You dream of baking gluten-free and doing it well. Your kid's birthday is coming up, and all she wants is a vanilla layer cake. You have such good intentions!
So why aren't things going your way, Baker Lady?
Mistake #1. You followed the recipe – but in your own special way.
I cannot begin to tell you how many readers have wanted to kill me because of my recipe for Gluten-Free Pancakes.
My recipe has detailed instructions, plus extra tips and tricks. If you follow them to the letter, you will have those pancakes, remarkably like the picture. If you don't, you might not.
The most important thing? Don't try to kill me. I can totally take you. I'm like a ninja.
Mistake #2. You didn't measure your flour by weight.
There have been studies (people who aren't me totally study this stuff) where home bakers have been asked to measure 1 cup of flour by volume. The results were dramatically different – everywhere from 4 ounces (112 grams) to 6 ounces (168 grams). That's a difference of 56 grams – almost one half cup!
Don't make me cite chapter and verse of those stats. Get a scale, and measure by weight, not volume, and nobody gets hurt.
Mistake #3. You threw together “some flours” since you read somewhere that, as long as your blend has the right weight, it doesn't really matter what's in there.
It matters. A lot.
Take a relatively simple recipe like these Gluten-Free Animal Crackers. Roll-out cookies need the right balance. Use the wrong flours, and they're either going to be too wet and sticky to cut out shapes, or too dry and brittle to cut out shapes (the dough will shatter).
And remember, if all that mattered was the total weight of your flour blend, not the individual components, wouldn't my Gluten-Free Flour Test have turned up exactly the same results no matter the blend & no matter the recipe being tested?
Mistake #4. Your ingredients weren't at room temperature. Or your dough wasn't the right temperature before baking.
Having eggs, butter and milk at room temperature really really matters (unless you're making pastry or whipped cream, which call for cold ingredients). If not, they won't incorporate well into the batter. That can leave you with pockets of certain ingredients in higher concentration, and pockets that are missing something imoprtant.
Think about it. When you're making a cake and your butter is room temperature (yay!), but you drop a cold egg in the batter, what happens? The fat in the butter clumps. That's, like, the total opposite of mixing.
Cookie ingredients should be room temperature when you're making the dough. The dough, on the other hand, should be really cold before baking. The recipe told you to do that. Why didn't you do it?
Mistake #5. You made substitutions your first time making a recipe.
I won't belabor the point, since we've already had this chat. Just don't monkey around with the recipe the first time you make it. You need to know what to expect before you put your signature on the recipe.
Mistake #6. You used a multi-ingredient baking mix like Pamela's as an all-purpose gluten-free flour.
Pamela's Baking Mix is a multi-ingredient baking mix, with baking powder, baking soda, salt and other additional ingredients in it. Just because it's worked like a charm for you in the past doesn't mean it will continue to. You got lucky. I guarantee your luck will run out.
Gluten Free Yeast Bread will get you every time, by the way. And when it does, take that sorry excuse for bread and pulse it in your food processor. Fresh gluten-free breadcrumbs are a real treat.
Mistake #7. You didn't use an oven thermometer.
Oven temperature matters a whole heap. And most ovens are off by about 50°F. Mine is off by 75°F! I ignore the dial, and go by my oven thermometer exclusively. That one little switch could be the different between the thrill of victory—and the agony of defeat.
P.S. Already have your copy of Gluten Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread? Thank you! Your support means the world to me. If not, no time like the present!
Sarah Lewis says
How does one go about learning how to properly alter recipes (to make something successful, though not exactly the same as the original recipe, of course), or create their own that will work, chemically? There is plenty of baking science out there, but I don’t know of any that explains gluten free flours.
I’ve done the old-fashioned way. Nearly 10 years of trial and error, and reading everything I can get my hands on. Baking 7 days a week, for many years. I don’t know any other way, I’m afraid.
Nicole, I just wanted to say thanks for the convenient link to your new book on amazon! I went ahead and preordered it. The sooner to have it in my hot little hands, the better! LOL
Thanks so much, Jannyjo! I can’t wait to get it in your hot little hands (or mine for that matter!). Thank you for always being so supportive of the blog. :)
Thank you so much for the tips- they are greatly appreciated! I just bought your cookbook- I’m still pretty new to the gluten free world, and I can’t wait to get it and start baking!!!
