Here’s how to succeed at gluten-free bread baking

Aran Goyoaga

THE WASHINGTON POST – Gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, farro, kamut, durum and semolina, becomes elastic when mixed with water and kneaded, stretching to form strands of dough that can trap gases emitted from fermentation. Think of the gluten properties like a balloon being filled with hot air. But what happens to that structure when there is no gluten in your bread?

Rice, buckwheat, sorghum, teff, millet and amaranth are some of the grains without gluten, and are therefore suitable for anyone on a gluten-free diet.

However, if you have ever tried replacing wheat flour with flour made from these grains, you might have noticed how those breads, lacking any air pockets, simply collapse.

That’s because those gluten-free grains lack the proteins needed to create the strands that trap air. This isn’t a big issue when we are baking tender cakes, cookies or pastry where the goal is a soft crumb, but when we are dealing with yeasted breads, we must introduce ingredients that provide elasticity and structure.

These days, bakers of gluten-free bread are shying away from hard-to-digest xanthan or similar gums as binding agents. The trend has been toward relying on flaxseed and psyllium, both of which are used as dietary fibres and gel when mixed with water and can trap air when baked.

Black olive and honey gluten-free bread. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

To mimic some of the characteristics of wheat bread, it is ideal to include a mixture of gluten-free whole grain flours as well as some starch. The combination of whole-grain flour and starch means that gluten-free doughs usually need more water in the recipe to allow for larger holes in the crumb and promote a crispy texture.

Psyllium is perfect, as it can absorb large amounts of water and helps to bind the dough. In the past, many gluten-free bread recipes relied on eggs for binding, but with plant-based fibres such as psyllium and flax, we can create gluten-free breads that are also vegan.

A note about oats. There is some confusion about whether oats contain gluten. In many countries, oats are not considered suitable for those maintaining a gluten-free diet because oats contain avenin, which can also cause problems for people who are gluten intolerant. In the United States (US), we can find certified gluten-free oats, which means they have been processed in equipment that has not been contaminated with gluten, but that does not guarantee that sensitive groups won’t react to it. I seem to tolerate oats well and love them in my bread recipes, because their starch and protein content produce a great crumb.

Here are my keys to success with gluten-free bread baking:

– Note inconsistencies among brands. One of the biggest issues I have found when writing bread recipes and teaching people how to make bread is the inconsistency of milling among brands. Remember, gluten-free recipes need large amounts of water, but if your flour particles are too coarse, they will have a hard time absorbing all the moisture. Your dough will be wet, hard to shape and will likely flatten out during baking.

Look for flours that are labelled superfine as much as you can. The same applies to the flaxseed meal and psyllium husk powder in the recipes. If you can’t find finely milled ingredients, consider decreasing the amount of water in your recipe by about 10 per cent.

– Weigh your ingredients. For consistent results, it’s important to weigh all your ingredients, including water. Digital scales are inexpensive and widely available.

– Don’t skimp on baking time. As mentioned before, gluten-free breads need quite a bit of moisture, which means longer baking times. Don’t be scared if the recipe calls to bake bread at 450 degrees fahrenheit for an hour and a half. This is quite normal: With such high water content, it takes that long for all the moisture to evaporate, the crumb to set and the crust to caramelise with high water content.

– Cool your bread completely before cutting into it. It is crucial for the crumb and crust to fully set before cutting. Any tinge of steam left in the loaf will collapse the crumb, making it gummy and dense.

– Avoid overproofing. Gluten-free bread doughs are much more delicate than their wheat counterparts. If you overproof your dough because you went too long or because your environment is warm, your crumb will likely detach from your crust during baking, creating a large air pocket and a very gummy interior. Err on the side of caution, especially if your kitchen is warmer than usual.

– Use a metal loaf pan. Not all loaf pans are equal. Stay away from glass or silicone pans.

BLACK OLIVE AND HONEY GLUTEN-FREE BREAD

Active: 35 minutes | Total: Three hours 20 minutes

Eight to 10 servings; makes one loaf

Cookbook author Aran Goyoaga created this bread in hopes of evoking a childhood memory of eating honey buns in her native village in the Basque region of Spain.

It makes good sandwich bread, with a thin crust and tender crumb. For a simple loaf, omit the olives and caraway seeds.

NOTE: It’s essential to let the bread cool completely before slicing, otherwise it will have a gummy crumb. The author often bakes this bread at night and eats it the next morning.

You can double the recipe for a taller loaf, but make sure not to overproof the dough. Add 10 minutes to the last phase of baking time.

STORAGE: The bread keeps best at room temperature wrapped in a clean kitchen towel or parchment paper for up to three days.

MAKE AHEAD: The bread needs to cool completely, ideally overnight, before being sliced.

INGREDIENTS

One teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, for greasing

105 grammes superfine brown rice flour, plus more for dusting

400 grammes filtered water, heated to 110 degrees

One tablespoon honey

Two teaspoons active dry yeast

Four teaspoons psyllium husk powder

105 grammes sorghum flour

90 grammes tapioca starch

One tablespoon caraway seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

90 grammes pitted black olives, such as Kalamata

One tablespoon apple cider vinegar

STEPS

Brush the bottom and sides of a nine-by-four-inch loaf pan with the olive oil. Dust the inside with brown rice flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the water, honey and yeast. Set aside to proof for 10 minutes. Whisk in the psyllium powder, and let it gel for five to 10 minutes.

While the yeast mixture is gelling, in the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the brown rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, caraway seeds, if using, and salt.

Add the olives, apple cider vinegar and the yeast mixture to the bowl. Lock the bowl in the base of the stand mixer and attach the dough hook. Mix on medium speed until a moist and loose dough forms, two to three minutes. The dough will be sticky and shaggy.

Dust a work surface with brown rice flour and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough a couple of times, shaping it into a loose log about nine inches long.

Gently transfer the dough to the loaf pan.

Cover with a clean linen towel or plastic wrap and set aside to proof at room temperature until doubled, 30 minutes to one hour.

Position a baking rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Dust the top of the dough with some brown rice flour.

Bake the bread for one hour. Carefully, turn the bread out of the pan, and place it directly on the oven rack. Bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow on the bottom when tapped.

Transfer the bread to a wire rack and let cool completely before cutting.

Nutrition | Calories: 140; Total Fat: 3g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 330mg; Carbohydrates: 28g; Dietary Fibre: 2g; Sugars: 3g; Protein: 2g.