If there is one positive you can take from the coronavirus lockdown period, it’s this – you have much more time for baking! What better way to take your mind off the doom and gloom spent in isolation! With all this free time on your hands, you can get around to trying those recipes you have taken a fancy to.
In recent years, gluten free baking has become increasingly popular, with more and more free from products on the market, such as gluten free flour and baking powder. And with few readymade gluten free treats, it is best to bake them yourself.
Around 1% of the population is intolerant to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains such as rye and barley. It is a stretchy substance that holds carbon dioxide in baked goods, giving them, texture and structure and it is a key component of traditional baking.
For those suffering from coeliac disease, gluten insensitivity and gluten intolerance, it leads to digestion problems and potentially more serious complaints. Baking without gluten means that sufferers with a sweet tooth do not miss out!
Baking without gluten means that sufferers with a sweet tooth do not miss out!
You get to experiment with different flours and flavours and it is an achievable lifestyle change. However, there is no harm in those not following a gluten free diet to try the recipes, so there could not be a better time to have a go yourself.
One quick and easy recipe to start with is gluten free blueberry muffins. They are made from only a handful of ingredients, so even the most culinary-challenged will have no problems here.
These muffins are delicious, so moist and light and they are jam-packed with blueberries, so they are extra sweet.
Whether you are intolerant to gluten or not, these muffins make for the perfect pick me up.
Gluten free does not mean flavour free, so they will suit everyone, and your kids will love them!
The best muffins are thicker and sharper tasting than cupcakes but they should not be dry and weigh heavy on you.
If you follow this recipe carefully, then you will get the desired result, so make sure you read it thoroughly before you begin.
This recipe makes 6-7 muffins.
The muffins are best eaten on the day they are made, either for breakfast or as a snack with a cup of tea. But you can also freeze them on the day you bake them if you are planning ahead for a party, for instance.
They also make a lovely edible present packed in a pretty basket or tin and you can fool your friends and insist that they came from the bakery!
This recipe makes 6-7 muffins.
Ingredients at a glance
- 125 g (4.5 ounces) gluten-free self-raising flour
- 1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
- 50 g (2 ounces) brown sugar
- 50 g ( 2 ounces) blueberries
- 60 ml (2 fl oz) of vegetable oil
- 1 mashed banana
- 1 medium egg
- 50 ml (2 fl oz) of milk
Baking method at a glance
- Preheat oven to 180c or Gas mark 4 and line your muffin tray.
- In a bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and blueberries.
- In a jug beat an egg, add to the milk and stir into the flour mixture.
- Mash a banana and add that too for extra sweetness.
- Divide the mixture into 6-7 muffin cases and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
- After 5 minutes remove from the oven and transfer the muffins to a wire rack to avoid sogginess. Then you can eat them as soon as they are cool enough!
Ingredients in detail
In the past, gluten free flours have been poor quality and using them would have led to tasteless, stodgy baking but they have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and dropped in price.
So, there is no problem with using these flours nowadays, as you will be able to achieve the light and airy feel that you require with these muffins. There is no all-purpose gluten free flour, so you can buy a gluten free baking mix or make a blend.
One gluten free flour on its own will not give you the right flavour, texture or density of traditional gluten flours. You could combine a protein-heavy flour with a starchier flour, such as brown rice flour with potato starch, so the consistency is not too heavy or too light and this will replace the protein in gluten.
A half and half split of protein and starch will give the muffins enough structure but keep the texture light and fluffy and stop one flavour from dominating the mix. They also include more nutrients than those in store bought goods.
You can also mix in gluten free oats or oat flour to add further texture to your muffins. Although regular oats do not contain gluten they may have been subject to cross-contamination during the manufacturing process.
Gluten free flours and baking powder can be bought from all the major supermarkets in the free from aisle, health food shops and online, so you can experiment with different brands. They can be more expensive than traditional flours but it can also be much more fun to bake your own gluten free treats than shell out for the pricey supermarket alternatives.
All gluten free flours are unique and behave differently, so it is worth testing them in different recipes to see what suits you. It is best to buy the flour in smaller consistencies as it has a shorter shelf life than traditional ones.
You will need to store your gluten free flours in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer, so you can preserve the essential properties of the ingredients. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a year.
Before using them, you will need to let them come to room temperature. Different gluten free flours are different colours so you will need to mix them, so they form one colour before you begin.
Gluten free baking is an exact science and gluten free flours require special measuring techniques, so the dip and sweep method will not work. You need to weigh the flour not measure it by volume and sift before measuring it. The correct amount will make the difference between success and failure.
Because they are finer than wheat flours, they are harder to pack consistently into a measuring cup. They are also sold in small bags or boxes, so it is more difficult to fit the cup inside without making a mess, or compressing the flour.
So, we do recommend that you use a baking scale to measure out the flour, rather than relying on guesstimates. This will eliminate inconsistencies that could affect your end product.
But if you do prefer to use a measuring cup, then we suggest that you try the following method:
- Place a sheet of kitchen roll onto the counter and set the measuring cup in the centre
- Spoon the flour into the cup, occasionally shaking it to settle the flour, until the flour is mounded over the rim. Do not tap the cup or pack the flour.
- Using a flat edge (like the back of a butter knife), scrape away any excess flour to level.
- Use the kitchen roll to help funnel excess flour back into the container.
It is best to use the brown sugar that we have recommended for this recipe and not replace it with alternatives like honey or maple syrup, as you will not get the same sweetness and tenderness that makes these muffins what they are.
Brown sugar tends to retain more moisture than its refined white equivalent, so it will give your baking a finer crumb and better flavour.
This is an ingredient which is very helpful to gluten free baking and is used as a leavener. This means it “leavens” or raises baked goods. Without it, your baking would be flat and hard because it would have no air holes.
Leaveners create the gas or steam that works on air pockets in baked goods during the baking and raising process to lighten them. Many gluten free baked goods need extra leavener because the gluten replacement is not as elastic as gluten.
Although baking powder contains baking soda, it is not baking soda, otherwise known as bicarbonate of soda, which is an alkaline levelling agent. Baking soda needs to react with an acid to cause it to bubble and it is this bubbling which makes it rise.
Therefore, in order for baking soda to work it needs to have some form of acidic ingredient, such as buttermilk, vinegar, brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. But many baked items do not contain acid, which is where baking powder comes in.
Originally baking powder was a combination of baking soda and an acid, referred to as single-acting. This created a leavener which works on any type of baked good, whether it contains an acid or not. But once it is mixed with the wet ingredients and the baking soda and the acid mixes together, the chemical reaction starts.
This means it needs to be baked in the oven right away, before the bubbling stops.
This led to the creation of double-acting baking powder which contains a second-high heat acid that works more slowly and is heat-activated. It gives your baking two leavening actions – one that creates a rise during the mixing process and one that creates a second rise during baking.
Double-acting baking powder is the perfect leavener for muffins because it has a lot of strength and leads to extra fluffiness. It includes two acids, the leavening agent and a starch.
When you remove gluten, the support needed to lift and lighten your baking is missing, so the result can be dense, gummy and crumbly. The best gluten free baked goods are made with a blend of GF flours and starches.
We use one medium-sized egg in this recipe, which should be at room temperature, so it incorporates into the batter. However, if you are allergic to eggs, we recommend that you try replacing them with a ground flax mixture. You will need to use two tablespoons of ground flax meal and six tablespoons of warm water. Just mix them together in a small bowl, then allow to stand for around five minutes.
Then you can just stir the mixture into the flour. The flax seeds form gels that trap air and create a smaller crumb, making a nice texture. But using an egg substitute will lead to a denser and less fluffy bake.
It is up to you what kind of milk you use in the recipe. Whatever you have to hand will be fine. If you use whole milk, then the muffins will stay fresh for longer as the fat delays them from going stale.
If you are unable to find fresh blueberries, then frozen ones are fine. They hold their shape well and you do not need to thaw them out before use. And if you can lay your hands on some wild blueberries, this is all the better.
They are smaller than shop-bought blueberries and have a sweeter flavour.
If you do not fancy blueberries, then blackberries or raspberries work just as well. The fruit will stain the mixture, leading to a brightly coloured muffin.
Always make sure that you check the shelf life of your ingredients before using them as some items have a shorter lifespan to keep them from going off.
