Q: Is it possible to make a good gluten-free bread at home?
--Laura Yee, Chicago
A: "Absolutely," exclaimed Shauna James Ahern, author with Daniel Ahern of "Gluten-Free Girl Every Day" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $29.99). I had telephoned her on Vashon Island in Washington with your question.
"The hardest part is if you are a talented baker and used to making gluten goods, there's a learning curve with gluten-free,'' she says.
Agreeing with her is Ellen Brown, the Providence, R.I.-based author of "Gluten-Free Bread: More than 100 Artisan Loaves for a Healthier Life" (Running Press, $23), who says, "To make it gluten-free you have to forget everything you know about making bread."
Here are some tips from Ahern and Brown to help you with successful gluten-free baking.
"Gluten-free bread dough is not a dough. It's more like a batter,'' warns Ahern, who is also author, photographer and head baker at the blog, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. (glutenfreegirl.com) "A pastry chef, a bread baker, will be so confused at first. You just have to trust (the recipe)."
And by "trust," that means don't overdo the flours. Bakers new to gluten-free breads are tricked by that batter-like consistency, Brown says, and "load more of the flours into the dough and end up with a dry, dense bread." Many gluten-free bread recipes call for the bread to be baked in a loaf pan because of that batter-like consistency, she adds.
Combine your flours in a deep mixing bowl, Brown suggests, to prevent these "very, very light flours" from getting all over you during the mixing.
Use binders to help your breads stay together. "We use psyllium husks, the same insoluble fiber in Metamucil, to bind the liquids around the flours,'' says Ahern. Brown calls for small amounts of xanthan gum in some of her recipes and often uses eggs to help strengthen the loaf.
Both Ahern and Brown urge bakers to let gluten-free breads really cool before taking out of the pan. "When it says allow the bread to cool for 30 minutes, I mean it,'' Brown says. Ditto for slicing the bread.
Now, given Laura Yee is content director for Food Fanatics, a magazine for chefs, I thought it best to check on what sort of gluten-free bread she wanted to make. Laura's answer? Sandwich bread for a 10-year old.
Ahern has a recipe she developed it for her school-age daughter. It's easy to make and has good crumb that will find a place in the lunch box, she says. Brown recommends from her book a Portuguese sweet bread, which, according to the recipe head note, "is wonderful for sandwiches, especially those made with fillings bound with mayonnaise." Both recipes will be found below.
Gluten-free sandwich bread
Makes: 1 loaf of bread
Shauna James Ahern gives this recipe by weight for precision's sake. "For a gluten-free sandwich bread that's light and chewy, with a crunchy crust, you need a few things: the right mix of flours, baking powder, a few eggs," she writes in her "Gluten-Free Girl Every Day" cookbook. "And to let go of the notion that the dough should look anything like bread dough. In fact, it's more like pancake batter when you pour it in the pan." Ahern writes in her book that whole psyllium husks are "more effective" in gluten-free baking but notes psyllium husk powder is acceptable if that's all you can find.
100 grams whole-grain, high-protein flour (Ahern uses buckwheat or oat flour)
235 grams all-purpose gluten-free flour mix (see note)
15 grams whole psyllium husks
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast