Tips and Techniques to make better Gluten Free Bread
Updated: Jun 14, 2022
Assuming you are using the right flour blend to begin with (see here for more), these are my current recommendations:
1. Use psyllium husk powder
2. Let the dough rest (not exactly the same as a bulk proof)
3. Mix or knead thoroughly
4. Use less yeast
5. Bake in a tin with tall sides
6. Bake for longer, often at a lower temperature
7. Create steam in the oven
8. Use the tangzhong or scalded flour method
What I'm sharing is based on my experience and research, it may be different for you
Use Psyllium Husk Powder as a binder for better Gluten Free Bread
Without gluten, bread dough lacks elasticity and the "stickiness" needed to hold together. Binders like xanthan gum, psyllium husk, guar gum and to some extent flaxmeal and chia seeds are used to perform the function of gluten. Xanthan gum is probably the most popular of all the binders.
For years I baked all of my bread with xanthan gum and it worked, mostly. However from MY own experience and research I realized that past a certain amount xanthan gum can negatively affect the texture and quality of your bread, the bread may begin to feel gummy (this is not always the case, please read on).
Assuming that you have a workable recipe to begin with, the issue of too much xanthan gum can happen when you try to scale up the recipe. It is not advisable to increase your ingredients to make 4, 5 or 6 loaves of bread at the same time with a recipe meant for a single loaf of bread. To counteract this I would decrease the amount of xanthan gum by 1/4 - 1/2 tsp per loaf if I needed to bake multiple loaves (more than 2) at a time.
To be clear in the right quantity xanthan gum does not make your bread "gummy". If your bread comes out of the oven and its gummy and sticky inside that is usually the result of too short a bake time or the flour you used (see my troubleshooting guide for more info).
Additionally, the bonds or network that xanthan gum makes are somewhat fragile. If you try to mimic regular bread baking and you do a double rise, you will find that the bread may collapse in the oven or have a poor rise overall (there are other reasons for this as well, (see my troubleshooting guide). To prevent that, most gf bread recipes, especially vegan ones, will direct you to a single rise in the tin. Xanthan gum bonds are more stable this way, punching down the dough and re-kneading can weaken the fiber network.
Psyllium husk powder allows me to rest my dough without compromising the final quality of the loaf. It also makes my dough more pliable, I am able to knead and shape it a lot easier. The final crumb and texture of my loaves is usually fantastic.
Finally of the two, psyllium husk is generally darker in colour than xanthan gum. Depending on the type of flour you use psyllium husk will change the colour of your dough. You can decide if this will work for you or not.
Using psyllium husk powder is not on its own the way to a better gf loaf. However the impact of making the switch has been significant.
The benefits of letting your dough rest, my second tip for baking better gluten free bread
Traditional bread bakers would do a bulk rise of their bread dough and then a second rise in the tin. Without gluten to manage the activity of the yeast and to add structure, doing that first bulk rise may cause your loaf to be dense (more so for gf/vegan bread). However setting the dough aside to rest without rising agents or a very small quantity of rising agent is beneficial.
Artisan bakers are known for employing the slow art of baking. There is one process in particular that can be used by the gf baker. Autolyse is a technique where flour and water is mixed and allowed to rest before adding the other ingredients.
This process allows the flour and the binders to become fully hydrated. Fermentation proceeds at a slower pace allowing for a better development of flavor. These factors can have a positive effect on the resulting crumb structure and texture of the bread.
I've developed my own autolyse method incorporating the idea of a longer fermentation time. I mix all of the ingredients for my dough with a very small amount of the yeast and no baking powder or vinegar, the dough can then rest from 30 mins to a few hours. The longer you can leave it to rest the less yeast you will need. Once the rest is over, I add the remaining yeast, baking powder and vinegar, re-knead the dough and leave it to rise in the tin.
The yeast is not enough to make the dough rise to the point where the bonds created by xanthan gum, if that's your binder, is weakened. Please note that my method is not exactly the same as a bulk rise or bulk fermentation.
My bread is better every time I do this, whether it is rested with or without the small amount of yeast. Of course even without doing an autolyse you can make an impressive loaf of gf bread.
Mix or knead your bread dough thoroughly
Mixing thoroughly sounds pretty obvious and quite simple. It is very much simple but what to look for is not necessarily obvious.
The binders used to make gf bread "sticky" and "stretchy" like xanthan gum and psyllium husk powder, need time and agitation to work properly.
