ALTERNATIVE GRAINS AND FLOURS - Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours - Alanna Taylor-Tobin

Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours - Alanna Taylor-Tobin (2016)


Alternative grains and flours have the ability to add not only structure but also a host of varying flavors and textures to baked goods. I’ve divided the flours used in this book into categories based on their common flavor profiles—neutral, earthy and grassy. Within those categories are unique flours with their own tastes and textures, histories and applications.

I’ve used Bob’s Red Mill brand flours when possible for consistency, since different brands grind flours differently and this can have drastically different effects in baking. For the best results, I suggest sourcing the brands with which I’ve developed these recipes. Many can be found in your local health food store and all can be ordered online. And if you need to use a different brand, no worries—the results will still taste delicious even if the texture needs tweaking.


Alternative flours can vary hugely in weight, absorbency, starch, protein and fiber contents and thus can have dramatically different results in baking. For instance, 1 cup of oat flour weighs close to 100 grams, whereas the same amount of teff flour weighs 30 percent more, or 130 grams. For tried and tested results, make the recipes as written the first time around. If you need to substitute due to allergies, availability or personal preference, your best bet is to pick a flour with similar flavor characteristics and a similar weight per cup, and to substitute by weight rather than by volume. That said, I do hope you’ll become comfortable enough with these recipes to experiment, and that you’ll share your results and variations with me and my readers on and


These mild flours are easy to love and pair well with nearly everything; it’s no wonder they’re used frequently in alternative baking.


AKA: Glutinous rice flour, sticky rice flour

Flavor profile: Sweet, bland, mild

Consistency: Soft, fine, starchy, sticky

Brand tested: Koda Farms’ Blue Star Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour

Weight per cup: 5½ ounces (155 g)

Find it: In Asian markets and at health food stores with the other alternative flours or Asian foods

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 1 year

Use it: In nearly anything; sweet rice has a neutral flavor that goes with everything. Don’t use more than 50 percent sweet rice flour in any given recipe, or in recipes with a lot of moisture or acidity, which will often make for a gummy texture.

Health benefits: Sweet rice flour is mostly starch, with little nutritional value beyond ample carbohydrates and little fat.

Sweet white rice flour is my alternative baking secret weapon. Commonly used to make Japanese mochi and many other desserts throughout Asia, it is finely ground from a specific variety of rice referred to as sticky rice or glutinous rice (though it does not contain gluten). It helps hold baked goods together without the need to add many other starches or gums. Its sticky power is similar to gluten in that working or agitating the flour with liquid increases the stickiness. In contrast to gluten, acidity also seems to increase the stickiness, as I’ve found when I’ve added acidic ingredients (such as citrus juice, cocoa powder, rhubarb and cultured dairy) to recipes. For instance, biscuits made with buttermilk consistently baked up dense and gummy. But when I traded in regular milk, the texture improved dramatically. In other recipes, however, the extra stickiness is a boon. Either way, sweet rice flour makes possible many of the recipes in this book, such as fluffy biscuits and scones, flaky pie dough and pillowy cakes.

If you can’t find sweet rice flour, you can order it online. In a pinch, try substituting a GF all-purpose, rice-based flour blend such as Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 (in which sweet rice flour is the first ingredient) or King Arthur’s GF Multi-Purpose Flour. Or substitute regular or superfine white rice flour by weight, though the texture will be much more brittle, especially in recipes that call for a lot of it. In this case, you might try adding in some tapioca flour or ground chia seed.


Flavor profile: Creamy, sweet, wheaty, nutty, a little earthy

Consistency: Soft, tender, starchy, delicate

Brand tested: Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Oat Flour and Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats

Weight per cup: Oat flour, 3½ ounces (100 g); old-fashioned rolled oats, 3¼ ounces (90 g)

Find it: With other alternative flours and/or in the bulk section at health food stores. Be sure to look for certified GF oats and oat flour, as they are traditionally grown and processed with wheat and can be contaminated with gluten. All oats used in this book are the old-fashioned rolled variety.

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 3 months, or refrigerated airtight for up to 1 year

Use it: Anywhere you want a touch of whole-grain flavor and soft, delicate texture. Oat flour pairs well with comforting flavors such as apples, bananas, winter squash, spices, chocolate, caramel, brown sugar, honey, maple, nuts and dried fruits. When used in conjunction with sweet rice and millet flours, it makes an all-purpose-like flour with a fairly neutral taste and pillowy texture. Do note that some people with celiac disease or other severe gluten-intolerance also can’t tolerate oats, even the certified GF variety.

Health benefits: Higher fat content than most cereal grains, high in fiber, only grain to contain globulin, a legume-like protein that can be a boon to vegetarians. These properties give oatmeal its “stick-to-your-ribs” reputation. Oats are also an excellent source of manganese, which helps build connective tissue in the body, regulate blood sugar and absorb calcium, and are a good source of other minerals.

It was a happy day when we all learned that oats are actually gluten-free. They were so commonly grown and processed with wheat, where they picked up fairly large amounts of gluten, that they were thought to inherently contain gluten. In fact, oats used to be considered weeds that grew among wheat and barley only to be uprooted and burned. They thrive in cool, wet climates such as northern Europe, Canada and the northern United States. They are particularly loved in Scotland, where they feature in soups and stews, breakfast porridge, oatcakes and scones. We have Scottish settlers to thank for bringing oats to North America in the 1700s.


I now make frequent use of oat flour in alternative baking. It adds nutritional value and a bit of hearty depth to any and all baked goods. It absorbs moisture fairly well and bakes up soft and smooth, adding necessary starch to many GF baked goods and keeping them moist and tender due to its high fat content and stable protein. It makes pillowy biscuits and scones, springy cakes and hearty muffins. Old-fashioned rolled oats, which are made by steaming and rolling the grains flat, star in crisps, streusel, granola bars, oatmeal cookies and a pumpkin cranberry bread packed with seeds.


Flavor profile: Mild, nutty, rich, buttery

Consistency: Slightly coarse and nubby, but soft and delicate, tends to clump

Brand tested: Bob’s Red Mill Blanched Almond Flour/Meal

Weight per cup: 4¼ ounces (120 g)

Find it: With other alternative flours at health food stores

Store it: Refrigerated airtight for up to 6 months. Due to its volatile oils, almond flour can go rancid if left at room temperature.

Use it: In almost anything where you don’t mind a slightly nutty flavor and a bit of nubby texture. Particularly tasty with stone fruit, berries, figs, apples, pears, citrus, chocolate, coffee, other nuts, honey, vanilla and spices. Do warn your dessert eaters of the presence of nut flour in baked goods in case of nut allergies. Don’t use more than 50-75 percent almond flour in any given recipe lest you wind up with a dense, macaroon-like texture and assertive almond flavor (unless that’s what you’re going for).

Health benefits: High in protein, vitamins B and E, minerals, particularly calcium in levels nearly as high as in milk, fiber and good fats that purportedly lower cholesterol and blood pressure and decrease risk of blood clots.

The almond is not a true nut, but rather the seed of a fruit related to stone fruit (apricots, cherries and peaches) called a drupe. Almond trees are native to the Middle East and South Asia, and they have sustained Silk Route traders, Egyptian kings and biblical figures for millennia. King Tut was buried with almonds to munch during his journey to the afterlife. In Genesis, Jacob sends his sons to buy grain from the Egyptians, offering them almonds, among other gifts, in exchange. Almond-shaped halos surround saints in Renaissance paintings and frescos. Almonds played a part in nearly every ancient civilization and continue to be used in cuisines around the globe, particularly India, the Middle East and along the Mediterranean. They’re pureed into a refreshing milk substitute, blended with sugar for marzipan and almond paste, ground into frangipane, made into macaroons and amaretti, candied, roasted and fried for snacks and coated in sugar and given at weddings to symbolize the sweetness of love coating the bitterness of life.

Today, almonds thrive in California’s Mediterranean-like climate, where 80 percent of the world’s almonds are produced. Recently, almond flour has become a popular ingredient in alternative baking and touted for its many health benefits. Blanched almond flour comes from almonds that have been slipped from their papery skins prior to grinding; it bakes up smooth, mild and light in color, and its high protein content handily replaces the missing proteins in gluten-free baking. Its high fat content produces tender, rich baked goods. Bob’s Red Mill brand, used here, is advertised as finely ground, but it still has a bit of texture, which makes a pleasant addition to the tart crust and clafoutis in this book as well as many cakes such as financiers, buckle, olive oil cakes and madeleines.


Hazelnut meal has similar characteristics to almond flour. It is sold unblanched, thus has a higher fiber content, darker color and earthier flavor, but can often be used interchangeably where these characteristics are desired. I particularly like it with pears, buckwheat flour, chocolate and warming spices. The financier variation in this book was developed with Bob’s Red Mill Finely Ground Hazelnut Flour/Meal.


Flavor profile: Mild, sweet, slightly floral and tropical

Consistency: Powdery, fibrous, tends to clump

Brands tested: Let’s Do Organic, Bob’s Red Mill

Weight per cup: 4¼ ounces (120 g)

Find it: With other GF flours and/or the bulk section at health food stores

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 1 year

Use it: In just about anything where you don’t mind its distinctive taste and fibrous texture. Its light, floral flavor pairs especially well with other tropical, bright flavors, such as citrus, mango, berries, ginger, vanilla and chocolate. Don’t use more than 30 percent coconut flour in a recipe or the results may be dry, crumbly and slightly gritty. Even with a small amount of coconut flour added, you will need to increase the moisture content in order to appease this thirsty flour.

