No flour? No problem. How to bake with workarounds.

Why We Wrote This

Those who like to bake are often confounded by a lack of flour and even yeast in the stores these days. But Americans have a long tradition of figuring out what to do when ingredients aren’t readily available, explains a longtime Monitor editor and foodie. She offers suggestions that even the pioneers would approve of. 

Kendra Nordin Beato/The Christian Science Monitor
These scones made from oat flour have a wonderful nutty flavor. Oat flour can be made from old-fashioned oats ground in a food processor.

You’ve probably noticed the soft, white staple that has been missing from grocery store shelves for weeks on end: flour. Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t. The order to restrict errands to essentials somehow triggered what is being called “quarantine baking.” With hours at home, people are finding they have time to watch dough rise. 

Google searches for “sourdough bread” spiked the first week in April, and have remained high ever since. So much for gluten-free, low-carb culinary trends. My social media feeds have been filled with tantalizing images as friends share their own beautiful round loaves. 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

But the eagerness to bake has also meant grocery shelves have been swept clean. Figuring out what to do when ingredients aren’t readily available is a long American tradition. Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books will recall in “The Long Winter” when Ma baked a green pumpkin pie after an early frost killed the pumpkins before they could ripen. Who can forget Ma’s delight when Pa swore he was eating apple pie? It was a triumph of pioneer ingenuity!

Families with knowledge of Great Depression recipes will remember the chocolate cake, also known as Wacky Cake during World War II, that uses no milk, eggs, or butter. Instead, vegetable oil, baking soda, and vinegar work together to make a light, moist cake. Rations may have made staples like eggs hard to come by, but Americans still figured out how to have their dessert.

The lack of flour seems a harder obstacle to overcome, especially when one is craving warm comfort during rainy spring days. I got curious about an alternative, oat flour, after reading that one cup of old-fashioned oats can make about one cup of oat flour in a food processor. 

Because oat flour lacks the gluten to make dough rise in the oven, it isn’t an even trade. One option is to add xanthan gum, a powdery substance found in the baking aisle and a popular ingredient in gluten-free cooking. Xanthan gum is produced when sugar is fermented by bacteria. After being dried, it is ground into a powder. When added in cooking or baking it acts as a thickener to bind the ingredients in place of gluten. Fair warning: It is expensive. An eight-ounce bag can cost around $15. If you are not up for buying a bag of xanthan gum, and you have a bit of flour left in your canister, swap out half of the all-purpose flour for oat flour in your recipe. (The cakier the recipe, the less oat flour you should use.)

I decided to try using only homemade oat flour in my favorite scone recipe I’ve shared with Monitor readers before. They are a bit more dense but have a wonderful nutty flavor from the oats and keep for several days. I smoothed apricot jam on a still-warm scone – delicious. It was just the right fortifying treat before my midday walk in the brisk spring air.

Oat flour scones with currants

2 cups oat flour (Here is a version of the recipe with self-rising flour.) 

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons xanthan gum

2 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 egg

1/2 cup milk, approximately

1/4 cup dried currants 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. and grease a baking sheet.

Measure out 2 cups of old-fashioned oats into a food processor and blend until you have a fine flour (you might need to add a few more oats to get 2 full cups). Sift oat flour over a medium-sized bowl to add air and remove any of the heavier grains. Add baking powder, xanthan gum, sugar, salt, and currants and mix until combined. Cut the butter into the bowl with a knife or pastry cutter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. (You can also use a hand mixer to do this.) 

Make a well in the center of the mixture and drop in the egg. Adding a portion of the milk at a time, stir the egg and milk into the dough using a rounded-edge knife. How much milk you use depends on the size of the egg. The dough will be sticky.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, or use a silicone baking mat. Gently pat out the dough to about a 7-inch round. Using a pizza cutter, cut into 8 equal wedges. Place wedges on the greased baking sheet and brush the remaining milk on top with a pastry brush. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

After removing the scones from the oven, put them onto a cooling rack covered with a tea towel. Place another tea towel on top of the scones to trap the steam and to keep the scones from drying out as they cool. Serve warm with jam. Makes 8 scones.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

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