So glad you’re motivated, Erin. Ride the wave! And thanks a million for picking up a copy of my cookbook. I’ll be here when you need me. :)
Michelle O says
Love your post Nicole! Also love the one response about making a meat cake out of a vanilla cake recipe and yet it failed! The humor is great :)
I am guilty myself of a couple of your mentions of failures. I have a kitchen FULL of wonderful equipment but have failed to remember to buy two essential tools~ a $2 funnel and a $5 oven thermometer. Someday I will remember both :)
I substitute. I have to, we have allergens besides gluten . But I do try to make it right the first time prior. With that said, I don’t expect the recipe to work if I made ANY change, I don’t expect the blogger to post every substitution or any for that manner and I don’t get nasty about it . I expect though to test it myself and know that certain substitutions just are not going to work~ don’t replace a rice flour blend with a nut or a bean blend. It isn’t going to go well.
I have said this before and I think it is important to say it again. Bloggers offer a gift. A piece of themselves. They don’t charge us. We pay nothing. If we take on their art as our own than we bear the responsibility of it’s outcome. Gluten free is a fussy chemical kind of baking. The humidity, the temperature, the exact combination of ingredients, the method, etc. all matter. You can’t dump it in a bowl in a nilly willy way and expect perfection. I have made recipes and they have come out perfect and the next time not. What changed if the ingredients and method didn’t. Likely~ the weather. Never in a million years would I blame my failure on a blogger. I learn from the experience and next time won’t do the same thing. Nicole can’t come into my kitchen and perfect everything so I have to sometimes do it myself.
You have, indeed, always said that about bloggers. And I really appreciate your perspective. I suspect that there are plenty of people who feel the way that you do, but they tend to be the silent majority. That’s one lesson about blogging that took me a very long time to accept – if you have developed a blog with something of a following, there are plenty of people who appreciate what you do. They just may not say it. But once you reach a certain point, a vocal minority comes to the foreground, criticizing loudly – and often unfairly. It’s just sort of the way it goes. Human nature, I guess. Thank you for always speaking up and being counted as representative of that otherwise silent majority. It helps keep me going!
So true, by the way, that you can’t replace a rice flour blend with a nut or bean flour! Amen. :)
Hi Nicole, How do you feel about Namaste’s all purpose perfect flour blend? I tried it on your muffins and had the same issues one of the readers experienced (they flopped as they cooled) plus mine had a raw texture to them even if I had extended the oven time and they had started browning a little too much (read burning at the bottom). Namaste contains Xanthan Gum, so I didn’t add any. I am a decent gluten baker, but I am trying to ease up on it for health issues in the family; so this is not my first attempt at baking, just at GF baking.
I will definitely try again measuring flour by weight, using a thermometer and following all rules in the post to a T… But I would love to hear what you have to say about Namaste. I have CAD$13.50 worth of it (1Kg) in my pantry and I need to use it, we don’t get a lot of GF flour alternatives where I live. I want to make sure I can make the recipes work with the resources I find in my neck of the woods (Montreal) to then add your beautiful book(s) to my baking book collection. Baking is therapy for me and I don’t want to give it up just because I am cutting down on gluten! Thanks a gazillion.
Unfortunately, I do not have anything good to say about Namaste all purpose blend. The problem is not xanthan gum or lack of it. The problem is the blend. The chemistry is really off, I’m sorry to say.
Keep at it. You’ll get the hang of gluten-free baking.
Michelle O says
Namaste Perfect flour blend is a totally different blend that what Nicole’s recipes really comprise of. It has sorghum, sweet rice and no potato starch or potato flour found in Better Batter. I have used the perfect flour blend and liked it for the banana bread recipe on the bag but have found it is not my favorite choice. I may have to go back to it due to potato allergy in the family ( bummer )! You may want to try to find the component flours that are in her Mock Better Batter recipe and try that. Different areas of the US and Canada have totally different products available, and I am often forced to purchase online to get the items that I want. Good luck!
Thanks Nicole & Michelle for your replies. Michelle, do you happen to have that banana bread recipe? My bag comes with a recipe for granola bars which I am not interested in right now. Thanks!
