The #1 Fear About Gluten Free Bread

Gluten free bread seems so mysterious. I’ve talked to plenty of people that have been gluten free for years and are afraid to bake a loaf of bread.

Today I want to address one of the biggest fears that may be keeping you from baking your own gluten free bread. Don’t stop reading if you’re already a great gluten free baker. You’ll learn something in this post too.

The #1 fear that keeps people from diving headlong into gluten free bread baking is the fear of the unknown.

Fear of the unknown usually pops up when someone contemplates baking bread for the first time. (Though it sometimes is sneaky and doesn’t surface until after their first failed loaf.) It’s typically expressed with comments such as “I’ve never made bread. I have no idea where to start.” or “I made a loaf and it turned out horribly. I’ve no idea what to do next.”

So, let’s demystify gluten free bread.

Gluten free bread contains 7 basic ingredients – flour, liquid, salt, fat, yeast, binding agents, and sugar.

Flour: The largest ingredient in gluten free bread is flour, and in gluten free baking we use a mixture of different GF flours. The reason for this is that it takes a mixture of different flours to approximate a bread texture that is similar to wheat bread.

There are so many gluten free flours to choose from, and a mixture of 3 or 4 should be sufficient. You can use grain flours (like rice or sorghum), starch flours (such as corn or tapioca), bean flours (like garfava or soy), and nut meals (like almond or pecan). There’s no one secret flour mix that makes the perfect loaf of gluten free bread.

There is a secret though, and I’ll tell you what it is.

The secret to making a good loaf of bread is to know the flour to liquid ratio for the flour mix that you are using.

If you’re baking bread with wheat flour, it’s simple – the ratio is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water. But, with gluten free bread, the ratio depends on the flour mix that you are using. Some gluten free flours can absorb much more water than others.

If you use super-absorbent flours (like masa harina and coconut meal) and don’t add enough liquid, then you’ll end up with a stiff dough that won’t rise.

Likewise, if you use less absorbent flours (like almond flour) and add too much water, then the dough will be too thin and won’t have the structure that it needs to rise.

Unfortunately, there’s not a handy chart to tell you what the flour to liquid ratio is for the different combinations of flour. But, you can tell when the flour to liquid ratio is right just by looking at your dough. (How do you learn what the dough is supposed to look like? Patience, grasshopper. We’ll talk about that later.)

Liquid: Liquid is the next required ingredient in bread. Most recipes will use water or milk. Milk makes the bread more rich. Non-dairy milks are fine, but I generally just use water – unless it’s a special occasion bread, like my Pascha (Easter) bread.

Yeast: Active Dry yeast or Rapid Rise yeast will both work. Rapid Rise is best for bread machine because it does rise more quickly. The amount of yeast that you use is not set in stone and depends on your altitude.

If you use more yeast, the bread will rise more quickly. If you use less yeast, the bread will rise more slowly. A super-fast rise is not good though, and generally results in a loaf that falls in the oven.

It is possible to make a great yeast-free gluten free loaf bread, but it does require special techniques to make a dough structure will work with baking soda or baking powder.

Salt: Bread tastes bland without salt. If you find a gluten free bread recipe to be less than flavorful, increase the salt. It really is as simple as that.

Binding agent: Binding agents are key to getting gluten free bread to work. Xanthan gum is probably the most common binding agent, but in the last few years more gluten free bakers have begun using guar gum, chia seed meal, flax seed meal (and other seeds).

These binding agents give the dough the elasticity and strength that it needs to rise. The amount of binding agent that you need will depend on the recipe and the binding agent that you choose.

Eggs are a common binding agent (and they add liquid and fat as well). Three large eggs seems to be the perfect amount for me. However, you can also use an egg replacement powder or other binding agents (like flax eggs)

Fat: Bread does need a little fat, which is usually added in liquid form. Olive oil, vegetable oils, melted butter, or melted coconut oil will all work, so choose the one that’s the best fit for your diet.

Sugar: Sugar helps the yeast to grow and makes the crust more brown. If sugar is a problem for you, you can leave it out or use honey or agave nectar. If you leave the sugar out completely, the bread will rise more slowly, but it will still rise.

So there you go: flour, liquid, salt, fat, yeast, binding agents, and sugar. That’s not so hard, is it? You can do this! In the next email we’ll talk about putting everything together and you’ll be able to actually start making your own bread.

– Mary Frances