This has been very difficult. And slow. And sometime a little discouraging. It often happens with gluten free cooking, you probably already know it.
I have started to experiment with gluten-free flours about 3 years ago and to try to make GF bread about one year ago. Last September, I got the first bread that looked like something I would actually want to eat. It has taken me another 7 months to perfect it.
Of course I don’t bake bread everyday. In addition, I am a small eater so each loaf lasts me several days as I am the only GF person in the house. But still, I must have made at least 20 different recipes to get to this point.
You will probably say: “what’s the big deal? the internet is full of GF bread recipes, why don’t you make one of those? “. I know, I have obsessively read hundreds of gluten-free bread recipes. However, I was looking for a specific result, let me explain please, it’s going to be a bit long.
1) I wanted bruschetta bread, meaning an Umbrian style white loaf with a neutral taste, a crunchy crust and a relatively light and dry crumble. This type of bread is ideal not only to make bruschetta or crostini, but is a perfect accompaniment to and Umbrian style appetizer of cured meats (like prosciutto or salami) and pecorino or rubbed with garlic and doused with olive oil on top of a soup.
2) I wanted to make bread that works with different gluten-free flour mixes. Often recipes of GF mixes call for ingredients I can’t buy locally. Besides, if my mix has ingredients not available to you – who are probably living on the other side of the planet – you will not be able to reproduce it.
3) I wanted to make bread without eggs, nut flours and soy as they are allergenic. I use butter in this recipe but you can easily substitute it with vegetable shortening if you are intolerant or vegan. I wanted bread that could be modified according to people’s allergies. No corn? Use millet.
4) last but not least, I have been absolutely appalled by the incredible high amounts of yeast used in many recipes. GF dough needs a little more yeast than a wheat based dough, but anyone who knows anything about bread making will tell you that over-yeasting is never a good idea. The bread is less digestible and definitely less palatable than the one made with small amounts of yeast and allowed to raise slowly at relatively low temperature.
Based on the above requirements, here is what I found out so far:
a) IT’S ALL IN THE METHOD. All commercial GF flour mixes are based on variable amounts of cornstarch, rice flour, tapioca and potato starch. A mix is generally added with one or more thickening agents like xanthan, pectin, guar, psyllium or cellulose. After so many experiments, I think that with a bit of patience and method any gluten-free flour mix based on starches and seed flours can be used to make a reasonable bread. I think small amounts of bean flours might also work but I haven’t tested it.
I have made this bread with 4 different commercial gluten-free flour mixes. GF bread flour in Italy is added with guar and cellulose not with xanthan. Some mixes have milk some don’t but I don’t think this has an influence on the final result. I find that every mix has a different aftertaste so you might need to try a few to see which one you like better.
I also find that every flour absorbs a different amount of water so you might need to adjust the final amount. If your dough is too dry the bread will not raise. If it’s too wet you will not be able to give it a shape.
b) A pre-ferment also named poolish or Italian sponge is essential for a light bread.
c) Adding steam to the oven while baking bread is the key to a high loaf with a crunchy crust. Cooking it in a pan will invariably produce a less crispy crust than a shaped loaf.
d) butter in the dough helps achieving the desired texture, olive oil not so much.
With gluten-free bread you need to weight your ingredients. Please also weight the water or convert accurately
- 1/2 kg (18 oz) of your favorite gluten-free flour mix for bread
- 100 gr (3.5 oz) tapioca or cornstarch
- 50 gr (2 oz) very fine corn meal or polenta flour*
- 4 gr (1 teaspoon) dry yeast
- 25 gr (1 oz) butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
*the corn meal is used to flavor the mix. I use a type of Italian cornmeal called “fumetto” wich is as fine as wheat flour. You can substitute it with any flour you like, e.g. buckwheat, chestnut, quinoa, sorghum, teff or simply more rice flour provided that it is very finely ground to avoid grittiness.
Make the pre-ferment (poolish):
In a tupperware, mix the tapioca and corn meal with 150 ml water and 1 gr (1/4 teaspoon) yeast to make a thick batter. Add 1-2 tablespoon extra water if the mixture looks dry and clumpy. Cover, wrap in a tea towel and store overnight in a draft free place. I keep it in the microwave if I am not planning to use it. The poolish is ready when the surface is covered with small bubbles.
Make the dough:
The next day, using a stand mixer or food processor, mix the flour first with the softened butter then add all the poolish plus 3 gr (3/4 teaspoon ) of the dry yeast and salt. With the machine running at medium speed, start adding the water. GF flours absord incredible amounts of water. You will need 280-300 ml to obtain a really sticky dough. If the dough forms a ball, add more water as a ball it’s too dry to raise.
Using a spatula transfer the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap then with a tea towel and put it in a draft free place to raise.
Form the bread:
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and flour it well. Using a spatula, place the dough on the paper, cut it into 2 or 3 loaves and roll it very carefully in the flour to give them shape. Don’t knead the dough as it might deflate.
Bake the bread:
Preheat oven to 180 °C (360° F) and place a pizza stone in it. You want to start cooking the bread on a hot surface. If you don’t have a pizza stone use an empty metal cookie sheet or large metal pizza pan which is what I do.
Cover with a tea towel as explained in the picture and let it rise again 45 minutes to one hour.
If your dough is to wet, the loaves might spread out. If this happens, fold them in half along the length just before baking and roll them carefully in flour. Brush the surface with a mixture made with one teaspoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon milk or butter. A this point you can decorate it with sesame or other seeds if you like.
Slide the parchment paper with the loaves over the pizza stone or the hot pan that you have previously placed inside to heat up. Add a pan of hot water to steam the oven.
Bake for 15 minutes then remove the pan of water. Continue baking for additional 40 to 50 minutes, or until light golden all around.
Remove to a rack to cool. Don’t cover it until is completely cool otherwise the crust will become soft. Allow to cool completely before slicing or opening.
The bread keeps well for several days without crumbling or falling apart. I slice one loaf and freeze it and then revive it in the toaster when I need it.
In the video below by my favorite Italian GF bloggers you can see how thick is the dough how to form it on parchment paper and cook it on a hot surface. Note that they don’t use a poolish in this recipe nor steam the oven. Nevertheless the results are wonderful.
post submitted to Yeast Spotting