The Perils of Gluten-Free Baking

Gluten-free cooking is not all fun and games; I know this from my own experience and have also had it confirmed by a professional chef. It is, in fact, a challenge or a pain if one is feeling in a less-than-positive mood.

Apart from baked fare and pastas, I have never been a huge wheat user. Sauces can thicken quite happily with maize starch (cornflour), rice or tapioca flour, buckwheat flour makes a better coating batter than wheat ever could, and I have had good results with pastas made from maize and amaranth. Breads and pastries have been, and remain, the greatest challenge.

Whilst I have had some reasonable results with gluten-free bread, an attempt today to reproduce my best yet batch was a total disaster. The photograph shown here has a whisk standing in the loaf, just to show how total was the collapse. I have been fighting collapses and holes all along. The bread machine that I am using has an unfortunate habit of doing a quick stir at the end of the last rise. This would be fine if we were dealing with a dough but, as we are actually dealing with a fragile batter (think soufflé), that little twirl is enough to collapse the area immediately above the paddle creating – at best – a small void or – as found today – a total collapse of the loaf.

Only this morning, I was wishing that the bread machine could be hooked up to a laptop and be re-programmed with a gluten-free cycle. (If it weren’t for my poor state of health, I have an old machine in my office that I would very much like to modify, installing my own control hardware/software.)

photo of handmade gluten free loaf

Software/bread cycles apart, today’s disaster shows just how critical tiny factors are in achieving success with gluten-free bread. I do not know what caused today’s collapse – I am weighing to within a couple of grammes, so the quantities should be about as close as they should be. Variables such as water temperature, a new batch of yeast and accuracy of temperature control in the machine could all play a part.

I am beginning to tire somewhat of never really knowing what to expect batch to batch. Bread machines are great for wheat-based breads, but less than optimal for those lacking gluten. As we are now coming into winter and it is cool enough to operate the oven, I am inclined to keep using the bread machine to do all the hard work of mixing, but to start proving and baking in the oven, where there is nothing (barring earth tremors) to disturb the risen batter at that critical time.

Update

The second image on this page is of a gluten-free loaf mixed in the bread machine, then poured into a bread tin and baked in the oven. This loaf rose well and even looks more like bread than the normal gluten-free offerings. Unfortunately, my mobile phone has no exposure control on its camera, so this picture is the best I could produce, aided by some Picassa retouching.