This past week, I've been enjoying my lunchtime sandwiches made with my first-ever gluten free bread. It's been a learning experience, in a good way. The flavor is pleasant, albeit not the least bit wheaty. I think I'd like it better without the buckwheat flour but that's purely a personal taste issue. The crumb is moist and slightly spongy, with just the faintest hint of grittiness. The texture is fairly close-grained, with plenty of small bubbles of fairly uniform size.
Perhaps I should back up a bit. My sudden interest in gluten free bread has nothing to do with a personal health issue. Rather, I've been asked to teach a class on gluten free baking at CCKC and have, somewhat grudgingly, agreed to do so. Grudging, because so much of the present gluten free craze is driven by faddish self-diagnoses and probably has no medical basis. Only somewhat, because I'm perfectly willing to help people who truly suffer from celiac disease and want to develop baking skills and prepare safe foods.
So, here I am, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't and, more importantly, why. This first bake is a case in point. From my reading here on TFL (thank you for your shared experiences and wisdom!) and from other sources, it seems that guar and xanthan gums aren't well-tolerated by some celiac sufferers. Chia and flax seeds offer some binding power for gluten free breads and certainly bring additional nutritional punch. However their ability to form stable gels isn't always enough to support the demands of a sandwich style loaf. Eggs can be used in some baked goods but there are many who have egg allergies, too. The new binder on the gluten free block is psyllium husks. It provides enough gas-capturing capability with a heat-stable gel to produce some reasonably good breads.
You may have already encountered psyllium, without even knowing it, in the form of a laxative. Don't panic! Even though I've eaten this bread made with psyllium all week long, it hasn't caused any, um, problems. Psyllium's ability to absorb as much as 20 times its weight in water, forming a firm gel, is what makes it so effective in both laxatives and breads. Having learned that, and a number of other facts, I searched for recipes that featured psyllium husk as the binder, rather than gums. Turns out there aren't nearly as many out there on the web, yet. The one I eventually selected to experiment with is from The World of Gluten-Free Bread blog. One factor in my decision to use this recipe was that it seemed to be in the sweet spot for hydration levels and flavor in Juergen's experiments with different flours and ratios (see his Google doc here).
The recipe calls for a mix of sorghum, millet and buckwheat flours. While shopping, I found the sorghum and buckwheat flours but not the millet flour. Having seen a number of recipes that included brown rice flour, I took a chance on substituting that for the millet flour. The other substitution that I made was potato flour in place of the potato starch that the recipe calls for. Luckily, things turned out quite well in spite of those two substitutions.
The dough requires a different process than a typical wheat bread. The first step is to mix the water and psyllium husk until a gel forms, perhaps 2-3 minutes. Then the other ingredients are added and mixed for several minutes. Since my KitchenAide mixer's condition is not especially robust, I chose to mix everything by hand. Some of the recipes I found call for several minutes of kneading, so I followed that advice. The dough texture was, not surprisingly, quite different than a wheat dough. It was somewhat firm and rather elastic. Nevertheless, it was kneadable. One piece of advice that I saw somewhere along the line was to treat gluten free dough more like a rye dough than a wheat dough. That seems to be good advice. The dough wasn't nearly as sludgy or slimy as rye dough can be, but there were some similarities.
Unlike many gluten free breads that are batter-based, this bread is given two rises, the first after mixing/kneading and the second after shaping. At the end of each rise, the dough felt puffy and aerated. Unlike wheat doughs, there's no such thing as getting a tight sheath on the outside of the loaf during shaping. I definitely need more practice and understanding to achieve a smooth outer surface.
Unlike the recipe's direction to bag the dough after covering it with cling film, I simply used the cling film with no noticeable drying of the dough. From prior experience, my opinion is that the oiled cling film leaves a haze on the baked crust. It's a relatively small price to pay for protecting the dough from drying but I'd like to find a method that results in a more eye-pleasing result.
The dough was enough to fill a 4x8 bread tin. I would have liked to push for more volume but small bubbles were beginning to appear on the top surface. In rye doughs, that means the fermentation has passed the point of the dough's ability to hold the gas. With that in mind, I bundled the pan into the oven just as soon as the oven reached temperature.
Not surprisingly, there was no oven spring. Fortunately, there was no collapse, either. The only area of some concern for me during baking was that the bread took forever to reach 200F. At the end of the prescribed baking time, the internal temperature had only reached 145F. It took another 30 minutes of baking to reach 200F. My oven is fairly accurate in its temperature settings, so that wasn't the problem. Gluten free breads tend to be very high in hydration (this one is nearly 100%), so that's a factor. Although I expected that the recipe's bake time would be fairly reliable, it wasn't my experience.
The bread was allowed to cool to room temperature before slicing. The crust was initially quite crunchy when first sliced but softened to a pleasant texture after a night in a plastic bag. The crumb is very moist but still firm, with the distinctive purple/gray shading of the buckwheat flour as seen here:
Kinda looks like a rye bread, doesn't it? It has a similar heft, too.
I wanted to see how flexible the bread was, so I trimmed the crust from a slice that was about 1/4 inch thick. Surprisingly, it had quite a bit of flexibility. When I finally pushed it to the point of cracking, it was virtually doubled over. Even then, it held together:
For anyone accustomed to wheat breads, it won't win any beauty contests:
Nevertheless, it tastes good, it hasn't dried out or turned crumbly, and it makes a decent sandwich. I haven't tried toasting it, so don't know how that might work. If I couldn't have gluten-containing breads, this would be a pretty good thing.
If anyone has any tips or suggestions, I'm open. I really want to understand how this stuff works. Right now, I have one attempt and one success but no clues as to why it turned out the way it did. I'll keep experimenting so that I get a better grasp of the hows and whys. My students rightfully expect value for their tuition, so I need to be prepared to give them good information.