Alternative flours for holiday baking

This article was originally published in December 2012

Most recipes for holiday baked goods call for plain, white flour. But we encourage you to experiment with PCC’s vast selection of alternative flours — in packages or in bulk, many gluten-free — when making your favorite recipes or trying new ones (see recipes for Holiday baking with alternative flours).

Flours made from quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and even coconut can add texture and nutty sweetness to cookies, muffins, cakes and more. Here are some you should try.

Specialty flours at PCC

Almond meal/flour is simply whole almonds that have been ground into a fine powder. Use protein-rich almond meal in cakes, cookies, sweet breads and other desserts. Store in your freezer to extend shelf life. Gluten-free.

Amaranth flour is from a small seed sourced from Central America. It has a flavor similar to graham crackers without the sweetness, with 15 to 18 percent protein and is rich in iron. It can be used to replace 25 percent of the regular all-purpose or wheat flour. Gluten-free.

Barley flour has a moist, sweet, nut-like flavor and may be added to favorite baked goods recipes for additional flavor and nutrition. Try substituting 1/3 cup of barley flour in place of your regular flour for an extremely tender product.

Brown rice flour is milled from unpolished brown rice and has a higher nutrient value than white rice flour. Since this flour contains bran, it has a shorter shelf life and should be refrigerated. Like white rice flour, brown rice flour is a bit gritty and dense. It’s best when combined with several other flours to avoid a grainy texture in the finished product. Gluten-free.

Buckwheat flour is not from wheat but the fruit seed of a plant related to rhubarb. It’s high in fiber, iron and B vitamins, and makes wonderful pancakes. Gluten-free.

Coconut flour is a bit lighter than almond flour, which makes it perfect for cakes, muffins and breads. It’s high-fiber and low-carb, so it’s an ideal ingredient for celiacs, diabetics and those concerned with the Glycemic Index. Gluten-free.

Kamut flour is an ancient relative of modern wheat that has a buttery flavor and is easy to digest. PCC carries stone-ground kamut flour from Bob’s Red Mill.

Mesquite flour imparts a warm, sweet, slightly smoky taste to foods. It’s made from pods that grow on wild Algarrobo trees in Peru. It adds flavor and nutrients to favorite baked goods; use in cookies or other pastries, or energy bars and granola. Gluten-free.

Millet flour has a nutty flavor and is made from the most alkaline and easily digestible grain. A staple in Asian, North African and Indian recipes. Gluten-free.

Quinoa flour is from ground quinoa. High in protein and minerals with a light texture, it is great in baked goods with chocolate or bold flavors. It has a slightly bitter taste so experts suggest using no more than one-third part in baking mixes created from gluten-free flours. Gluten-free.

Soy flour is high in protein and fat with a nutty flavor. Best used in small amounts with other flours to tenderize baked goods. Soy flour is sensitive to light and heat and is not recommended for sautéing or frying. PCC sells Bob’s organic soy flour. Gluten-free.

Spelt flour — Some people sensitive to wheat can tolerate spelt, which shares a common ancestor with wheat, but please note that spelt contains gluten. Use in any recipe calling for wheat flour, cup for cup. Find it whole or refined, in bulk or packaged at PCC.

Sweet potato flour — Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, vitamin A, iron and calcium, and despite the name “sweet,” research suggests they actually help stabilize blood sugar levels. They can be dried to make a versatile flour that can be used in soups, as a thickener for sauces and gravies, and in breading for fish or poultry. Sweet potato flour also is great at holding moisture in baked goods and imparts a slight sweetness. Gluten-free.

Sweet rice flour often is used as a thickening agent and is useful in baking tender sweets, pies, cakes and lighter bread products. Gluten-free.

Teff flour is from an ancient grain and is particularly good in foods with bold or savory flavors. It’s iron-rich and provides a mucilaginous quality, often lacking in gluten-free baked goods. Gluten-free.

White rice flour is milled from polished white rice and is best combined with several other flours to avoid the grainy texture of rice flour alone. Gluten-free.

See our brochure Baking with Gluten-free Flours for tips about how to use gluten-free flours in baking for best results.

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