The Myth of a Cup For Cup Gluten-Free Flour
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Searching for a gluten-free flour blend that can literally substitute cup for cup in conventional baking recipes is like searching for unicorns. Or the sound of one hand clapping. Or … more »

Myth of a Cup for Cup Gluten Free FlourSearching for a gluten-free flour blend that can literally substitute cup for cup in conventional baking recipes is like searching for unicorns. Or the sound of one hand clapping. Or like trying to teach a pig to sing.

I have, by now, tested many a gluten-free flour blend. But I have had my eyes wide open the whole time. I took note of each flour blend’s cup for cup claim – and then ignored it. That’s why I have been using my gluten-free recipes for the each test, rather than using conventional recipes. Some of you asked me why. That’s why.

You see, they’re different. Gluten-free recipes and conventional recipes are different.

Gluten-free food should taste so great it makes your toes curl. It shouldn’t be “good, for gluten-free.” And I will not rest until not a single soul ever again tells us to “c’mon,” since “no gluten-free pizza is going to be any good.” The hell it isn’t.

But that doesn’t mean that our path to excellent is exactly the same. We have to get there another way. We have to make our own way. Gluten-free baking is still the Wild, Wild West. No one can claim to know everything about it. Sometimes, we’re still groping around in the dark.

I’ve swallowed that pill. Have you? I’m still going. Here’s where I’m going, and what you can expect along the way.

With yeast bread recipes in particular, like the Japanese Milk Bread with a tangzhong or water roux that you see at the top of this post, we have to reinvent the wheel. My recipe bears almost no resemblance to any other Japanese Milk Bread recipe. It needs more liquid, it needs stabilizers, and the process is completely different.

Same goes for those Pretzel Bite Snacks above. A totally different animal.

And Hot Cross Buns.

Most gluten-free flour companies that make an all-purpose gluten-free flour tell you that all you have to do is just replace an equal amount of their flour in your favorite recipes, and that’s that. Some of those companies sell amazing gluten-free flour blends, and I’m a fan of all-purpose gluten-free flour from way back.

But that claim? It’s not even interesting to me. I blow right past it. We took out gluten! When we did that, we removed the essential protein in wheat-based flours that gives baked goods their texture and mouth feel. No matter what we replace it with, it’s just not going to behave exactly the same in the process of baking. Same result, different route.

What I’m expecting  is an all-purpose gluten-free flour. One that performs well for all purposes. But that doesn’t mean it performs the same as gluten-containing flour. And it doesn’t have to.

For some recipes, like empanadas, or any other dough that must be rolled out, we have to work a little harder. The ingredients in a recipe are going to be different (more moisture, more and varied protein sources, sometimes more fat). Even more importantly, the process is going to be different.


To make Traditional Puff Pastry, both the ingredient proportions and the instructions in a conventional recipe just aren’t going to cut it.

Same goes for anything made with pastry crust, like Mini Apple Pies, in your hand.

Now that doesn’t mean that nothing is the same. Take this Dark Chocolate Truffle Tart. The filling is exactly the same as it would be in a conventional recipe. But the crust is a different story entirely.

To make Rainbow Cookies like these, a conventional recipe would probably get you a cookie that looks just about right, in many ways. But it would probably be a bit dry, maybe not hold together like it should. I don’t know about you, but for me? That’s not good enough. That’s how we end up hearing “it’s good—for gluten-free.”

Cakes are in a similar category. Like this Devil’s Food Cake. The wrong recipe can even mask the chocolate flavor, no matter how much cocoa powder you use. If you want it to have a tender crumb and the right mouth feel, the kind that makes a birthday really special, we’re going to have to do you one better than a conventional recipe.

Same goes for muffins. These Blueberry Muffins might be ‘okay’ with a traditional recipe, but ‘okay’ isn’t okay by me.

