If you eat gluten free, you’ve likely run into it: the dreaded crumbly, gummy gluten-free baked good.
While gluten-free bakers have made great strides toward making healthy and delicious cakes, cookies, breads, and more based on non-wheat flours, achieving those cravable textures without gluten takes time and practice.
It also takes guidance, which is why we wrote this helpful guide on how to make rice flour.
While it may take some trial and error, making your own gluten-free treats is a surefire way to brighten up your day and diet, while growing your prowess in the kitchen.
There is no one all-purpose flour that can provide a perfect substitution for wheat flour in many traditional wheat-based recipes. Instead, gluten free bakers can experiment with a wide variety of nuts and grains to make flour mixes that suit their specific craving—whether that be a crusty bread, flaky pastry, or crispy cracker.
A key component in many of these mixes: rice flour. “Rice flour is an essential ingredient for the gluten-free pantry,” said Rigel Patterson Frank, a teacher and gluten-free baker who hosts the Gluten Free Baking Show podcast.
What is Rice Flour?
Rice flour is exactly what it sounds like: flour made from rice. Varieties include brown rice flour, made from brown rice (rice that includes the bran layer and the cereal germ); white rice flour, made from medium- or long-grain rice; and sweet rice flour, made from short-grain, glutinous rice. Don’t be alarmed, however: the word “glutinous” in sweet rice flour is simply a description of the rice’s texture; it doesn’t contain actual gluten.
Rice flour, like rice itself, does not contain gluten. It’s both an important ingredient in many traditional dishes and desserts, and a common substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free recipes.
Each different type of rice flour has different baking uses. White and brown rice flour can be used in recipes to substitute for wheat flour, often mixed with added starch and some kind of binder. Brown rice flour has a slightly nuttier taste than white rice flour, but the texture is similar. Sweet rice flour, on the other hand, isn’t actually sweeter in flavor, but it will produce stickier textures.
Traditional Rice Flour Baking
Many recipes specifically call for rice flour as part of the original dish. These include sweet treats like Filipino bibingka, a coconut rice flour cake, and Japanese mochi. “Some desserts are traditionally made with only rice flour,” said Frank.
Some cuisines have a plethora of starchy, savory staple foods made of rice and other non-wheat flours, such as lentil flours. These include South Indian staples like dosa, idli, appam, and puttu.
Frank recommends that bakers new to using rice flour in sweets experiment with simple recipes like Hawaiian butter mochi, a unique Hawaiian sweet that combines the fragrant coconut flavors of bibingka with the pleasant chewiness of mochi.
Choosing Rice Flour for Gluten-Free Baking
Rice flour, usually mixed with other flours, is a great choice for gluten-free baking. “It can produce baked goods that are just as good or better than the wheat version,” said Frank.
Frank especially recommends rice flour for baked goods like cakes, cookies, quickbreads, and doughnuts—all of which don’t require gluten development and thus are easier to make with a simple gluten-free flour.
Rice Flour as a Wheat Flour Replacement
Rice flour by itself can be a decent substitute for wheat flour in some baked goods, like cookies, but Frank generally recommends mixing rice flour with other flours and starches for best results. She favors a combination of brown or white rice flour with starch, such as tapioca and potato starch. “I find that the combination of these three flours works especially well for sweet baked goods and even some savory quickbreads,” said Frank.
Gluten-free homemade bread baking is slightly more complicated, as gluten is so pivotal to bread’s signature crisp crust and springy texture. For bread, some experts recommend flour blends that include higher-protein ingredients, like whey protein. Others advocate for a more complex blend of grains, including teff, sorghum, and millet, and beans, like fava and garbanzo.
Some gluten-free bakers add binding agents, like xanthan gum or psyllium husk powder, to their flour mixes to prevent crumbly results.
Where to Get Rice Flour
You can buy brown, white, and sweet rice flour online, and increasingly at local grocery stores. You can also buy our premixed gluten-free flour blends, the gluten-free equivalent of all-purpose wheat flour. Different blends are great for different purposes, including bread flour and cake flour.
How to Make Rice Flour
Some bakers argue that the best rice flour is home-ground. Frank doesn’t make her own rice flour, but she says that for many bakers it can be a better option.
