You know, it’s said that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a craft, over and over again, until you can expect to master it.
If that’s true, then I’m nothing but a humble apprentice at making gluten-free bread. And frankly, I’m fine with that. I learn so much every time I bake. I can’t wait to taste the loaves I make ten years from now.
However, with all the failed loaves and rolls that rose, I’ve learned something. Every single time.
Today, I want to talk a little about what I have learned. And I want to hear what you have learned too.
This one took me two or three years to learn:
gluten-free bread dough doesn’t look like gluten dough.
If you were making gluten-free bread for the first time, and you followed the recipe, and you looked down in the mixer to see this, what would you think?
Probably something like this: this can’t be right. I’m adding more flour.
Do that and what happens? Sawdust. Or more likely, that loaf of bread so hard and dry you could hit any burglar in the head with it and knock him out.
We don’t want that.
Instead, you let that dough stay as it is. There’s something a little mysterious about gluten-free dough. Let the dough when you are done mixing it look like this.
After two hours, it will look like.…
As the dough rises, it grows tighter and drier and more pliable. In fact, by the time it is done rising, that dough feels like.…bread dough.
Just knowing this will make your gluten-free bread better than mine was for the first three years of baking.
As I’ve written about before, I’ve recently cut out xanthan and guar gum from my diet. I feel better. That’s enough for me.
Most gluten-free baked goods don’t need them, it turns out. Bread, however, needs a little something.
Some of you have written to ask: “I made your bread or pizza or cracker recipe and just left out the gums. The dough was too wet. Was it really just that one ingredient?” Yes. Yes it was. Xanthan and guar gums are hydrocolloids, which means they mix with water and swell. They bind dough together in a way that makes them mighty alluring. Without them, the dough as written won’t work.
Does that mean a life without bread if you live without the gums?
Of course not. Do you think that little of my stubborn nature?
You just need a little flaxseed or chia seed.
If anyone out there knows the science of why they work, I’d be happy to hear. I think it’s something about the fiber. And given the way they react in boiling water — melting into a sticky gel-like substance — I have a feeling these are natural hydrocolloids too. Right now, all I know is they work.
These rolls were made with whole-grain flours, a bit of starch, yeast, sugar, water, and flaxseed. See that crust? The insides are soft and chewy.
Here’s my favorite discovery: gluten-free bread without the gums? It has the texture of bread.
You know how gluten-free bread, no matter how good, has a little of the texture of cornbread? I always thought it was the lack of gluten. Turns out it was the gums.
Gluten-free bread made with flaxseed or chia seed or a combination of the two looks and feels more like bread than anything I have eaten in almost six years.
I can’t wait to see what the next six years bring.
What have you learned about baking gluten-free bread? Share your insights with us here!
This is the recipe for the multi-grain bread I developed for Michael Ruhlman’s site. I’ve been working with it since then, and I’ve made a few tiny changes. No matter how many times I read that you can throw active dry yeast into the dough like a flour, I really do see a difference when I rise it in warm water and a bit of sugar first. So I’ve done that here.
Also, I’ve given a slightly broader range of the amount of water to use. Bread is a fickle beast, a living organism, a wonderful challenge. The humidity in your area, the heat of your kitchen, the altitude at which you live — they all affect the dough. If you switch any of these flours out with another one, the dough will be slightly different, even if it’s the same weight. (The fat in the almond flour makes this a different dough than if you use brown rice flour, for example.) Listen to this from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s book, The Bread Bible: “Using different types of flour will also make significant changes in both the flavor and texture of the bread.…If you change the balance of different types of flours, the water amount will also need to be changed slightly.” (And that’s with gluten flour!)
So in that last step, after you have added the eggs and apple cider vinegar, add the water in little splashes. Keep mixing before you add more. You are looking for the dough to appear the way it does in that second photograph up there. Forget the measurements at that point. Go by your instincts.
If you cannot tolerate the goat’s milk powder, you can leave it out and simply add 30 more grams of the buckwheat flour. A little milk powder adds some good flavor and helps to brown the crust. But you don’t need it for the bread. (You can also use regular milk powder, if you want.) Rose Levy Berenbaum suggests using the powdered milk because it has been heated to a high-enough temperature to eliminate the enzyme in milk that slows down yeast production. (There’s a lot to learn about bread.)
Also, if you cannot tolerate the eggs, add the following in their place: 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 2 ounces apple cider vinegar. Mix them and add them quickly to the dough. (The next-to-last photograph up there is the bread made without milk or dairy.)
However, if you can tolerate eggs, the boule in the top photograph has a simple egg wash brushed on it: 1 egg plus a splash of water. Try that for a warm brown crust.
Finally, here’s another thing I know about gluten-free bread. It works best in rolls or small boules instead of giant loaves. Who’s going to turn down warm bread rolls?
15 grams ground flaxseed meal
15 grams ground chia seeds
60 grams boiling-hot water
1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
230 grams (1 cup) water, divided in half
100 grams gluten-free oat flour (make sure it’s certified gluten-free)
100 grams almond flour (make sure it’s blanched almond flour, finely ground)
100 grams teff flour
85 grams potato starch
85 grams arrowroot powder
70 grams buckwheat flour
30 grams milk powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Making the flax-chia slurry. Mix the flaxseed and chia seeds together. Pour in the boiling-hot water. Whisk, quickly, until the seeds have formed a thick, viscous slurry. Set aside to cool down.
Rising the yeast. Whisk together the yeast, sugar, and 115 grams (1/2 cup) water heated to 110°. Set aside the yeasty water in a warm place until it has doubled in volume, about 8 to 15 minutes.
Combining the dry ingredients. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the oat flour, almond flour, teff flour, potato starch, arrowroot powder, and buckwheat flour in a large bowl. Whisk them together to incorporate them together and aerate. Add the milk powder and salt. Whisk to combine.
Finishing the dough. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and apple cider vinegar together. Pour this into the mixing bowl, along with the flax-chia slurry and yeasty water. Mix well. Warm the remaining water up to 110° and add part of the water, slowly, until the dough looks like it does in the second photograph above. (You may use anywhere from 1/4 cup to the entire 1/2 cup. The heat and humidity of your house, as well as the flours you use for this bread, will change the dough slightly.)
The dough will be wet and tacky. Don’t worry. That’s the texture you want. You will be tempted to add more flour, since you are thinking of gluten bread. Do not add flour.
Instead, scrape the dough into a large, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours. You won’t have as much of a rise as with gluten bread. However, over those 2 hours, the dough will become more elastic and a little drier.
Baking the bread. Preheat the oven to 450°. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven now.
The dough will still be a bit tacky to the touch. If you want to avoid bread dough sticking to your hands, wet them with just a bit of water. Cut the dough in half to form 2 small boules or into 8 balls for rolls. (If you still have the scale on the counter, form 3-ounce balls.) Let the boules/rolls rest and proof further as the oven preheats.
Put the boules or rolls directly onto the pizza stone. (If you don’t have one, use a baking sheet with parchment paper.) Bake until the outside of the rolls are crusty, the bottom has a good hollow thump when tapped, and the internal temperature has reached at least 180°. Allow them to cool.
Makes 2 small boules or 8 rolls.