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Making gluten-free bread

Lucinda Bruce Gardyne is a skilled ‘special-diet’ cook – see the review of her new book, How to Cook for Food Allergies, in FM Nov 07 or on the FM website. But her speciality is making gluten-free bread – a skill which many readers would be only too happy to learn! So now is your chance...

Both bought and homemade gluten-free bread can be heavy, dry and so disappointing to eat that people allergic to gluten often give up on bread altogether. It doesn’t have to be like this...

With an understanding of why wheat flour is traditionally used to make bread, how to substitute it with gluten-free flours and by altering the method accordingly, it is possible to make your own delicious gluten-free bread. The gluten-free bread recipe on the next page is actually easier and much quicker to make than wheat bread, giving you an added incentive to try it. It can also be used to make bread rolls, and as the base for speciality breads such as Italian foccacia and pizza bases.

Why wheat flour is traditionally used to make bread
Wheat flour is the principal flour used in bread making because it is rich in the elastic protein gluten. Gluten, developed by the addition of water and kneading, strongly binds the ingredients in bread dough together, trapping and stretching around expanding bubbles of air, produced by yeast, rather like bubble gum.

The trapped bubbles cause the dough to swell and rise, forming the characteristic light, open texture of cooked bread. The bland flavour and soft, fine texture of wheat flour also contributes to the tender texture and neutral flavour of wheat bread.

The proportion of wheat flour in bread is far greater than the proportion of wheat flour in conventional cakes, pastry and biscuits and for this reason it is much more difficult to substitute it successfully with gluten-free flours.

However, by blending specific gluten-free flours (that collectively imitate the taste and texture of wheat flour) with the invaluable gluten substitute xanthan gum (a natural gum, available from good supermarkets and health food shops), it is possible to make a gluten-free flour mix that closely imitates the important properties of wheat flour for bread making. Mixed with basic ingredients traditionally used to make bread – water, yeast, salt, sugar and a little oil – it is possible to make a well risen, crusty, versatile loaf that rivals wheat bread in appearance and flavour.

Gluten-free flour blends for white bread

Potato flour, rice flour and gluten-free corn flour, mixed with a small quantity of tapioca flour makes an ideal flour blend for white gluten-free bread. The flours are white, fine and starchy and sufficiently bland in flavour to allow the yeast to give the bread its familiar delicate flavour and smell.

Gluten-free flour blends for brown bread

Rice bran (available from good supermarkets and health food shops) adds a fibrous quality and natural colour to my blend of white gluten-free flours and its delicate flavour ensures brown bread made with it remains neutral and versatile.

Xanthan gum
Xanthan gum is invaluable in gluten-free bread making. When mixed with water, xanthum gum becomes gluey and elastic, very like gluten, providing the binding and stretching properties that gluten-free flours lack. Added to gluten-free flour, in small quantities, it gives gluten-free bread dough the ability to trap and support the large bubbles produced by yeast. This is essential for gluten-free bread dough to rise and lighten like bread made with wheat flour. Without xanthan gum, gluten-free bread dough is only able to support very small bubbles. Large bubbles simply rise and escape through the surface, resulting in dense, unrisen, close-textured bread.

The addition of yeast to bread dough is essential for the overall texture, appearance and flavour of bread. When mixed with flour, water, and a little sugar, yeast starts to reproduce. As it does so, it produces the all important large bubbles of carbon dioxide that cause bread dough to rise and form its characteristic open texture.

Chemical raising agents such as baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar, which fizz with small bubbles on contact with water, are often included in gluten-free bread recipes to lighten the dough as much as possible. I do not recommend using them as the bread is left with a fine crumbly, cakey texture and an unpleasant bitter flavour.

Adding a little neutral flavoured oil or olive oil to bread dough enriches the flavour of bread and helps to keep it fresh for longer.

Use water to form a well developed crust. This contributes to the overall appetising flavour and appearance of gluten-free bread. Milk, often used in bread recipes, interferes with the rising process of gluten-free bread to produce closer textured, slightly cakey bread with a soft crust.

Making gluten-free bread
Wheat flour and gluten-free flours behave very differently and these differences affect the method for making gluten-free bread in two major ways:

• Unlike dough made with wheat flour, gluten-free dough has the consistency of cake mixture and is beaten, not kneaded, to mix the ingredients together.

• Unlike wheat-bread dough, gluten-free bread dough, even with the addition of xanthan gum, is unable to hold onto sufficient bubbles to rise in the tin before it is baked.

However, if the dough is spooned into a loaf tin and placed straight into a hot oven, the dough rises to twice its original volume as the precious bubbles, produced by the yeast, do not have time to escape.

Other key tips for success
• Make sure the yeast is mixed in thoroughly to ensure the bread rises evenly.

• Make sure water used to make bread dough is tepid or blood temperature. If it is too cold the yeast will be slow to release bubbles. If too hot, the yeast, a living organism, will be killed off and will fail to leaven the bread.

