Many people cannot tolerate the gluten, or the protein, in wheat flours. These people are called celiac, or sometimes gluten-intolerant. This intolerance can be diagnosed in childhood, and those are usually the more severe cases that are called celiac. Sometimes this condition surfaces, or is recognized in adulthood and is referred to as gluten-intolerant.
Fortunately, there are many more products nowadays to be purchased that are gluten free and safe for celiacs to eat than there was twenty years ago. But as any person eating a gluten free diet knows, some essential component of bread is lost when it is made without wheat. The taste, texture, and composition of bread made with rice and other flours is very different, and takes some getting used to.
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My husband eats a gluten free diet, and I wanted him to have a palatable bread that he could enjoy. Since many rice breads that we can buy tend to fall apart and disintegrate when moist, it is hard to make a sandwich with those breads. So I wanted him to also have a bread that he could take to work for lunch if he chose. I decided to learn how to make homemade gluten free bread.
There are several different flours that can be used in gluten free cooking and they are pretty easy to find at a local health food store. Most of the time, it is best to blend several flours for best results, since they each bring a component of taste or texture to the bread. Here is a list of the most common gluten free flours for baking.
White rice flour. This flour is bland, but is inexpensive and can be stored for long periods of time.
Brown rice flour is grainy in texture, but does add a bit more taste than white rice flour. I recommend blending the two rice flours.
Tapioca flour is bland but is good in a rice flour blend because it adds bulk and thickening.
Cornstarch may not sound like a flour, but when added to rice or other flours, it also adds heft and thickness.
Potato flour should be used sparingly, and never alone. This flour does add moistness if used in a blend.
Soy flour. I don’t recommend it. It goes rancid quickly and has a bitter taste that is hard to overcome.
Garfava bean flour. This is a combination of garbanzo beans (chick peas) and fava beans. This flour is also used in combination with rice and other flours and makes a nice nutty tasting, high-protein bread.
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There are other flours such as millet, sorghum, and so on, but the ones above are a good start at learning to make gluten free bread. There are also some ingredients that you may be unfamiliar with if you are used to making traditional wheat bread, or if you are not used to baking bread at all. Since gluten free flours do not contain the gluten protein that also provides the springiness associated with bread, we need to provide those with other sources.
Unflavored gelatin is used to add protein and elasticity to baked goods.
Almond meal performs a similar function by adding protein for the yeast to bind to while creating a pleasant almond flavor.
Dry egg replacer is also used to provide additional protein. Eggs are also used but you have to be careful not to have too many liquid ingredients.
Xanthan gum or guar gum. These products are binders and add a smooth texture to lots of gluten free dishes, including bread. Guar gum is less expensive than xanthan gum, but it may have a laxative effect when a lot is used.
I have learned a few other tips about baking gluten free bread as well. You do not knead this type of bread, as kneading is used to break down the gluten in wheat breads. The bread dough will be the consistency of cake batter. Beating the batter with a heavy duty hand mixer lightens the texture by whipping in air along with the yeast. The crust burns easily in rice flour products, so it is essential to cover the loaf with aluminum foil after a few minutes of baking.
Some people use a bread machine. I do not because the crust comes out too dry and tough in many cases. And the danger of over-mixing is pretty high, too, since these machines are designed for use with wheat breads. I simply mix the batter, pour into a greased and floured loaf pan, cover with a towel to rise for about an hour, and bake for the recommended 50 or so minutes.
The best book, hands down, to use as a guide to baking gluten free bread is “The Gluten Free Gourmet Bakes Bread” by Bette Hagman. None of our breads were successful until I began using her recipes. Now, the bread I bake for my husband tastes good, has a “real bread” feel and texture, and he can even make a sandwich out of it.
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