Sunday 17 April 2011

Gluten-Free Yeast Bread Techniques, Lesson 1: Roll up your sleeves

In the past few years, gluten-free baked goods have improved immensely both in quality and accessibility. There are even 100% GF bakeries in some cities! And I know that for every person buying gluten-free foods, there are at least as many who are baking at home. I've noticed, though, that despite all the gluten-free cookies, cupcakes, and brownies, good yeast breads are still much harder to find.

At first I assumed people just missed the sweet things more - after all, cafes sell scones and muffins to go with the coffee, not dinner rolls. But as I met more gluten-intolerant people, I noticed something else: many people feel that gluten-free yeast bread is too hard to make. It is more complicated than pancakes, of course, but it really doesn't have to be difficult. At all.

Since bread is what I most enjoy baking, I decided to post a series of lessons on gluten-free yeast bread. If you have felt daunted by the idea of making your own bread, I hope you will give it a try! And even if you bake frequently, I hope some of these lessons will still be helpful.

When I was learning to bake gluten-free, all of the mixes and recipes I found made bread from batter rather than a dough. I missed the "hands-on" aspects of baking: kneading, shaping, stretching the dough. I also missed the simplicity: flour, water, salt, maybe a little sugar or honey or oil. Instead, the GF versions required eggs, and often milk, along with fussy flour blends and gums. I (fortunately) have no problem with milk or eggs; that wasn't the issue. I just wanted bread to feel simple again.  

Well, this is that simple bread, made gluten-free. This bread is also one that just about anyone can enjoy: it is free of all the "Top 8" allergens, and is even safe for those of you with sensitivities to potatoes! And did I mention it's delicious?

The taste and texture are nearly indistinguishable from whole-wheat bread. Seriously, look at that crumb!
And it's not at all dry or crumbly - just a nice slice of bread.

If you are used to making batter-based bread, this recipe might seem surprising - especially some of the techniques involved. First of all, put away your mixer! This dough is stiff, so you won't need to beat it vigorously like batter (and it is not strong enough to use dough hooks). This is a completely hands-on process; all you need is a bowl or two, a spatula, and a little time. Like many traditional wheat breads, this bread starts out the night before you'll actually be baking it - this starter is often called a sponge, poolish, or preferment. It will give you the complex, yeasty flavours that make bread so yummy.

First, the ingredients for the sponge (poolish):

1/4 c buckwheat flour
1/4 c brown rice flour
1/4 c chickpea flour
2 T teff grains (not flour)
1 tsp yeast
140 mL water

Combine these ingredients in a large-ish bowl, cover, and ferment for 12-16 hours.

Other ingredients, for adding after the fermenting time:

1 c tapioca starch
2 T sweet rice flour
1 T psyllium husks
1/4 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin (see my "Ingredients" page for an explanation)
2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast

3/4 tsp double-acting baking powder

Water - 30-45 mL, as needed
2 tsp grapeseed oil or other light oil - - plus a little more for brushing top crust
2 tsp buckwheat honey** - - plus a little more for brushing crust (Buckwheat honey is a dark, strong honey; it is not like regular clover honey. You can usually find it at a health-food store.)

**If you are vegan, you might try substituting brown rice syrup or molasses for the honey - let me know how it goes!


After the sponge has fermented for 12-16 hours, whisk together the rest of the dry ingredients except the baking powder, and gradually work the dry mixture into the sponge. Start out with a soft spatula, but once most of the flour is worked in - when it looks like the picture below - you will need to use your hands.

Knead by hand to incorporate all the flour. I know it looks
more like cookie dough right now - trust me though, it works!

Sprinkle in a little water as you knead if you cannot get all the flour into the dough. The amount you might need will vary, mostly depending on how well the sponge absorbed its water, so be conservative here - the dough should not be sticky!

Keep kneading...

Soon you will have a smooth, stiff dough.

When the dough looks like this, knead in the grapeseed oil. Cover the dough and allow it to double - about 2 hours.

At the end of that rising period, knead in the honey (and a little more water if necessary). The dough will probably seem a little crumbly when you first touch it; it hasn't dried out, it's just because the network formed by the psyllium and pectin weakened as the dough rested. A few moments of kneading should make it feel cohesive and smooth again. Now press the dough into a flat rectangle on a piece of parchment. This is where the baking powder comes in: sprinkle it over the surface of the rectangle. You will be rolling the dough so the baking powder is on the inside.

My weird, windowless kitchen makes everything look yellow.
No. matter. what. I. do.  
...Anyway. Spread the baking powder evenly, like so. 
Now, you may be wondering what on earth I'm doing. After all, squashing the dough and then rolling it up is hardly a normal step in breadmaking!

Well, this technique actually serves two purposes in getting a better loaf of gluten-free bread:

1) Rolling up the baking powder in the dough will provide extra leavening. Adding it this late in the recipe means it is still very active when you finally shape the loaf - it will start forming tiny air pockets, helping to keep the bread from being dense! (I will go into this in more detail in an upcoming lesson.)

2) Rather than just squishing the dough into a loaf shape, the rolling method will "align" the crumb - creating a springier slice of bread and a more even crust.
Starting with a short side, roll up
the dough. Just like cinnamon rolls!

