Ratio Rally – Gluten Free Bread

by Jenn on June 6, 2012

in Dairy Free,GF Ratio Rally,Gluten Free,Pastas and Grains

Gluten Free Bread

If ever there was a gluten free baking challenge, this would be it – BREAD!

Most bread depends on gluten to succeed – gluten is that versatile protein that when developed, forms a strong air-trapping network allowing bread to  create that characteristic structure and crumb.  In a gluten free bread, the goal is no different, but it does become a bit of a chemistry experiment – how can we recreate that thick crust and inside soft airy pockets without what many would consider a very essential component to what makes bread, well, bread?

There’s not an obvious answer, and it’s partly why there are so many terrible gluten free bread products out there on grocery shelves.  Available gluten free recipes range as much in proportions as they do in ingredients, so baking it on one’s own can seem an incredibly daunting task.  My previous efforts have never been that hot either – most times I’ve tried bread I end up with some sort of baked product that kinda tastes like it should be bread, but is no fluffier than when it first went in the oven – i.e. a dense brick.  We’d tried to make it work and convince ourselves a solid block of bread is acceptable, but it’s not.  And given the cost of the ingredients that goes into making it, I’ve been reluctant to try again – our current solution has been that since we’ve found a GF store-bought bread that we like, we simply reserve meals containing bread as a special treat and just buy the pricey  GF bread slices when we need them.

Karen of Cooking Gluten Free gave the ratio rally the ultimate challenge, and I’m not one to back down from trying simply because I’ve been intimidated in the past.  The last time I tried baking a loaf of bread, it was before I knew about using weights and ratios.    Seriously, it’s been years since I’ve attempted a crusty bread.  I really had resigned myself to thinking that bread was just something I don’t do.  But this month presented me with the opportunity and motivation to see what I could do.  I know a lot more now than I did three years ago, maybe my experience and chemistry knowledge can count for something this time!

Gluten Free Bread

Knowing that this is not an area of expertise for me, I didn’t want to go in blindly.  I did what I usually do, start with a recipe I find online.  Maybe some consider this cheating, but I don’t.  Not when I need to make sure I’ve got technique correct, and knowing that I likely won’t have half of the correct ingredients to start with anyways, there will be enough guesswork and testing involved to give me a decent challenge.  I have had Jeff and Zoe’s Gluten Free Crusty Boule (from Artisan Bread in Five) recipe bookmarked in my browser since the day it was posted online over two years ago, and had always wanted the right excuse to try to go for it.  They even have a great youtube video up explaining their method which I found super helpful in understanding what type of texture I was looking for in the dough at various stages. AND most important for the ratio rally, a list of weights for their ingredients – this means that when I do have to make substitutions for ingredient availability, I can substitute by weight and have a shot at something coming out well – after all, that is one of the whole reasons for doing the ratio rally, yes? Not just that we can substitute GF ingredients by weight to convert conventional recipes to GF, but in cases where the chemistry is going to be radically different (such as bread), we can use weights and ratios to play with recipes with much better success.

Overall, this recipe is fairly straightforward – you have your flours, yeast, salt, and gum for dry ingredients, and for wet ingredients eggs, water, fat and a little honey.  Their flour ratio is similar to what I would start with – about 40% starch.  Tapioca starch is easy enough for me to find, though I do not have access to either the brown rice four or sorghum called for in the recipe.  Instead I used white rice flour which has less protein and definitely behaves differently than brown rice flour, and in place of sorghum used a 50/50 mixture of teff and fine ground millet.   And of course all of my replacements were by weight, not volume!

A lot of people I know prefer not to use hydrocolloids in gluten free baking due to sensitivities or other reasons, but GF bread is one place I’ve found them essential for a chance at a successful product (in my very limited experience).  I find their effect is to help retain water within the dough, keeping it more hydrated and less likely to turn in to a dry crumbly mess, as well as helping a dough’s ability to trap air (very important if you need the product to rise, especially in a slower process such as when using yeast compared to say, baking powder/soda).  I normally don’t see much difference between using guar gum vs. xanthan gum in the end result (this primer by Bob’s Red Mill on the two gums explains when one might be better than the other) , though I have heard that using a blend of the two results in a synergistic thickening – i.e. if you have a little of both you get more binding than the two would contribute separately.  Guar gum is the gum we have easiest access to, so that’s what I used.  Those were the only major changes I did, else I stuck to the recipe.

Why are there eggs and fat in a GF bread recipe? Typically all conventional bread technically needs is yeast, salt, flour and water to work.  Mark Bittman’s minimalistic no-knead bread works with just these four ingredients, but you would be hard pressed to find an equally minimalistic GF recipe working out well.  Nearly every GF bread recipe I’ve seen contains both eggs and fat.  Eggs have protein – while proteins in eggs don’t behave like gluten, they do help in creating a good crumb and texture. They are also leavening agents, and can helped baked goods rise – a constant challenge for GF things.  As for the oil, my guess is that it helps to keep the product moist and avoid that all too frequent dry-crumbly texture.

