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The Daley Question

Gluten-free bread at home

Tips to making a successful loaf

Bill Daley

The Daley Question

February 4, 2014

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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

2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups hot water, about 110 degrees

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Baking spray or vegetable oil for greasing pan

1 large egg, beaten

1.Combine the whole-grain flour, all-purpose flour mix, psyllium husks, yeast and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together until they are one color. Set aside.

2.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the eggs with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Add the hot water and butter. Mix until the water has cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes.

3.With the mixer running on medium speed, pour in the dry ingredients, a bit at a time. Let the mixer continue to run to whip some air into the batter. The final dough will be like thick, yet pourable pancake batter. (If the dough is thicker than that, add a dribble of hot water at a time until your batter is the consistency of pancake batter.)

4.Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with baking spray or oil. Pour in the batter. Allow the dough to rise until it is nearly at the top of the pan, about 1 hour.

4. Brush some of the beaten egg onto the top of the bread dough. Slide the loaf pan into a 450-degree oven, close the oven door, and bake the bread until the top is brown, the edges of the bread are pulling away from the pan, and the internal temperature registers 200 degrees on a thermometer, 30 to 45 minutes.

5.Take the brad out of the oven. Let it cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then turn the bread out onto a wire rack. Do not slice until the bread has come to room temperature.

Note: To make Shauna James Ahern's all-purpose gluten-free flour mix, combine 400 grams of millet flour with 300 grams each of sweet rice flour and potato starch in a large container. Shake until the flours have become one color.

Portuguese sweet bread

Makes: 1 loaf

A recipe from "Gluten Free Bread" by Ellen Brown. The loaf is slightly sweet and is best the day it's baked, but Brown says it can be refrigerated, tightly covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.

1 tablespoon/12 grams active dry yeast

2 teaspoons/8 grams granulated sugar

2/3 cup whole milk, heated to 110 to 115 degrees

2/3 cup/80 grams millet flour

1/2 cup/64 grams each: sorghum flour, cornstarch

1/3 cup/57 grams potato starch

1/3 cup/42 grams tapioca flour

1/3 cup/23 grams nonfat dried milk powder

1 1/4 teaspoons/11.25 grams xanthan gum

3/4 teaspoon/3 grams baking soda

1/2 teaspoon/3 grams fine salt

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1.Combine the yeast, sugar and warm milk in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix well. Set aside for about 10 minutes while the yeast proofs. Combine the millet flour, sorghum flour, cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca flour, milk powder, xanthan gum, baking soda and salt in a deep mixing bowl and whisk well.

2.When the yeast looks frothy add the eggs, egg yolk, melted butter, honey, and vinegar and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and beat at medium speed until combined. Increase the speed to high and beat the dough for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it has the consistency of a thick but still pourable cake batter.

3.Grease the inside of an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan, smooth the top with a rubber spatula dipped in water, and cover the pan with a sheet of oiled plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Allow the bread to rise in a warm place for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it reaches 1/2 inch from the top of the pan. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees toward the end of the rising time.

4.Covering the loaf loosely with aluminum foil after 30 minutes, bake the bread for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown, the top is firm and it has reached an internal temperature of 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool for 30 minutes. Remove it from the loaf pan by running a spatula around the rim and invert it onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: wdaley@tribune.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.