Photo by Andreae Callanan
So you know when you’re at the bulk store and there are all those crazy kinds of flour there? Past the candy, past the lentils, in what I call the “freak section”? Freak flours. I’m right into them. In the last year, I have experimented a lot with different kinds of flour in order to replicate the magical—but, for my family, crazy-making—properties of gluten. I read a lot, I try a lot, I screw up a lot, and every now and then I have a brilliant success and I hurry to the computer to tell you all about it.
Gluten-free baking usually requires more than one kind of flour. If you’re making straight-up wheaty muffins, you take your all-purpose flour or whatever, wing it in the bowl, add your baking powder or baking soda or both, mix up some eggs and oil and milk or some such combo of wet ingredients, and off you go. You may mix white and whole wheat flours, but that’s about as crazy as it gets.
At my house, though, I usually have to mix three or four different kinds of flour any time I have to make anything. Each flour imparts a different taste or a different textural dimension, and I haven’t really found a blend that works awesomely for all the different things I like to make. A lot of brown rice flour makes excellent waffles but weird, gritty cookies. Quinoa flour is tasty and nutty but it’s heller expensive. I’ve made gorgeous squares with teff flour, and one appallingly gross carrot cake. Usually I do a blend of rice, buckwheat, sorghum and tapioca flours, plus xanthan gum.
I’m sure that, for a lot of you, this sounds like a complete pain in the arse, but I enjoy it. Because I’m like that. Sometimes, though, people come to me asking for a recipe for gluten-free whatever because their mother-in-law or their best friend’s boyfriend or someone else is coming over for brunch and they can’t eat gluten, and “please can the recipe not have any weird ingredients in it.”
Well, whaddaya do?
You get some coconut flour, that’s what.
I’ll bet you didn’t even know coconut flour existed, did you? Neither did I, but it’s right there in the freak section at the bulk store. Does it smell like coconuts? A little, yeah. Does it taste like coconuts? A tiny bit, depending on what else is in your particular baked goods. So provided you have nothing against coconuts, this may be the most amazing gluten-free flour ever.
Coconut flour has many, many strange properties. First of all, it’s very thirsty, so you use very little of it in a recipe. Like, half a cup in a batch of muffins. If you just substitute it, cup for cup, for regular white flour in a recipe, you will end up with a gummy brick. But in the right proportions, coconut flour rules the baking world. It’s not grainy or gritty—in fact, since coconut isn’t a grain, it’s suitable for people who can’t eat any grains at all (it’s more common than you probably think). It’s light and naturally sweet, so you don’t have to add a lot of sweetener to your baked goods.
And here’s my favourite: unlike most gluten-free flours, it doesn’t taste all that “health-food-y.” Not that there’s anything wrong with health food, but sometimes you want something cakey and moist and fluffy to snack on. Coconut flour is low-carb, low on the glycemic index, and high in fibre, and you can still make a nice, white birthday cake with it. Without adding any other “weird ingredients” like tapioca starch and xanthan gum. Even if gluten doesn’t bother you in the least, you should give it a try, for no other reason than that it’s good.
I’ve been making nice fruity muffins with coconut flour lately, as I have a lot of cherries and berries in my freezer to get through in order to make room for more of the same when summer comes. You can fancy the recipe up with citrus zest or some other kind of flavouring, but the vanilla-cherry combination I made yesterday has been the favourite here so far. I plan to adapt this to a lemon-poppyseed version soon, and I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Coconut-flour cherry muffins
Do not be alarmed by the unusually huge number of eggs in this recipe. Coconut flour works best in the company of a whole lot of eggs. They’re good for you, and the shells are super good for your compost. If you don’t have a compost and you live near me, just drop your eggshells at my house. I swear, I won’t think you’re weird or creepy. Unless you are. Then don’t.
Makes 12 muffins
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavouring, like almond extract)
½ cup coconut flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup fresh or frozen cherries, chopped (or berries.) If you are using frozen fruit, do not thaw it first.
1. Preheat your oven to 400F. Butter a 12-cup muffin tin, or line with cupcake wrappers
2. In a medium bowl, beat eggs lightly. Whisk in melted butter, sugar, and vanilla.
3. In a large bowl, stir together coconut flour, salt, and baking powder, breaking up any large flour lumps.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until smooth. Stir in fruit.
5. Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full and bake 16-20 minutes (they’ll take closer to 20 minutes if the fruit is frozen). Remove muffins from oven and let sit several minutes in the muffin tin before removing to a cooling rack. Once cool, store in an airtight container.