The Fresh Loaf

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Converting dessert recipes to GF-questions

clazar123's picture

Converting dessert recipes to GF-questions

I have an event coming up and would like to make a GF dessert for one of the guests.Rather than totally trying a new recipe, I would like to convert one of my very popular recipes. It is a very moist and slightly dense apple cinnamon pecan cake. I am hoping that since it is just a mix and dump cake it will have a good chance at success just by substituting an all purpose GF flour.

Any more experienced folks have any suggestions for me?

This is a winner recipe that has never failed me. Takes 2-3 medium sized apples.

Apple Pecan Cake

2 cups cut up peeled apples-chunks- in a large bowl

2 eggs- break over apples and mix

1 ½ tsp vanilla

½ cup oil

1 ½ cup sugar

1 cup chopped nuts (pecans are best)

1 ½ tsp cinnamon


Mix all together then add:

2 cups flour

½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp baking soda


Mix well-very thick dough!

Place in GREASED 9x13 pan, sprinkle with sugar and bake  350Fabout 45 min until done.

Cool and serve plain or with whip cream.

Good breakfast recipe!

cerevisiae's picture

It's been a while since I've played with GF baking, I've heard good things about What Iif flour from Ideas in Food as an all-purpose GF baking flour. (recipe is at the bottom of the page; some scrolling required)

That said, there's a lot of ways to handle gluten free flours, since there are many different options with their own flavors and textures. It's usually best to use a blend, even if it's just blending rice flour with potato starch. Making up a blend like the one I linked to might not be worthwhile if you're only planning to do GF baking this once, or at least, you may want a smaller batch.

I would also caution that while this is a familiar recipe to you, you might want to try a test batch when you try it with GF flour(s). It's a significant enough change that it's almost like trying a new recipe, but with the advantage that you'll know the flavor and texture well enough to know if the result is what you want.

One of the main challenges with converting to GF is keeping things from being too dense. You may find that the recipe needs an extra egg to come out with the same texture/density, or some xanthan gum and baking soda to help bind and leaven. (Note: The recipe I linked to above already includes xanthan). Extra mixing/stirring/whisking, usually minimized in gluten pastry baking, can be helpful here for incorporating more air into the batter. So maybe beat the eggs a little more, or cream butter and sugar extra (in recipes that call for that).

If you decide you want to make your own flour blend, I recommend using at least two starches, with one of them being a really fine ground one such as cornstarch, tapioca starch/flour, or potato starch. It tends to smooth out the texture a lot. Rice flour is often easy to find, but also varies a lot in quality and can have a very grainy mouthfeel. I like sorghum flour myself. Nut flours are tasty; I'm partial to almond meal. Bob's Red Mill brand of GF products seems to be appearing in more supermarkets these days, so you can probably find a bunch of options either in the baking aisle or the "Natural Living Section/Organics" or whatever they call it near you.

If you're more pressed for time, though, Pamela's Pancake and Baking Mix has gotten a good bit of praise and I enjoyed it the once I tried it. You can try looking for that and just subbing that in, too.

clazar123's picture

Thank you for a great synopsis. The good news is that I have been dabbling in making GFbread so I have a LOT of different flours to play with. I even have a dedicated mixer and utensils! A lot of what you said was relatively familiar ground to me but a great synopsis. The idea of adding another egg as well as xanthan gum is valuable and beating a bit of air in might also be a though.

The reason I chose this recipe is that it is a dense, moist cake.I have found that it is always wise to adapt recipes that aren't fussy about texture whether  the adaptation is for non-fat, non-dairy, non anything,

BIG sigh. I was trying to get away with not doing a test bake and wrote this post with my fingers crossed hoping for the Magic Baking Fairy to bestow her blessing with a simple-"Sure-just sub GF flour. No worries" I know better but was in an overwhelmed place when I was thinking of doing this.

I have experiences the grittiness of rice flour-even if it seemed milled to silkiness. If possible, I soak it a bit to soften and that seems to help. Interesting that you mention sorghum-everyone prefers it but I have had a problem with it. Even if I buy a bag (Bob's Red Mill) with a freshness date in the far future, it has a very bitter aftertaste to me. Am I a supertaster or something? No one else has mentioned that. I experienced the same with millet flour. I obtained a new bag of each right from Bob's Mill-overnighted (they have GREAT customer service) and experienced less but still a definite bitterness. Teff is a lovely brown,nutty flavor.

It's either experiment or fly by the seat of my pants and take a chance. I'll see how adventurous I am when it comes to the time crunch!

Enjoy the recipe!

A thought-maybe someone would enjoy a test bake and let me know how it went?? It is a REALLY delightful recipe.

cerevisiae's picture

I've occasionally noticed bitter flavors in millet flour, but it depends on what form it's in and how I'm using it. If you're sampling it raw, I'm sure you'll get that. I tried soaking some in hot water for several hours and then making a little pancake out of it in order to get a sense for the flavor and found it was very sweet and then rather bitter.

That said, I put 20% millet flour into some bread dough (sourdough, ~70% hydration, I think) and didn't notice the bitter flavor, so I think something about that form of processing might help mitigate the bitterness. It was also fairly dilute, but even when looking for the flavor I couldn't find it then.

I had a GF bread recipe I liked at one point that used millet, potato and sorghum, and I never noticed any bitterness then. In fact, tasting the millet pancake a few weeks ago was the first time I became aware of this, so I think how it's prepared has something to do with the flavor expression.

I also made a shortbread with 50% millet flour recently and also noticed a lack of bitterness. I think the butter, sugar and anise helped.

andychrist's picture

Don't have experience with GF myself, but agree with cerevisiae about mixing flours. That said, if you live near a Chinatown, you should be able to pick up cake-quality farine de riz (rice starch/flour) dirt cheap. They would also have a great deal on tapiocas. Potato starch/flour is getting harder to find and ridiculously expensive, now that Sands is out of business. :(

Coincidentally, I bake a muffin recipe that shares your ingredient list just about exactly. And as we all know, the trick to a nice crumbly little wheat flour cake is not to develop the gluten, else it bake up too "bready." Fortunately the eggs will provide great structure regardless of gluten, so you might not have much of a problem converting what you have to GF. Here are some tricks I discovered while playing around with batters, which might well apply to your objective as well:

For one thing, I switched from the oil called for in the recipe to all butter, in the same amount. Aside from superior flavor, solid fats just give better results in pastry, period. Also I use 50-50 baking soda and baking powder (non-aluminum, double acting) to guarantee a good second rise, but reduce the amount to only one half teaspoon each. 

In addition, I separate the eggs, beating the yolks together with the butter and sugar until thick and creamy. To the whites I add a pinch of stabilizer such as cream of tartar or FruitFresh (basically ascorbic acid, vitamin C) or citric acid, and whip up into a meringue. Mix all the dry ingredients (save for the nuts) together and cut into the butter/sugar/yolks with a pastry dough blender or in a mixing stand to get a fine crumbed meal, then distribute the chopped nuts. Suspend the fruit chunks in the meringue and incorporate into the meal with a large spoon, turn out into pan. Let rest while the oven pre-heats to 350F, then bake. 

For my muffins, this method gives me tall domes that don't spread like mushrooms over the edges of the pan's cavities. Of great benefit to me when baking mini bundt cakes, whose tops become bottoms. Guessing the same principles might be applied successfully to your apple cake, as GF recipes for such delicacies as macaroons employ a similar technique.

Here's wishing you great success!

CAphyl's picture

I have done some GF baking, and I don't necessarily like all the eggs; like lots of folks I shouldn't have too many eggs and the associated cholesterol.  I have tried Bob's Red Mill Golden Flaxseed meal as an egg substitue.  You just use 1 tablespoon of it with 3 tablespoons of water, letting it sit for a few minutes and that is a substitute for one egg. It has worked so far.