Wednesday 6 June 2012

{Ratio Rally} More bread for the table

When I saw that Karen of Cooking Gluten Free had chosen bread for this month's Ratio Rally, I immediately thought of three things:
- I had to make some kind of bread I'd never done before (which I did!)
- I had do a science post (well, that part didn't happen. But more on that later.)
- I was really, really excited. Not just excited about baking bread - excited to see everyone baking bread, proving to the world that even without gluten, flour and water can be transformed into something amazing, something you can proudly have on your table.

After all, bread has essentially been this blog's raison d'être since the very beginning - even the name says it all. A bakery of bread - real bread - which happens to all be gluten-free. I knew from the start, of course, that I would create recipes for many other things as well, but bread in particular holds a special importance to me (a fact which has come up in quite a few of these posts).

But where to start? Since my first post a couple of years ago, I've made dozens and dozens of breads. Nowhere near all of them made it into a post of course, but the best ones did. And each of those "best breads" was posted because when I saw that loaf of real bread browning in my oven, or smelled that fresh-baked crust, or - most of all - tasted something that was truly good, I wanted to share it. There was the first time I discovered that yeast bread not only could be made without eggs or gums, but also that it was so much better that way! Then there was the delicious, authentic-tasting French multigrain bread that had no gums, eggs, or dairy (and the even simpler base recipe, from when I came up with a loaf-shaping strategy that consistently produced an attractive loaf). There was when I finally developed a truly satisfying pizza dough. And though it seems like so long ago now, it's been just two years since I made my very first best bread - at the time I knew next to nothing about food chemistry (meaning baking felt closer to superstition than science), and I still hadn't branched out beyond the eggs-and-xanthan gum formula, but at the time it was by far the best gluten-free bread I'd had. (Some of my newer recipes have what I consider much better taste and texture, but that old bread remains the most popular recipe on this blog - I will admit, the eggs do help things rise quite impressively.)

I thought about all these things as I was deciding just what kind of bread to make for this month's Rally, and suddenly I found myself feeling, well, pretty overwhelmed. And perfectionistic. Little things I brush off when baking just for myself suddenly seemed like huge issues: the crumb was too dark, or too dense; the crust didn't brown enough; there was too much whole-grain flavor, or not enough flavor at all. After several loaves of this criticism, I was growing weary of fighting the properties of gluten-less flours (and the laws of gravity) - it was time to try a different approach. Don't worry, I'm certainly not giving up on a wonderful baguette or boule or any of those other delicious things. In fact, I'll be devoting an upcoming post to exactly why those big loaves are so difficult, and what to do about it...with science!

Just...not this week. And that's where ciabatta comes in.

You see, ciabatta could be considered the odd bread out in the gluten-bread baking world (and I don't just mean its history - I'm talking about the dough itself). We tend to think of gluten dough as something that is, compared to GF dough, so easy to handle; so much more resilient and cooperative. Yet when I was looking at recipes for this particular type of bread, I noticed something odd. Nearly every one stated the dough must be worked using a stand mixer or bread machine knead cycle; they said it simply can't be kneaded by hand. A couple of recipes even went so far as to instruct "throw everything you know about bread dough out the window"! (Any of this sound familiar, gluten-free bakers?!)

Now, don't get me wrong -- ciabatta, just like other regular breads, is definitely very much dependent on gluten for its structure and texture. But while we lack the advantages of gluten to work with, this is one case where we can also avoid its disadvantages - in the case of ciabatta, the fact that its flour:water ratio means the gluten is really sticky. My ciabatta dough may not be strong and stretchy like regular dough, but it's actually quite easy to handle if you follow the instructions. And oh, the texture! With the loaf being so flat, it's not weighing itself down as much - so you'll get an airier crumb than you usually see in (eggless) GF breads. I even included a video clip to show you just how nice the texture is. (Sorry for the poor video quality - it was filmed on a phone - but I think it gets the point across!)

See how soft and stretchy it is?! I hope that after that, you really want to make some of your own now. Just a couple more quick notes to add before I get to the recipe:

- If you want to try to get your bread to rise up more (rather than spread out), try placing something on either side of it (separated by parchment) during the final part of the rising, somewhat akin to how a couche works.
- You can use potato starch in place of some of the tapioca starch if you want the insides of the bread to be whiter (have a look at this pizza dough, which is mostly a very similar flour composition, and you'll see what I mean). You may need to add a bit more water if using some potato starch, though.

Ciabatta (Gluten-free, gum-free, egg-free/vegan)
The ratio for this recipe is 4 parts flour:3 parts water. This is fairly typical for this style of bread, even when made with wheat (whereas wheat sandwich bread, for instance, is usually a 5:3 ratio). Though there is some oil in this bread, the amount is too small to make a clean ratio - there is however a similar concept that can accommodate small amounts of oil, etc using percentages (called baker's percentage) which I will introduce in an upcoming post, or you can look it up if you want.

