Whether you have celiac disease or you're just looking to improve your health, gluten-free bread can help you enjoy one of your favorite comfort foods without the guilt (or discomfort).
There's just one problem: bread is the macaron of the gluten-free world. Getting it just right can be tricky, even for experienced bakers. That's partly because gluten plays a big role in making bread... well, bread.
The good news? We've had more than a decade to get it right. Here are some of the top tips to baking the perfect loaf of gluten-free bread.
1. Weigh Your Ingredients
If you haven't done so already, now is a good time to invest in a kitchen scale. While you're at it, find a good bread recipe that lists ingredients by weight.
When it comes to baking – gluten-free or otherwise – a scale is your biggest ally.
Measuring by weight ensures that you use just the right amount of flour. Overdoing it or underdoing it will leave you with either a very dry or a very dense, soggy loaf of bread.
2. Use Room Temperature Ingredients
If you're in a hurry or just decide to start baking on a whim, you might be tempted to grab all of your ingredients out of the refrigerator and get down to business. But if you don't let your ingredients come to room temperature, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
Yeast thrives in warm and moist environments. Adding cold ingredients, like eggs, water or even flour, to your starter may actually prevent full yeast growth. We want all the yeast growth we can get when baking any kind of bread, especially gluten-free.
Let your ingredients sit on the counter for 20-30 minutes before you start baking.
While you want your ingredients to be warm (or room temperature), you don't want them to be too hot. Too much heat will kill the yeast.
Bonus Tip: Don't add salt to your starter – it also kills yeast.
3. Guar Gum and Xanthan Gum Are Your Best Friends
Recipes that use guar gum or xanthan gum usually produce a loaf with the closest flavor, texture and appearance to conventional bread. Xanthan gum acts as an emulsifier, foaming agent, stabilizer and thickener, so it helps create that familiar bread loaf look and taste.
If you can't get your hands on guar or xanthan gum, you may use the following substitutes:
· Chia seeds
· Agar agar
· Flax seed (ground)
· Egg whites
· Psyllium fiber
4. Use High-Protein Flours
If you walk down the baking aisle in the grocery store, you'll find both all-purpose and bread flour on the shelves. What's the main difference between the two? The bread flour has more protein.
Flours with higher protein content give bread a better structure. That same rule applies to gluten-free loaves.
When going the high-protein route, you have the option of buying a pre-made flour mix, or using a combination of the following flours:
Most good gluten-free bread recipes call for a ratio of: 50% grain flour, 25% protein flour and 25% starch.
5. Find the Right Balance of Wet and Dry Ingredients
To bake the best loaf of gluten-free bread, you need to find the right balance of wet and dry ingredients.
Too much liquid turns the loaf into a gooey, sunken mess. If your loaf bakes perfectly but sinks while it's cooling, that's another indication of too much liquid.
Too little liquid makes the loaf crumbly.
It can take a few tries to get the wet and dry balance just right. Keep experimenting (that's the fun part), and you're sure to find the perfect ratio of ingredients.
6. Use a Bread Machine with a Gluten-Free Option
If you're pressed for time (who isn't?), using a bread machine may be your best bet. You'll still need to follow most of the rules above, but the machine will take care of the kneading, rising and baking for you.
Plus, most bread makers now have gluten-free settings that make it even easier to produce the perfect loaf of gluten-free bread.
The gluten-free setting has just one rise, so you can avoid the punching down phase (you need all the lift you can get with gluten-free bread).
If you have an older machine that doesn't have a gluten-free setting, you may be able to bypass the second rise through the settings on your machine. Check your user's manual to find out if – and how – you can skip that second rise.
Do you have any tips for baking homemade gluten-free bread? Share in the comments below!