Bread Series, #1:
Today’s scripture reading is apropos to my intent to write my first post, in a series, on baking gluten-free bread. These Biblical scriptures don’t resonate with everyone, for sure, but the significance of bread in relation to sustaining life, both physical and spiritual, is something to which most people can relate. Michael Pollan points out, in the Air episode of his documentary Cooked, that a person who has nothing else but flour and water can live for quite a while by combining them to make bread. In many cultures, people still make their bread from scratch every day, and bread is featured in every one of their meals. In these cultures, the art of bread-making is passed down through the generations: children part-take in the daily task of making bread for the family. These families enjoy delicious breads made with wholesome ingredients, as a major dietary stable
In the Western world, even though fewer people make their bread from scratch every day, and despite an increasing unpopularity of simple carbohydrates, bread is a major component of meals. Restaurants serve bread before meals. Biscuits, cornbread, and tortillas are major components of every day meals, and yeast rolls are a regular feature of holiday and other special event meals. People literally break bread together at meals, reinforcing Michael Pollan’s point that bread is communal. As Pollan points out in his documentary, bread requires a community effort, for it is a division of labor, from the planting and harvesting of wheat to the mixing of the dough and the baking of the bread. No doubt, from its central role in religious ceremonies to its presence on the dinner table, the production, baking, and eating of bread helps to form a community of people. A striking intangible beauty of multi-faceted human relationships arises from the formation of this bread-sharing community: a beauty that mostly goes unnoticed by people who are immersed in its culture. The existence of the community formed by the sharing of bread, however, becomes starkly visible to those people who suddenly find that the very strength of the bread, gluten, seriously threatens their health. Not only can they no longer enjoy the simple pleasure of bread, they find themselves marginalized from certain elements of society.
The desire for a return to community, in addition to the desire to once again enjoy one of the most basic foods that transcends cultures, is the reason most people who have to eat gluten-free miss bread more than any other gluten-containing food when they start following a strict gluten-free diet. Interestingly, much of the bread people who have to eat gluten-free miss is the commercialized bread. Granted, commercialized gluten-containing bread does taste better than most commercialized gluten-free bread; however, even industrially-produced gluten-containing grain breads fail to match the quality of home-baked breads. Comedy writer Robert Orben is credited with having said, ““I understand the big food companies are developing a tearless onion. I think they can do it — after all, they’ve already given us tasteless bread.” I am unable to source this quote, although a bazillion people attribute the quote to Orben. Whether or not Orben is the true source of this quote, the content of the quote is true. It’s even MORE true (if truth can have degrees . . . .) of industrialized gluten-free breads. People who have to eat gluten-free often just give up bread altogether, rather than eat store-bought gluten-free breads that disappoint in both texture and flavor.
I was one of those people. First, upon my Celiac diagnoses and sudden change to a gluten-free diet, I tried to substitute gluten-free waffles for sandwich bread, since they are bigger than gluten-free bread slices and don’t break to pieces the way gluten-free bread slices do when you want to separate them to thaw them for eating. It worked to a certain extent, but it wasn’t satisfactory. Then I tried gluten-free bagels (which are actually better quality than gluten-free sandwich bread), but still found the texture unsatisfactory by the last few bites of the sandwich. Then I went without bread altogether, eating deconstructed sandwiches: Boarshead lunchmeat and cheese on a plate, with grape tomatoes on the side. Somewhere along the way, I tried baking gluten-free bread, but I was unhappy with the results, even with the results I achieve using the Zojirushi bread machine Phillip gave me for my birthday one year. I found the gluten-free recipes either too complicated with a multitude of ingredients (some of which I find undesirable), or the results unsatisfactory in flavor and texture.
I eventually returned to making my own bread, after I figured out that in general (for exceptions exist for just about any generalization), adapting gluten recipes to be gluten-free usually results in a more successful baked product than following recipes that are written to be gluten-free. I realize that this stated position sounds ironic coming from someone who writes a blog devoted to gluten-free eating and cooking, but my goal for maintaining this blog going has always been to help people create delicious, satisfying gluten-free foods as easily as possible. I have discovered, through all the reading about bread baking and all my bread tinkering in the kitchen, that the value of baking one’s own gluten-free bread extends beyond the benefit of creating lovely loaves of bread from simple, natural, healthy ingredients. Baking my own gluten-free bread from scratch has taught me that when one mixes her labor with the flours and yeast, experiments with various baking methods and flavors, and sits down to enjoy a slice of chewy, soft, aromatic bread covered with a golden pool of melted butter and drizzled with honey, she finds her own way back into the greater human bread-sharing, bread-loving culture. Bakers of bread, whether gluten or gluten-free, face many common problems with bread-making, use mostly the same techniques to ensure successful bread-baking, and in striving to create bread with their own hands, participate in a human tradition that pre-dates written history.