Gluten Free Bread

So how did my version come out?

Not half bad.  Definitely the most successful bread I’ve ever made.  There was a crust, there were air pockets, it was soft even the next day.  And the millet and teff gave it a really nice flavor.  My main issue was the size.  My dough, during its final resting phase before going into the oven, spread out into a thin disk rather than staying in a nice round boule shape.  But it did rise to twice its height in the oven, which is definitely encouraging, though it is not so much a boule in the end – as you can see.  It made great bread for spreading jam or butter on in the mornings, or dipping in artisan extra virgin olive oil at dinner.  But it would be tricky to turn this into a sandwich.  I thought maybe my dough was too wet and that was my issue, so I tried again using less water and actually had no change in the end result (other than the bread dried out faster after baking).  I’m beginning to think the issue may actually be the use of guar gum – the Bob’s Red Mill post I linked to above states that xanthan gum is the best choice for yeasted breads, and maybe my result is proof of that.  If I can get some xanthan gum in the future, I’d like to try replacing the guar gum or even maybe using a combination of the two and see how that helps it.  I also baked these loaves at twice the size compared to the original, and maybe the weight of the doubled size of loaf kept it flatter as well.  I just felt that a loaf half the size of what I made would have been too small to cut into slices, but that may have been a poor judgement on my part.

But I’m not disappointed in my result.  Actually quite happy.  I did everything you’re not supposed to do when you make a new GF recipe – I made tweaks to it, made substitutions, and also changed some of the method all on the first try, and expected a successful and similar result. ha!  But despite all my changes, I really liked this bread.  I will make it again, and keep tweaking til I can get something I can make with the ingredients I have available.  I attribute most of the success of this to my experience in the Ratio Rally and the premise of being able to make substitutions by weight.  If you ever are going to tweak and play with GF recipes, go get yourself a scale – I promise, it helps!

Be sure to check out all the great links from the other Ratio Rally participants!

Adina | Gluten Free Travelette Seedy Sandwich Bread
Angela | Angela’s Kitchen Our Family’s Basic Gluten Free Dairy Free Bread
~Aunt Mae (aka ~Mrs. R) | Honey From Flinty Rocks Chia Millet Bread
Brooke | B & the boy! Buckwheat-Oat Bread
Caleigh | Gluten Free[k] Quinoa Naan
Charissa | Zest Bakery Cherry Pecan Pot Bread, Gluten Free
Claire | This Gluten-Free Life German Vollkornbrot (Seeded Bread)
Erin | The Sensitive Epicure English Sandwich Bread (gluten-free & egg-free)
Jenn | Jenn Cuisine Gluten Free Boule
Jonathan | The Canary Files Gluten-Free, Vegan Mediterranean Soda Bread
Karen | Cooking Gluten Free! Gluten Free Sandwich Bread/Gluten Free Naan
Meaghan | The Wicked Good Vegan Vegan Gluten-Free Bread
Meg | Gluten-Free Boulangerie Ciabatta (gluten-free, egg-free/vegan)
Monika | Chew on This! amaranth skillet flatbreads, amaranth mini pita rounds
Morri | Meals with Morri No Knead Sun-dried Tomato & Basil Flatbread (yeast free/grain free)
Pete & Kelli | No Gluten, No Problem Gluten-Free Challah
Rachel / The Crispy Cook Gluten Free Chickpea Sandwich Bread
TR | No One Likes Crumbley Cookies Gluten Free White Bread
Tara | A Baking Life Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread & Boule

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa June 6, 2012 at 10:13 am

What a gorgeous bread! It looks really flavorful and smooth. I love to eat warm bread with butter… ;-P

Cheers,

Rosa

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Thanks Rosa!

Reply

flo makanai June 6, 2012 at 10:50 am

Love your post, Jenn, full of info! Thanks.
(but I hope you’re not thinking bread these days but enjoying your newborn baby girl!!!)

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Thanks Flo!

Reply

Rachel @ The Crispy Cook June 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm

A crusty, lusty boule! That is one tempting looking loaf. I wonder if you put a spring form pan around it to hold the shape during baking if it would rise more? Or would it squish under the ring? I think I’ll have to test drive this recipe and find out. Great job for the Rally!

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Thanks Rachel – I’m not sure – maybe during the last rise – it didn’t spread during baking at all (and actually rose twice its height in the oven), it only spread out during the 2nd resting phase. Def. something to think about!

Reply

Karen Robertson June 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Jenn,
I am so happy it worked out and it looks like you are on your way to something even more wonderful. I have never rested gf bread dough overnight and your results inspire me. My wheels are spinning with the possibilities you have uncovered!
Karen

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Thanks Karen!

Reply

~Aunt Mae (aka ~Mrs. R) June 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Your bread looks wonderful! As a previous commenter asked… I think I would have tried baking this in a pie dish to limit the spread. That way it has to go… UP! Still keeps it round too. I am anxious to try this, and I bet the flavor is great fermenting overnight… mmmmm.

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Thanks so much!