Brownies are a notable exception, especially if they’re fudgey, like these Grasshopper (mint-chocolate) Brownies. Brownies like that don’t call for much flour at all. Go ahead and use whatever recipe you like. If it’s a good conventional recipe, it should make a really good gluten-free brownie if you substitute a high-quality all-purpose gluten-free flour 1:1 for the conventional flour (by weight, though).

And, to be fair, when Cake Pops go gluten-free, there’s nothing different. Just grab your gluten-free cake, and do what everyone else does.

If you’re looking for Gluten-free Froot Loops, though, I’m afraid you’re stuck with my gluten-free recipe. I don’t think you’ll find a conventional recipe for that one anywhere. ;)

My unsolicited advice? Go into baking gluten-free with your eyes wide open. It takes experience to know how to modify a conventional recipe to make it a gluten-free one. Start with good gluten-free recipes, and move on from there. Don’t expect magic from an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend. Expect great food, made just a bit differently.

Expect the world from the things you cook and bake.

Love,
Me

P.S. Please don’t throw tomatoes at me. I say this all with l-o-v-e. I want you to be successful, early and often. I want you to eat better than you ever have before.

P.P.S. If you already have My Cookbook, thank you! Your support means the world to me. If not, no time like the present.

  • http://therunwithin.wordpress.com Alex @ therunwithin

    I can’t believe these are all gluten free. For someone who is allergic to gluten I am seriously drooling over these!

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      You can make every one of them yourself, Alex. ;)
      xoxo Nicole

  • April

    Thanks for telling the truth! Many companies would have you believe that their flour acts exactly the same as wheat flour. That will never be the case. But fortunately for those of us that don’t have time or patience to experiment, there are people like yourself. Thank you for everything you do! You are helping those with food allergies enjoy food again!

    • Linda H

      I agree!!! Thanks for all you do, Nicole.

      • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

        Hi, Linda,
        You bet. :)
        xoxo Nicole

    • Angel

      Ditto! Thank Heaven for Nicole!

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Thank you so much for the kind words, April! I imagine that companies tell you their flour is cup for cup because that is what we want to hear. But I don’t think it’s realistic – or even necessary. We can manage!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Anneke

    Great post, Nicole! We all need a little reminder sometimes.

  • Darlene

    I have solved the problem of being unable to find a great recipe for a moist spongy GF cake. I’ve eliminated the middle man and just eat the frosting right out of the tub.

    • Anonymous

      I love your solution!

  • Darlene

    .. admittedly, I haven’t tried your recipe yet. But in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my method.

  • Margaret

    And this is exactly why I follow your blog and read every word you post. You do all the testing and make it so much more simple for me. While there are some recipes I can covert easily (the Coconut Pound Cake recipe I made GF last weekend was awesome) for most things, I watch what you do and follow your suggestions. The best suggestion I have read? Follow a recipe exactly the first time you make it. Don’t make any substitutions if you want the same result. That was really important information. And thank you for your book and all the work you put into it. I love it!

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, Margaret,
      Thank you so much for your kindness. Yup. Follow the recipe to the letter, then go off and fool around with it if you are so inclined. Then at least you’ll know when and where you strayed. :)
      xoxo Nicole

  • Alison

    It’s hard to believe that all of those delicious goodies are gluten-free. Really beautiful stuff!

    Thank you for reminding us that while our gluten-free substitutions can be fabulous, they aren’t going to be exactly the same as the originals.

    I have had decent luck with 1-1 substitutions using a new GF flour mix here in Boulder from Outrageous Baking Co. http://www.outrageousbaking.com . Though, admittedly I haven’t been quite as adventurous as you ;-)

    Thanks again for the honesty and for inspiring me to be a little more creative when it comes to gluten-free baking.