Unfortunately, I ask that readers not share their own recipes on this site. Perhaps you two could connect on Facebook or by email? I do have a recipe for banana bread here on the blog, if you are interested.
Thanks for understanding!
First, I want to say, I have your first book and I love it and can’t wait for the second.
Second, Thank you for doing all the leg work. I am new to GF baking and your book was a life saver for me and my family. Having only been GF since March of this year I am still learning by trial and error, well a ton more error really , and your book helped me and still continues to.
Thank you so much for your support in buying the book(s). I sincerely appreciate it. And I’m so happy I’ve been able to help you and your family in some small way. These early months of gluten-free are by far the hardest. It sounds like you’re over the hump, so it will only get better from here!
Hmmm… I actually do mix up my own flour based on what I’ve got on hand. I use 70% flour (rice, teff, sorghum, millet, etc) and 30% starch (potato and corn). I measure my blend by weight (700 g flour + 300 g starch) and I measure all recipes by weight. I also make sure to use a blend – not just one flour + one starch. Since doing this my success rate with converting my own recipes has skyrocketed. So far it’s worked really well with gluten free recipes, too. I started mixing my own for cost reasons. I had a good dozen half-used bags of flours in my freezer from various blends called for by different cookbooks. We also haven’t found a ready-made all-purpose mix that we care for taste-wise. I’ve bought Better Batter twice (thinking maybe I got a bad batch the first time) and both times the cookies I made went stale because no one would eat them. Tom Sawyer was the same way. We’re strange, I guess, because I know a lot of people love those blends.
I’m glad you have found something that works for you, Katy. However, the components matter quite a lot. Others should not expect success regardless of the component flours they use.
Kristy B. says
Ordering flour online isn’t really an option for me, but I was a good girl and went out and got all of the component fours and the pectin and a scale to make the diy blend. I’m still having some trouble getting the regular yeast sandwich bread to come out. It seems to rise fine, just barely over the lip of a not-quite-as-big as a regular bread pan. Nd then it looks real nice while it’s baking, too. But then it comes out of the oven and within minutes the top starts to fall, and I can tell by lifting it up its gonna be gummy when I cut it open…..any ideas?
When baked goods rise and then fall, it is usually due to a too-hot oven. The outside cooks before the inside is stable, so once steam escapes upon cooling, the food caves in. I would check that.
“Mistake #1. You followed the recipe – but in your own special way.” You’re too kind.
I tried making your vanilla cake recipe but I tweaked it a little to make it a meatloaf. So, instead of flour I used ground pork and instead of milk I used ketchup. Much to my surprise it did not turn out. Do you think switching the salt and sugar, even though I used the same amount, was the problem? Can you please head back to your kitchen and rework the recipe and tell me what I did wrong?
Nicole, you are a saint and no one would follow me if I was the one doing the blog. I’d have people driving by and firing ruined loaves of bread through my windows. God bless you for your patience, kindness, and all the hard work you put in for us. You are truly a blessing. :*
Oh, Darlene. Of course you can make meatcake out of vanilla cake, using exactly the same proportions. But only if you serve it in a cake pan. And hold your fork at a 90 degree angle while you’re eating it.
Thanks for the heads up on your blogging skills. I’ll remember not to ask you to babysit it for me. :)
Where oh where did my previous question go?? Been sucked up by the inter-web, I suppose.
At the end of your Nilla Wafer recipe, someone asked how much a cup of Better Batter weighs. You offered the suggestion that it weighs roughly 165g. Here it’s 140g. Does 25g make a difference? I’d think it could. I know there’s a discrepancy, but I’m trying to get as close as possible. :-)
Now off to google the weight of light brown sugar.
Thanks for all you do for the GF community, Nicole.
It’s there, Laura. I answered you above. 140g/cup. I made revisions to the Nilla Wafers recipe. :)
Nicole, what about the majority of recipe’s that are not written for weight? Is there a formula to follow to transpose 1C into x amount of grams?
Are u including gram measurements in the new cookbook?
And…October?! You’re killing me friend! At least I have your blog to get me through! ;)
Hi, Dee Dee,
I measure 1 cup of gluten-free all-purpose flour as 140 grams. I cannot vouch for anyone else’s recipe, though, and how it will turn out or how to weigh the ingredients if they don’t provide weight measurements themselves.
The new cookbook has both weight (grams) and volume (cup) measurements, yes.
October will be here before you know it! And if you preorder, you’ll likely get it early October…
Brian Haber says
The golden rule at the Culinary Institute of America: baking is a science, cooking is an art. Our instructers were from Austria,Germany,France. Accomplished bakers with years of experience from the good ole US of A. We all followed the time-honored recipes because we knew how excellent the results would be EVERY TIME!! Wisdom dictates following Nicole using those SAME STANDARDS !! There is NO guessing. All the experimenting and leg work have ALREADY been done. Nicole is a fabulous baker. And my comment directly about this article is AMEN and AMEN, SISTER!!! : )
Mr. Haber! It’s always such a treat when you stop by. :)
I’m certain I don’t deserve all of that praise, but I am so grateful to you for bringing the true professional’s perspective. You’re the real deal! Your comment gave me a lot of peace of mind. Thank you for that, and cheers to the science of baking! It’s what I love about it most.
I just want to say that this is Nicole’s blog and Nicole’s opinions, which have been developed after countless hours of working with gluten free baking, for the benefit of her child. She has generously shared knowledge with all of us as we navigate the GF baking world, and has written an entry here to remind people about the seven most important things she has found in GF baking. While I understand that some people feel skilled enough to make changes in recipes right off the bat, this article is directed at the majority of us who are better off simply following the directions. To post numerous comments refuting Nicole’s opinion about what she believes to be the most important aspect of GF baking is disingenuous and unkind. As one who has inadvertently not followed some of Nicole’s recipes with disasterous results, wasting money, ingredients and time, I appreciate the reminder to be extra careful when I am looking at something new on the blog.
You’re a gem, Anneke. :)
I cant follow the “dont change the recipie” rule Unless you stop using Potato Starch Im afraid i have to tweek every recipe I get from your blog…im looking for your books locally, but i havent found them yet.
I don’t plan to stop using Better Batter, MsMissy. You may use whatever high-quality all-purpose blend you like in all of my recipes. My advice is to make the recipe without any changes to the extent it’s possible. I have one book so far (the other comes out in October). You can find it on Amazon.
Do you recommend a particular scale? I see that you are using one by Escali. But is that the one you recommend?
Yup. I do recommend that scale. It’s in my Amazon affiliate shop, if you’d like to take a closer look. It’s inexpensive and sturdy, and it is as sensitive to 1 gram, which is about as sensitive as you’re going to get, and has good capacity.
Lisa @ GF Canteen says
I’m all for the weighing of at least the flours. Fact is, we are about the only country left that doesn’t use metric weights for measures. And since this is the world wide web, there are tons of folks reading these posts/recipes who would like their measurement methods to be included as well. A cup is not a cup is not a cup. Weighing saves you money – the recipe will be great and you won’t waste expensive flour or other ingredients.
And a couple of small things. Using the ingredients listed is really important that first time out – so you know what the batter/dough looks and feels like using everything as indicated the recipe. It’s careful reading that helps, too. Non fat is not the same as low fat. Large eggs are not extra-large-eggs. Buttermilk is not milk. That kind of stuff.
Amen. What she said. So true about our non-U.S. reader-friends, Lisa. And great point about weighing saving you money. Money! We love saving money around here, forcryingoutloud.
I am really loving all of your posts lately. You tell these people what’s what!
And people reading, listen! I write recipes because I have been baking for a long time and have been experimenting with GF flours for almost 10 years. You have to follow the process. It is the same reason some people fail at typical baking – baking is a science unlike cooking and every little detail matters.
I actually just put most of these tips in the ebook I released on Tuesday, great minds think alike! (Although, I forgot about the oven temp thing, I guess it is just such a habit!)
Also, did I read that you are writing a second book? When does it come out/ can I preorder it yet?
and it would help if I read the last sentence of your post, you already answered my book question. I guess I need more coffee!
I generally follow these rules, mostly because I learned the hard way that they are important ones to follow. There’s one thing I can never bring myself to do, and that’s to follow a recipe as it’s written. I have to experiment from the get-go! I have a pretty high rate of success, but I see recipes as more of a template than a set of facts. Ratios and concepts can be extracted from them, but unless you are using the same flour mix as the recipe calls for – and I never do – then adjustments will need to be made. Baking, to me, is being smarter than the recipe and knowing how to make it work. (Don’t worry, Nicole, I never blame the recipe when I change it and it fails!)