Once you have rolled up the dough, gently shape the ends so the spiral does not show. If you are putting the loaf into a pan, lift it in to the pan parchment and all. You can also bake it as a free-form loaf on the parchment if you have a baking stone (place on middle rack of oven). Brush the top of the loaf thoroughly with a mixture of grapeseed oil and honey. Drape a piece of plastic wrap over the loaf and allow it to rise for the final time, about an hour. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF. 

After the loaf has risen, place the pan in the oven or carefully slide the loaf with parchment onto the baking stone. (If you are using a glass pan, lower the temperature to about 190ºC/380ºF once you have put the bread in.) Bake for one hour or so, until the top crust is nicely browned and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Let it cool completely before slicing.

Even though it's whole-grain, this bread is very soft and flexible.
It's also especially yummy spread with honey.


  1. I cannot wait to try this! Oh, and I really hate the next seems every recipe I look at is followed by seven thousand comments asking "I can't do ____. Can I substitute/leave it out?" (Followed by ever gracious and patient answers!)

    And here I go...I live in Germany. I can't get teff grains, double-acting baking powder, or Pomona's. I could use GF oats or millet grains for the teff, I should think. BUt I can only get single-acting baking powder, and I can only get pectin powder (citrus-based, I think). What do you think? I would love to give it a try. We do not have the access here to such a variety of GF prepared baked goods (and I have additional allergies) so I bake bread quite regularly.

  2. Hi Kelly -

    I've been thinking about your questions, and I think that if you use another grain in place of the teff, it would work best if you first grind it in a blender/food processor/coffee grinder/etc. so the pieces are smaller. Teff is a very tiny grain, and that is part of why it works well in bread - it is coarser than flour, but not as noticeable as things like whole millet grains.

    Teff also has a unique flavour, so the bread will probably taste slightly different without it. I think coarsely ground buckwheat (especially roasted buckwheat, otherwise known as kasha) or ground millet would work best.

    As far as the baking powder and pectin:

    If you're using single-acting baking powder, just make sure to roll up the dough quickly and be gentle when shaping the loaf. The only difference between the two types of baking powder is whether it's just a chemical reaction (single-acting) or a chemical reaction followed by another reaction triggered by the heat in the oven (double-acting).

    Most pectin sold for canning also contains things like starch and citric acid, whereas Pomona's contains only pectin. If your pectin has starch added, I'm guessing you will need to add about twice as much.

    I hope this helps! Let me know how it turns out!

  3. I did it! First, it's awesome! Needs a tiny bit of tweaking for my overseas ingredients, but absolutely lovely flavor! I did as you suggested with the pectin, but I also used a fairly strong pectin (Dr. Oetker Gelfix Super 3:1) so I think I need a tad less. I needed extra water to get the dough to come together (pectin? or maybe my flours here are lower in water content?) and the texture of the final loaf was ever so slightly wet. Not quite gummy, but not quite right either. Next time I will use the normal amount of pectin and see...I should have realized this since I am using the pectin made for diabetics, although it gels with citric acid instead of calcium...anyway, I am totally pleased.

    I can't wait to experiment with shapeable breads! Pretzels and bagels come to mind...and with the fermentation, the gf fresh yeast I can get here should really shine. Next time. (soon! I bake a ton...) Oh, and I can get real baking lye for pretzels. Can you tell how excited I am to try a shapable gf bread recipe that actually works? I forsee some intense weeks in the kitchen...

    Thanks for the help! and the recipe...I will keep you posted on how the lesser amount of pectin works out. xxx Kelly

  4. and it's officially a hit with the rest of the fam. The crust is really great! DH complained that the loaf was too small in that there wasn't enough. I have a second (double) batch fermenting on the counter now...using some fresh yeast this time to see if it makes a difference.

  5. Hi Meg:
    I'm amazed at your well-thought out bread recipes. I have baked and experimented a lot with different kinds of breads but basically couldn't come up with one I liked as well as the Glutino flax seed bread (toasted). Recently I moved to the coutnry and can't get it so I have been relying on flat breads and muffins, etc. I've really missed my morning toast, though, and am delighted to see your recipes, which look much better in texture than any I've seen. I am so looking forward to trying them all. Thanks so much for applying your knowlegdge of chemistry to the sticky GF bread problem. You rock!

  6. Hi,
    I discovered your blog last night. The breads look wonderful! I haven't had the chance to bake many artisan breads. I am a little scared to, actually. I love the ingredients you use and how hearty and deliciously earthy the breads look. But I was wondering why you use psyllium husks? Is that a soluble or insoluble fiber? I thought it was interesting. Does it act similar to xanthan gum? Thanks!


  7. Hi - this bread looks delicious! I am searching for a yeast bread that is gluten free, but am limited in the flours I can use. I am following the Wheat Belly lifestyle, and can use almond meal (or any nut meal), coconut flour, garbanzo bean flour & ground golden flaxseeds. Can you see a combination of any of them working for this bread technique?

  8. Chestnut honey has the same sort of flavour as buckwheat honey - available in Europe.

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