The Daring Cooks do Mezze – Pita Bread!

by Jenn on February 14, 2010

in Dairy Free,Daring Kitchen,Gluten Free,Pastas and Grains

_PAG3815pita _PAG380pita
What a challenge this month, and doubly so for me as I am still trying to get settled and find my way around!  I had to do something completely different for the pita bread because of the gluten free (GF) thing.  In bread, gluten manages to pull off several little miracles that one never notices until challenged to do without.  Gluten holds bread together and when the yeast do their thing to leven the dough, the gluten keeps the air in the bread allowing it to develop crumb and puff so beautifully.  Unfortunately, it’s not so simple as just substituting in one thing for flour, and quickly becomes a very complex process.  Welcome to the world of gluten free recipe design!

So, following posted directions isn’t exactly an option when baking GF bread.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the chemistry of GF ingredients and how to create a method to alter recipes to work and still be gluten free friendly.  I’ve developed an ever evolving set a guidelines that I use for adopting recipes, maybe they will help – I don’t claim to be an expert, but these are my current thought processes -

  1. Replace the glutenicious flour with GF flours. As a principle I avoid premade flour mixes.  What is great for one baked good is often not great for another.  I actually get better results starting from scratch than using a store-bought  mix.
    1. First choose a starch to flour ratio.  Depending on what I am making, this ranges from 1:2 to 1:5 starch:flour.  Starches help thicken foods.  They are also great for thickening sauces if you want to keep them clear, like a pie filling.  For this bread, I chose to go with a lesser amount of starch.  For a pasta, I would typically choose a higher amount, but keep in mind most starches are very soluble in water.
    2. Pick your starch.  According to Cook’s Thesaurus there are definite differences in their properties and suggested uses, and several tips for choosing the correct starch for your needs.   Some people like to use a combination.  Honestly when it comes to GF baking, between amaranth powder, cornstarch, tapioca, and potato starch, I haven’t noticed a huge difference in my practical experience.
    3. Choose at least three GF flours for the flour component of your recipe.  This will change depending on what you are trying to make, taste, etc.  Amy of Simply Sugar and Gluten Free has an excellent series of posts about gluten free flour densities and suggestions for each.  Make sure to mix all of your dry ingredients together well before adding wet ingredients.  For these pitas, I chose amaranth, buckwheat, rice, and almond meal (much coarser than almond flour).
      • If making pasta or anything that is going into boiling water, be light on the rice flour.  My experience is that it turns everything an icky grey and falls apart easily.  I have no idea how people make Thai rice noodles.  It is cheaper and worth my sanity just to buy rice noodles than to make them.  Just be light on the rice flour anyways.  Too much = not awesome dry and crumbly results.
      • In general, bean flours have a very strong taste, so make sure no more than 1/2 of your flour choice is from bean flours unless that is part of a traditional recipe (like in some Indian cuisine).
      • Look at the texture of your flours – if some aren’t very finely ground, you will want to add some finer softer flours with them. This characteristic often depends on the particular brand of flour used, so kinda has to be determined on a “case by case” basis.
  2. Choose your gluten substitute or combination of substitutes.
    1. Strong gelling agents –  gelatin, or agar agar for the vegetarians and vegans, may have some promise.  These are two ingredients I can readily get, and I am interested in playing with them more.  Fruit pectin would also fall in this category.  Apples are a great source of pectin, and I wonder how adding things like applesauce could affect the stabilization of GF baked goods too.
    2. Gums – xanthan gum, guar gum, etc.  I separated these from the list above because they are often used together and have similar effects on food.  They are common food stabilizers, and can help serve to “glue” your dough/batter together.  Don’t assume these will perfectly replace gluten, as they were not developed solely to be a gluten substitute.  Xanthan and guar gum combined together have a synergistic “thickening” effect.
    3. Eggs – eggs are great for acting as glue, and in fact are a component of many types of breads already.  You may want to increase your egg amount in a recipe, or add one if none are called for.  Though be careful, eggs count into your liquid ingredients, so by adding eggs you start changing some very particular ratios in your baked goods and may need to compensate accordingly.
  3. Think about your leavening agentsIn a fit of desperation you may just add a bunch of leavening agents together to hope that SOMETHING works to make you dough rise.  I have done this.  It didn’t work.  Your leavening agent probably isn’t going to deviate too far from the original “glutenicious” recipe.
    However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help the “fluff” factor.  If I use eggs, I often separate and beat the egg whites.  I add the yolks with the rest of my wet ingredients, but then at the end I will fold in my foamy egg whites gently.  Egg whites are often used to give a lighter airy feel to baked goods (think angel food cake!).
  4. Adjust your other ingredients.
    1. Some GF ingredients absorb water differently, or you may have already altered your ratio depending on if you changed the egg amount or not.  If your dry ingredients are too hygroscopic – meaning they absorbed too much liquid and your ball of dough/batter is too dry, then you need to add some liquid to it.  This may mean more water, milk, etc., or sometimes I like to replace granulated sugar with honey, maple syrup, molasses, or a juice.
    2. If your batter ends up being too wet/sticky (keep in mind most gluten free doughs are stickier than their glutenicious counterparts even when at correct liquid/dry ratios), the easiest thing to do is be conservative with your liquid addition at the onset.  Don’t just dump it all into your dry ingredients, but be cautious and see how the liquid is absorbed as you go.  It’s generally easier to add more liquid to dough/batter than the other way around.
    3. You may even want to play with the fats in your recipes.  Butter and canola oil do very different things to the consistency of dough/batter for example.  I have less experience in this area, but it’s another thing to think about.
    4. Dry milk powder is another ingredient to consider for helping with texture /moisture of baked goods.  I’ve only used it once, but those results were quite tasty.
  5. Don’t overwork your dough. Kneading is essential to developing gluten in dough.  But guess what? We don’t have any!  Work dough enough to bring it together, but don’t overdo it.  If you knead GF dough to death, you destroy any chance of air pockets that were going to be there.  And then you will get a giant rock or cracker rather than something tasty.
  6. Let your gluten free dough rest. I have NO idea why this is useful.  It is pretty much already included in the “proofing” steps of making breads, but I find this also helpful with pasta dough, pizza dough, and pastries/pie crusts.  Dough with high butter content (cookies, pie crust) tends to be easier to manipulate when colder, and with GF goods this tends to make a significant impact on the ease of working with the dough.  If you are rolling dough out don’t work directly on the surface.  Use silicone mat on bottom, plastic wrap on top.  This keeps it from ripping apart when you transfer too.