Once water is added to either binder they will get sticky to the touch immediately. Over time psyllium husk will also thicken into a gel of sorts.
However to create a network of fibers that can hold the bread together and that is evenly distributed you need to mix until your binders are properly activated.
That means a properly mixed dough will not be shaggy. Pull at a piece of dough and it will try to pull more with it
For most of my loaves I use a mixer and I let it run until I see a definite texture change. Even when I knead by hand, I stop only when the dough feels smooth as opposed to lumpy
An under mixed dough is actually not a deal breaker, you can get a pretty good loaf if you follow the other baking tips. However a properly mixed dough produces a loaf with a superior crumb and rise. In fact, I've noticed that my loaves color better when mixed a bit longer. I also believe that properly mixed dough is more aerated as well
Finally coupling a well mixed dough with letting the dough rest, is quite simply magical!
The dough will change texture as you mix. It will become somewhat smooth
For a better gluten free loaf, use less yeast
This tip is less about the aesthetics and more about the taste and "healthiness" of the bread. Recently I listened to a podcast by Becky of @thestoriedrecipe.podcast with Danielle Ellis (@breadbakerdani ) who is a Real Bread Ambassador. Danielle suggested that in general we no longer bake bread the "right way". Many off-the-shelf breads contain additives like enzymes, preservatives, emulsifiers and dough enhancers to speed up the baking process and to cause bread to last longer. The combined effect of these "extras" makes the bread less healthy.
In comparison, artisan and traditional bread bakers stretch their bread baking over a few days. Sometimes a small portion of the dough is allowed to ferment before adding to the rest of the dough. At other times a portion of dough from the current batch of baking is saved for the next cycle. There are several approaches to the process but the important thing is that the dough is left alone for a period of time to mature. This allows the dough to develop more flavour and a better texture. Additionally, bread baked this way is generally considered healthier which is why Sourdough Bread is so popular. My tip is simply a technique to delay the rise or to extend the proofing time using your regular recipe.
Tip #2 above was, let the dough rest. Resting the dough improves the taste and the crumb. Working with less yeast in conjunction with that method adds to those improvements. Dough that takes a little longer to rise is also less prone to collapsing in the oven. The activity of the yeast is more controlled and you can also monitor the rise of your loaf more closely.
So, instead of using all of the yeast stated in a recipe, try reducing the total amount by 75% - 80%. Your bread will take longer but IT WILL RISE, if not something else is at fault. As it takes longer you get some of the benefits that artisan bakers strive for.
To work, your dough must be properly hydrated (I touch on that a little later on in this article). I also add baking powder to my bread recipes which helps with oven spring.
A little note on yeast here, not all yeast is gluten free. Some have dough enhancers which are not gluten free, check your label to be sure.
I'd love to hear from you if you've ever tried this technique. What were your results?
Bake your bread in a tin with tall sides
Your baking tin matters. Gluten Free Bread is better if baked in a tin with tall sides or at the very least the right sized tin. The 2 loaves of bread above were mixed and baked at the same time but using different baking tins. What went wrong?
GF dough tends to be looser and lacks the elasticity and strength of regular bread dough. A high rising dough, especially one that rises over the rim of your baking tin, can collapse in the oven simply because it lacks the support to stay up. This is also the reason why many gluten free buns that are shaped by hand and baked free form on a tray are flat. To prevent your dough from collapsing in the oven, let it rise just above the rim of the tin. Do not let it form a balloon or mushroom top!
Tins that are too small or too wide (large) do not work well either. If your tin is too wide, the dough will rise out and not up, giving you more of a flatbread (if your dough reaches less than 1/2 the height of your tin before rising, your tin is probably too big for that amount of dough). If your dough is too much for your tin, it will not rise up and balloon out past the height of the tin the way traditional dough might. Instead it will remain closer to the actual height of the tin, resulting in a dense loaf. Pre-rise your dough should reach 1/2 - 2/3 the height of your tin.
A baking tin with tall sides supports the dough as it bakes so it is less likely to collapse which is especially helpful if you are baking egg and dairy free. You can always fashion a collar with aluminum foil lined with parchment paper to create taller sides for your existing baking tins.
Of course a good loaf of gluten free bread starts with a good flour blend (see here) and the correct amount of hydration. However, using the right tin is one of the easiest changes you can make!