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      It seems there are new companies putting out all-purpose gluten-free flours all the time, Alison! I haven’t even heard of most of the regional ones, like the one you mentioned. So glad you’re inspired. That is what makes it fun. :)
      xoxo Nicole

  • http://Cox.net Michelle Moon

    On April 26, 2012 from Michelle:

    Nicole,
    Michelle so glad to hear from You so sorry if we have asked you too many questions,
    but for some of us we are just learning and need all the help we can get I am thankful to
    have you to be there for Me..,,

    Love your,
    Friend Michelle xoxoxoxo

  • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com NIsa

    I love ya Nicole! I especially love your attitude and humor. My motto with my gf cooking is “To Live for.” My son, when diagnosed a year and a half ago at age 11, wanted to die. Sensitive age.
    So I made it my quest not to accept mediocre food replacements and to require every food item to be worthy of, “To Live for.” It’s a lot of work isn’t it? I made the whole house gf so that my son is not alone here at home. Thanks to your work my load has lightened considerably. I am a devoted fan enjoying your weekly posts and salivating for your next cookbook!

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, Nlsa,
      I like that. Food to live for. Mediocre is absolutely a fail in my book, too. Cheers to that!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Vanessa :P

    Thank you for finally putting that out there! And of course for dissecting it down to a science, love that.

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      You bet, Vanessa. The science is the most fun part for me. :)
      xoxo Nicole

  • http://www.afamilyslife.wordpress.com Lori from a Family’s Life

    All of these things look delicious!

    I definitely agree with your comments about brownies, making them my go to gluten free treat to make!

    I’m going to try one of your other recipes this weekend though!

  • Kristen P

    These all look very yummy! I’m definitely going to try some!

    Just wondering if you’ve tried (or heard of) Maninis Gluten Free flour mixes. They don’t claim to be all-purpose in fact most are bread mixes themselves. But they do make an multi-purpose flour. From the products I’ve tried, these are excellent. Here is their website in case you’d like to check them out.

    http://maninisglutenfreeblog.com/

    I am in no way associated with them….just LOVE their product!

    Thanks for your blog….I just found you and will be checking in often! :)

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, Kristen,
      No, I have never heard of that flour. I’m a little skeptical of anything that calls itself “multi-purpose,” rather than “all-purpose,” but good luck!
      xoxo Nicole

  • http://[email protected] Cindy

    This is great! I finally gave up trying. Now I stick with Pamela’s baking mix. I’ve made the best cheesecake I’ve ever had with gluten free crust made with that mix. I’ve mastered carrot cake, spice cake and quite a few other desserts. Cookies on the other hand still elude me frequently but I’ve figured out enough with this mix (and I use their bread mix for my daughter’s bread) that I am happy. I’m not a master baker and I don’t have time to become one but I’ve made gluten free baking workable, and often delicious, in our house.

    • Chris

      If you can find gluten-free oats and they’re OK for your situation, please see browneyedbaker.com. She has Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies that are SO EASY to make G-Free…as long as you’re sure your choice of ingredients won’t disappoint you. (My personal flour substitution is 1/3 cup EACH sweet sorghum flour, white or brown rice flour, and tapioca starch PLUS one extra tablespoon of the sorghum flour. Plus I ALWAYS chill the dough thoroughly before baking!) The one in my house who favors chocolate chip cookies and can also eat gluten would RATHER eat these! I hope you don’t give up on finding a few cookie recipes that work for you. It took me a while but now I have at least two dozen that work perfectly every time! Not that that’s a good thing for my blubber belly…

      • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

        I have many, many cookie recipes that work well, Chris. You can find them here.
        Nicole

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, Cindy,
      I’m glad you have had success with Pamela’s baking mix. You should know, though, that Pamela’s is not intended to be an all-purpose gluten-free flour. It is a baking mix like Bisquick. It contains many other ingredients than are present in all-purpose flour, such as baking powder, baking soda and salt.
      Nicole

  • Jannyjo

    Amen! Thank you so much Nicole for all of your work testing and creating these recipes!
    BTW, GFBoy absolutely LOVES the banana pancake muffins from your cookbook! I made a batch early this week and he has been eating them every morning. lol He likes them with some maple syrup once they’ve been heated for a few seconds in the microwave.