Ok if you got through all that, congratulations!!!

This is by no means an exhaustive list.  But this is all of what runs through my head every time I try to adapt a recipe to be gluten free. Also check out Shauna of Gluten Free Girl’s latest post on GF baking tips and the Daring Kitchen article posted by Natalie of Gluten a Go Go Is this guide useful to you?  Do you have anything else to add about adapting gluten free recipes?

So now you know a bit about why I chose the ingredients that I did for this pita bread.  I have made gluten free pita bread before, and it was tasty, but it was not as soft than I would have liked.  Using the guidelines above (I am a scientist, I need rules to follow) I altered my previous recipe a bit, and I must say this product is much better than my first go at it a few months ago.  While it didn’t make pockets, it had a good flavor, the buckwheat wasn’t too strong, and it wasn’t grainy at all.  The amaranth taste did come through a bit, and I liked it – a similar taste to quinoa I think, slightly nutty.  We used the pita bread to make sandwiches.  Sandwiches with tapenade, salami, spinach, and cheese.  And it was one of the most satisfying lunches we have had in a while.

In order to stay with the “mezze” feel, we did have several small things plated out – homemade tapenade, homemade tuna & white bean dip, figs, and apples (tapenade and white bean dip posts coming soon!).  Yeah, not really traditional.  I would have made hummus, honest, but for the life of me I cannot find tahini or even plain sesame seeds to make my own.  So instead, I made a fantastic white bean dip.  In fact, I like I liked it better than traditional hummus.  So in the end the whole meal worked out just fine, and it was even in “mezze” style – well the part after we devoured our sandwiches and then just voraciously ripped off pita and scooped up dip :)

Also submitted to – What can I eat that’s gluten free?