Reply

mary fran June 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Jenn-

This is the first of the posts that I read in this month’s rally, and if this is any indication, I may just make a loaf of bread again.

I love heartier bread, so I actually can’t wait to give this a try!

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Thanks! I can’t wait to see what lovely bread you create!

Reply

branny June 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm

You did a fabulous job.

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Thanks Branny!

Reply

Morri June 6, 2012 at 6:54 pm

You and Erin… thank you for explaining the gum thing to me. Before I started blogging, I was given Ratio, and I never really found the need for gums. Sometimes I do find that using chia or flaxseed meal helps, and eggs always provide a good bind.

Seriously though, this looks delish despite it not rising. It looks like it would be perfect in any meal.

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Thanks Morri – it was quite tasty :)

Reply

Mary June 6, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I find that baking in small loaf pans works better for rise than large. I even make “rolls” by putting the batter/dough in large muffin tins. For sandwiches, I have some small (maybe 4-6″ diameter) springform pans that makes a round loaf. Works for hamburger buns too.

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Yeah the original recipe split this into 4 loaves rather than 2, and maybe that’s the reason. Thanks!

Reply

charissa (zest bakery) June 6, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Your bread looks beautiful even with the spreading! If you want a more vertical loaf, you could try the pot method that I used. :) Whatever the shape I sure would like to enjoy a slice with you!

Reply

Jenn June 6, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Thanks so much Charissa! I’m definitely interested in your method, yours came out gorgeous!

Reply

Angela June 7, 2012 at 2:01 am

The texture looks great! I agree with everyone else, GF seems to like some sort of pan support… When I make Swedish limpa which I made with gluten as a free form round loaf, I now make gf with a round pan (cake or pie tin) and I am MUCH happier with the rise. Either way, sometimes thinner slices are better with jam and tea! I can’t wait to try your version – the flour combo sounds delicious. So many wonderful bread recipes to try. I love the ratio rally! :)

Reply

Jenn June 8, 2012 at 8:56 am

Thank you!

Reply

Brian @ A Thought For Food June 7, 2012 at 4:00 am

Well, you’ve convinced me with your beautiful loaf (does that sound wrong?)! I am still so nervous when I make bread, but this looks fantastic!

Reply

Jenn June 8, 2012 at 8:56 am

Thanks Brian! Bread is a tough one for me as well, but I will definitely be playing with this more!

Reply

Jonathan June 7, 2012 at 6:06 am

This is beautiful bread, Jenn! That second picture of the pat of butter melting/dripping down the slice of bread is cruel in the best way possible. :) Great photos, great information, great recipe – Thank you!

Reply

Jenn June 8, 2012 at 8:57 am

Thanks Jonathan!

Reply

Christina June 7, 2012 at 8:59 am

I totally understand the opposition with attempting to create quality and delicious GF Bread. This looks so good! I’m all of sudden craving a piece of this and imagining its taste. I have baked with the Brown and White Rice, Sorghum, and Oat Flour, but have yet to try the Teff and Millet (both of which I found in the ingredient list of Udi’s GF Hamburger Buns). I will not give up my bread baking adventures until I am satisfied I have found THE PERFECT Bread to use for sandwiches or anything else. Something that holds up well in my kids lunch, on a burger, or toasted with butter and jam. I’m def going to try this recipe. I also need to get a scale and do better with following weight measurements. I tend to “tweak” when first baking too, even though I know better. Sometimes it brings fabulous results though…hehe! Thanks for sharing and experimenting. The pics are gorgeous by the way!

Reply

Jenn June 8, 2012 at 8:57 am

Thank you so much!

Reply

jas June 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm

this looks deeelicious jenn! look at the shape and those air holes, oh my! I hardly ever bake bread, but I’m going to try this one soon!

Reply

Jenn June 8, 2012 at 8:59 am

Thanks Jas!

Reply

Claire B. June 7, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Jenn, this bread looks beautiful even if it didn’t rise as much as you wanted! It reminds me again of my time spent in Europe. I wonder if it would make some good French toast? Wonderful job!

Reply

Jenn June 8, 2012 at 9:00 am

Hmm I haven’t tried it as French toast yet, that’s a great idea!

Reply

Monika {wcv} June 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm

You’re just giving your bread shape the wrong name – made a bâtard! And a seriously gorgeous loaf of bread, at that. :-)

Reply

Jenn June 8, 2012 at 9:00 am

Ha perfect idea, thanks Monika!

Reply

Caleigh June 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm

A beautiful loaf of bread, Jenn! I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s had trouble with bread in the past – this could become my go-to recipe now.

Reply

Jenn June 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Thanks so much Caleigh!

Reply

Larafriendly June 9, 2012 at 7:54 pm

they all look really good, I’m impressed!

Reply

Jenn June 9, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Thanks so much !

Reply

sheioa May 28, 2013 at 4:29 am

It is nice to read about the bread but I need a recipe

Reply

Jenn May 28, 2013 at 7:46 am

There is a recipe in the post :)

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 6 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: