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