Method in detail
You must make sure you protect against cross-contamination with gluten, if you are making gluten free treats for a friend with coeliac disease, for example. The effects of gluten intolerance are serious, so you should follow medical advice and avoid it by taking a few simple steps.
You should thoroughly clean your surfaces before starting baking if you have used them to prepare food including gluten previously and it is better to use separate utensils for each type of baking.
It only takes a microscopic amount of gluten to spark a painful reaction that could damage your friend’s gut and gluten protein can linger in the air and contaminate your gluten free goods hours after you have baked with it.
By following this advice, you can negate the debilitating symptoms of gluten intolerance and ensure that everyone can sample your baking.
When you are preparing to bake, if you do not want to use paper liners, you will need to grease your muffin tin, to avoid sticking, or you can spray it with cooking oil.
And please ensure that your mixing bowl is at room temperature so that your batter will become fluffy when mixed. To do this, just run the outside of the bowl under very warm water for a few seconds. Then dry off the bowl and proceed with the recipe.
When mixing gluten free batter, it is better to overdo it because there is no gluten to overdevelop, so it really benefits from the extra mixing time. This contrasts with traditional baking where doing so may lead to the mixture becoming rubbery.
However, with gluten free baking, you need more structure, so the batter will aerate and rise and better support stir-in additions, such as our blueberries.
You can do this manually for three to five minutes or you may prefer to use an electric mixer, as this will get rid of lumps and lead to a smoother texture. The extra mixing will create air bubbles, which allow the baking powder to work and the protein and starch in the flour and egg will form around the bubbles. However, blenders and food processors are not recommended.
It can be difficult to tell when gluten free baking is done because visual clues may be misleading. Traditional methods, such as inserting a cocktail stick into a muffin or pressing the top are not accurate indicators. Even when fully cooked, gluten free baked goods often look underdone, feel slightly wet inside and are soft to the touch.
It is only when they are cool that they will firm up. So, it is best to rely on timing to check if the baking is done. The baking time will vary depending on your oven, as all appliances differ. If it runs hot and cold, the then recipe timings will not be accurate.
A well-calibrated oven is crucial for gluten free baking and you will need to use an oven thermometer (they are cheap to buy) and place it in the centre for best results, so you can adjust the temperature accordingly. It is advisable to let your oven temperature stabilise for 5-15 minutes after the preheat cycle is complete, before you start baking.
The oven thermometer will tell you if it has reached the appropriate temperature, so do not rely on the control panel beeping.
Gluten free baking can benefit from extra liquid to hydrate the blended flour, get rid of grittiness and make the texture less dry and dense. But you will need to eliminate this added moisture during baking, or you will end up with a rubbery feel. The best way to do this is to have a slightly longer baking time so the end result holds up to scrutiny.
When baking these muffins, it would be best to reduce the oven temperature when baking for longer. This is because gluten free products often cook quicker than wheat-based ones but do not cook evenly. By reducing the temperature of the oven, this will allow them to bake through before hardening or browning at the edges.
You could reduce the temperature by 25 degrees and bake the muffins for 15 minutes longer. However, it is a delicate balancing act because if you leave them in there too long, then they may dry out.
Gluten free muffins become drier quicker than ones made using standard flour, so it is best to bake smaller batches as they do not have a long shelf life. And it is not advisable to double the ingredients to double the number of muffins, as you may not get the required result. If you are not eating them on the day, then you can freeze them.
Before doing so you will need to wait until they come to room temperature before you place them in an airtight container in the freezer.
The muffins will then keep for around two months. When you are ready to eat them, you will need to allow them to thaw for about 30 minutes. By freezing them, you will not only preserve them, but you will also improve the texture of the muffins and because they are small you will be able to achieve a firm structure which is less crumbly than larger baked goods.
And finally, please remember that when you are trying your hand at gluten free baking, practice makes perfect and you can learn from your mistakes. It is a process of trial and error and if you do not succeed at first, try, try and try again! Baking is a skill which builds with time and expertise.
As long as you follow the recipe carefully, you should have no problems. Gluten free baking does not have to skimp on flavour and blueberries make everything better! But do be aware that just because it is gluten free it does not make it any healthier and these muffins are just as likely to make you gain weight as regular ones.