“Can I use a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix in place of the flours in this recipe?” That’s a question I get asked a lot. My answer? Well, do you like to play basketball? Seriously, there’s a connection which I’ll get to in a minute. But I understand why you would ask that question. It’s so much easier to use one flour rather than three or four!
There is a simple answer to your question, but it might not be what you want to hear. Let’s be honest, the only thing you really want to hear is, “Yes, you can use an all-purpose flour and it will work perfectly.” Just a hint: that is not my answer, though it is possible that it will work perfectly.
How substituting is like basketball
First, an analogy. I’m not a basketball fan, but you don’t have to know much about it to understand that the goal is to get the ball into the basket. You take a shot and it goes in or it doesn’t. Of course, there are things that affect that shot, like your position and distance from the basket as well as opponents trying to block you.
When you make substitutes of any kind in a recipe, you are taking a shot and hoping the ball goes in. If I haven’t tried a recipe with the particular substitute you are asking about, I can’t guarantee the ball will go in. (Actually I can’t guarantee anything because ingredients vary by brand and even things like the weather can affect baking.)
But I hope you do take some shots and do a little experimenting for yourself. The idea is to give yourself the best shot possible. Don’t try shooting from the across the court with 3 seconds left on the clock. In other words, don’t try a risky substitution when you’re making dessert for company and you won’t have time to make an alternative if it doesn’t turn out.
Next, I want to talk about gluten-free flours and flour mixes. Just in case you didn’t realize it, gluten-free all-purpose flour is a combination of different flours. A single flour just doesn’t work with gluten-free baking like it does with wheat flour.
Each gluten-free flour contributes its own qualities (both good and bad), and balance is found in the combination of grains and starches. (Just to be clear, I’m not talking about grain-free baking here.) Each flour acts differently, and the ratio of flour to starch affects the final outcome.
Can I use an all-purpose flour?
Based on that information, I’m going to give you my bottom line answer. For my recipes that include a combination of grain flours and starches, yes, you can use an all-purpose flour and it will probably work fine. BUT you won’t get exactly the same results, AND it’s possible that it won’t work fine. It’s also possible that it will work better! So basically, you have to be willing to experiment (take that shot and accept that it might bounce off the rim, miss altogether, or go straight in with a nice swish).
Most gluten-free flour mixes work well and yield good results in cakes, muffins, and cookies. Breads, especially yeast breads can be trickier, and I don’t recommend substituting in those recipes until you have some experience and know what to expect. You might need to add a little more or less water, and even then, the results could be vastly different depending on the flours used.
It’s a good idea to see if the flours in your mix are the same flours used in a recipe. That can be a good indicator of how compatible it is with a recipes.
Here is a table to use as a general guideline:
|Question about recipe||Okay to try an all-purpose flour?|
|Does it use almond and/or coconut flour?||No, do not use all-purpose flour|
|Is it for loaf bread?||No, unless you are experienced|
|Does it include grain flour and starches?||Yes, if it also meets other criteria below|
|Is it for muffins, cake, or cookies?||Yes|
|Are you baking biscuits or scones?||Yes|
Paleo or grain-free baking
As I mentioned above, this conversation relates to gluten-free grain baking. Paleo or grain-free baking with almond flour and coconut flour is a whole different story. For any of my grain-free recipes, I do not recommend making substitutions unless you are experienced with grain-free baking.
Why I don’t use an all-purpose flour
I like experimenting to see if one flour instead of another or different proportions of flours yield a better result. And when I end up with a recipe I really like, I want you to be able to duplicate what I have done. Therefore, my recipes call for individual flours and not an all-purpose flour mix.
Also, when I went gluten free, there weren’t many flour mixes and they were very expensive. I bought a flour mill and ever since I have ground most of my grain flours myself. It just doesn’t make sense for me to buy an flour mix. (You can read more about my history with all-purpose flour mixes in the next section.)
More about gluten-free flour mixes
Now that you know my answer, I’d love for you to hang with me for a little history of gluten-free flour mixes. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2000, I remember using one flour mix that I could find at the store. It wasn’t very good, it was expensive, and it made me sick because of cross contamination.
The appeal of a single flour mix was certainly there, and one cookbook author had a recipe for making your own. She’s no longer alive, but Bette Hagman saved my life cooking wise. I think I brought home four of her cookbooks from the library and ended up buying all of them. She started with a basic flour mix that was made of rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch. It worked well for many recipes and still does.
But that mix has a high ratio of rice flour to starch, so she added a lighter mix. And then there came mixes for things like pizza and French bread. Then she added bean flours to her recipes and more flour mix recipes came about.
So now, not only did I have a whole bunch of different flours to use for making flour mixes, but I also had a bunch of different mixes! It made for quite a full pantry. Then other cook book authors became popular and had their own flour mixes. Carol Fenster’s sorghum blend became one of my favorites.
And, of course, eventually safe packaged flour mixes came on the market. Now there are so many options! Personally, I pretty much gave up on all the mixes and decided to keep a variety of flours on hand. I would need some individual flours even if I used a flour mix anyway, and as I said above, I like adjusting the ratios of different flours.
I’m sorry I couldn’t give you the answer you really wanted to hear. Substitutions take a little courage and willingness to experiment. If it’s not a yeast bread and the flour mix is similar to the flours in a recipe, go ahead and take a shot. It might be a swish and you end up with a favorite recipe!
Substituting an all-purpose flour is one of the most common questions I get, but if you want to know about other substitutions such as eggs, you can read my answer on my Frequently Asked Questions page.