A quick-start guide to gluten free baking in New Zealand.
If you’re new to gluten free baking, there is a distinct possibility that your head is spinning right now.
And I get it, I went gluten-free for the first (brief) time when I was a teenager, and I had no idea what I was going to eat. I gave up baking during that time because it was just too hard. Then my Dad was diagnosed with Coeliac disease a few years later, and I realised if I was going to keep baking for my family I would need to learn how to bake gluten-free.
I was thrown into a world of flours and starches and ingredients that sounded bizarre (I’m looking at you, xanthan gum). But because I’m a bit of a nerd at heart and had time on my hands, I dove headfirst into trying out different flours (we had ten different flours in our pantry at one stage) and testing out recipes, finding out what did and didn’t work.
Here’s the thing though: I don’t want you to have to do all that.
I mean, if you’re super interested and keen to learn then that’s awesome, I’ll be giving you snippets of info and tips along the way, and there are a ton of gluten-free baking resources out there if you want to know more. But the purpose of this website is to give you tried and tested gluten-free recipes that you can jump right in and start enjoying!
There are a few important things that you will definitely need to know about gluten free baking in general and about gluten free baking in New Zealand as well. I’m going to cover those here, then once you and I are on the same (recipe) page, you can dive head-first into some delicious Kiwi favourite recipes.
Here’s what we’re going to talk about:
Like all good adventures run by a safety-conscious Kiwi, we need to start with a quick safety chat. But I’m not talking “please keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times”, I’m talking…
There are different “levels” of baking gluten-free, or anything-free, really, and this is an important thing to take into consideration before you start baking.
If you’re a confident gluten-free baker, or your whole household is already gluten-free, then some of these won’t apply to you, but you may like to give them a skim read anyway.
If you don’t have a 100% gluten free kitchen and you are baking for someone who has a slight gluten sensitivity or has chosen to be gluten-free for any kind of lifestyle reason, then you can most likely just safely jump into making your gluten-free goodies. The precautions I’ll outline below will be helpful to you, but they won’t all necessarily be essential.
But if you’re baking for someone with Coeliac Disease or a gluten sensitivity that gives them a severe reaction to gluten, then you’re going to need to take some precautions when you bake, especially if your kitchen is not entirely gluten-free.
Here’s the thing – gluten is sneaky. Not on purpose (I don’t think), but it can be found on almost any surface in any kitchen where gluten-containing products are used.
Crumbs go everywhere, and if you’ve ever measured or sifted flour and then run your finger across nearby benchtops, you’ll know it can fly through the air and settle on any surface.
For people with Coeliac disease, even minuscule amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms. And even in those who don’t have severe symptoms, it can still be causing “silent” damage to the gut. I’m going to presume that you like the person you’re about to bake for, so chances are you’re going to want to do everything possible to make sure you don’t make them sick.
I’m going to cover some of the more important things you’ll need to do, but if the person you’re baking for isn’t yourself, the number 1 most important thing to do before you do anything else is to check with that person (or if it’s a child, check with their parent/s). They will tell you whether it is safe for you to bake for them in your kitchen.
If they give you the go-ahead, then keep reading for some tips.
Here are some important precautions that you should take:
Clean. Clean everything. Wipe down the bench with cleaner and paper towels or a clean cloth. Make sure that any bowls and utensils that you’re going to use have been well washed, preferably in the dishwasher. If you’re using cake tins or baking trays, check the corners to make sure there isn’t any dried cake batter crusted in there. Wipe down any appliances, such as electric mixers, you’re going to use, and check any nooks and crannies in them to make sure there isn’t wheat flour lurking in there. If you wear an apron, grab a clean one. Change your hand towel and tea towel. Wash your hands.
Check. Check the packets of all the ingredients you’re using to make sure they don’t have any gluten. This is particularly important for dry ingredients. Things like cornflour – pure cornflour or corn starch is gluten-free, wheaten cornflour is not. Check baking pan non-stick sprays, sometimes these include wheat flour to stop things from sticking, choose one that is oil only instead. If there’s anything you’re not sure about, a quick search of the brand’s product page on their website will usually give you the information you need. If you’re baking for someone who has been gluten-free for a while, ask them. They’ll be able to tell you their favourite brands of products that are safe for them.
Reading Product Labels
Foods manufactured in NZ and Australia, by law, must state if there are any allergens present. These are usually either written in bold in the ingredients list or stated below the ingredient list. If you don’t see the words wheat, gluten, barley, rye or oats* you can be reasonably sure that the product is gluten-free by ingredient. Be wary of overseas manufactured products, these should be relabelled for sale in NZ with the allergen statements, but sometimes they aren’t, so it’s best to check the ingredients thoroughly.
*Oats don’t contain gluten but they do contain a similar protein called avenin which can cause similar symptoms to gluten in some Coeliacs, and they can also become cross-contaminated during the growing or manufacturing process, so it is safest for Coeliacs to avoid oats.
Products that state “gluten free” on the packaging are required to be tested to ensure they meet the standards to be labelled as gluten free in New Zealand.
The safest products to buy are those that are labelled with the “Crossed Grain” logo. Products displaying the logo have been reviewed and approved by Coeliac New Zealand as being safe for those on a gluten-free diet.
There are several ingredients that, despite being derived from wheat, are actually safe for those on a gluten free diet. This is due to their extensive processing which leaves them with no detectable gluten. These include glucose syrup from wheat, maltodextrin, caramel from wheat and dextrose from wheat. (These ingredients are not safe for those with a wheat allergy, however. A wheat allergy is different to Coeliac disease).
“Gluten Free by Ingredient” / “May Contain Gluten”
Some products are “gluten-free by ingredient” – meaning the ingredients don’t contain any gluten, but the product is processed on equipment or in factories that also process gluten-containing products. These will often have a “may contain gluten” statement. This is a voluntary statement from the manufacturer – they aren’t required to state it.
Many Coeliacs are comfortable eating “may contain” products, because they are gluten free by ingredient and the risk is considered to be similar to eating food made in a home kitchen that isn’t 100% gluten free. However, some (especially those who have very noticeable reactions to traces of gluten) choose not to eat these products. This is usually a decision made by the individual (or their parents), so if you’re baking for someone else, this is a good thing to check with that person.
Our Coeliac (my Dad) does choose to eat “may contain” products.
Checking ingredient labels become second nature after a while, especially if it’s someone in your household who needs to be gluten-free.
As I mentioned above, if your whole household is gluten-free, then you shouldn’t need all the cleaning precautions, but you’ll still need to check your ingredients.
The most important thing to remember is that if you can mitigate all the risks and make the food safe, then do it. If you can’t do those things, you’re not confident that you can, or the person you’re baking for isn’t confident that you can, then give it a miss, and maybe pick up something from the supermarket instead.
For more information on Coeliac disease, please start by visiting the Coeliac New Zealand website.
Now that the safety procedures are out of the way, the next most important thing for baking is…
Gluten Free Flour
As far as baking goes, this is the big one, right? What flour am I going to use?
The thing is, there is no single gluten-free flour that can replace wheat flour. There is nothing that is exactly-like-gluten-but-not-gluten, no flour that is exactly-like-wheat-flour-but-gluten-less. So to get a good result, you need to have multiple different starches and flours mixed together.
I have experimented a lot with gluten-free flours over the years. I started out with gf flour blends from the supermarket, and most of the ones available at the time were awful. As I mentioned above, we had ten different kinds of flour in our pantry at one stage, while I was on my mission to find The Best Gluten-Free Flour. As time went on, I ditched the flours I didn’t like and found myself gravitating to a particular blend that was working really well for me.
My all-time favourite gluten-free flour blend ever is my homemade one, which contains tapioca starch, brown rice flour and potato starch. It’s the blend I have used to test all my gluten-free recipes over on my other website Sweetness and Bite for many years now. It will be the one I recommend for the majority of recipes here, too.
Why? Because it’s simple to make and I know it works.
I hate crumbly baking. I hate “pretty good, for gluten-free” baking. My aim is always to make sure people can’t tell it’s gluten-free.
I make up a 2 or 3kg batch of that flour blend at a time, and just keep it in the pantry in a large container. It’s so versatile, and I love having it on hand.
If you want to keep your component flours and starches separate though, you’ll always be able to mix it up for each recipe (as I did, before I got my act together and started mixing up a big batch!) I give instructions in the flour recipe post on how to do just that.
With a homemade flour blend, depending on the recipe you will probably also need to add a gum ingredient to help bind the ingredients together. My favourite is xanthan gum. I’m not going to go into the specifics of why, and how it works, but suffice to say that it helps to mimic the properties of gluten (to the extent that it’s able to – remember, there is nothing that is like-gluten-but-isn’t-gluten), and as long as you buy some to keep in your pantry, I will tell you exactly how much to add in each recipe. That’s all you’ll need to know for now.
Ok, if your head is spinning then let’s pause for a sec and give your brain a moment to catch up, and talk about gluten-free flour blends you can purchase.
This is obviously the easier option when it comes to gluten-free flour, right? Nip down to the supermarket (or dairy, if your local dairy has ventured into the world of gf ingredients) and pick up a bag or box of gluten free flour.
These flours are usually a blend of a few different flours, and often already contain a gum ingredient (Xanthan gum or guar gum, or sometimes just “vegetable gum”).
As I said, back when I first started gluten-free baking, there were only a few options for gluten-free flour, and they were pretty terrible. But the world has changed since then, more products have come on the market, and some of them are pretty good.
If you’re only baking gluten free occasionally, then you probably don’t want to buy several gluten free flours and make up your own mix, right?
While I always develop my recipes with my homemade flour blend, I will be endeavouring to test each of the recipes on GFKF with at least one brand of pre-made gluten-free flour. Whenever I have done this, I’ll let you know in the recipe notes what brand I used and how it turned out compared to my homemade blend so you can choose which one you want to go with.
I can’t promise that I will do this for every recipe, because recipe testing is a long process and sometimes I may not have time for it (or we may not have the ability to eat or give away yet another batch of whatever the food is!), but I’ll do my best.
And if you try a recipe with a flour blend that I haven’t tested, I would love it if you would comment on the recipe post to let us all know how it worked!
“Teamwork makes the dream work”, and all that.
Where to Buy Gluten-Free Flour in New Zealand
Gluten-free baking (and shopping) in New Zealand used to be really hard – there weren’t a lot of options for places to buy products.
Luckily, these days, you can buy gluten-free flours and other gluten-free ingredients and products at most major supermarkets around the country. Even our small local supermarket has a pretty great selection.
Organics shops such as Commonsense Organics and Huckleberry and wholefoods stores like Binn Inn are also great places to look, especially for the component flours used in homemade gluten free flour blends.
Other Dietary Restrictions
Because I know that many people who can’t eat gluten also have other dietary restrictions, I’ll make a note in the recipe if I have tried the recipe with any other substitutions for common allergen ingredients. If I haven’t noted it, then I most likely haven’t tried it.
That’s not to say that substitution won’t necessarily work, but you may need to experiment.
Milk can often be substituted for non-dairy milk, make sure you choose an unsweetened variety, and something that isn’t too low in fat will generally work better in baking.
Egg-free is a bit more difficult and is definitely outside of my area of expertise. So if you need to make one of my recipes egg-free, you will need to do a bit of research on the alternatives from someone who know’s what they’re talking about, and then experiment a little.
