Learn what’s behind a gluten free baking. The hydration of gluten free bread, fermentation and a lot of tips to help you make your own GF bread.
It’s not easy to bake fluffy gluten-free bread, especially if you’re just getting started with gluten-free baking. To help you with this, you’ll find several resources on my website – under Gluten Free Bread and Gluten Free Cooking.
If you want to learn the basics of making gluten-free bread, check out this post Click here.
Hydration of a gluten free bread
To make gluten free bread, you need water, flour, starch, yeast, sugar, salt, and 1 or 2 gluten substitutes.
The hydration of bread, that is, the amount of water it contains, is very important. Hydration determines how spongy and moist the bread is. In other words, the more water the dough contains, the moister it’s. The less water it contains, the drier it’ll be. So be careful with the amount of water you use.
The amount of water will depend on the other ingredients and the type of flour you use.
- Each flour and starch (wheat, rice, corn, ….) has a different ability to absorb liquid. Some will absorb more or less water.
- Gluten substitutes (like psyllium or xanthan gum) absorb quite a bit of water. So when measuring water, you need to take this into account. If you want to know more about gluten substitutes, check out this post: Click Here
Gluten free bread recipes tend to have a higher water content than “normal wheat bread” with gluten.
Bread recipes WITH GLUTEN, usually have a water content of 60-80%, but gluten-free recipes usually have a water content of 100% or slightly more.
Why do gluten-free bread recipes contain a higher level of hydration than others?
In other words: Why do they contain more water?
- Gluten-free flours and starches usually have a higher capacity to absorb water than regular wheat. In other words, they absorb much more liquid, especially during baking.
- In gluten-free baking, vegetable fibers (such as psyllium or xanthan gum) are usually used to replace gluten. Both are responsible for absorbing some of the liquid and forming a viscous mass that provides the “binding” in the dough. When measuring the amount of water, you must take them into account.
A gluten free bread with a low water content will result in dry bread.
Kneading gluten-free bread
First of all, you must understand that making gluten-free bread isn’t the same as making bread with gluten; especially when it comes to kneading.
Bread WITH GLUTEN is naturally more elastic thanks to gluten.
- When you work bread WITH GLUTEN its structure improves and it gains elasticity and firmness while kneading.
- That is, the more you knead bread with wheat flour and let it ferment, the more it takes shape and elasticity because the gluten develops.
The opposite happens with gluten-free bread: because it lacks gluten, the dough isn’t as elastic and breaks.
You can achieve this elastic effect of gluten by adding important ingredients like psyllium husks and xanthan gum.
- No matter how much you knead gluten-free bread, you won’t get much more elasticity unless you add a binder. Elasticity depends (at least in large part) on the amount of binder in the dough. That is, on the amount of psyllium husk or xanthan gum (it won’t improve much even if you knead for 40 minutes). But be careful, you need to add a certain amount of psyllium and xanthan gum depending on the amount of water and flour. If you add too much psyllium and xanthan gum, the dough may become very compact and dry.
- While it’s true that good kneading is generally very helpful in getting a good crumb in this specific case, with gluten-free bread you don’t get the extra elasticity. *Compared to wheat bread which gains elasticity with time, kneading, and fermentation as the gluten develops.
Keep in mind
- Kneading gluten-free bread can be more difficult because it takes some time for the bread to take shape, but be patient and take your time. Usually, the dough is sticky and brokes apart. But you can fix this using the binders mentioned.
- If you have added psyllium husk and xanthan gum you will get elastic bread. But you have to give the psyllium and xanthan gum a few minutes to integrate well into the dough and create that elasticity.
- You also need to know that in general gluten free bread is much stickier (since it contains much more water). Therefore it will be more difficult to knead it.
Do not add too much extra flour when kneading.
- GLUTEN-FREE doughs are much moister than “normal gluten doughs”.
- The hydration of a GLUTEN-FREE bread is much higher, i.e. they contain more water.
- The dough is much stickier and more difficult to work. This leads us to add extra flour on the work surface to be able to handle the dough better, but believe me if I tell you that this is a HUGE mistake.
- Adding too much extra flour when kneading will end up in dry bread. You have to add the minimum amount of flour when kneading.
- Tip: sprinkle a little oil on the work surface so it doesn’t stick to the surface.
- A gluten-free bread must be sticky and moist so that later (after baking) it is not dry.
- Tip: you can always reserve part of the flour indicated in the recipe to use it when kneading.
- For bread to rise, you have to give the yeast some time. The yeast needs time and a little bit of heat to activate and rise the bread. That is why it is important to let the bread rest for about two hours (so that it can rise and develop).
- If the bread has not previously ferment and rise, it will not rise much during baking.
- Also, it won’t rise during baking if you have over-fermented it. When you let a bread ferment for many hours, the bread will rise too much and then “deflate” and lose strength and structure.
Controlling the fermentation time is very important. If you leave it for too little time it will not rise well in the oven and if you leave it to ferment for so many hours it will over-ferment, deflate and lose structure and you will be left with a flat bread with a tight crumb.
It is important to control the temperature, baking time and steam during baking.
- The oven temperature will vary depending on the recipe and the type of bread. But in general, the oven should be preheated to a mininmum of 200ºC (heat up and down).
- Steam in baking is very important. For bread to rise well, it needs steam during the first 10-15 minutes of baking.
- To do this, it is best to put some water in a baking tray and place it at the bottom of the oven. With the heat, the water will evaporate and generate steam.
- Another way to do this is with ice cubes. I add 3-4 ices to the edges of the cast iron skillet or ducth oven (previously preheated) where you place the bread to bake. This will quickly generate steam in the oven.
- The ideal is to combine ices cubes with a tray with water at the bottom of the oven.
- You can see the ice and pan method in this video: click here.
- The baking time will vary depending on the recipe. To know if a bread is done it has to be golden brown on the top and bottom. Also if you tap it gently on the bottom, it will sound hollow.
- As I always say, every oven is different. So it is best to be guided by the appearance of the bread and your experience using your oven.