in texture, which is fine for scones and muffins, but not recommended for cakes. The result will also be a light brown color from the almond skins in the flour. If you are looking to save some money, natural almond flour may be the way to go in the beginning.
You can also make your own almond flour (more like meal) by grinding whole or sliced (unsalted and unroasted) almonds in your food processor until they resemble a coarse meal. This method will also produce a slightly denser product which is fine for muffins and scones but not delicate enough for cakes.
Other nut flours There is a laundry list of other nut flours that can be used in recipes, sometimes interchangeably, for a slightly different flavor and texture. Other nut flours include pecan, hazelnut, and cashew. Really, any nut can be made into a flour. These nut flours are usually more like meal and not as fine as Honeyville’s blanched almond flour, so would work well in denser recipes such as muffins.
Products labeled “meals” are not as fine as “flour” and should not be used in a recipe unless it is specifically called for.
2. Coconut flour
Coconut flour is made from dried coconut flesh which has been ground up into a fine powder or flour. The name is misleading, because a coconut is not really a nut, but actually a fruit. The recommendation is if you are allergic to tree nuts, talk to your allergist before adding coconut to your diet, but it is most likely safe. (Source) For most, it is PERFECT for grain-free and nut-free baking.
Recommended Brands: Bob’s Red Mill, Tropical Traditions & Nutiva coconut flours are my preferred brands because of their finer texture. I DO NOT recommend Honeyville’s coconut flour. It is not as fine, and not as absorbent as the other brands, which produces inconsistent results.
Coconut flour is very fibrous and, in my experience, CANNOT and SHOULD NOT be substituted in any recipe unless coconut flour is called for. Because it is so fibrous, I do not recommend consuming it in large quantities or you will have what they call “tummy troubles.” Most coconut flour recipes require LOTS of eggs and liquid due to the fibrous nature. Don’t try to cut back on the eggs, they are needed! I typically use a combination of almond and coconut flour to create the perfect texture for a recipe. However, there are recipes that contain only almond or only coconut flour.
3. Seed flours
Flour can be made out of seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds. Sunflower and pumpkin seed flours can be used interchangeably for almond flour in recipes for a nut-free option. Simply grind raw and unsalted sunflower or pumpkin seeds in a food processor until it resembles a fine meal. Use it cup for cup in place of almond flour in recipes like cookies, muffins and scones.
Note: If using sunflower seed flour, your final product may turn green. This is due to the reaction of the baking soda and chlorogenic acid found in the sunflower seeds. Many places on the web suggest halving the amount of baking soda or baking powder used to balance the acid in the recipe.
Flaxseeds can be purchased as meal, or purchased whole to grind into a flour. Using flaxseed meal usually gives structure to grain-free recipes. Golden flaxseeds are lighter in color and have a milder or more neutral flavor, while the brown flaxseeds have more of a nutty flavor and are more readily available and affordable. ( Just to clarify, I would not make substitutions for flaxseed meal either.)
Other “flours” used in grain-free recipes include tapioca starch, potato starch, garbanzo bean flour, other bean flours and arrowroot powder. These flours are a bit starchier, but do contribute structural value to the given recipes. I personally don’t use these flours except for arrowroot, and I only use it in very small amounts.
Arrowroot starch/powder or flour is used for thickening and stabilizing gravies and baked goods. It is made from the tubers or roots of certain tropical plants. Arrowroot powder is sometimes used as a flour in baked goods and other times used in recipes in the place of wheat flour or corn starch to thicken gravies. If using to make gravy, it should be added at the very end of cooking to prevent the final product from becoming gelatinous, usually as part of a slurry to prevent lumps. As previously stated, because it is a starch, I only use it in small quantities in recipes. If trying to keep your grain-free goodies lower in carbohydrates, it is best to limit these other flours.
Flours I do NOT recommended using in grain-free baking include rice flour, oat flour or any other grain-based flours. These flours are heavy in carbohydrates and can potentially contain wheat, so they should be avoided.
Nut and seed flours are not cheap, so you want to make sure you store them correctly. For the long-term, store nut, seed and coconut flours in the freezer to prevent them from going rancid. You can store the flours in their original packaging, or in freezer safe containers or use other packaging devices that help with this and you can find at sites like http://rtgpkg.com/sollas-overwrappers/. Store flours in the freezer or fridge until the day you are ready to use them, and allow them to come to room temperature before measuring and using in a recipe.
Food Storage when using Grain-Free Flours
Unlike your grandma’s pound cake that is fine left out covered on the counter, you should take a little more caution with your precious grain-free foods. Prepared grain-free recipes should always be refrigerated to prevent them from spoiling. Ideally, most recipes are ok to be left out of the refrigerator for half a day, but to preserve your foods, it is recommended they be refrigerated or frozen. In the refrigerator, your baked goods will last from 4-7 days, and in the freezer, anywhere from 1-2 months.
If freezing grain-free baked goods, be sure to wrap the food in foil or plastic wrap and then place the food in a bag or storage container to prevent it from absorbing other food odors, as well as to prevent it from drying out. Also be sure to label your item and date it.
How to correctly measure flours
As mentioned before, I use blanched almond flour from Honeyville in my recipes when using almond flour. I appreciate that some people make their own, but already ground flour is one luxury that I insist upon having in my kitchen! Honeyville’s almond flour is ground into the finest texture I have tried, and this makes for lighter cakes. However, I know many people who are happy with the results from using almond flour that they grind themselves. One thing you may not realize is the amount of almond flour you measure in a 1 cup measuring cup can vary GREATLY depending on how you measure (and the brand you use).
- Nut flours and other grain-free flours, room temperature
- Dry measuring cups
1. Stir almond flour in the container with measuring cup to aerate the flour and break up any lumps.
2. Use correct dry measuring cup (not liquid) and scoop into container of almond flour, over-filling the cup.
3. Using your hand (or butter knife), run your hand across the top of the full cup to push off any extra flour that doesn’t fit into the cup without packing the almond flour.
One cup of blanched Honeyville Almond flour = 3.05 ounces or 86 grams when weighed using a digital scale.
Note: When measuring seed flours, especially the ones you have made yourself, it is best to go by weight, not volume. Example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of almond flour, be sure to weigh your sunflower seed flour to measure approximately 3.05 oz., or 86 grams.
Use this same method when measuring all other flours, including coconut flour.
- - Pouring the almond flour into the measuring cup. This will result in LOTS of air and less almond flour than needed.
- - Pack the flour into the measuring cup to see how much will fit. This will result in TOO MUCH almond flour and probably a dry end product.
- I am not saying that you need to start weighing your flours, but if you have been getting inconsistent results, you should give my measuring method a try, especially when following my recipes. Too, weighing your flours will give you more consistent results.
Other weight measurements to note:
1 cup of coconut flour weights approximately 4 oz. or 112 grams.
Where to purchase flours for best price
- Blanched Almond Flour: Honeyville Farms’ almond flour can be purchased on their site or through Amazon.
- Natural Almond Flour: Honeyville or this cheaper brand on Amazon.
- Coconut Flour: Tropical Traditions & Bob’s Red Mill on Amazon.
- Seeds to make flour: Whole, raw sunflower and pumpkin seeds on Amazon.
- Golden & Brown Flaxseeds: Brown & Golden
- Arrowroot Starch/Powder: Nuts.com, Amazon or Bob’s Red Mill
If you would like to purchase blanched almond flour, coconut flour, arrowroot powder and other grain-free baking supplies all from one place, please check out my Grain-Free Starter Kits.