Just keep in mind that gluten-free baking is inherently different to traditional baking and the ingredients don’t always work the same way, so substitutions can be a bit hit and miss.
One thing you’ll most likely notice early on in your perusal of these GFKF recipes is this: “she weighs everything!”
Ok, maybe not everything, but for recipes where exact measurements are important, like in baking, where, you know, it’s a science, then I will always weigh the ingredients.
This is important for two reasons, and despite my passionate feelings about weight measurements (don’t let me get into an argument with an American who insists on cup measurements) I’m going to do my best to tell you quickly and succinctly why weight measurements are important.
- Accuracy. Cup measurements are super inaccurate for dry ingredients. If you’re measuring flour, then the actual amount of flour you end up with in your cup will vary hugely depending on how you get the flour into the cup. If you scoop it out using the cup, or spoon it into the cup and level it, or scoop and tap to level it, it will give you a different amount of flour every time.
Even things like how long your flour has been sitting in the container can affect your measurements – flour compacts over time (because gravity), so a cup of flour that you measure the day you get the flour home will be different to the amount you get when it’s been sitting for a few weeks.
In baking, having the correct amount of each ingredient is super important to the finished result. If you add too much flour, your baking might be too dry. Don’t add enough, and it may be too liquidy. Gluten-free baking makes these discrepancies even more noticeable.
- Troubleshooting. I want you to make my recipes successfully. It’s one of the reasons my websites exist, and the reason I test recipes so extensively before I share them. I want you to be eating the exact same food that I am (not in a weird, dessert-with-two-spoons kinda way… you know what I mean).
If you try one of my recipes and it doesn’t work, I want you to be able to leave a comment on the recipe or send me a message telling me what happened, and I’ll do my best to help you troubleshoot it.
When we troubleshoot, I need to know any ways in which you may have done something differently to me. The recipes are thoroughly tested and I know they work when made as written, so we need to figure out where any differences are. And if we used cup measurements? Well, then I would have no idea how much of any of the ingredients you actually ended up using. The recipe you ended up making could have been completely different to mine.
Using weight measurements means we are using the same amounts of ingredients, and we can usually quickly eliminate ingredient amounts as the reason the recipe may not have worked for you. Then we can get on with figuring out what actually went wrong.
A set of scales isn’t terribly expensive, places like Briscoes, Farmers, Stevens and The Warehouse usually have them on sale at least every other week. And if you take care of your scales, they’ll last you years and years. It’s a small investment in your baking success.
Having said all of that, if it’s a liquid ingredient where cup measurements are accurate enough or a recipe where exact ingredient amounts aren’t vitally important, then I’m not too snobby to use cup measurements. So don’t throw out your set of measuring cups yet!
Baking Tools and Equipment
This is the last section, I promise! Now that I’ve told you you’ll need a scale for these recipes, what other baking-specific kitchenware might you need? You can skip this if you’re already a confident baker – you probably already have everything you’ll need.
Exactly what you need will depend on the recipe, of course, but at a bare minimum you will probably need:
- A set of scales
- Cup and teaspoon/tablespoon measuring sets
- Mixing bowls in a few different sizes (bonus points if they’re microwave-safe)
- Wooden spoons and a silicone spatula or two
- A whisk
- A sharp knife and chopping board (for chopping chocolate, etc.)
- An electric mixer – depending on the recipe. Most things can be mixed by hand if you’re determined enough, but an electric hand-held mixer or stand mixer will make things a lot easier
- A skewer – metal or bamboo – for testing whether cakes are done
- A couple of flat baking trays, for things like biscuits
- Baking tins – I recommend at least having 20cm (8″) round and square cake tins
- A wire cooling rack
- Baking paper
- Airtight containers to store your gluten-free goodies in.
Right, I think that’s the intro section all done and dusted (with icing sugar, hopefully). If you have any questions or if I’ve missed something, let me know in the comments below!
Let’s start making some gluten-free Kiwi favourites 😉💜