I know you asked Nicole, but I have this super awesome link that I use all the time when starting to work with old family recipes: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes2008/master-weight-chart.html
It is a total life saver! And now I have my favorite treats from when I was a kid again :)
That King Arthur chart is a good one Mary Fran. Thanks for linking to that. I also like the one on Joy of Baking. Very useful indeed!
And yes! I have a second book coming out this October. You can preorder it for sure. Good luck with your ebook!
Glad you’ve found something that works for you, Gina. And I know you know that it’s not generally realistic to expect readers to be smarter than the recipe!
Gina - Gluten-free Gourmand says
You do have a point, Nicole!
“I see recipes as more of a template than a set of facts”
“Baking, to me, is being smarter than the recipe and knowing how to make it work”
Exactly, Gina! It is good to know baking science so you CAN experiment, rather than always just following a recipe – the latter is not the best way to learn.
I’m going to have to jump in here, Hununyah. That is a truly unrealistic thing for the vast majority of gluten-free bakers. Often, small changes to a baking recipe, especially a gluten-free one, can cause dramatic differences in results – usually not for the better. I disagree strongly that that is proper advice for most bakers, most of whom are not looking to learn the ins and outs of baking. They’re looking to feed their families and they don’t have time to play around with results.
Nicole – don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about every gluten-free baker, just that is the way I prefer to learn, besides I can’t follow every recipe to the letter because of various other allergies ;). You are a great baker with a lot of experience, so people (including me) should learn from you. For GF bakers, you do all the testing – that is the whole point – so people don’t have to do the dirty work. I understand that, and I commend you for your work.
I’m not trying to make an issue here – probably should have kept my thoughts to myself and learned from everyone else ;).
THANK YOU Nikki (by the way – is that what you like being called?)!
S Tam says
Yes, substitutions are a necessity if you have allergies to dairy or corn, or eggs, or _____. Some do not do well with a lot of sugar that is commonly found in cakes and cookies. Some do not want a lot of fat that is called for in some recipes. So, you have to decide what your priorities are. You can eat healthy, but your recipe will not turn out as beautiful as Nicole’s.
Bingo. You change enough things, and you have yourself a new recipe. The truth is, I’m not invested in what people actually do or don’t do. I’m invested in readers’ making informed decisions. Knowledge is power, but it’s readers’ choice what they decide to do with that knowledge. After I impart that knowledge (and I only impart it after I have done my homework every which way), I’m out. ;)
Thanks for encapsulating it so well, S Tam.
An oven thermometer is a must…my new stove runs about 25 degrees hotter than I set it. If I set the temp for 10 degrees less than what’s called for, it’s usually the right temp! Crazy!
How much should a cup of flour weigh? Is there a standard weight? I’m always worried about measuring the flour, do I spoon it in and level with a knife? Do I just scoop it into the measuring cup and then level? ACK!
Thanks for this post, Nicole. You are a ninja for sure :)
I accidentally replied to the wrong person… this link is for you (as well as my other reply!)
so sorry about that!
I include weight and volume measurements in all of my recipes, now, since I know not everyone bakes by weight, but I have for a long time. One cup of gluten-free flour, by weight, is 140 grams (although there is some disagreement about that – as there is in conventional gluten-containing baking as well). I wouldn’t recommend you spoon and level or scoop or anything of the sort. I recommend that you weigh. :)
At the end of your Nilla Wafer recipe, there’s a comment asking about the weight of Better Batter flour blend. You say it’s roughly 165g. Will 25g make a difference? I would assume it could…. Now off to google how much Light brown sugar weighs…
Thanks for all you do, Nicole!
I will fix that. Good catch! That was back when I was still trying to tease out how to translate my weight measurements into volume measurements, as I don’t use the 4 ounces/cup measurement that Better Batter uses (I think that is way too light). Yes. 25 grams makes a difference, for sure. Measure 140 grams! I will add weight measurements to the ingredients in that printable recipe, for reference.
Ashley G says
Ok, so I need to get an oven thermometer then? WILL DO! :)
Yes! You really do, Ashley. They’re cheap, too. :)