• The quantity of liquid required to make bread dough varies slightly with different flour batches and with dry and wet weather. For this reason, always beat in two-thirds of the water stated in the recipe, then add the remaining third, in stages, plus a little more if necessary, until the dough is smooth and falls slowly from a spoon. Too little water and the dough will be too stiff to rise properly and too much water will make soggy, dense bread.

• Gluten-free bread is best eaten really fresh as it does not stay moist and soft for much more than 24 hours. To avoid wastage, leave the freshly cooked loaf to cool completely then slice and store in the freezer in a sealed plastic bag. Remove as many slices from the bag as you need 20 minutes before they are required to give them time to defrost.

Gluten-free white bread

Below you will find my recipe for gluten-free white bread. This everyday loaf has a neutral and delicate flavour very similar to wheat bread and is very quick and simple to make. Use like conventional bread for making sandwiches, toast and to accompany soup and other light dishes. The bread is also nut and dairy free.

Gluten-free White Bread
To make a 900g (2lb loaf)

110g potato flour
110g gluten-free corn flour
55g tapioca flour
110g rice flour
2 teaspoons fine salt
2 teaspoons caster sugar
2 level teaspoons xanthan gum powder
2 sachets of dried yeast granules
approximately 350ml tepid water
2 tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil
millet flakes, poppy seeds or sesame seeds to decorate

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 400F/gas mark 6. Lightly grease and flour a 900g loaf tin, tipping out any excess flour.
2. Once the oven has come up to temperature, sieve the flours, salt, sugar and xanthan gum powder into a medium sized mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast granules. Make sure the yeast is mixed in properly to avoid pockets of yeast activity and uneven rising.
3. Measure out 350ml of tepid water.
4. Pour 300ml of water onto the dry ingredients, add the oil and beat the mixture with a wooden spoon, until smooth. The dough should be firm enough to hold its shape but soft enough to fall slowly from a spoon. If the mixture seems too firm or dry, beat in the remaining water, plus a little more if necessary.
5. Spoon the bread mixture into the prepared loaf tin. Smooth the surface of the bread mixture with the back of a large spoon dipped in water. Sprinkle over the millet flakes or seeds and place on the middle shelf of the preheated oven to rise.
6. Bake for 45–60 minutes or until the bread is crisp and golden brown on all sides. If the base and sides of the bread are pale, place the bread upside down in the tin and return to the oven for 10 minutes. The bread is cooked when all sides are brown and firm and the underside of the bread sounds hollow when rapped gently with your knuckles.
7. Remove the bread from the tin and place it on a wire rack to cool. Do not slice the loaf until it is completely cold. Eat really fresh, store for up to two days in an airtight container or slice and freeze in a sealed plastic bag.

Italian Foccacia with Rosemary and Thyme
Follow the recipe for gluten-free white bread, using olive oil, and spoon into a greased and floured 20cm round cake tin. With the back of a wet spoon, spread the dough out to fill the tin evenly. Using the back of a wet teaspoon, make shallow indents at regular intervals on the surface. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the bread mixture and sprinkle with a large pinch of sea salt crystals and ½ tablespoon each of roughly chopped fresh rosemary and thyme. Bake in the oven for 30–45 minutes or until risen, crisp and golden brown. Turn the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool.

To make 4–6 bread rolls
Follow the recipe for white or brown gluten-free bread (see below) but instead of using a loaf tin, using a wet spoon, neatly place tablespoons of bread mixture onto a greased and floured baking tray. Smooth the surface of each roll with the back of the wet spoon and sprinkle with millet flakes, buckwheat flakes, poppy seeds or sesame seeds. Bake in the oven at 200C/400F/Gas mark 6 for 15–20 minutes or until crisp and golden brown on all sides.

Gluten free brown bread
To make a fibrous brown gluten-free loaf, simply replace the caster sugar in the white bread recipe with dark brown sugar and 55g of rice flour with rice bran (available from all good health food shops) and make as above.

Pizza bases
To make two large or four small children’s pizza bases, follow the recipe for gluten-free white bread, using olive oil and preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. To make two large pizzas, divide the dough between two baking trays, greased and floured with rice flour or cornmeal, spooning it into the centre. Using the back of a wet spoon, spread the dough out into two circles, measuring approximately 25cm across and just under 1cm thick. Neaten the edges of the pizza bases by running the back of a wet spoon around the edge of each. Drizzle each pizza base with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown on both sides.

The pizza bases have a wonderful chewy consistency and are good enough to eat on their own drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with chopped garlic, chopped oregano leaves and seasoning. Serve cut into slices at children’s tea parties.

Alternatively, spread the baked pizza bases with your chosen toppings and return to the oven for another 15 minutes or until the pizza base is crisp and golden brown and the topping is melted and bubbling. Serve immediately.

For more free-from recipe ideas check out Lucinda’s website

Click here for more articles on the management of coeliac disease

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