One of the biggest challenges when baking gluten-free, (dairy-free, and egg-free) is to ensure that the consistency of your batter or dough is correct. While this is also true when baking with wheat, the simple reality is that most wheat flours behave pretty much the same – so the variance in the batter made from the same recipe is minimal. In contrast, gluten-free flour blends behave differently depending on the grains used, the amount of starch, and even the brand of the flours used. Therefore, it is critical to adjust the amount of liquids used based on look and feel of the batter or dough.
I like to think of batters and dough on a spectrum from wet to dry.
Cakes and cupcakes are made with the wettest batters. The batter should pour easily into a cake pan or cupcake tin. These are the most forgiving baked goods to make; if the batter is too wet, simple bake a little longer. Cake and cupcake batter can be made with an electric mixer or mixed thoroughly by hand. Pancake batter also fits in this category.
Muffin and quick bread batters are also very forgiving. These are less wet than cake batter, but should be easily “scoopable.” My preference is to mix the batter with an electric mixer, and then stir in add-ins (e.g., blueberries) by hand.
Scones and biscuits are next on the spectrum. Here the batter is still on the wet side, but should be able to be shaped with your hands or tools while retaining their shape. When using an electric mixer the batter should pull away from the sides of the bowl. If you start with a batter that is too wet, add more flour. Most yeast breads, pizza dough, and rolls also fit this category.
Cookie dough is much drier than the batters discussed above, but instead of fully incorporating the ingredients, there should be small bits of shortening in the dough. Here, just enough liquid should be used so that the dough is easily pliable. Some cookie dough should be made with an electric mixer (when a technique called “creaming” is used), but most cookie dough is best prepared with a tool that allows you to cut the shortening into the dough – while still leaving small chunks of shortening. Cookie dough should be about as wet as the sand you would use to make a sandcastle. After chilling, cookie dough should be able to be easily shaped or sliced.
Dough for pie crust is just a shade drier than cookie dough. It should be smooth but dry. As with cookie dough, pie dough is best prepared with a cutter. When preparing cookie dough or pie dough, add the liquids slowly (1/2 tablespoon at a time) until the correct consistency is reached. Usually pie dough will need to be rolled out with a bit of flour.
Cracker dough is very dry. You should be able to roll the dough into a tight, smooth ball that feels a lot like play-doh. Perfectly prepared cracker dough should be very easy to roll out between two sheets of parchment, without adding flour. Unlike cookie and pie dough, cracker dough is usually not refrigerated before rolling out and the fats/oils are fully incorporated into the dough.
Pasta dough is the driest of them all. In fact, there is only enough moisture in pasta dough to keep it together. The pasta will pick up moisture from the water it is boiled in (and you want it to hold its shape as you cook it). Both cracker dough and pasta dough should be massaged with your hands after mixing the ingredients together with a spoon.
So there you have it – a spectrum of batters and doughs, from very wet to extremely dry!