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      I wouldn’t mind a warm banana pancake muffin with some maple syrup Jannyjo. Make my syrup warm, please. :) Oh, and thanks for the ‘amen.’ Love a good amen.
      xoxo Nicole

  • Erin

    I love that you said this. I get tired of the promise of these miracle flour substitutes…hello, nothing can be a true replacement for gluten! So we need special recipes that finesse these ridiculous flours we have to use – I mean seriously, who here imagined themselves making baked goods out of BEANS for pete’s sake. I remember the first time I made pancakes according to the directions on the box of GF Bisquick – this was after reading all these reviews of how it was an “awesome product” and how everyone’s kids and husbands gobbled it up like they couldn’t tell the difference, they just loved them, etc., etc….I thought they sucked! I actually cried a little! Maybe that’s stupid, but damn! I haven’t been diagnosed celiac that long and I guess I just remember what a wheat pancake tastes like and how wheat flour is supposed to behave. Anyway, right on for telling it like it is – this stuff is hard work and we have to just respect that fact and roll up our sleeves a little bit. I love the joy of gluten free recipes that work but let’s be honest, it doesn’t mean I don’t miss the joy and ease of gluten now and then. ;)

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      I hear you, Erin. I think maybe the flour companies that say they are cup-for-cup are afraid that if they don’t say that, people will be intimidated. And in that way, I’m on their side completely. I don’t want people to be intimidated, either. But I do think it’s misleading in a sense, especially when beginning bakers think that, with the right flour, any recipe will work GF. It just won’t. But that’s okay. It doesn’t mean we can’t get there, right?
      xoxo Nicole

  • Kara

    I was scared of baking pregluten free and I am even more scared of it now! I have dipped my toe in the water a few times and your blog/book is the first place I start. One of these days I’ll jump in, but for now I continue to read/pin your posts! Thanks for making it so simple, and a little less terrifying, for baking novices like me! : )

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Jump in, Kara! Honestly, if you have a high-quality all-purpose gluten-free flour like Better Batter, and you follow the recipe without making any modifications at all (down to using room temperature ingredients), you will be successful. Nothing to be afraid of, I promise. Developing GF recipes can be hard, but baking GF when you have a tested recipe really isn’t hard.
      xoxo Nicole

  • Andrea

    Thank you Nicole! I can’t wait to try your recipes. We just went gluten free and I about cried when I saw my challah made with Tom’s sitting like a log in my challah pan doing NOTHING! I just bought the Better Batter flour and need to find a good challah recipe. I used mine with the Tom’s with some extra yeast, oil, water and honey hoping that would help but it doesn’t look liked it work. Help! If someone has a challah recipe that uses about 3.5 cups of flour that would be great. I can’t justify using a 5lb box of $25 flour! I’m going to Amazon now to check out your cookbook! Hopefully some of these blog recipes are in there. Especially the Puff Pastry!

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, Andrea,
      If you haven’t yet, you really should read my review of Tom Sawyer flour in yeast bread from earlier this week. It doesn’t work with yeast, I’m afraid. :( I don’t have a recipe for GF challah, per se, but my recipe for Brioche Bread, which is in my cookbook, is very similar (although not braided). The current book doesn’t have a recipe for GF Puff Pastry (the traditional recipe is only on the blog for now), but my next cookbook, coming out this October, has a recipe for Quick(er) Puff Pastry. Hope that helps!
      xoxo Nicole

      • Andrea

        Thanks Nicole. I had seen the review after I got the flour in the mail. I had hoped that maybe I could tweak it a bit and although I wouldn’t get a great rise, it would work until I could try with the Better Batter flour next week when it comes in. It can’t be as bad as last week when I tried to make challah with the KAF GF bread mix. It was the worst tasting and textured bread I have ever made and I really like KAF’s gluten free stuff. I ordered the entire sampler pack of Better Batter and am curious to see how it compares. Again, thanks carving the road for us newly gluten free bakers! It is always nice to follow in the footsteps of a pioneer.

        • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

          Oh, yeah. King Arthur Flour doesn’t work at all in yeast breads, either. I’m always so torn about mentioning things like that outright, without being asked. I don’t want to trash talk, but it really just doesn’t work. Since neither works in yeast bread, I officially don’t consider them “all-purpose” flours. They don’t work for “all purposes.” :( You’re going to love Better Batter, Andrea.
          I may be paving a new road, but it would be very, very lonely and not at all inspiring if it weren’t for you, right behind me. :)
          xoxo Nicole

          • Andrea

            In my past gluten life, I never used all purpose flour. I had bread flour for breads, hi gluten flour or 00 for pizza depending on what kind I wanted to make, cake flour for cake and brownies and pastry flour for cookies and pastry. I actually found you looking for a gluten free puff pastry. I was thrilled when you mentioned Cup4Cup handling like a true pastry flour. If I can only find one that handles like a bread flour and not make challah with the texture of rubber or as hard as a brick, I’ll be in business. I bought your cookbook today and can’t wait to start trying some of your recipes. I’m excited about Better Batter, not too excited about the cost. It is what it is.

            • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

              Hi, Andrea,
              Better Batter is only $0.93 a cup. It’s by far the cheapest all-purpose gluten-free flour – and frankly it works the best. If you buy it retail, it’s much more expensive, as they all are. Be careful using your previous bread recipes, though. Gluten-free bread requires a gluten-free recipe to be successful. You’ll have bread that tastes like bread – even indistinguishable from its gluten-containing cousins. :)
              xoxo Nicole

              • Amy

                How else would you buy it other than “retail”? Would love to know :)

                • Andrea

                  Amy I’m buying directly from Better Batter in 25lb lots. I have to drive 25 miles to buy it retail and with tax and the cost of gas, it will be cheaper to have it shipped to me.

                  Nicole, Naomi from Better Batter is going to look at my challah recipe and tell me what and where I need to tweak to make it come out how I need it to come out. It was awesome and they definitely have a loyal customer in me now. I’m anxious to try their brownies as I can’t get the timing for the KAF GF brownies down and they always seem to over cook, same with the chocolate cake. Makes me sad as a baker. PS, I told my best friend about your blog and cookbook! She bought herself a cookbook too!

  • Tracey Gonneau on Facebook

    I often find your honesty about this gluten free world the best part of your blog and recipes. Your failure translates into my success. I try your recipes, eaten with elan and satisfaction, often heard is the sentiment “gluten free???”. You’re my gf champ, cup for cup.

  • Lori

    I have a bread machine without a gluten free setting. I’ve read that all I have to do is cancel the second rise to make GF bread. Any sugestions?

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  • http://blog.glutenfreeclub.com Angie Halten

    Fantastic information!

  • Amy

    Hi Nicole!

    Been meaning to ask if you’ve tried Pamela’s brand Bread flour mix for baking. I tried many of your recipes using her brand and it always seemed I had to add 3or4 times the amount of flour to get the dough the proper consistency. Have you experimented yet with her brand.? I like the taste and price of it, and would like to keep using it if possible, but it’s getting to be a bit expensive with all that extra flour I am using. Also your recipes come out much denser also as a result (for instance, with yor recipe for flour tortillas from your book which I own). Thanks for your help, and love the blog! Thanks for sharing all your talents and wisdom with us !

    • Amy

      By the way, I am referring to her bread and flour mix, not the baking and pancake mix. I just noticed that it also contains cane sugar and sea salt. Interesting.

      • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

        Hi, Amy,
        It is generally not a good idea to use any sort of flour blend that is tailored to a specific purpose, like a “baking mix” or a “bread mix” as an all-purpose flour. If it is not intended to be an all-purpose flour, it will have other ingredients added to it, as you’re discovering.
        xoxo Nicole

  • http://armylifetohomeschooling.blogspot.com Dede

    First, I want to say I LOVE you site. GF and I are still getting to know each other. I was craving blueberry muffins the other day and used your recipe , and WOW!! Is all I can say, even my GF loving pre-teen sang your praises.
    Thank you, and I look forward to trying more out.