For the sponge:
40 g oat flour
100 g brown rice flour
12 g buckwheat flour
16 g potato flour (not starch)
12 g tapioca starch
1/2 tsp yeast (preferably "bread machine/rapid" yeast)
20 mL organic apple cider vinegar
160 mL warm water

For the final dough:
220 g tapioca starch
1 2/3 T (5 tsp) psyllium
1/2 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp yeast (preferably "bread machine/rapid" yeast)
120 mL warm water
30 mL (2 T) olive oil

For shaping the loaves:
1 tsp double-acting baking powder
2-4 tsp olive oil
rice flour
tapioca starch

1. The night before you want to make bread, you'll need to make the sponge: Combine the dry ingredients for the sponge (including yeast) in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the vinegar and warm water and stir until it forms a stiff dough - it will become more fluid as it ferments. Cover tightly, and set aside to ferment for 12-14 hours.
2. In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients for the final loaf (including yeast).
3. Stir about half of this dry mixture into the fermented sponge, followed by about half the water; then add the rest of the dry mixture, the rest of the water, and the olive oil. (If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment.) The dough will be more loose and slack than usual, but it should not be sticky.

4. Prepare 2 or 4 pieces of parchment (depending on whether you are making small or large loaves). Put a generous splash of olive oil on each parchment for ease of handling the dough.
5. Divide the dough into 2 or 4 pieces, and flatten each into a rectangle as if making very thin pizza:
Be careful not to tear or poke holes in it.
6. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp baking powder evenly on each rectangle (or 1/4 tsp if making 4 smaller loaves). Then fold two of the parallel edges inward, like this:
7. Now fold those edges in once more, overlapping slightly to form a seam:
8. Prepare a baking sheet or pizza peel with a very generous dusting of rice flour.
9. Once the shaped loaves have been resting seam-side up for 15-20 minutes, you will "flip" them onto the baking sheet so they are seam-side down for the rest of the rising time. Do this by grasping the edges of the parchment paper and lifting one side to quickly (but gently!) transfer them onto the floured area:
Handle gently to avoid deflating the loaf.
10. When all your loaves are resting seam-side down on the floured baking sheet/pizza peel, allow them to continue rising for another ~40 minutes (they will approximately double in size). Meanwhile preheat the oven to 230ºC/450ºF with a baking stone on the bottom rack. (If you don't have one, you can bake on a cookie sheet.) 
11. Shortly before putting them in the oven, dust the top of each loaf with a good amount of rice flour and/or tapioca starch. Optional: place a pan of water on the top rack of the oven to create steam - this helps produce a crisp crust. 
12. Gently slide each loaf onto the baking stone - the rice flour will mostly keep them from sticking, but a dough scraper may be useful to ease the transfer with minimal disturbance to the risen loaf. (If you will be baking on the baking sheet, simply place the sheet on the bottom rack of the oven.) Bake for 40-60 minutes (the shorter time will produce a crisp crust; the longer time will give a crunchy crust but will allow more steam to escape from the bread for a lighter loaf overall). Remove from the oven and cover with a dish towel until cool - do not cut until completely cool.
Crusty bread, olive oil, pepper: Enjoy!
~ Check out the rest of this month's bread creations over at Cooking Gluten Free! ~


  1. I love the science behind your baking! Thanks for all the great information. Here's to baking better gluten-free bread!

  2. Wow, your bread looks fantastic, adn I love all the informations included in your post. Thanks!Bon appétit!

    1. Thank you, I'm so glad the information is helpful!

  3. We have another mad scientist in the GFRR, baking this amazing bread! So informative, and this looks like it tastes AMAZING. I am curious about the pectin, and how it's becoming very popular in gf baking. So if you know anything on the subject, please let me know.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I have studied pectin a bit (along with various other binders)! I can certainly send you an email with more information about it. I didn't know it was becoming so popular though!

  4. Love that you did ciabatta for this bread challenge. Pass a slice on over here...

  5. What a beautiful crumb!! This looks absolutely fantastic!! Thanks for showing all of the step by step photos too, so informative :)

    1. Thanks! I'm glad the photos are helpful...I was a little worried the shaping/rising process would be confusing.

  6. Love this post, Meg! Your bread is all that and a bag of chips, honestly. The shaping process is fascinating and something I will definitely be trying soon. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Oh, how I've missed ciabatta! (Although I'm definitely trying out your French multigrain bread first-WOW.) Thank you for the amount of detail in your post. And please, share more information about the use of pectin!

  8. I thought I had waved goodbye to ciabatta with my Coeliac diagnosis, thank you, thank you, thank you for this recipe!

    This looks brilliant and the texture looks perfect. I must try this. Soon.

  9. I recently tried your recipe and was AMAZINGLY surprised at how tasty this bread is! It's so easy to make and taste wonderful! I've found crusty bread hard to find and this definitely satisfied that craving! Mine came out a bit denser than your and I have a feeling I worked it too much perhaps. Next time instead of making 2 loaves I'll make one big one...I think I may get better results like that but besides that you're a genius!! I love your blog, I just stumbled upon it a few days ago and and can't wait to make more!

    :-) thank you do much for sharing!!


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  11. Unfortunately, I react (badly) to the pseudograins, like buckwheat. Could I perhaps substitute sorghum,or even teff flour for the buckwheat in the sponge? I would really like to try this bread; my mouth is already watering.

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