The Gluten Free Ratio Rally-Pancakes

by Karen on March 2nd, 2011

Chefs have been using ratios in baking forever, there used to be a time when home cooks did the same.

Generations of women taught their children to cook using ratios (2 parts flour, 1 part liquid) and passed their recipes down this way. The vision that comes to mind for me is the sweet Italian mother teaching her children to make pasta  “use one kilo of flour for every dozen eggs”. Mamma Mia!

With America’s renewed interest in cooking, the ratio concept has some traction with the home cook again. Michael Ruhlman‘s book on ratios explores this topic in depth and it is the basis for our new monthly feature on a variety of gluten free blogs called the Gluten Free Ratio Rally.  I look forward to reading Michael’s book.  Our goal is that from this collaboration you will be able to work with the various ratios that we provide in our monthly Ratio Rally posts to help you develop your own favorite goodies.

The Gluten Free Ratio Rally

When Shauna, The GlutenFreeGirl asked me to participate in this project I could see that it would be a fun way for me to start the transition to providing recipes with both imperial (ounces)  and metric (grams) units so that friends outside of the United States can easily use the recipes. Once you get the hang of it you will see that you can use the ratios to come up with your own creations regardless of your preferred method of measurement. For ease of understanding I am using only metric measurements for the ratios this round.  13 gluten free bloggers are participating, see links list at the bottom of this post, it will be fun to see the various ideas.

Each blogger has worked with their pancake recipe to determine the best ratios of flour, sugar, liquid, eggs, and fats to bring you a better understanding of the ratios and flours we are using to serve our families fantastic pancakes.  Each month we will choose another baked good and provide the ratio results to you.

Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes

The Scale

If you haven’t yet taken the plunge and want to buy a scale, my recommendation is the Oxo brand with a 5 pound capacity and the pull out display. It works fine for about $30 (I asked Shauna the same question and she suggested Oxo too).  In a few days I will post a pancake recipe using ounces so not to worry, I just wanted to make our deadline to have this ready today.

Some things to keep in mind with gluten free flours:

Gluten free flours each have varying quantities of protein and density, so I thought that gluten free ratios would be different than those for a standard wheat-based flour. I was surprised to discover that Ruhlman’s ratios of 4:4:2:1  worked for gluten free pancakes too, with one exception, I will explain that in a minute.  It will be interesting if this will stand true for other baked goods as we continue our GF Ratio Rally.

1. Some gluten free flours have zero protein and are very light while the more nutritious flours have similar protein levels to wheat flour and they are more dense.  To further complicate, various gluten free flours need to be combined to effectively mimic the results of wheat-based baked goods and you need to add a binding agent so it all stays together.  The binding agent can be guar gum, xanthan gum, or ground flax seed –some people are sensitive to the gums.  That isn’t a problem in our family so we use guar gum which works best for us and is the least expensive.

2. For flour choices, keep in mind that amaranth, teff, ground oat flour, ground nut flour and pure buckwheat flour need a bit more liquid in a recipe than the other GF flours, if you use them you may end up adding more liquid to your pancake batter to reach the right consistency. This is the exception to Ruhlman’s ratios but go ahead and start out using the 4 parts liquid ratio and add more liquid if you need a thinner batter.

( Because they naturally absorb more liquid these flours are great choices for a beginning gluten free bread baker –a classic problem in GF bread making is too much water in the batter, the bread rises beautifully in the oven and then collapses while cooling, this means there is too much water in the dough).

3. Another element that comes into play for the gluten free baker is whether you keep your bag of flour open on the counter or if you keep it sealed tight at all times.  I used to think that only gluten free flour absorbed a lot of moisture from the air but my days working at Seattle Pie Co. taught me that ALL flour absorbs moisture from the air.  At the pie shop we would start with a set ratio of dry to fat to liquid ingredients– put it all into the mixer and add back some flour if it was needed. Once the pie dough had a soft feel it was time to stop the mixer to avoid overworking the dough for those wheat-based pie crusts.

Why does it matter if flour absorbs water from the air?

