Baking secrets: Gluten-free blondies not bland on the taste buds

  • Annie's gluten-free blondies cookies.

      Annie's gluten-free blondies cookies. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Posted3/17/2015 6:00 AM

Few recipe makeovers present the level of culinary challenge that comes with gluten-free baking. Flours are the building blocks of baking and gluten is the protein that gives many flours, such as wheat, its super strength.

Baking magic begins by mixing together flour, sugar, liquids and to create a dough or batter. Initially, oven heat transforms the liquid into steam and ignites the leavening, thereby raising the batter. Continued baking dries the batter, with flours building structure. Sugar adds sweetness and preserves the tender texture.


Benching wheat flour, a major player, results in batters that don't have gluten's strength to build texture and structure. Breads and pizza dough rely upon gluten for signature chewiness, while cakes and cookies more easily succeed with gluten-free flours.

Unlike wheat flours, most gluten-free flours feel gritty to the touch. Some made from fava or garbanzo beans impart a detectable flavor and mouth-feel to the finished texture. The secret to success lies in crafting a gluten-free flour mixture that builds dessert structure without offending our taste buds. Not an easy task.

Food manufacturers know that while a flour blend boasts a "gluten free' label, if it doesn't meet expectations, home bakers won't be back. Some recipes call for a do-it-yourself mix of various flours and thickeners, but I have been on the lookout for a readily available and easy to substitute blend.

Bob's Red Mill offers an extensive selection of flours, including gluten free varieties. While I'm not a fan of the bean-based flour, the Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour blend caught my attention. Ingredients include rice and tapioca flours, potato starch and xanthan gum. A possible one-stop shopping for gluten-free baking flour!

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To test this gf blend I chose a basic blondie recipe. This dessert doesn't include high profile ingredients such as chocolate or fruit that easily mask off flavors. I kept the small amount of pecans, as this mellow nut adds visual interest.

Blondies rate high on the dessert sweetness scale and replacing savory wheat for a rice/potato blend dials up the sugar notes in the recipe. Without chocolate driving the flavor show, butter steps up to the plate; browning it brings another layer of color and flavor to the treat.

Some blondie recipes call for dark brown sugar, but I like the lighter touch of molasses in light brown sugar for this makeover. Vanilla extract boosts the caramel tones and salt counters the sweetness for a balanced batter with no one ingredient hogging the spotlight.

In the end, gluten-free baking comes down to crafting structure and texture in the recipe. One egg adds a gentle lift with a savory protein boost. Baking powder, a mixture of acid and alkaline, raises the batter without compromising chewy texture.


Fiber also infuses structure and adding a small amount of coconut flour to the 1-to-1 blend stayed true to gluten free requirements while enhancing texture without compromising flavor.

My gluten-free blondies are an uncomplicated and uncompromisingly good home-baked dessert for all to enjoy.

Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Oakbrook Terrace. Write to her at

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