The texture and strength lost when gluten is removed detracts from the eating experience. Without these attributes, that experience won’t live up to lofty expectations.

“When it comes to gluten-free sweet baked goods, the biggest challenge is that bakers have to deliver a product that meets the high expectations of consumers,” said Yanling Yin, director, bakery application, Corbion. “They’re expecting an item with the same characteristics as their gluten-containing counterparts.”

When trying to rebuild these attributes back into a formulation, the answer can often be found in the starch. When reformulating, bakers must understand the role starch is performing in the particular application and how replacements fill that role.

In a cookie, for example, Nicholas Ahrens, senior product applications technologist, Bay State Milling, explained that the starch granules don’t swell and paste, so almost any gluten-free grain could be used as a replacement for wheat flour. Cakes and muffins, however, are another story. Starches provide the viscosity in the batter and help with moisture migration in the finished product.

Rice-, potato- and corn-based flours and starches are the workhorses of gluten-free formulating. They approximate the structure and eating quality of wheat ingredients, even if they have flavor difference. They are also widely available, and rice and potato are non-allergenic.

For bakers wanting to remove wheat-based ingredients, Cargill developed its SimPure line of starches derived from potato and tapioca.

Even within these workhorses, however, the functionality can vary. The size of the starch granule and makeup of the amylose to amylopectin ratio particular to rice starch, for example, makes it an effective replacement in gluten-free baking.

“The ratios of amylose to amylopectin in rice flour will have a major influence on the baked texture of the finished product,” Mr. Ahrens explained. “Sweet rice flour, sometimes referred to as sticky rice, forms a creamy batter and soft texture because it is almost entirely amylopectin. At the other end of the rice spectrum, long grain typically has around 25-30% amylose, which leads to a firmer and shorter texture once baked.”

Wet-milled, dry-milled, pre-cooked all have an impact on how the starch will behave in a cake formulation, said Steven Gumney, product manager for rice solutions at Beneo. Wet-milled rice flour, for example, provides better volume and oven spring than dry-milled flour because the particle sizes are smaller and the starch is more available. Pre-cooked rice starch can improve gluten-free cookies and biscuits, as those applications  tend to have a harder bite.

“Pre-cooked rice starch gels the instant it is combined with moisture and provides good dough handling on the front end, and on the back end, it improves the crispiness and crunchiness,” he said.

Beneo’s pre-gelatinized waxy rice starch creates a finer, homogenous porosity in the baked foods. This creates a better crumb structure, hardness and less breakage.

What’s critical, though, is that gluten-free formulating is all about finding the right combination of ingredients, Mr. Gumeny said. Bakers often will have to combine two or three different rice starches to get the desired texture. Pre-gelatinized waxy rice starch improves the hardness expected of biscuits and some cookies; high-amylose rice starch improves the crumb structure in cakes; native waxy rice starch improves freeze-thaw stability; micronized wet-milled rice flour improves cakes’ oven spring. By not combining starches, bakers could miss out on unseen functionality. 

However, when combining ingredients, it’s important for bakers to think through the entire formulation. They will have to rely on other ingredients like gums, gluten-free flours, emulsifiers or even increasing sugar, fats and eggs to accommodate the lack of gluten.

In addition to its SimPure line, Cargill has a stable of ingredients for the functional needs of gel strength, bulking agents and plasticizers, setting agents and release agents.

“To create gluten-free cakes and muffins, bakers will need to rely on a combination of starches and hydrocolloids to replace wheat flour, as these applications require more structure than cookies,” said Allison Leibovich, senior technical service specialist, bakery, Cargill. “We suggest bakers use setting ingredients to help with structures as well as emulsifiers such as plant-based lecithin, which help maintain the soft, cake-like texture consumers expect.”

Hydrocolloids assist in reaching the desired batter viscosity, entrap air and help maintain the cake’s vol-ume. Emulsifiers like Cargill’s sunflower, canola and soy lecithin contribute to a fine crumb structure as well as shelf life.

For gritty texture and flavor challenges common with gluten-free formulating, Leda Strand; manager, snacks, bakery and confections, applications science and technology; ADM, said ADM focuses on ingredients that not only offer functionality but also provide a neutral flavor and color such as specific tapioca starches, sorghum flours, navy bean flours and xanthan gum.

When working with cakes, Ms. Leibovich recommended bakers pay attention to water content, as too much can lead to a more brittle, crumbly texture with a shorter, less chewy bite.

Almond flour, in conjunction with egg whites, also provides bakers with a gluten-free replacement for wheat flour. Blue Diamond Almond Flour’s powder-like consistency lends itself to the delicate structure of cakes. The absorption difference between almond and wheat flour requires more almond flour be used in gluten-free formulations. Egg whites act as a necessary binder.

This article is an excerpt from the June 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on gluten-free formulating, click here.