It changes how your baked goods will turn out since your flour is now not only flour– but flour with moisture.  You won’t believe me because it looks perfectly dry but it is very true.  After making hundreds of pies at the pie shop it was very obvious towards the end of a huge bin of flour. If you like to keep your flour open to the air you are better suited to weighing your flour to improve your baked goods.  Being the Type A person that I am (at least I recognize it) you know that my flour is kept sealed tightly at all times so I have great results using simple measuring cups.  But it is fun to have a scale now so I can express recipes both ways.

How I anticipate my recipe will differ…

When compared with the other gluten free pancake recipes in the Ratio Rally the difference with my pancake recipe will likely be that I use cream of tartar and a bit more baking powder than most recipes. The addition of cream of tartar (tartaric acid) together with the baking powder and baking soda give the pancakes a good rise and a light texture.  You will want to use Rumford, the aluminum free baking powder.  I also use a little bit of guar gum or xanthan gum. If you are sensitive to these gums you may want to try ground flax seed  to substitute.  We like airy, light pancakes and the cream of tartar and baking powder achieve that goal.

By using the additional baking powder you will notice that the batter will bubble up and get thicker as it sits waiting for its’ turn on the griddle, just add a little milk to thin it down.  Sometimes that means adding up to another 1/2 cup of milk or more depending on whether you use buckwheat or teff flour (or not as much if your flour has absorbed moisture from the air).

The first thing I learned from this project is that 1 gram is about 1/4 teaspoon so there is some wiggle room from my perspective on this whole weighing idea.  I have never measured as accurately as you are able to with a scale and my baked goods results are consistently successful, I attribute this to the flour combinations used.

Gluten Free Flour Choices for Pancakes

Our top overall preference for flour in pancakes and waffles is 100% Multi Blend mix. But in an effort to boost B vitamins, potassium, fiber, protein, and iron I often make them with 50% Multi Blend and 50% Pure Buckwheat flour.  Another great choice is 50% teff flour for fiber, protein, calcium, and iron.  You can also finely grind some gluten free oats and use that for some of the flour in this recipe.

I am sure plenty of people will read this post and groan…oh.. another special gluten free flour mix blend. I have to catch you right there before you lose faith…… the Multi Blend mix has served us well for years providing some of the best baked goods possible, especially when used in conjunction with flours such as sorghum, ground oats, ground almonds, millet, amaranth, and teff. It is a great base to work from. See Best Gluten Free Flours for Success post.  You simply need to use what works for you.

Pancakes are forgiving, it is one area in gluten free baking that you should have easy success with right from the start. Even though the top pancake below is thin because I used fewer eggs it still tasted quite good.

Some experiments: top pancake made with buckwheat flour and one egg, the more brown pancake is made with two eggs and teff flour

100% Multi Blend pancake

The measuring: Pancake and Waffle Ratios

Using ratios is not an exact science, that is the whole point –and difficult at first for me to embrace!!!   You just have to put that on hold and go with it, trust me.  So ROUGHLY speaking:         1 part =2 ounces = 50 grams =1 large egg

4:4:2:1  = 200g/200g/100g/50g

4 parts flour
4 parts milk
2 parts eggs
1 part fat

Pancake and Waffle Recipe

Since I am half asleep when making pancakes I like to mix the dry ingredients together in a ziplock bag the night before.  To feed four hungry adults I make this recipe and half again (my daughter is 6′ tall, son is 6’8″, and husband 6’4″ so I have to call them adults for the purposes of a recipe even though the kids are teens and my husband often acts like one).

makes:  about 6 pancakes

200 grams Multi Blend GF flour mix
50 grams sugar
1 gram (heaping 1/4 teaspoon) salt
4 grams (3/4 teaspoon) cream of tartar
1 gram (heaping 1/4 teaspoon) baking soda
6 grams (1  1/2 teaspoon) baking powder
< 1 gram (1/8 teaspoon) guar gum
200 grams milk
100 grams eggs (2 eggs)
50 grams oil

With a fork, mix together dry ingredients in a medium bowl, stir in the oil and eggs.  Add the milk a little at a time and mix well –adding more milk until a thin stream of batter runs from the fork as you lift it up.  Pour batter onto hot griddle (about 3/4 of a ladle). When pancakes have set and begin to form bubbles on top flip and cook other side.

Please let me know how your pancakes turned out and if this idea of ratios helps you to play around with your own recipes.