In my search for a good gluten-free bread recipe, I recently got my hands on Bread & Butter, the latest book by Erin McKenna, founder and chef of BabyCakes NYC. Recipes from a pioneer in vegan gluten-free baking with a foreword by David Lebovitz should be a good choice, I thought, especially when the pages are this bright and cheerful with simple, friendly instructions that make the task ahead seem like a fun slumber party with your girlfriends.
I followed the Sandwich Bread recipe in the book faithfully and carefully weighed the ingredients as recommended. Just like a normal bread recipe, there are the usual suspects: yeast, warm water, sweetener, oil, salt and flour. Except, in this case, the flour is a well-considered combination of gluten-free flours and starches, with the addition of xanthan gum to make up for the gluten. Where the method is concerned, unlike wheat bread, there is no kneading required, and the dough is more like a batter that you have to pour into the loaf pan. And there's only one rising session.
The bread came out tasting great and I could imagine how delicious it would be as a sandwich. I had to use my imagination because the loaf's resemblance to bread ended there. There was a hole in my bread (pictured above), between a crusty roof and a dense gummy bottom. I was gutted. What went wrong? Did I make a mistake with the ingredients? Did I miss an important step? I had to find out, so I made it again. And... There was a hole in my second loaf.
I had to mend the hole in my broken heart, and promptly sought help from the Internet. Lo and behold, I found a recipe on Fork and Beans that would restore my confidence in gluten-free bread baking. The bread in the photos you see here is made from this recipe. It's soft and moist, as promised, and absolutely slice-worthy. The recipe and method from Fork and Beans is not that dissimilar from the one in the book - which is why I picked it - but with key differences that filled the holes in the plot for me.
- What I like about the Fork and Beans recipe is that it doesn't ask for xanthan gum but ground chia seeds instead. So yes, you don't need gum to bake gluten-free.
- When I compared the volume measurement with the weight measurement in both recipes, I got inconsistent results, so I weighed the ingredients carefully.
- Including baking soda and apple cider vinegar in the Fork and Beans recipe is a neat trick to ensure a good rise and light texture. The bread did turn out quite soft but firmed up nicely when toasted.
- The first thing I noticed when making gluten-free bread is that the dough had the consistency of a thick cake batter that couldn't be kneaded and had to be poured into the loaf pan. Fear not, there's nothing wrong with it.
- I've learned that the recommended rising time is more a guide than an instruction. When I followed the Bread & Butter recipe's 1-hour rising time, my batter overspilled at about 45 minutes and I had to beat it down. The Fork and Beans recipe is not as strict, asking for the loaf to be allowed to rise past the top of the pan with a suggestion that it would take approximately 30-45 minutes. It took my bread 25-35 minutes. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and we've had some brutally hot summer days.
- I cooled the bread you see here on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before slicing. I've been told by an experienced gluten-free baker that the cooking process continues during the cooling period and it is absolutely essential to let the loaf cool completely.
- Finally, what to do with failed loaves? Make croutons, and add to salads and soups.
When you find a good recipe for gluten-free bread, stick to it. And tell everyone about it. The recipe below is adapted from Fork and Beans. It's important to weigh the main dry ingredients (flours and ground chia seeds). The only change I've made was increasing the amount of salt from 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon, and it made a significant difference in improving the taste for me. I've made this three times now, and it has turned out really well every time.
Gluten-Free Vegan Bread
Adapted from Fork & Beans
GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR BLEND*
(Makes 4 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free oat flour
1 1/2 cups millet flour
3/4 cup arrowroot powder
3/4 cup tapioca starch
1 cup warm non-dairy milk (100-110° F)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (100-110° F)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
35g (about 3 tablespoons) ground chia seeds
387g (about 3 1/2 cups) gluten-free flour blend*
30g (about 1/4 cup) buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Prepare gluten-free flour blend* by mixing oat flour, millet flour, arrowroot powder and tapioca starch. Measure out 387g (about 3 1/2 cups) for this recipe, and store the rest in an air-tight container.
Grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan with oil.
Combine warm non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond milk) and sugar in a medium bowl and stir. Add yeast and give the mixture one more stir. Then set aside until it bubbles, about 10 minutes.
Add warm water, oil, vinegar and ground chia seeds, and whisk until the mixture is combined, making sure there are no lumps. Set aside for another 2 minutes to let the chia seeds expand.
Place gluten-free flour blend, buckwheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine all ingredients.
Add the yeast mixture into the dry mixture. Use a wooden spoon and stir until just combined. The mixture is slightly sticky and has a consistency that’s more like a thick cake batter than the usual bread dough.
Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan, using the wooden spoon to gently distribute the batter evenly in the pan. Smooth out the top with the back of the spoon and press down lightly to ensure there are no gaps in the batter.
Set aside and let the loaf rise until it goes above the sides of the pan in a warm area, about 30 to 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Place loaf pan in the center of oven and bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Allow the loaf to cool completely before slicing.