A Chef Shares His Secrets
I love a good loaf of bread. So about 15 years ago when I was asked to teach a new class at the Culinary Institute of America that included gluten-free breads, I paused. After much trial and error, I’ve learned a few things about making gluten-free yeast-raised breads. As a gluten-free bread baker, you have to develop your own level of comfort and make the formula adjustments that work best for you.
Here are tips from my gluten-free baking book that helped me find my level of comfort. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too.
- Increase hydration. Gluten-free flour blends are drier and more absorbent, so I use more liquid. Carbonated water, even non-diet soda, works wonders in gluten-free bread recipes. The extra bubbles help to lighten the batter, and if you are using non-diet soda, the sugar it contains can provide extra action for the yeast.
- Use the paddle attachment on your mixer, not the bread dough hook. Most gluten-free bread doughs
have more of a “batter” consistency that does not require kneading. You can also start mixing the dry ingredients using the whip attachment on an electric mixer and switch to the paddle attachment as you
mix in the wet ingredients.
- Use a low mixing speed. This is effective because you are working with a thinner batter rather than elastic dough.
- Increase the amount of yeast. Since there is no gluten to stretch and trap the gas as in gluten-containing bread, the yeast has to work harder, so use more of it. If you are experimenting with your own recipes, start by increasing the amount of yeast by 25 percent.
- You can pre-ferment, a technique in which part of the bread ingredients are mixed ahead of time and allowed to ferment for several hours to develop more flavor and acidity. Mix one-third of the gluten-free flour in the recipe, an equal amount of water, and half of the yeast. Allow it to double in volume, which will take about 30 to 45 minutes. Then proceed with the recipe by combining the remaining ingredients with the pre-ferment.
- Use pans with side walls. Your gluten-free bread “batter” cannot stand on its own or hold a shape and must be poured into a pan that can support it while baking. Smaller loaf pans sometimes work better than large ones. Make sure the pan is no more than two-thirds full.
- Proof in a warm, humid environment. Yeast bread mixtures need both to rise. This is true for gluten-free breads, too. You can set up a proofing atmosphere in your kitchen by finding a warm place for the bread to rise.
Bread can also be proofed in a larger microwave. Place a graduated, heat-proof measuring cup filled with one cup of water in the microwave and heat it until boiling. Carefully push the cup to a back corner, place the bread pan in the center, and close the door. Keep an eye on the pan to be sure the batter is rising properly. Take it out when you see a gentle arc at the top of the pan (about 40 to 45 minutes).
- Bake in a moist oven. Professional bakers have ovens that inject steam at the beginning of the baking process and vent it at the end. You can reproduce these same effects at home by using some ice cubes and a cast-iron skillet or cookie sheet that’s warped or that you don’t mind getting warped. When preheating the oven, put the empty skillet or cookie sheet on the bottom rack. Place the bread pan on the middle rack in the oven. Keeping your face back, toss some ice cubes into the hot skillet or baking sheet and close the door. Voila! You have steam. To vent, crack open the oven door toward the end of baking, typically during the last 5 to 8 minutes.
- Start out at a lower temperature—350° F—to help prevent the gluten-free bread, which takes longer to bake, from overbrowning. Then increase the temperature by about 25° to brown at the end. You can also maintain a steady temperature and cover the bread with foil if it’s getting too brown.
- Use a thermometer to verify that the bread is done. An internal temperature of 210° F or greater at the center is best.
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Richard Coppedge Jr. is an award-winning chef and professor of baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America.
Excerpted from Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America: 150 Flavorful Recipes from the World’s Premier Culinary College. Copyright ©2008 by the Culinary Institute of America and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Daniel Vasconcellos, www.vasky.com