Troubleshooting Guide For Baking Gluten Free Bread
Updated: Jan 17
You’ve followed the recipe exactly as it is written and yet your bread is a flop. Edible or not it’s not what the recipe promised. What went wrong, why does this happen?
The easiest conclusion to reach is that the recipe was at fault and that is entirely possible. However gluten free bread making is challenging, there are many variables to consider all at the same time. The truth is some of those variables are out of your control. Here are some examples:
Products vary from batch to batch (within the same brand) or from brand to brand many times, enough to change the result of a recipe. Perhaps one brand's flour is more finely ground than the other. Maybe there is less fiber or protein or something from one batch of flour to the next. Whatever the reason, you have no direct control of this.
The environment in your kitchen, temperature, humidity and so on is never constant. The change in seasons or weather can affect your bread dough. When it’s hot, dough rises quickly but a hot kitchen also encourages bacterial fermentation, lactic acid builds up and the dough can sour. Desirable perhaps for a sourdough loaf, if that was your end goal. Another environmental factor is altitude. At higher altitudes dough behaves very differently, most recipes will need tweaking to work.
Ingredients like milk, eggs, oil even yeast can change in chemical composition from recipe to recipe. If you use non dairy milk like coconut milk, no one can guarantee that each batch of coconut is exactly the same. Where the crop was grown in what type of soil and how it was harvested are not decisions that most of us get to make.
Does that mean there is nothing we can do if a recipe fails? You could dump the recipe altogether and start over, which is not an entirely bad idea. Real progress though, can be made when you learn to troubleshoot the recipe. Here are some common issues and what you can do about it.
Troubleshooting Tips for Baking Gluten Free Bread
Dense loaf- you may need to use more liquid, gluten free dough is usually wetter than regular wheat flour dough resembling a thick brownie batter. How much liquid is enough in a recipe ultimately depends not on formulas but in observation. You may need more or less liquid than the recipe specifies. It’s always a good idea to start kneading or mixing your dough with less liquid than the recipe suggests (roughly 20%- 25% less). If you need more liquid add a little at a time until you achieve the desired consistency. Remember regular gluten free bread dough is more moist than regular bread dough (see this post).
Adding baking powder to your bread recipe in addition to the yeast can also help with oven spring making your loaf lighter. Of course make sure that your yeast and baking powder is still active and fresh. Your bread will not rise if your yeast or baking powder has expired.
A dense loaf could also be the result of not measuring your ingredients accurately. Weight measurements are best (I have to update my recipes). Otherwise scoop the flour into your measuring cup and level without shaking or packing the flour down. Be consistent, as far as possible, use the same measuring cup or spoon set. Even if you cannot weigh your ingredients after a while you will out of habit and practice know what works.
Dry, crumbly loaf- you may need more liquid (see above), fat or binder. Gluten free bread dough needs more fat than wheat bread dough whether it’s oil, butter or something else. So if your bread is dry, simply add more fat to get a better crumb.
Gluten is what holds regular dough together, allowing the dough to be manipulated and creating structure for the dough to rise. Without gluten you need to add a binder as a substitute. The most popular binders are xanthan gum, guar gum and psyllium husk powder. There are recipes that use flaxmeal, chia seeds or sweet rice flour (aka Mochiko, a type of glutinous rice flour) to assist with binding. In my opinion, these ingredients are less successful as primary binders for gluten free bread dough. So, if your dough is excessively crumbly you may need to add more binder. Psyllium husk powder is my preference for making bread. But...I like using flaxmeal and chia seeds in a supporting role. These binders are hydrophilic, they hold on to water and as such can give you a soft crumb. And importantly, they are also good for you!
Loaf sinks in the middle while baking- dough was proofed for too long, it does not get better the more you let it rise in the tin. Your bread is ready when the dough has risen just to the top of your baking tin and not over the top in a dome (assuming you use the correct sized tin in the first place, see below). Using a double proof method as you would for regular bread dough is also not advisable especially with gluten free and vegan bread. This can also cause the bread to collapse in the oven or have a poor rise overall. I have noticed that this problem is more common with xanthan gum as the binder in comparison to pysllium husk powder. Punching down the dough after it has risen and re-kneading seems to weaken the fiber network built by xanthan gum. Psyllium husk powder performs a lot better here. It has the additional benefit of making my dough more pliable, I am able to knead and shape it a lot easier.
The size of the baking tin also matters. If the tin is too big the bread will spread out not up and the result may be a dense flat loaf. If the tin is too small, the loaf will also be dense because the bread cannot rise over the tin without support. A tin with tall sides work best. See this option here
Gummy on the inside- bake for a longer time. Gluten free bread takes much longer than a regular loaf to bake and therefore a sticky crumb is generally the result of under baking. 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. After 45 minutes of baking at 350F a regular size loaf 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.
So, what should gluten free bread dough look like? The dough is not meant to be soupy (for more and an exception, see here). Even though it looks somewhat loose (pic below), you should be able to knead the dough by hand (1st video). More importantly, that same sticky dough can be manipulated with relative ease although it lacks the tensile strength and elasticity of regular dough (2nd video). In the end the dough should be scoopable not pourable.
Gluten Free Bread Dough is kneadable and not soupy
You should be able to handle Gluten Free Bread dough even if it's sticky to the touch. Working with oiled hands help
Because GF bread dough is so moist, I've found it easier to bake the bread for 75 minutes at an oven temperature of 275F. After 75 minutes take the bread out of the tin and bake for an additional 15 minutes. 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, your bread is best when cut after it has fully cooled and yes that may take several hours (the bread continues to cook while cooling). 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, it is under baked. Find a technique/temperature that works for you and bake it for a longer time. Use an oven thermometer to verify if your oven’s temperature is calibrated correctly
Generally unappealing after baking- use the right flour blend for the best results. I have written a 2 part blog post on how to make your own gluten free bread flour blend, take a look here. Baking gluten free bread needs a multi step approach. You have to make deliberate efforts to achieve the look, taste and texture that you want. As an example, the maillard reaction, responsible for browning, giving your crust a “healthy” appearance, needs protein and sugar. Make sure that your bread recipe has both in a viable form. Stevia for example is a sweetener but cannot chemically facilitate the maillard reaction. Additionally, the right type of sugar will caramelize improving the taste of your bread. Sugar also contributes to a better crust and can retard staling. Your protein could be liquid (milk or aquafaba) or in powder form (protein powders or a high protein flour). Overall spare a thought for what you want and if you can, ensure that you use the right ingredients. My blog post on making your own flour blend can help, start here.
I hope this is useful. If you feel like giving up, keep at it, you will always have challenges but they lessen the more you persist. With all the ups and downs it's like receiving a gift each time you score a baking victory and that is very satisfying!
I will treat this like a document in progress, updating and adding more tips (with photos) that work for me. In the meantime please let me know if you have a question, I’ll be happy to help if I can.
Want to bake some bread? Try this recipe