The recipe I am including in this first post of my gluten-free bread series is pretty simple, and it’s a no-fail adaptation from David Lebovitz’s chocolate bread recipe. I absolutely love Lebovitz’s work; I follow him on my FB timeline just to see the articles of interest he posts. I have deglutenized several of his recipes and they work every time. I own his book on chocolate. One reason I turn to David Lebovitz recipes, articles, and books for inspiration is the same reason I turn to Alice Medrich recipes, articles, and books: both cooks / authors test and re-test recipes, and they record their successes and failures. Knowing that these talented people spend much time perfecting their recipes, and sometimes have to correct recipes work as expected makes my multiple attempts and adjustment of recipes – and recipe failures – easier to accept! Take time to read the entire post, in which his bread recipe is written, and follow the steps he took to improve his chocolate bread recipe.
Lebovitz’s chocolate bread is that it is a dense bread, made from a soft dough (as Lebovitz notes in his recipe, the dough is soft enough to be scraped into the pan). It is not a super-high rising bread. Gluten-free flours are thirsty flours, and require more hydration than gluten-containing flours. Gluten-free bread dough, requiring more hydration and lacking the gluten-strands necessary to trap the gas released from the yeast as it ferments, is naturally more wet than gluten bread dough. The resulting loaf of gluten-free bread is also more dense than a gluten loaf of bread. A soft gluten-containing bread dough that bakes into a dense finished bread is one that will work well without gluten. After you bake your gluten-free version of this bread, compare your slices to the images of the slices of the bread on Lebovitz’s page; you’ll see that they actually look similar. Lebovitz’s chocolate bread is not a super high rising bread.
Another reason Lebovitz’s chocolate bread is a good recipe to deglutenize is that he uses grams as well as volume for his ingredients. The most important tip for successful bread-baking, whether gluten or gluten-free, is to weigh the flour. Many variables contribute to inconsistent volume measurements of flour; these variables are removed when one weighs flour. Gluten-free flours vary in density. Measuring gluten-free flours by volume leads to inconsistent amounts of flour. If you look at several different gluten-free sources that give the equivalent of gluten-free flours from volume to weight, you will find a wide range of inconsistent conversions. You have no way of knowing how much rice, sorghum, almond, etc flour a person who writes a recipe calling for a cup of any particular gluten-free flour actually used.
All-purpose and bread wheat flour, on the other hand, is universally accepted as weighing about 125 g. Even with wheat flour, though, many factors interfere with how much flour you actually end up with when measuring by volume. The humidity in the air, whether the flour is spooned into the cup or scooped up by the cup: all manner of factors can affect the amount of flour is actually in a measuring cup. Weighing your flours is the only way to ensure that you’re using the same amount of flour, by weight, as the recipe you are following. If you don’t already have one, buy a digital scale for use in your kitchen. They are relatively inexpensive, but their use in your gluten-free kitchen is invaluable. When converting a gluten recipe to a gluten-free recipe, the total amount of the blends of gluten-free flours you use must equal the total amount of wheat flour used in the original recipe. If the recipe you are adapting to gluten-free requires two cups of wheat flour, for example, you will use 250 g of gluten-free flour.
When you adapt a recipe to be gluten-free, you have to add something to do the work that gluten does in gluten-containing recipes. The usual ingredients people choose to use for this purpose are guar gum or xanthan gum. These ingredients cause digestive upset in many people; I prefer not to use them. Many gluten-free cooks are turning to psyllium husk as a substitute for xanthan and guar gums. Psyllium husk, however, is widely used as a laxative. I definitely want to avoid using that particular ingredient in my bread. Other possibilities are to use pectin or unflavored gelatin, but I want to use ingredients as much in their natural state as possible, so I avoid these substitutes. Binders with which I have had success are resistant starches such as tigernut flour, green banana flour (transparent in flavor). I’ve also had success with apple flour (dehydrated, ground apples with natural pectin), as well as highly fibrous carob and coconut flours. Resistant starches, like carob and coconut flours, are highly fibrous, and because of their properties, should be only about 10% – 15% of the total weight of the blend of the gluten-free flours you use in your recipe. To use these binders successfully, for example, if your recipe requires 375 grams of flour, 37.5 to 56 grams of that flour mix will be your resistant starch or fibrous flour of choice.
Another option for gluten-replacement is to use substitute ground chia or flax seed for guar or xanthan gum. Using the same amount of ground chia or flax seed as the gum you would use, mix the ground seed with double the amount of water and allow it to form into a gel before you add it to the wet ingredients of bread recipe you are using. If you would use 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum, for example, substitute 1/2 tsp ground chia or flax seed mixed with 1 tsp water. I’ve used this method of gum replacement, and it does work well. This idea is not mine. I read it somewhere in a gluten-free baking source about baking without gums, but I cannot remember in which source I found it.
When I started looking for gum substitutes to use when baking gluten-free bread, I had already been experimenting with resistant starches in my cooking. I began to think that perhaps, because of their specific properties, resistant starches would work as gum replacements in gluten-free breads and baked goods. In my research, I didn’t find any other actual gluten-free bakers who use resistant starches as gum replacements. I did, however, find articles in academic journals such as The Journal of Food, Science, and Technology and Journal of Food Science, in which researchers successfully experimented with resistant starches in gluten-free bread doughs. You can use my suggestions for their use in your bread dough, but also experiment with them on your own. You may like the texture using more, or less, provides your gluten-free bread.
You will need a few items to increase your chances of baking a perfect loaf of gluten-free bread. These items are actually necessary for successful bread-baking, in general. Since most ovens are not correctly calibrated, you will need an oven thermometer and adjust your oven temperature accordingly. You can find a perfectly functioning oven thermometer for about $5; I bought mine in a grocery store.
You will need an instant read thermometer, for checking the internal temperature of your bread. Again, you can find an inexpensive instant-read thermometer in just about any grocery store, on the kitchen utensils aisle. The done-ness of a loaf of bread cannot be ascertained by sight. The internal temperature, alone, indicates whether the bread is fully baked. Breads that are enriched (contain eggs, fat, and milk) are done when they reach about 180 degrees. Breads that are lean (contain no eggs or fat) are done when they reach about 205 degrees.
You will also need a heavy aluminum bread pan, so that the bread will bake evenly. Avoid using glass or ceramic pans, which lead to unevenly baked breads. Also avoid using dark metal pans. I’ve enjoy using this particular pan for the bread I bake in loaves.
Just ONE more note about gluten-free bread baking. Because gluten-free bread can rise only one time and is not kneaded, baking gluten-free bread from scratch is much less time intensive than baking gluten bread from scratch. You don’t have to put aside a great deal of time in order to have a delectable, freshly-baked loaf of gluten-free bread for dinner!
*Now, FINALLY, the recipe!!! I list, in this recipe, the flours I used. You can try any blend of gluten-free flours you want to. If you make your own blend, make sure about 70% of your blend is made of higher protein gluten-free flours. Additionally, make sure the total weight of flours equals 280 g, the amount of grams of bread flour David Lebovitz uses in his recipe.
**Although Lebovitz decides against using chocolate chips in his bread, I choose to use Guittard dark chocolate chips. Guittard uses sunflower lecithin in most of its chocolate chip products. I prefer to avoid soy as much as possible.
***I use an additional egg in my deglutenized chocolate bread recipe. Adding an extra egg to a deglutenized recipe adds a little more protein for structure and coagulation for binding.
****Lebovitz switches between weight and volume measurements of his dry ingredients, listing 1/4 cup of unsweetened Dutch process cocoa instead of a weight for the cocoa. His use of volume for this ingredient makes recreation of his recipe a little complicated, even for people making it with gluten. He doesn’t say whether he sifted the cocoa powder, which actually makes a difference in volume. Furthermore, searching cooking sources to find the volume to weight conversion for unsweetened cocoa powder leads to just as much variety in answers when one searches for volume to weight conversions of gluten-free flours. In the end, I just used measured my Dutch process cocoa powder by volume as Lebovitz does in his recipe, and hoped for the best. It works : )
*****One last note! Lebovitz proofs the yeast in his recipe. You don’t need to add this step. Gluten-free bread needs all the help it can get to rise, and you want the yeast to do all its action inside the dough, without sparing any action in a dish outside the dough. Also, proofing yeast, although a traditional step in bread-making with commercial yeast, is unnecessary.
David Lebovitz Chocolate Bread Recipe, Deglutenized
3/4 c Whole milk, room temperature
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp) Instant yeast
6 tbls Organic sugar
4 tbls Butter
3 oz Guittard 62% dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 tsp Instant coffee
3 Eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp Pure vanilla or almond extract
3/4 tsp Pink Himalayan salt
28 g Carob flour
28 g Tapioca starch
56 g Sweet rice flour
168 g Authentic Foods super fine brown rice flour
1/4 c Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 c Guittard 62% dark chocolate chips
Heavy gauge aluminum bread pan (8 1/2 x 4 1/2)
Mix all the dry ingredients, including the yeast, together. Using a food processor with a dough blade, or a mixer with dough hooks or paddle, mix the beaten eggs and milk together. Add half the dry ingredients to the milk / egg mixture; blend until smooth. In a microwave safe dish, melt 3 oz chocolate chips and butter, microwaving at 20 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until the mixture is smooth. Add the melted chocolate / butter mixture into the milk / flour mixture; blend until smooth. Add the remaining dry ingredients; mix until smooth. Stir in 3/4 cups chocolate chips. The dough will be wet and sticky, but it should be thick. Scrape the dough into the bread pan, smoothing the top of the bread with wet fingertips. Cover the pan with the shower cap and place in a draft-free area to rise. When the dough has risen to the edge of the pan, after an hour or so, it is ready to bake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the shower cap from the pan and place the bread in the oven; bake until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees (about 40 – 45 minutes). Remove the bread from the oven and cool in the pan for about ten minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Although it will be difficult, refrain from cutting the bread until it is completely cool.