For best results, you absolutely need to bake your Gluten Free Bread for a longer time
Even though this is tip no.6 it deals with the no.1 complaint I get about baking gluten free bread, even with my recipes.
The complaint usually goes something like this: "I followed the recipe but my bread feels wet and sticky on the inside". Sounds familiar?
The simple reason is that gluten free bread takes much longer than a regular loaf to bake and therefore a sticky crumb is generally the result of under baking (there could be other reasons but this is the first place to start troubleshooting). It is easy to see why this can happen, gluten free bread dough needs more moisture and is often difficult to knead with conventional methods.
Most recipes suggest a baking temperature of 350F (I have been guilty of that). After 45 minutes at 350F the bread will look great, have a nice crust, a decent rise, and a nice hollow sound when tapped on the underside of the loaf. But in many cases it will not be properly baked all the way through
I've found it easier to do this:
.....Use an oven temperature of 275F
.....Bake for 75 mins
.....Remove from the tin and bake for an additional 15 mins
That's 1 1/2 hours of baking time! Yet, this ensures that the bread is cooked all the way through and at the lower temperature your crust should be set but not over cooked. If your bread is already browned to your liking after the 75 minute mark, you can wrap it in foil for the remaining time
Additionally, since your bread continues to cook while cooling is best when cut AFTER IT HAS FULLY COOLED and yes that may take several hours.
I have to acknowledge that your oven may have a different "temperament" to mine. However this suggestion still applies, if your bread is sticky to the touch and there is a dense line at the bottom of the loaf, your bread is under baked. Find a technique that works for you and bake it for a longer time. For more on this check my Gluten Free Bread Troubleshooting Guide
In the video below the dough is sticky, not soupy and you can knead it by hand. The extra moisture means that you have to bake the bread for a longer time. Knead until there are no lumps.
Create steam in the oven, optional for a great gluten free bread, but helpful
This is a method used routinely by Artisan bakers. Adding steam enables a better rise or oven spring and it helps develop a beautiful, crackly crust. In the first instance if your bread forms a crust too quickly, the insides cannot rise or spring as it should creating a compact loaf.
In general because gluten free bread dough is generally very moist you may not encounter that issue. However there are so many variables to manage as a gf baker that creating steam is not a bad idea especially if you bake the bread for the required amount of time, which is typically longer than non gf bread.
Depending on the type of bread you are baking however, creating steam is a necessary part of the process. Baguettes for example sport a crackly, shiny crust. Creating steam AND locking in that steam especially during the first few minutes of baking will get you a near perfect crust. Sourdough bread especially benefits from this method.
Using steam AND starting your bake at a higher temperature (425ºF to 450ºF) can increase initial oven spring (my recipes include baking powder and vinegar to boost oven spring). My last tip suggested that baking for longer at a lower temperature can be helpful and it still is. With this method you would bake at the higher temperature for a few mins (10 -15) before dropping to your regular preferred temperature.
There are several ways to create steam with varying degrees of success. To keep it simple, you can bake with a dish of hot water in the oven, you can spritz water just as you put the bread into the oven, you can create a tent over the bread to trap steam or you can use lava rocks to do the job. These methods are not foolproof but they can work for the home baker.
Unless you have an actual steam oven, you get the best results by using a dutch oven or cloche, a favourite tool for sourdough bread bakers. This is a closed system, so steam is trapped under the lid as the bread bakes. This is also the most effective way to create beautifully scored loaves.
To be clear, this is not a necessary technique at all for most gf bread. However a combination of the various tips and techniques I've shared makes a real difference.
Use the Tangzhong or Scalded Flour method
The Tangzhong method makes handling gluten free bread much easier
This tip is perhaps my favourite for making a better gluten free loaf of bread. In fact I have a separate blog post that explains the process.
In brief this method involves cooking some of your flour with hot water. This gives you 2 advantages.
The cooked flour traps moisture which means your final dough needs less water making it feel fairly close to normal wheat based dough.
Since your dough is not as sticky to the touch you can shape and handle the dough more easily. The dough becomes more elastic too, allowing for more complex shaping techniques, braiding and scoring.
There are other tips or techniques that can help you bake better Gluten Free Bread but for now, these are my top 8. In terms of importance, aim to practice tips 1-6. I have assumed here that you have started with the right flour blend and you are using a trusted recipe. Your feedback is always welcome!
This will be a work in progress post, as I have more information or photos, I will update this information
For other helpful tips and techniques try these posts