Health benefits: Very high in fiber, nearly double the protein of wheat flour, high in healthy fats that are said to be antiviral and antimicrobial, rich in trace minerals

Like almonds, coconuts are not nuts at all, but the seed of a palm tree fruit, or a drupe. The name coconut comes from the Spanish word coco, meaning “skull,” named for the three indentations in mature coconuts that resemble a face. Coconut palms thrive in hot, humid climates and are cultivated throughout tropical Asia, parts of India and Sri Lanka, the northern coast of Australia and in the United States (namely Florida and Hawaii). In Thailand and Malaysia, primates called pig-tailed macaques are trained to harvest coconuts. Culinarily, coconuts have many uses, including coconut oil and butter, shredded coconut, coconut milk and cream, coconut water and coconut flour.

Coconut flour is made from dried, unsweetened coconut that has had a large amount of its fat removed, making it very high in fiber. It ranges in color from stark white to beige. The texture of coconut flour from different brands varies wildly. All the recipes in this book were tested with Let’s Do Organic, which is ground medium fine. Bob’s Red Mill is ground more finely and will also work in these recipes.

Coconut flour is different to work with than other flours and takes some getting used to. The first cake that I tried, a chiffon recipe with some coconut flour traded in, went straight into the compost. The batter soaked up moisture like a parched sponge, but I soldiered ahead, folding the whipped egg whites into the cement-like batter and baking the cake. The abomination that I pulled from the oven was an inedible brick. The moral of this sad story is that coconut flour is thirsty, thirsty stuff that soaks up liquid like nobody’s business. However, when tamed, it adds a delightfully hearty texture to baked goods and perfumes it with its delicate flavor. The blondies have a pleasing chew that smacks of macaroons, and when baked into a (successful) chiffon cake and soaked with rum-kissed coconut milk, it makes a dreamily tender tres leches cake of sorts. And it makes a tender, shortbread-like crust for a coconut cream berry tart that also happens to be vegan.


I have a weakness for any and all earthy flavors: black tea, coffee, chocolate, caramel, mushrooms, smoke, molasses, you name it. The flours in this section are some of my very favorites. All boast rich, warm flavors, along with their nuanced textures and colors, and are particularly well suited to baking. Teff flour, with its malty milk chocolate notes, came as a particularly welcome surprise.


Flavor profile: Deep, rich, warm, with notes of spice (cinnamon, allspice), coffee, chocolate, toasted hazelnuts

Consistency: Soft, starchy, delicate, cakey

Brand tested: Bob’s Red Mill Buckwheat Flour (Note: Though buckwheat is inherently gluten-free, Bob’s buckwheat flour is not processed in their dedicated GF facility. If you or your guests are highly sensitive, you’ll want to go with a certified GF buckwheat flour, such as one from Arrowhead Mills.)

Weight per cup: 5 ounces (140 g)

Find it: With other alternative flours and/or the bulk section at health food stores

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 3 months, or refrigerated airtight for up to 1 year

Use it: Where you want assertive flavor and a deep, charcoal hue. Buckwheat’s robust flavor plays well with spices (especially cinnamon and cardamom), dark berries, fall fruits (such as figs, apples, pears and quinces), bananas, coffee, brown sugar, maple, winter squash and sweet potatoes, chocolate and nuts. It can also contrast nicely with lighter, brighter flavors such as rhubarb, red berries and stone fruit. Buckwheat flour can turn mushy if overmixed, so take care when working with it in recipes. With its strong flavor and delicate texture, I don’t recommend using more than 30-50 percent buckwheat flour in most recipes.

Health benefits: High in protein, iron and other minerals, as well as the amino acid lysine, said to prevent canker sores. In traditional Chinese medicine, said to have warming properties and to aid digestion.

If I had to choose one alternative flour to use for the rest of my life, it would be buckwheat. My first experience with this grain occurred when I was about fifteen and went through a bread-baking phase wherein I went to town rummaging through my mom’s flour cabinet and adding in all manner of things. Because of its confusing name, I assumed buckwheat was a variety of wheat, and it wasn’t until many years later, when my interest in GF baking began, that I learned how wrong I was. I still remember that first rustic loaf baked with buckwheat and (thankfully) bread flours, which had a wildly earthy flavor unlike any I had ever experienced.

Buckwheat’s pretty, pyramidal, greenish gray-brown grains are the seed of an herb plant related to rhubarb and sorrel that’s native to northern Europe and Asia, where it has been used since the eighth millennium BCE; in fact, it isn’t even a true grain. When toasted, it is referred to as kasha. Buckwheat flour is made from these toasted grains, thus the rich, roasty flavor and deep color flecked with charcoal-hued specks. Known as blé noir in French, meaning “black grain,” it is commonly used to make savory crepes. In Japan it stars in soba noodles and buckwheat tea, and it’s used widely in eastern Europe as both a flour and the cooked grain dish kasha.

Bob’s Red Mill makes a finely ground buckwheat flour that doesn’t clump and adds a soft, starchy texture to baked goods. In this book, it makes an intensely flavored and super flaky pie dough, adds tenderness to double chocolate cookies, and creates pliant crepes that are easy to wrap around sweetened cheese for blintzes.


AKA: Brown teff flour

Flavor profile: Warm, sweet, malty, milk chocolate, caramel, butterscotch

Consistency: Fairly soft and starchy with a bit of grainy texture

Brand tested: Bob’s Red Mill (Note: This flour is not produced in a dedicated GF facility; if you or your guests are sensitive to trace amounts of gluten, you’ll want to source a certified GF variety of teff flour.)

Weight per cup: 4½ ounces (130 g)

Find it: With other alternative flours and/or the bulk section at health food stores

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 3 months, or refrigerated airtight for up to 1 year

Use it: Teff flour’s warm, earthy flavor pairs well with chocolate, coffee, apples, pears, figs, spices (especially cinnamon and nutmeg), nuts, bananas, maple, caramel, brown sugar and spirits. Stone fruit such as peaches, plums and cherries contrast nicely with teff.

Health benefits: Very high in iron (nine times more than wheat) and calcium (five times more than other cereal grains), vitamin C (which is rare in grains) and protein (a 2-ounce [56-g] serving of teff has the same amount of protein as an extra-large egg).

The word teff means “lost” in Amharic, named for the tiny grains’ ability to disappear when dropped. Teff was almost lost to the world for good when, in the 1970s, Ethiopia’s socialist military government forced farmers to switch over to more profitable wheat production. As teff was grown in an isolated region of Ethiopia and hadn’t yet made it to other parts of the world, teff might have disappeared forever if it hadn’t been for an American aid worker who, having fallen in love with Ethiopian cuisine, brought the grain back to his home in Idaho, which boasted favorable growing conditions for this ancient grain. To the joy of many Ethiopian and Eritrean ex-pats, teff found a new home, and The Teff Company was born, spreading the deliciosity of teff throughout the United States.


With a rising interest in alternative grains, teff is gaining popularity, even being called The West’s Latest Superfood Crush (, 2014). The world’s smallest grain boasts some of the biggest nutritional benefits, including high levels of protein, iron, calcium and vitamin C. Teff flour is ground from these tiny grains, each the size of a poppy seed and weighing in at 1 gram per 3,000 grains. It is most traditionally used to make injera, a fermented Ethiopian flatbread. Of the many varieties of teff, the two most common are brown and ivory, with brown being the most readily available in the United States. Bob’s Red Mill teff flour is ground fairly fine, with a bit of texture still, and doesn’t clump. The Teff Company, which I found in bulk at my co-op and can be ordered online, makes brown and ivory teff flours with a powder-fine consistency that bakes up super smooth. Since this brand is harder to find, however, recipes in this book have been formulated to work with Bob’s coarser grind. The flour is a warm, medium brown hue and if you stick your nose in the bag and inhale, you’ll be rewarded with the scents of malt, milk chocolate, baking bread and earth.

It took me years to give teff flour a try in sweets, linked as it was in my mind to super-savory Ethiopian curries. But once I did, I was hooked. With its warm notes of caramel and malted chocolate milk, teff flour was made for desserts. In this book, it gives oatmeal cookies an extra layer of earthy flavor, blends with roasted bananas and brown sugar in scones, forms craggy biscuits for peach cobbler, bakes into chocolate cherry pots and makes a flaky pie pastry base for hazelnut frangipane and plums.


AKA: Chestnut flour powder, Italian chestnut flour, farina di castagne (not to be confused with water chestnut flour, which comes from a completely different plant and is not covered in this book)

Flavor profile: Sweet, nutty, sometimes slightly smoky with hints of bitterness

Consistency: Soft, starchy, cakey, tendency to clump

Weight per cup: 3¾ ounces (105 g)

Brands tested: Calleris and Ladd Hill

Find it: In Italian specialty shops or with other alternative flours in health food stores and upscale grocers. It tends to show up in the United States around the fall and winter holidays. If you can’t find it locally, it can be ordered online (see Sources).

Store it: Refrigerated airtight for up to 1 year

Use it: Darker chestnut flour such as Calleris has an earthier flavor that pairs well with stone fruit, figs, apples, pears, other nuts, chocolate, coffee, rum and other brown spirits, brown butter, vanilla and caramel. Its flavor can be assertive on its own, so I recommend using only 50 percent chestnut flour in recipes that call for a high proportion of flour. Lighter flour, such as Ladd Hill, has a milder flavor that is closer to all-purpose flour; it pairs well with nearly any baking ingredients and fruits and can be used in baking up to 100 percent.

Health benefits: Low in fat and rich in vitamins (especially vitamin C, E and B-complex), minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc and potassium) and dietary fiber. Chestnut flour also contains high-quality protein with essential amino acids.

Chestnut flour is a rare find in the United States these days, but it was a staple food throughout both Europe and North America since ancient times, developing simultaneously on both continents. It featured in stews and preserves, and was often ground into a starchy flour and baked into bread. Chestnuts were particularly necessary in regions where other starchy foods (such as wheat and potatoes) wouldn’t grow, such as in the mountainous regions of southern Europe. Chestnut flour fell out of favor due to a chestnut blight in the early 1900s in the United States, while Europeans grew to loathe it during wartimes, where it gained a reputation as peasant food. (This is all rather hilarious to any bakers who have shelled out for chestnut flour today; it’s the most costly flour used in this book!)

Thankfully, modern cooks and bakers are rediscovering the positive qualities of chestnut flour, of which there are many. Chestnut flour is made by grinding either raw or roasted, dried chestnuts into a powder; most of the world’s chestnut flour is produced in Italy (hence the high price tag and spotty availability in North America), but it’s becoming more widely cultivated in the United States. The soft, starchy flour is low in fat, sweet in flavor and bakes up smooth and tender. With a similar starch content to wheat flour but without the gluten, it makes an excellent addition to all manner of baked goods. The Italian brand Calleris is the one I’ve found most commonly in Northern California at Italian markets as well as health food stores and specialty grocers, and I’ve used it in the recipes in this book. It has a deep, tan color and slightly smoky flavor that can be delicious in small quantities but overpowering if used too freely. Ladd Hill is a harder-to-find brand made in Oregon’s Willamette Valley from organic, unroasted chestnuts. This bone-white flour has a sweet, mild flavor without a trace of smoke or bitterness and can be used mostly interchangeably with the roasted flour.

Chestnut flour is fairly perishable, so do be sure to store it in the refrigerator. It tends to clump, so be sure to strain or sift when called for. It adds a warm, intriguing flavor and cakelike texture to baked goods, be it chocolate chip cookies laced with brown butter and milk chocolate, financiers topped with plums, apple tart covered in salty caramel or fig-stuffed scones.


AKA: Mesquite powder, raw mesquite powder

Flavor profile: Sweet, wild, warm, baked earth, cinnamon, vanilla, toasted nuts, graham crackers

Consistency: Powdery and fine, cakey, delicate, tends to clump

Weight per cup: 4¼ ounces (120 g)

Brand tested: Zócalo Gourmet Mesquite Algarroba Organic Flour

Find it: With other GF flours and/or the raw foods section at health food stores and upscale grocers

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 3 months, or refrigerated airtight for up to 1 year

Use it: Pairs well with ginger, cinnamon, apples, bananas, sweet potato, winter squash, caramel, chocolate, nuts (especially walnuts and pecans), berries, stone fruit, maple, brown sugar. Because of its strong flavor, you won’t want to use more than 50 percent mesquite flour in flour-heavy recipes. Mesquite can also be used more as a spice or sweetener in smaller quantities.

Health benefits: Despite its sweet flavor, mesquite flour has a low glycemic index and high protein (13 percent) and fiber content (25 percent). It contains only 3 percent fat. It is rich in calcium, magnesium and lysine, an amino acid said to prevent canker sores. It has proven effective in controlling diabetes as the soluble fiber from the seeds and pods forms a gel that slows nutrient absorption by three to four times after ingesting (4-6 hours rather than 1-2 hours). This slower digestion prevents the blood sugar spikes that result from eating other carbohydrates.

Mesquite flour always reminds me of Red Rock Canyon in Southern California in color and aroma: warm, baked earth with notes of cinnamon and a dusty reddish beige hue. I’ve heard it described as tasting like warm gingerbread or freshly baked bread.

Drought-tolerant mesquite trees are native to the southern United States and grow in arid regions such as Arizona and Mexico. The algarrobo variety grows in forests along the coast of northern Peru, where trees can reach upward of 100 feet tall. Mesquite’s edible seedpods look a little like shelling beans. The tree’s reddish brown wood was used to build Spanish ships; now, the trees are the most expensive to harvest in the United States and are used only in high-end furniture. The wood chips, which are mesquite’s claim to fame, are sold for smoking and grilling foods, a practice used by Native Americans for ages, but only embraced by Western chefs since the 1980s. Native desert dwellers subsisted largely on mesquite flour, using stones to grind the seeds and pods by hand and often mixing this meal with corn. Today, the whole pods are dried and ground into mesquite flour, sometimes called raw mesquite powder. Despite its low glycemic index, this flour is naturally quite sweet and is sometimes used as a replacement for sugar. The pods can be boiled to make mesquite syrup, which can be ordered online.