“There are bakers who grind their own flours for freshness. In the long term, it may even save money,” said Frank. “I believe that grinding your own flour is more important for brown rice flour than for white rice flour because whole grains can spoil more quickly.”
Rice Flour Ingredients
To grind your own rice flour, you only need one ingredient: Rice! You can choose long or medium grain white rice, brown rice, or short-grain white rice depending on your needs.
Rice Flour Equipment
You can make rice flour using a number of different kitchen tools, depending on the fineness of the flour you’re going for. A coffee grinder can work if you are grinding small quantities. A high-quality blender is also a good option. It’s possible to use a food processor, but the engine may overheat and the quality of the flour will be courser.
If you’re serious about producing high quality, very fine rice flour, and you will be making your own rice flour fairly frequently, many experts recommend investing in a good quality home grain mill. These small mills can run up to several hundred dollars, but if you’re regularly using gluten-free flour, they can save you money over time.
“Investing in a good quality grinder that will create a fine grind is essential,” said Frank.
How to Make Rice Flour: Step by Step
1. Prepare the rice
Some experts recommend rinsing rice or soaking rice for a couple hours prior to making it into rice flour. This can rid the rice of extra starch, preventing clumping in the eventual rice flour. Some gluten free bakers feel this improves the texture of the eventual rice flour; others say it is unnecessary. If you do choose to soak your rice, make sure to spread it out on a baking sheet or plate to thoroughly dry for an hour or more before grinding.
2. Grind the rice
Using your coffee grinder for smaller batches, and high quality blender or grain mill for larger batches, grind the rice. A coffee grinder can usually only handle a few tablespoons of rice at a time. A blender or specialty grain grinder can handle a cup or more, depending on capacity. Grind the rice until it’s a fine powder.
3. Re-grind to desired consistency
Sift the rice through a sieve to remove any larger grains that have yet to be powdered. You can regrind the larger grains until they too reach a fine powder consistency.
Using Rice Flour at Home: Do’s and Don’ts
Gluten-free baking can seem challenging at first, but with a few basic rules of thumb, you’ll be baking gluten-free treats with ease.
Making Rice Flour: Do’s
Try grinding other flours. If you’re interested in exploring gluten-free baking, it can help to have a variety of lours on hand. “If you want to try blending your own flour at home and all you have is a small coffee grinder or food processor, I recommend making oat flour,” said Frank. “Oats are soft so they blend easily, and they will also absorb water in dough or batter even if the grind is fairly large, leaving you with a moist final product.”
Experiment with different gluten-free flour blends. “I suggest making your own flour blend,” said Frank. “If you are an avid baker, you will likely find yourself experimenting with a whole host of flours.”
Store rice flour properly for freshness. Rice flour, especially brown rice flour, spoils faster than wheat flour. Store flour in an airtight container in the freezer for best shelf life.
Let your dough rest. Common gluten-free baking problems include baked goods that are dry, gummy, or overly crumbly. A common reason for this is lack of absorbency of the gluten-free flour. “To combat these issues and end up with a tasty treat, it is best to use a fine blend of rice flour,” said Frank. That might mean using store-bought, if you can’t get a fine enough grind with your blender. You can also troubleshoot by letting your dough or batter rest before baking, which allows the flour to fully absorb moisture for moister finished products. “Rice flour is a “thirsty” flour so recipes that contain it require a lot more liquid than their wheat counterparts,” said Frank.
Rice Flour Don’ts
Use rice flour exactly like you would wheat flour. Rice flour has different properties than wheat flours, so for best results customize your gluten-free flour blends depending on what you’re making.
Overmix. “Beginning bakers sometimes overstir after adding the flour mix, which can result in a tough or gummy product,” said Frank. “No one likes a gummy cake.”
Practice Makes Perfect
While the switch to gluten free can seem overwhelming at first. The secret is to embrace the natural qualities of each flour, rather than forcing it to behave just like wheat flour. With time and experimentation, you’ll soon get an intuitive sense of how to work with various gluten-free flours, including rice flour, to produce the best baked goods possible.
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