Module One: Gluten Free Breads

Kira bakes gluten free module one breads

Theory

I wanted to start the gluten free pastry school with bread because I think it’s one of the things people miss the most being gluten free. It also happened to be one of the areas I excelled in while at pastry school and notably, my first job after graduating was baking fresh ciabatta and focaccia for dinner service at a local Italian restaurant. This usually surprises most people given I’m gluten free due to a wheat allergy and therefore couldn’t eat any of the bread I was making. But I think there is a very good reason why I excelled at bread making and I credit it to my allergy. Let me explain. In the early stages of my pastry career, I wanted nothing more than to be a great pastry chef (I still do!) and being gluten free meant that I was presented with additional challenges in the professional kitchen. Initially, I assumed that this impediment was going to make me inferior to my peers, when in fact, it made me hyper-sensitive to everything we were taught. I quickly realized that I needed to rely on not only the precision, methods and timing needed to achieve the best breads, but also how they should look and feel during the dough stages and then how they should smell and sound when you slice into a fresh baguette or loaf of sourdough. In the end, I was able to turn what should have been a baking weakness into one of my strengths. 

My goal for this module is to take everything I’ve learned and experiences about traditional bread making and transfer that knowledge over to you, with just a few gluten free adjustments, so you can begin turning out delicious, bakery quality gluten free breads in your home kitchen.

Fermentation

When discussing the process of making bread there are many differences between traditional wheat bread and gluten free breads. The dry ingredients, hydration, mixing and shaping methods to name a few. But there is one process that shouldn’t change whether your making wheat bread or gluten free bread, and that’s the fermentation process. This process is what really impacts taste and texture. So that is why we are starting here. Fermentation.

The key to getting the best results with any bread recipe is understanding how to balance the doughs fermentation. This includes finding balance within rising times, proofing times, dough temperatures, ambient temperature, and how much leavener is required. 

An easy way to look at dough fermentation:

Warm dough develops more quickly – mild flavour

Cold dough develops more slowly – More flavour

Bread fermentation infographic

The best room temperature for fermentation and the initial rise of bread dough is approx. 26-32C.

Straight Dough. Dough that is mixed in one stage without any preferments

Levain (sourdough starter) The French word for “Sourdough”. Is a naturally leavened dough made from just flour and water. The naturally occurring and active wild yeast cells in the air and flour will cause the dough to ferment, allowing it to rise. Doughs made with a Levain preferment take longer to proof as the fermentation process is slower when compared to Yeast.

Preferments. Is a portion of the dough that has been pre-mixed and given time to ferment before being added to the main dough. Usually requires 6-12 hours of fermentation. 

  • Biga (stiffer/drier) – A Biga is a preferment with quite low hydration, typically around 50-60%. Made of flour, water and yeast that has been left to ferment for 6+ hours before being added to the final dough. Best used for recipes such as Ciabatta or other rustic Italian loaves. 
  • Poolish (wetter, 50/50 flour/water)– Poolish is a preferment Similar to the Biga, only wetter, and contains nearly half of the main doughs ingredients. It is mixed and allowed to rest for 6+ hours before being added to the remaining final dough. 
  • Sponge – a Sponge is similar to a Poolish, but with less hydration. Made with a portion of the recipes flour, water and all of the yeast. It is then left to ferment at room temperature for 45-60 minutes.  It’s definitely the easiest and quickest way to incorporate flavour and rise into a bread recipe. 

Proofing

Proofing is the final rise a dough makes before being baked. This allows the shaped dough to reach its physical limit and build gases. Dough can take anywhere from 1 to 12 hours to proof properly, depending on the recipe and room/ambient temperature.

It is a delicate balance to achieve the perfect amount of proofing with gluten free bread. We don’t want to under or over proof our bread. If the dough collapses, then it’s a good indicator that the dough is over-proofed. This just means it won’t rise as much as we want during the baking process.  If the dough is under proofed and it will lack flavour and rise.

You can slow the proofing process by placing shaped doughs in the refrigerator. 

Why Baking Temperature Matter

The temperature of your oven is key to achieving the perfect loaf of bread. You’ve worked hard to create a dough that is complex, full of flavour and carefully shaped. This is the final hurdle, let’s not stumble before the finish line.  If your oven is too hot, the outside will be fully baked before the centre is baked. If it’s not hot enough, the crust will be less defined and lack crispness. 

