Ask the Gluten-Free Chef
“I’m dumbfounded by the way gluten- free bread dough behaves. It’s nothing like the regular (gluten-filled) bread I’m used to making. Help!”
Q I’m new to gluten-free bread baking and I’m dumbfounded by the way the dough behaves. The consistency is nothing like regular (gluten-filled) breads. Is there a way to know when the dough has reached the right consistency? Sometimes it’s runny and sometimes it’s stiff. My final results never look like the pictures.
A Gluten-free baking is challenging. No question about it! It’s all about hydration, the ratio of wet to dry ingredients. You need enough liquid to let the yeast expand the dough to a lofty loaf. However, if the dough is too runny, the yeast has too much room to rise and your bread will collapse the moment it comes out of the oven.
The texture of your dough is vital to a successful outcome. It should be more like a batter (usually thick, like mashed potatoes). The ideal dough is shiny and fairly smooth, indicating the correct hygroscopic properties.
Once you get your bread dough to the proper consistency and it produces results you like, use that as a gauge for future bread baking. For a good place to start, try a reliable brand name bread mix or use one of the well-tested, delicious bread recipes at GlutenFreeAndMore.com.
Q You’ve featured a few recipes that call for light buckwheat flour. Does “light” refer to the color? I made the Ginger Snaps (February/March, page 49) using regular buckwheat flour. They turned out very dark, almost like they were chocolate. Did this have something to do with the buckwheat flour?
A The “light” in light buckwheat flour refers to both the color and texture. Light buckwheat flour is normally lighter in both aspects than regular buckwheat flour. Most of the buckwheat flour used in baking is light buckwheat flour. I suspect the dark color of your ginger snaps was due to the molasses you used. There are several types of molasses—fancy (light colored), unsulphered (dark) and blackstrap (very dark). All are good but like wine, one is lighter in flavor and color while another is very dark with a deep, robust taste, as their names suggest. If you used blackstrap molasses, it definitely would have resulted in darker ginger snaps. Not a bad thing. I’m sure your cookies were delicious!
Q Why do so many gluten-free products and recipes contain rice, corn and potato flours? They’re so high on the glycemic index and not good for us. I know these items offer some baking benefits but they also may have arsenic, GMOs, pesticides, etc. I just don’t want to put them in my body. Can you suggest some substitutes?
A You’ve described a common conundrum for gluten-free bakers. Rice, corn and potatoes are mainstays in the gluten-free diet and in gluten-free baking. And yet, they provide fewer nutrients and fiber than gluten-free ancient grain alternatives.
We’ve been lamenting the widespread use of so-called “white” flours and starches by many gluten-free manufacturers. These nutritionally depleted ingredients dominate many gluten-free products. We encourage our readers to start using flours that are nutritionally dense, such as amaranth, buckwheat, chickpea, millet, gluten-free oats, quinoa, sorghum and teff. These flours offer other benefits—they’re finely ground (less gritty than rice) and higher in protein (which adds needed elasticity to baked goods). In addition, they’re usually organic and non-GMO.
Many of these ancient grain flours can be used as 1-for-1 replacements for rice, corn and potato flours. To replace cornstarch or potato starch, you can use an equal amount of arrowroot, tapioca or sweet potato flour (a starch). For more about substituting flours and starches, turn to GF Flour Replacements.
Q Yikes! How do I handle sticky gluten-free dough?
A One of the more challenging characteristics of gluten-free dough is that it’s often tacky to the touch, sometimes downright sticky. First, make certain you followed the recipe and the dough reflects the correct ratio of wet to dry ingredients. Flour your working surface. Touch and form the dough with generously oiled hands. A technique I frequently use for sticky dough is to handle it through a barrier of lightly oiled plastic wrap. I usually roll out tacky cookie dough and pie crust dough between two sheets of well-oiled plastic wrap. When making rolls and cookies, I use well-oiled ice cream scoops to place them on the baking sheet.
Q I’m just wondering—Shouldn’t there be yeast or some sort of leavening agent in the recipe for Hot Cross Buns? I don't want to waste the ingredients.
A Excellent question. This recipe doesn’t call for yeast, baking powder or baking soda. Instead, these buns are prepared in a cream-puff style where the milk, oil and sugar are cooked and combined with the flour mixture while still hot. The eggs are added when the mixture cools a bit. There’s no place for baking powder or yeast in this method; eggs do all the leavening work. That’s why the eggs cannot be replaced in this recipe.
Q I’ve heard that “fortified” white rice isn’t gluten-free. What’s your take on this?
A It’s an urban myth. Fortified white rice is safe for a gluten-free diet. Fortifying or enriching white rice adds back some of the vitamins and nutrients that are lost when the outer