• Moy's Gluten Free Kitchen

How much liquid (hydration) does your gluten free bread dough need? The simple answer is gluten free bread dough needs more hydration than wheat dough (or any dough with gluten).

There are of course several factors that determine how much hydration is optimal. For example, a gluten free baguette will not need the same hydration as a gluten free sandwich loaf. The final structure and feel of the crumb and to a lesser extent the type of crust determines how the bread dough should be prepared.


Hydration percentages also differ depending on the type of gluten free flour that is used. As a comparison, bean flours like garbanzo are "stickier", holding on to moisture more than rice or oat flour. Furthermore gluten free sourdough bread has it's own very distinct set of rules/processes.


I'll be focusing here on the amount of hydration needed to make a good gluten free sandwich loaf. Please note that while my recipes do not use eggs or butter, these ingredients also count toward the overall hydration percentage of gluten free bread dough.

 

How to calculate Hydration Percentage


Hydration Percentage of a recipe = Weight of the liquid x 100

Weight of the flour

  • To calculate the hydration percentage of your recipe, weigh the flour and all of the liquid ingredients

  • Divide the weight of the liquids by the weight of the flour and then multiply the result by 100

  • For example, a recipe containing 420g of liquids and 350g of flour your hydration percentage is 120% (420/350 x 100 = 120%)

If you know the amount of flour in your recipe and want to calculate the amount of water you need, multiply the weight of the flour by the hydration percent.

  • For example, a recipe containing 350g of flour, 120% hydration is 420g of liquid (350 x 120% = 420)

 

How much liquid (hydration) to use when baking gluten free bread

I have found that gluten free sandwich loaf dough that is properly hydrated looks more like a cake batter and cannot be kneaded or shaped. To that end, the best hydration for a soft flexible gluten free sandwich loaf is over 100%. Ideal hydration usually between 120% - 130%. Less than that will result in a dense crumb and a heavy loaf (see my video below).


However, for this to work there are 2 conditions that must be met:

  1. The bread flour blend should have a decent protein and fiber profile

  2. The baking tin must have tall sides

I have a post discussing "How to write a Gluten Free Bread flour blend recipe" and why protein is an important part of that formula. For now having a blend that has more protein than starch e.g. more buckwheat vs rice flour, gives more structure to the loaf. Extra protein and fiber contributes to an increase in loaf volume and crumb softness as well as improved texture, flavor, and overall appeal.


Regardless and even with the addition of non gluten forming structural proteins, this "hyper hydrated" state creates a fragile dough structure. This situation is aided but still not completely corrected with the introduction of binders like xanthan gum or psyllium husk (eggs can further improve the structural integrity of the dough).


We are accustomed to seeing regular bread dough that rises above the rim of the baking tin to create the classic dome of a sandwich loaf. Using a "normal" baking tin at a height somewhere around 2", it is highly inadvisable to let gluten free bread dough rise above the edge of the tin. In this state once the bread begins to bake the dough will collapse, resulting again in a dense loaf.


On the other hand a baking tin with tall sides will support the dough as it bakes. It is this combination, a properly hydrated dough AND a tall sided baking tin (4"+) that gives you the best result, a loaf with a nice rise and a very soft, open crumb.


Using a tall sided tin is one of the easiest things you can do to improve your gluten free bread. I share more bread baking tips and techniques as well as a troubleshooting guide in these blog posts:

Troubleshooting Guide For Baking Gluten Free Bread

Tips and Techniques to make better Gluten Free Bread


This video shows the correct consistency for properly hydrated gluten free sandwich loaf dough. Note that the mix is more like a batter.


How can you tell if you used enough liquid?

Many bakers have a poke test to check proved (proofed) dough for readiness. My little test works when your dough is in the tin. I devised this test by chance as I was trying to sort out a tunneling issue (really big hole in my crumb).


If you poke your dough after it has risen (in the tin) and it shrinks or collapses it could be over proofed BUT more than likely it is not properly hydrated. I have tested this many, many times and the result is consistent, too little water and the dough shrinks, enough water and the dough does not move. The dough also keeps the height during and after baking, I am always rewarded with a beautiful, airy loaf! (see my video below) What do you do if your dough shrinks as you poke test it? You could remix the dough with a bit more water and allow it to rise again. OR you could bake the bread as is and the next time you bake adjust your recipe. Add a little more liquid and take notes until you figure how much hydration is enough.


Remember it is not just one thing that will give you success when making gluten free bread. The right flour blend, proper hydration, a tall sided baking tin (see my other tips) all work together to give you the best result.


This video demonstrates how I do my "poke" test. Notice that the height of the dough remains the same before and after baking


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  • Moy's Gluten Free Kitchen

Are all types of yeast the same? Are they all gluten free? The answer to both of those questions may seem obvious. No for the 1st question and yes for the 2nd. But I would not be writing this post if it was that simple.

Macro of instant yeast
Yeast is a living organism that needs to be fed

There are 4 main types of yeast, active dry, instant, fresh and wild (sounds like a catch phrase in a deodorant ad). Each type works differently, is stored differently and has it's own shelf life. Only 2 matter to the home baker, active dry and instant (unless you work with sourdough in which case you will be using wild yeast).

Active dry yeast needs to be "activated" before adding to dough. That is usually accomplished by adding the yeast to a mixture of liquid and sugar. Once the mixture is bubbling and foamy it is ready to be used. It works well with recipes that call for a double rise and a longer proofing time. A little note here, there are some who now state that active dry yeast can be added directly to the bread dough with the dry ingredients. Since this is meant to be used in recipes that need a longer proofing time, there may be validity to this claim.

Instant yeast broadly covers Rapid Rise and Bread Machine yeast. These are added directly to the dry ingredients in your recipe. Once liquid is added the yeast will begin to work. It's easy to use and a favorite among home bakers.

Brands vary in what they classify under the heading of Instant Yeast. For some Rapid Rise is not the same as a packet labeled Instant. Some are best for only one, quick rise, the dough is placed in the tin immediately after kneading and in the oven when risen.


There is also Osmotolerant Instant Yeast used for baking an exceptionally sweet dough like cinnamon rolls or brioche. Sugary dough often takes a long time to rise because sugar can starve the yeast of water hindering it's growth. A special strain of yeast that requires less water to work is preferred in this situation. Check out SAF Gold Instant Yeast.


Finally, a few brands of yeast contain dough enhancers and these are not always gluten free.


What type of yeast should be used to bake Gluten Free Bread?


Active dry yeast and instant yeast both work well and are often interchangeable. Be on the lookout for any Rapid Rise yeast that is best for one rise. For most of us that's the way gluten free bread is baked, a single rise in the tin. However if you are going to rest your bread or employ a technique where there will be a longer proofing time, use yeast that works best in that circumstance.


To work through the confusion check the manufacturer's website for more info.


As an example check out the brand SAF

https://saf-instant.com/en/professional/


Happy Baking!

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  • Moy's Gluten Free Kitchen

Updated: Jun 14

These are the 8 things I now do consistently when I'm baking GF bread with a high degree of success (I do not use #7 & #8 with every loaf)


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

Binders used in GF Baking Psyllium Husk Powder and Xanthan Gum
Psyllium Husk Powder and Xanthan Gum

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


The effects of baking gluten free bread in the wrong tin
These 2 loaves were baked at the same time, using the same recipe

Baking Tin with Tall sides
Use a baking tin with tall sides to bake gluten free bread

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.


In Conclusion

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

Troubleshooting guide for baking gluten free bread

How to write a good gluten free bread flour blend part 1

How to write a good gluten free bread flour blend part 2

Are all types of yeast the same?


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