Mesquite flour is embraced today for its beguiling flavor and health benefits, thanks in part to Heidi Swanson, who published a mesquite chocolate chip cookie recipe in her book Super Natural Cooking in 2007. This was my first experience with the flour, which I found at my co-op, and it baked up into the most flavorful chocolate chip cookies I’d ever tasted. Other common recipes include mesquite pancakes, quick breads, cornbread and even flan. Mesquite flour’s warm flavor pairs especially well with earth and spice. It has a powder-fine texture that needs sifting to oust clumps, and it bakes up soft and smooth. Its high sugar content makes it prone to burning, so take care when baking with mesquite to not overcook. In this book, it complements little chocolate cakes topped with whipped crème fraîche and berries, forms a shortbread-like crust for banana cream tart and sweet potato cheesecake bites and adds oomph to gingersnaps and chewy ginger cookies.


These flours are characterized by a vegetal flavor, sometimes referred to as “green” or “grassy,” which can range from freshly mowed lawn to straw or hay.


Flavor profile: Assertive, vegetal, earthy and slightly herbaceous

Consistency: Fairly fine and starchy with some sandy texture; similar to millet

Weight per cup: 4½ ounces (130 g)

Brand tested: Bob’s Red Mill

Find it: With other alternative flours at health food stores and upscale grocers, or order online

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 3 months, or refrigerated airtight for up to 1 year

Use it: I like blending amaranth with milder flours, such as sweet rice and oat, as well as other strong flavors and spices to temper its assertive taste and grainy texture. I don’t recommend using more than 30 percent amaranth in a recipe because of its strong flavor and sandy texture. It pairs nicely with light, bright fruits and spices such as cinnamon, ginger, stone fruit, rhubarb, citrus and berries, as well as vegetables such as carrots, zucchini and winter squash.

Health benefits: Amaranth has 30 percent more protein than rice or sorghum; it is rich in calcium, iron and the amino acid lysine. Related to quinoa, amaranth is often hailed as a superfood.

Amaranth may be a nutritional powerhouse, but the flavor and texture can be an acquired taste. The tiny seeds can develop a viscous texture when steamed, making a better porridge than a substitute for fluffy rice or quinoa. Amaranth is a boutique ingredient today, but this was not the case for the ancient Aztecs, who derived 80 percent of their sustenance from the weedlike plant, even using the seeds bound with honey to build statues to their gods, which they used in religious rites (sometimes involving human sacrifice). Amaranth grows quickly and can bear seedpods weighing up to 2 pounds (900 g) and harboring half a million seeds. The pretty plants are often grown as ornamentals, and the burgundy leaves can be cooked like a heartier variety of spinach, to which it is related. Amaranth seed is used culinarily in South and Central America, where it is popped, mixed with honey and formed into cakes or added to a form of hot chocolate.

I’m still learning to love amaranth, whose flour has a fine texture but intense flavor. One tester described its taste as “musty,” and another wrote that while she and her husband loved the flavor, her kids “noticed” the “earthy” taste of the amaranth. It is not a grain for the faint of heart. Rich dairy can help smooth amaranth’s rough edges and bring out its buttery quality. When tamed by other bold ingredients, amaranth can add an intriguing depth of flavor to baked goods, offsetting sweetness with its bitter undertones. I like amaranth in moderation, baked into peachy scones kissed with cinnamon sugar and in gingered biscuits atop strawberry rhubarb cobbler. If you’re amaranth-curious, try swapping it in for millet in any of the recipes in this book. Just don’t try it with the ancient Aztec secret ingredient—trust me on this one.


AKA: Maize, polenta (yellow corn grits), cornmeal, corn flour

Flavor profile: Nutty, warm, vegetal, sunny, buttery, bitter undertones

Consistency: Polenta is the most coarsely ground of the corn products and needs a long cooking time to soften its hard grains. Cornmeal is medium ground and adds nubby texture to cornbread and the like. Corn flour is finely ground and tends to clump; it makes for delicate, tender baked goods that can be brittle if not combined with other stickier flours.

Weight per cup: Polenta, 5.65 ounces (160 g); cornmeal, 5.65 ounces (160 g); corn flour, 4¼ ounces (120 g)

Brands tested: Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits Polenta, Arrowhead Mills Organic Gluten-Free Cornmeal, Bob’s Red Mill Organic Corn Flour

Find it: Cornmeal and corn flour can be found with other alternative flours at health food stores, and sometimes in bulk. Polenta or corn grits are sometimes sold with other hot cereals if not with GF flours.

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 3 months, or refrigerated airtight for up to 1 year

Use it: With light, bright flavors: honey, rhubarb, berries, stone fruit, citrus, vanilla, dairy. Corn has a fairly brittle texture, so don’t use more than 25 percent cornmeal or polenta, or 50 percent corn flour, in most baking recipes.

Health benefits: High in protein, fiber, iron and phosphorous

Edible corn comes in many forms, including coarse polenta or grits, cornmeal of various grinds and, the most finely ground, corn flour (not to be confused with cornstarch, which is referred to as corn flour in the UK and Australia). Corn or maize is thought to have been cultivated by the ancient Olmecs and Mayans, spreading to other parts of the Americas since 2500 BCE. European explorers brought it back home in the 1500s and 1600s, and it gained popularity around the globe for its ability to grow in diverse climates. Many varieties of corn are used today in myriad applications, edible and not, including starch, oil, animal feed, fuel and even compostable substitutes for plastic. In the kitchen, we pop the kernels into salty snacks, bake the meal into cornbread and use the syrup to sweeten baked goods. Latin cultures make masa harina by soaking the hominy variety of corn in limewater and grinding it into a fine meal for tamales and tortillas.


Polenta is a staple of northern Italy, where it gets a long, slow cook, becoming a savory porridge of sorts. And in the American South, hominy grits get a similar treatment. But corn isn’t all sunshine and flours: many crops have been genetically modified and treated with pesticides, so do take care to buy corn products from small brands, organically grown if possible.

Corn is a sturdy grain that likes to soak up moisture, and its sunny taste is easy to love and complements a wide variety of foods and flavors. Polenta or corn grits, when baked long and slow with plenty of milk and honey, makes a sublime porridge to top with summer berries. Stone-ground cornmeal makes a nubby cake to sop up juices from blood oranges and a skillet cornbread studded with millet seed and cherries. Finely ground corn flour makes a fluffy topping for berry plum cobbler, and it bakes into pillowy muffins moistened by juicy blueberries.


Flavor profile: Warm, buttery, vegetal, nutty, some bitter notes

Consistency: Fairly fine and starchy with a bit of sandy texture, slightly clumpy

Brand tested: Bob’s Red Mill GF Millet Flour

Weight per cup: 4½ ounces (130 g)

Find it: With other alternative flours and/or in the bulk section of health food stores and upscale grocers

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 2 months, or refrigerated airtight for up to 1 year

Use it: Millet is one of my top three used flours for its mild flavor and starchy, finely milled texture. In conjunction with sweet rice and oat flour, it makes a neutral flour that mimics all-purpose but with more texture, flavor and nutritional value. Millet flour tastes a bit like cornmeal or corn flour and pairs well with similar flavors, such as honey, berries, stone fruit, citrus, vanilla and dairy. It can have some bitter undertones, however, which is why I recommend using no more than 30 percent in any given recipe.

Health benefits: High in protein, fiber and the minerals iron, phosphorous, manganese, magnesium and copper. Do beware of eating too much millet if you suffer from the condition hypothyroidism, which can be exacerbated by consuming large amounts of the grain.

Millet seed has been a food staple for humans for at least the last 10,000 years, particularly in India and parts of Africa, where it is thought to have evolved. Millet actually refers to several different varieties of a cereal grass, the most common in North America being the proso variety, while pearl millet is the most common variety cultivated worldwide. Primarily grown in the United States for use as animal feed or birdseed, millet has gained in popularity as an alternative grain in its own right. The seeds are butter yellow in color. They cook up light and fluffy, not unlike couscous, and make a good stand-in for steamed rice. The flour is well loved in gluten-free baking for its soft, starchy consistency, particularly in breads.

Millet flour does have notes of bitterness, however, which is why I recommend blending it with other, milder flours, particularly sweet rice and oat. Toasted millet seed takes center stage in Millet Skillet Cornbread with Cherries and Honey, and the flour features in countless recipes throughout this book, including buttery scones and biscuits, light cakes and flaky pie pastry.


AKA: Milo flour, sweet white sorghum flour

Flavor profile: Earthy, nutty, vegetal, mild, sweet

Consistency: Fairly fine with a bit of gritty/sandy texture

Weight per cup: 4½ ounces (120 g)

Brand tested: Bob’s Red Mill Sweet White Sorghum Flour

Find it: With other alternative flours and/or in the bulk section of health food stores and upscale grocers

Store it: Airtight at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) for up to 3 months, or refrigerated airtight for up to 1 year

Use it: Where you don’t mind a bit of texture and whole-grain flavor in conjunction with softer, milder flours such as sweet rice and oat; don’t use more than 30-50 percent in most recipes. Pairs well with stone fruit, berries, apples, pears, chocolate, spices (especially cinnamon), honey, dairy and nuts

Health benefits: High in antioxidants (more per serving than blueberries and pomegranate) as well as fiber, protein, unsaturated fat and the minerals phosphorus, calcium, potassium and iron

Sorghum is an ancient, drought-resistant grain that hails from southern Egypt and remains a staple throughout Africa. It clocks in as the fifth most important grain worldwide. Though the United States is the biggest producer, many Americans are not familiar with this small, gluten-free grain. Sorghum can be found in many gluten-free flour blends. It reminds me very much of brown rice flour: nutty, grassy, with some bitter whole-grain notes and a slightly coarse texture. It is naturally sweet and was often boiled into a syrup popular in the southern United States before the rise of corn syrup.

