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July 2013

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Gluten-free Sourdough Bread

gluten free bread

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I am glad I finally started to bake my own bread again. Though I cannot complain about not haveing access to good bread. We have a health food store which sells fantastic whole grain sourdough breads. They taste great and keep fresh forever. But I have a lot of fun making my own bread, trying out new recipes and ingredients. (And I love to hoard grains. I just ordered new glass jars online, so I can transfer all my flours and grains to them.)

When I started bread baking and blogging about it, I got several requests for gluten-free bread. I once made one, but generally told people they should look somewhere else. I didn’t consider myself an expert in gluten-free baking. And I was afraid of it. Isn’t gluten the most important element in a good bread? How where you supposed to knead it and shape it when there was no gluten? Wouldn’t it all fall apart? Or just turn into a brick? But when I made my last sourdough recipe, it occurred to me that 100% rye breads are very similar to gluten-free breads. The gluten in rye is weak and not very reliable. You need sourdough to help stabilising the bread. The dough is very sticky and when you try to shape your baked rye goods, you have to do it with wet hands and it’s best to bake them in some kind of pan.

But rye breads, especially when made with sourdough starter, whole grains, and soakers, are very moist and keep fresh for long. Gluten-free breads however tend to dry out easily because there is not much to keep them retain water. They usually contain a lot of starch, finely milled flours and nothing to keep much moisture. But what would you do if you wanted a moist and lasting gluten-free bread? Add a starter and a soaker! So I looked online for gluten-free sourdough starters and found the weirdest stuff. Many people seem to make them with commercial yeast. These are not sourdough starters though. They are preferments. And they will probably die sooner or later if you treat them as starters. (The commercial yeast messes with the microorganisms and wild yeasts in the starter. It eventually kills them.) I also found recipes that used some commercial kind of ferment or starter. But that means you are not making your sourdough from scratch. And you have to search online for an expensive ingredient that is not necessary. All you really need is flour and water. In theory it doesn’t matter what flour you choose as long as it has starches.* And you will find those in all flours. Your flour-water mixture also contains microorganisms (especially lactic acid bacteria). These microorganisms convert the starches first into sugars, then into lactic acid. Lactic acid is responsible for the sour taste of your starter and the sugars feed the wild yeast in your starter. Those yeast are responsible for leavening the dough.

*Of course it depends on many things if your starter will thrive. Temperature, moisture, flour properties, etc. Some flours catch mold easier than others. Sometimes it is necessary to try a couple of times until you get your starter going.

The presence of so many starches in a regular gluten-free flour mix is probably why I had so much success with my first gluten-free starter. Or maybe it was the warm weather. I really don’t know why, but I was very sceptical at first and thought I would certainly end up with a batch of mold and not a bubbly starter. I used my regular sourdough starter recipe with a gluten-free flour mix I found online on a fantastic German blog on gluten-free baking. The gluten-free flour mix called for some ingredients I didn’t have on hand, so I looked for them at the health food store. I didn’t find teff flour, which is as hard to find over here as sorghum. Instead I got some lupin flour (not called for in the recipe) and grape seed flour. I already had buchwheat and millet at home, also tapioca starch,  cornstarch, and locust bean gum.

I prepared my starter from that flour mixture I had found online, slightly adapted (200g buckwheat flour, 200 g millet flour, 200 g brown rice flour, 250 g cornstarch, 150 g tapioca starch, 6 T grape seed flour, 2t locust bean gum, 2 t ground psyllium husk). I followed the steps in my starter recipe with one exception: I changed the ratio of flour to water. I used one part water and one part flour by weight. (100g flour and 100g water.) After 3 days it was already going strong:

starter

I fed it for two more days until the starter smelled sour. My regular starter usually smells like apples. This time the smell was more like buttermilk. But that is okay. It seemed to be good! You can probably use whatever flour mixture you have on hand. I thought the buckwheat and millet flour were great in this as they later gave the bread a stronger taste that reminded me of rye bread. If you use buckwheat you should know that it can dye the starter slightly red on the surface. That is normal. Don’t throw it out because you think it is mold!

Now finally let’s get to the bread. For this I first made another flour mix for bread.

200 g buckwheat flour
100 g gluten-free oats
100 g cornstarch, organic
100 g tapioca starch
2 tablespoons chia seeds, ground in a coffee grinder
2 tablespoons psyllium husk, ground in a coffee grinder
1 tablespoon locust bean gum

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container. Please note: the measurements are metric only because that way they are easier to swap. If you measure with cups and make some substitutions, you might end up with a completely different ratio.

If you have no idea what psyllium husk is, I have written a bit about it here and here.

To make the bread moister, I used a soaker:

100 g (1/2 cup) millet
240 ml (1 cup) water

Combine millet and water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Cover and let cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat but don’t remove the pot. That way the millet gets cooked and you can use it once it is at room temperature.

Gluten-free Sourdough Bread Recipe (One loaf)

200 g active starter, made with gluten-free flours (see link above for recipe)
300 g gluten-free flour mix (see recipe above)
250 g cooked and cooled millet
200 ml water or more
10 g salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and knead well for one or two minutes. Your dough should be sticky but firm. Add more water, if it is to dry. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and place dough in the pan. Use wet hands to distribute it evenly. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. This will very much depend on how strong your starter is. The dough will rise but similar to a rye bread, it won’t really double in size. But you should see that it has risen:
gf dough

(Yep, that is some lavender on top.) Preheat your oven to 220°C. Boil half a cup of water right before you want to place the bread in the oven and fill it into a mug. Make sure to wear oven gloves, so you don’t burn yourself.

Place the bread in the oven. Quickly pour the water onto the bottom of the oven. (You can also place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack while the oven is preheating and then pour the water into that baking sheet.) Close the door and let the dough bake for 20 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 200°C and bake for another 35-40 minutes.
Tip: A very good way to determine if your loaf is done is a candy thermometer. Stick it into the centre of the baked bread and if it registers 93°C/200°F the bread is done. Let cool completely before slicing. (I let my bread cool for 24 hours.)
bread sliced

Doesn’t this just look like a perfect bread?

This entry was submitted to YeastSpotting.

15 Comments

  1. megs
    • Mihl

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