Some of the bread recipes included in Module one are best baked in a preheated Dutch oven or using a steam tray. This is because home ovens just can’t compete with professional commercial ovens that reach high temperatures quickly and provide steam at the touch of a button. 

Also, say NO to pale, blonde bread.  The next time you walk past a bakery window take a look and notice how dark the loafs and baguettes are. This not only looks amazing but baking your bread long enough makes sure that the interior is baked all the way through and the outer layer (crust) is crispy and caramelised. This is called the Maillard reaction.

Yeast

Yeast is a single celled microorganism that belongs to the fungus kingdom. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is what is commonly used when making breads and beer. Yeast works by feeding on sugars for energy, converting them to carbon dioxide. This is known as the fermentation process. The carbon dioxide air bubbles are trapped and inflate the dough, causing it to rise.

There are three types of yeast that I’ll cover here that are used to help breads rise and provide flavour. Dry active yeast (baker’s yeast), instant yeast and fresh yeast. Dry active yeast is the most common yeast used in commercial bakeries for bread-making and what home bakers tend to use. It requires you to ‘activate’ the yeast by mixing it with warm water or milk before adding it to your mixture. The nice thing about this is that you can actually see it start working as the yeast will start to bubble and froth in the warm liquid. Then there is Instant Yeast, which has much smaller granules and a faster absorption rate. Instant Yeast does not need to be rehydrated before you bake with it.

Enriched Doughs

Enriched doughs are doughs that have added ingredients containing fat such as eggs, oil, butter, and/or milk. Enriched doughs will also often contain sugar to help with fermentation and the Maillard reaction (browning).

DDT (Desired Dough Temperature)

This is the ideal temperature for dough while you are working with it to promote yeast culture to grow.

Water Content (Hydration)

The overall texture and consistency of both wheat based bread dough and gluten free bread doughs is a function of its moisture content. Wheat based breads generally have a hydration percentage in the range of 60-80%. Gluten Free bread contains a much higher percentage of water (hydration) when compared to wheat-based breads.  This is because gluten free flours, starches and gums (psyllium husk and xanthan gum) absorb water at a greater rate. This effects preferments as well. For example, a typical Levain made with wheat flour will have around 100 percent hydration. This means that for every 100 grams of wheat flour, you would add 100 grams of water. For a Levain made with 100 grams of gluten free flour, such as brown rice flour or sorghum flour, you would need around 120-130 grams of water.

The Bread Baker’s Formula 

Bread baking is a science and (some) math is required to ensure your loaf is baked to perfection. The Bread Baker’s formula involves a calculation of all the ingredients in the loaf stated as percentages of the total flour weight (i.e. Baker’s Percentages). 

The total amount of flour is always 100 percent. So, if you have 1,000 grams of flour and 60 grams of water, then the water makes up 60 percent of the flours weight. Baker’s percentages allow for recipes to be easily scaled up or down.

How to calculate the percentage of ingredients? The ingredients must be measured by weight and have the same unit of weight.

You divide the weight of the ingredients by the weight of the flour and then multiply the result by 100.

Most common Bread Baker’s Formula for Wheat Breads

100% Flour, 60-80% Water, 4% Yeast, 2% Salt

Compared to Gluten Free Bread Baker’s Formula

100% Gluten Free Flours, 110% Water, 4% Yeast, 2% Salt

Why Gluten Free Bread needs to cool before slicing

Gluten Free bread has much more water (hydration) compared to wheat breads. When gluten free bread comes out of the oven there is still a high content of water remaining in the bread. While the bread cools the water vapour (steam) will gradually evaporate, leaving a much dryer, lighter crumb structure. 

Below you will find links to Gluten Free Bread Recipes that use several of the discussed baking principals and methods.  The best way to learn is by getting yourself in the kitchen and to start getting some hands on experience. 

I’ve ranked the below recipes from least to most challenging. If you are feeling intimidated or just want a recipe that will give you the confidence boost your looking for then start at 1 and work your way down the list. 

Using preferments, yeast and chemical leaveners.

  1. Irish Soda Bread – No Yeast, Chemical Leavener (Baking Soda/Powder)
  2. Sandwich Loaf – Yeasted
  3. Italian Sub Rolls – Sponge
  4. Country Bread – Biga


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The Best Gluten Free Italian Sub Rolls The Best Gluten Free Country Bread The Best Gluten Free Sandwich Bread The Best Gluten Free Irish Soda Bread