flours and chocolates

A few days ago, my husband came home to find me in a thoroughly devastated kitchen. “You must have twenty flours out!” he said. There were two bowls of different kinds of pizza dough; one, for dinner that night, was rising on the stove; the other, an experiment, was proofing quietly on the counter. I was standing over a half-finished bowl of chocolate cake batter.

For a second, I was confused, thinking he meant flowers. It wasn’t until he repeated himself that I understood. I counted: there were in fact ten different kinds of flour on the counter, in addition to sugar (granulated, brown, and powdered), baking soda, baking powder, flaxseed, cocoa, salt, the stand mixer, and the blender. Even Milly, our dog, who is black and white, had a new grouping of little white freckles that turned out to be cornstarch.

I’ve always been a messy cook and baker. Since I began baking gluten-free, my messes have become legendary and sprawling. I leave a trail of multiple flours, sometimes in the form of paw prints on the kitchen floor, tipped over canisters, greasy butter wrappers, and cracked eggshells in my wake.

Really, a gathering of ten flours, compared to my larger collection of roughly twenty-five which reside in the pantry, fridge, and freezer, is not bad. I have my favorites, several that I use for almost every baking occasion (like brown rice and sweet rice), and others that I have only tried once and that invariably go rancid (like potato and soy) before I’m able to get through the supply.

But I never fail to be thrilled by the acquisition of a new flour, curious about its properties, how its unique flavor, texture, and chemistry will mix with the others to create new and interesting combinations. I use a different mix of flours for pancake batter, chocolate and vanilla cake, bread, and pizza. There is a subtle art to it; an art I am still an ardent student of.

The variety of gluten-free flours is what makes gluten-free baking both so difficult to master and yet so exciting. Because when it comes to gluten-free baking, the choice of flours is just as significant as the ratio of dry to wet. There are literally endless combinations of outcomes within even a single recipe, just by the flours you choose. Discovering your favorites, discovering which flours will make a cookie chewy or cakey, which lend that subtle cinnamon flavor (like buckwheat) or taste reminiscent of peanut butter (quinoa), which yield the most tender crumb, which create that crispy crust. It’s a whole new frontier of baking; terrifying yes, but thrilling also.

I still giggle when I think of a reader’s comment to a Gluten-Free Girl post. She explained how her husband had declared the pizza crust a success, except for the 6% of amaranth flour. Upon taking his first bite, he said, “Amaranth again?” It cracks me up every time.

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