Baking Gluten-Free Bread, Part 2

Last week, I wrote about the science of baking and what it means for gluten-free bread. Today, I’ll share some experiences of actually baking the stuff!

This post was generously sponsored by Donnie as part of the SkepchickCON 2013 fundraiser. Thank you, Donnie!

I tried two different bread recipes from the blog Gluten-Free on a Shoestring. The first was a recipe for French bread that did not turn out especially well:

french rising french baked french sliced
If it looks like bread and smells like bread…you still might be disappointed.

While fairly enjoyable straight out of the oven, it was very dense, didn’t have much flavor, and was rock-hard after a day. (Post sponsor Donnie had a similar experience with this recipe.)

I had more luck with the second recipe I tried, a gluten-free version of Japanese milk bread, a recipe I picked because it promised the “softest bread ever.” This would be accomplished in two ways: with the addition of a roux (made in this case by cooking a small amount of gluten-free flour with water) for texture and milk for moisture.

Left to right: 1. The gelatinous roux. 2. As with any baking, always measure your flour by weight, not volume, for accuracy. 3. Flour, xanthan gum, cream of tartar, sugar, instant yeast, milk, eggs, vinegar, melted butter, roux and salt.

After mixing the ingredients, I ended up with what looked like cake batter. This would be fine if I were pouring the batter directly into the loaf pan, but the recipes requires you to handle the dough first, which would be pretty much impossible in its current state. So I followed the directions and began incorporating additional flour one tablespoon at a time. After ten tablespoons, I got frustrated, and even though the dough still looked kind of soupy, I decided to pour it out anyway and try my luck. It was still incredibly sticky.

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Left to right: 1. More of a batter than a dough. 2. 10 tbls flour later, still sticky. 3. Out of the mixing bowl!

I got it patted into a rectangle, but after that I was supposed to separate it into six rectangles and add them to the loaf pan individually… There are no photos of that step because my hands were absolutely coated in sticky dough. Much additional flour later, the dough finally ended up in the pan! I let it rise, then baked it, and it came out very nicely. This bread was also pretty dense–if it was made with gluten flour, this might be due to overmixing, but if you recall from last week’s post, gluten-free bread gets its springiness from xanthan gum or the like, and not from a carefully formed gluten network; instead, I probably added too much extra flour in an attempt to keep the dough from sticking to my hands. I sliced my bread, toasted it, and made BLTs.

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Donnie, who sponsored this post, conducted his own gluten-free baking experiments while I did mine. He baked Gluten-Free Girl’s crusty rosemary boule, which requires you to create your own gluten-free flour mix from brown rice, sorghum, and tapioca flours instead of using a pre-mixed all-purpose flour like I did. He also followed Jim Lahey’s no-knead method of a long rise and warmer proofing, which I think makes sense for gluten-free bread, since there is no gluten to require kneading. The herbs contributed a good flavor, and Donnie’s sister (who cannot eat gluten) was blown away by the results. I wish there was a photo to share, but they were so busy enjoying their bread to stop and take one, which I think is a good sign!

Our biggest takeaways from our experiments with gluten-free baking are to error on the side over-seasoning, look for recipes that emphasize moisture content, don’t be afraid of overmixing, and if you plan to bake gluten-free bread regularly, it is probably worth buying the individual flours and following directions to make your own mix instead of buying an all-purpose mix. The best lesson was that while gluten-free bread is not indistinguishable from traditional bread, it can still be delicious.

Thanks again to Donnie for asking about gluten-free baking and supporting SkepchickCON 2013!

Anne S

Anne Sauer is an atheist with an appetite for science, good food, and making connections between the two. She is currently pursuing her MBA in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. Her favorite foods are salted caramel ice cream and chicken tikka masala. You can find her on twitter @aynsavoy.

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