Bob’s Red Mill makes sorghum flour that is ground fairly fine with a bit of sandy texture. I find it slightly troublesome to work with; it doesn’t absorb moisture well and it has a distinct flavor that isn’t always welcome. I tested it in several cake and biscuit recipes that baked up brittle and with a cornbread-like texture that staled quickly, before returning to softer millet and oat flours. Azure Farm, which I found in bulk at my co-op, makes a powder-fine sorghum flour that, when combined 50:50 with sweet rice, makes an all-purpose-like blend. Since this brand is less widely available, all recipes in this book have been formulated to work with Bob’s coarser grind. It does add a warm, cornlike flavor and custardy texture to oven pancakes, and its grassy flavor blends beautifully with Chocolate Zucchini Cake and Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting.


Starches can be a necessary addition to whole-grain baking to absorb moisture, create structure and add stickiness to baked goods. These are the two I keep in my pantry.


Powdered tapioca is sometimes labeled flour or starch, but it is all the same. Made from the root of the cassava plant, tapioca is a powerful binder and thickener and can add much-needed chew and stickiness to alternative baking. It’s traditionally used to make the Brazilian cheese bread pao de queijo or rolled into balls for Japanese boba tea and tapioca pudding. It does have an assertive flavor in large quantities, which is why I prefer the softer flavor of cornstarch for thickening fruit. However, tapioca adds essential chewiness in chestnut chocolate chip cookies, helps crisp topping clump together and makes pie dough extensible and stretchy, easier to roll out and handle.


Just to confuse things, the starchy powder known as cornstarch in the United States and Canada is called corn flour in the UK and several other countries, while corn flour in this book refers to finely ground cornmeal, which is yellow in color and contains the whole grain. Cornstarch is made solely from the endosperm or starchy component of the corn kernel through a process called wet milling, which removes the outer parts of the kernel. The resulting slurry is washed of protein, then dried in centrifuges to remove moisture before being ground and packaged. The starch has no nutritional value, but small amounts can add big improvements to alternative baking. Cornstarch promotes browning and crisping, and can help absorb excess moisture. In my pie dough, it promotes flaking and helps the dough stand up to moisture. I use it to thicken fruit in pies and rustic fruit desserts, where it softens into a silky texture and leaves behind a more neutral flavor than tapioca. Do be sure to source organic cornstarch, which is GMO free.


These ingredients commonly used in alternative baking just don’t float my boat. Here’s why.


These two are the most widely used flours in GF baking. I’ve found that using sweet white rice flour rather than regular rice flour gives baked goods better texture, and allows me to use less of it, and fewer other starches or gums, than regular white rice flour. Brown rice flour tends to keep a gritty texture in baked goods that I dislike. There is superfine brown rice flour available, but I have yet to see it carried at any of my local grocers. Furthermore, rice has been found to contain arsenic and should not be consumed in large quantities (brown rice flour has higher levels of arsenic, as the arsenic likes to hang out on the outside of the whole grain, which is buffed away to make white rice, removing much of the arsenic). These findings are part of what led me to explore other alternative grains; I feared we were getting into the same situation with rice flour as we did with wheat flour, relying on it too much and edging closer to a mono diet. For all of these reasons, I prefer to use a small amount of sweet rice in conjunction with millet and oat as my neutral flours.


Quinoa has a strong, fairly bitter flavor thanks to saponins that coat and protect the grain. I often rinse and cook the grain whole for savory sides and salads, but I haven’t found the flour to work well in sweets, preferring milder millet or complex-tasting amaranth. That said, quinoa flour’s texture is similar to both, so feel free to trade it in for either if you’re quinoa-curious.


Chickpea flour works beautifully in savory baked goods due to its soft texture and high protein content, but its assertive bean flavor tends to take over when used in sweets. Chickpea flour is classically used in socca, a delicious flatbread from the south of France.


These two can add softness and moisture to baked goods. However, I’ve found that they both cause baked goods to go stale more quickly due to being hygroscopic, meaning that they grab water molecules from out of the air and hold on. You’ll find them both in many GF flour blends and products, but I prefer to do without them in my own kitchen.


These gums are often used to replace the gluten in gluten-free baked goods. However, some people can’t tolerate these, they can be hard to source and I’ve found that they are usually not necessary anyway. When some extra sticky power is needed in a recipe beyond what sweet rice, tapioca, almond flour or egg can offer, I use ground chia seed, which has a similar effect as these gums but also adds a pleasant nutty flavor and is full of good-for-you fiber and nutrients to boot.


There are new-to-me alternative flours popping up every day that I have not yet experimented with, including wild rice flour, kaniwa, benne seed, purple corn, tiger nut, plantain, banana, coffee, water chestnut and sweet potato, among others.