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      You’re very welcome, Dede. So glad you and your preteen enjoyed the muffins. :)
      xoxo Nicole

  • http://www.facebook.com/CeliacCorner CeliacCorner on Facebook

    Great post, and I am also inspired by your images to duplicate (well, attempt to) every recipe you mentioned in the post!

  • http://alysagoodstuffglutenfree.blogspot.com Alysa Good Stuff

    Love this post and your site. I subscribed to your blog! Good Stuff! I have to repost this post :)

  • laura

    Nicole,
    In many of your recipes online you include as ingredients:
    AP GF flour and xanthan gum with the stipulation to omit if using Better Batter. Well, I bought your cookbook and Better Batter. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book cover to cover, but I don’t see the omission of xantham gum comment. I am just wondering if whenever something calls for xantham gum, if using Better Batter, it should be omitted?

    Oh and I can’t wait to make Soft Pretzels!! And so many other yummy treats. Tomorrow, I am going to start with an ‘easy’ cheddar crackers recipe.
    Thank you for all you do for the GF baking challenged.
    -Laura

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, Laura,
      Thanks so much for picking up a copy of the cookbook. It doesn’t remind you in every recipe to omit the xanthan gum if you are using Better Batter, but that instruction is in the early narrative chapters. So, yes, omit it! My next book has a reminder on each page to omit the xanthan gum if your blend already contains it. :)
      xoxo Nicole

      • laura

        Thanks Nicole!
        I was too excited to read the recipes that I didn’t read the narrative. I appreciate the quick response! You must have too much time on your hands. Get cooking! :-)

        • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

          Right. That’s it, Laura. Too much time on my hands… ;)

  • Hope Newcomer on Facebook

    @Louise Wall: I found that when I weighed the regular flour and then used the Dove’s Farm (UK) gluten free flour at the same weight, I had a good result.

  • Doris

    Hi Nicole. I have been gluten free for 2 years now. I don’t use a commercially pre-blended flour mix, instead I blend my own mix for an all-purpose mix. It took my stubbornness to fall in line after a ye3ar to measure by weight and now will not go back to volume measurements. I concur with you on this post that gluten free baking does have to do things differently in order to achieve the results we are all looking for. Keep up the good work, love your posts keeps giving me new ideas to explore.

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, Doris,
      So glad you’ve gotten comfortable with baking by weight. It really is the only way to achieve consistency in results!
      xoxo Nicole

  • Jane

    Hi Nicole,

    You mention the importance of weighing flour before using it … the problem is, how much is right, since flours are different weights and consistencies. How do I know what is right, without running the risk of having too much or too little in a recipe? Your help is appreciated … like everything you do – you are wonder!

    • http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/ Nicole

      Hi, Jane,
      Great question. That is precisely why I do not recommend using your own blend of flours, unless you are willing to put in a ton of trial and error before relying upon one particular blend as your “all-purpose flour.” I recommend using a high-quality all-purpose gluten-free flour like Better Batter, and baking by weight. That’s why I include both volume and weight measurements in all of my recipes now. I have always baked by weight, but until recently only wrote recipes with volume measurements since I know that is how most Americans feel comfortable. But since and always measured gluten-free flour as 140 grams per cup, and always measured by weight, I decided to include both measurements (both here on the blog, and in my next cookbook). You should read both my recipe for a DIY all-purpose GF flour blend, and my post about 7 mistakes in gluten-free baking. That should help. And keep reading! I plan to do at least one of these teaching/learning posts a week. :)
      xoxo Nicole

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This recipe was brought to you by Nicole Hunn of Gluten-Free on a Shoestring: http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/the-myth-of-a-cup-for-cup-gluten-free-flour/
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