Learn the secret to making gluten free bread in your own home from our guest expert, Robin Ellenberger.
Almost every day, it seems, one can find an article written about coeliac disease. They are often seen in newspapers, glossy magazines or on television. It can be laughed away as a “new age” fad, it may even pop a light bulb on in as-yet undiagnosed sufferers. But there is no medical doubt that it is real and it can cause people agonising pains, or quiet intestinal damage. Individuals can appear pale and listless, fail to thrive and can be incapable of work.
Coeliac disease is not a new-age illness. Aretaeus, one of the most celebrated of the ancient Greek physicians, recorded a malabsorption syndrome with chronic diarrhea, which appeared to cause a debilitation of the entire body, (coeliac comes from the Greek koiliakos – abdominal). In 1856 Aretaeus’ work was presented to a meeting of the Sydenham Society in London. They described his belief in a “lack of heat in the stomach necessary to digest the food and a reduced ability to distribute the digestive products throughout the body”.
In 1887, at a lecture at the Hospital for Sick children, Great Ormond Street, London, paediatrician Samuel Gee offered the first modern description of the condition in children. He stated “if the patient can be cured at all, it must be by means of diet”.
In 1908 American physician Christian Archibald Herter, wrote on children with coeliac disease, noting that their growth was retarded and fat was better tolerated than carbohydrate. Another American paediatrician, Sydney V. Haas, reported positive effects of a diet of bananas.
Here’s where it gets interesting:
1939 – 1945: While a role for carbohydrates had been suspected for some time the link with wheat was not made until the 1940s by Dutch paediatrician Professor Willem Karel Dicke. He demonstrated how children benefited dramatically when wheat, rye and oat flours were excluded from the diet and replaced with rice and maize flours. The discovery was due to the shortage of wheat grain during the war years in Holland. Dicke noticed that children with the condition who were being fed other foods in place of wheat were improving. After the war when wheat consumption recommenced, the children again deteriorated with the re-development of symptoms.
1954: The link with the gluten component of wheat was made by a team from England. John W Paulley, a physician from Ipswich, U.K. recognised the characteristic abnormality of the lining of the upper part of the bowel when taking samples during operations. Dr Paulley’s discovery concerning the abnormality of the bowel was confirmed as the most essential feature on which the diagnosis of the coeliac condition could be based. It was also a significant observation that if a patient complied with a strictly gluten free diet, the lining of the small intestine returned to normal.
1957: American Army Officer, Colonel Crosby, working with an engineer, designed what we now know as the Crosby Capsule, a completely flexible tube which soon became the most widely used biopsy instrument in the world.
1960: Physicians specialising in skin care discovered that patients with a particular type of itchy rash called Dermatitis Herpetiformis may also have gluten enteropathy. It was generally accepted that the intestinal villi returned to normal with a gluten free diet, but many investigators did not agree that the skin lesions were produced by gluten.
As a newly diagnosed coeliac, or the less invasive gluten intolerance, you no doubt believe your dietary world has been shattered. Up until 10 to 15 years ago you would probably have been correct. However, with the meteoric increase of easily available flours such as buckwheat, sorghum – both red and white, millet, teff, quinoa, amaranth, banana, coconut, rice, and chestnut, to name a few, a tasty, hearty, and delicious loaf of bread is now within any aspiring baker’s reach. You should also consider your supermarket “health food” aisles – a vast array of cereals, snack bars, premixes of cakes, biscuits, breads and pastry for starters. You can be mildly alarmed BUT DON’T PANIC! Be aware though that many of the packaged products have a very high sugar content.
The Coeliac Society of Australia is the organisation best prepared to help you. They have dedicated staff, volumes of literature, and they are just a phone call away. You may have seen, or attended, a Gluten-Free Expo in your city which is a cornucopia of information and free samples. Try it. You may like it and research suggests that it will be likely to improve your condition.
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR OWN, there are several options.
We need to include a note here: potato flour is NOT potato starch. You will come across incorrect labelling regularly. Potato starch is pure white and the texture of cornflour. The cells of the root tubers of the potato plant contain starch grains (leucoplasts). To extract the starch, the potatoes are crushed and the starch grains are released from the destroyed cells. The starch is then washed out and dried to powder.
Potato flour is made from potato, including their skins. The potatoes are cooked, skins on, then dried and ground finely. It can be used as a thickener to some degree (though it does not thicken as well as potato starch) and in some baked goods, as it retains moisture. Easily identifiable, the colour is usually a dull grey with a distinctive potato smell.
So now, let’s take a look at your additional intolerances. Gluten obviously, but what about those who are unable to eat potato, millet, or any of the flours mentioned above? What about chick peas (besan flour), or other legumes, yeast, eggs or just egg white, processed sugar, soy, grain, nuts, corn, rice, dairy, or gums? While these additional intolerances appear to make it impossible to bake a viable loaf of bread it IS possible. Firstly, list the flours you can tolerate. List the starches you can tolerate.
- Besan flour can be substituted for amaranth flour – it is a similar texture and weight, as is millet flour.
- Potato starch can be substituted for tapioca or corn starch and vice-versa. Instead of processed sugar try maple syrup, rice malt syrup, date syrup or coconut sugar. Yeast can be replaced with baking powder but your loaf will not have the texture of bread, it will be more like a scone texture. Using soda water or any carbonated water will improve the product. Soda water or even gluten free beer can also apply to a yeasted loaf of bread as well, although we’ve had no problems with plain water.
- For sweet loaves you could use lemonade. Milk from animals can be replaced with your choice of almond (beware it’s a NUT milk), rice milk or coconut milk. Really, the choice is yours depending on your needs.
- Eggs – this can be a little more tricky. There is a product available from Australia’s first, and probably largest, supplier of gluten free products called “No Egg”. Whilst we try to use other products, this is a reasonable stand-by. As the baked product can be quite dry – we suggest you add more liquid. A gel from chia seeds and water is quite a good binder. You can reduce or eliminate the gums to some degree if you use this method although your loaf probably needs to be eaten quite soon after baking has finished.
If you introduce some stewed apple into a fruit loaf and dry potato flakes into your everyday loaves of bread you will be richly rewarded with lots of extra moisture.
Into a plain white loaf toss about 10g of mixed seeds: white and black sesame, linseeds, sunflower seeds and amaranth grain. Or sprinkle nigella seeds on the top, after you’ve brushed the unbaked loaf with egg white or water, so the seeds stick.
LET’S HELP YOU MAKE A LOAF: (Just a note here: most gluten free loaf mixtures cannot be kneaded. It’s best compared with a thick cake batter)
So, after all of the above, it is not too difficult to make a loaf of hearty, toothsome gluten free bread if gluten is your only intolerance. For example, in our standard, every-day white loaf the percentage of dry ingredients to wet ingredients is almost 50/50. Many people desire a bit of crunch in their bread texture especially if it’s to be toasted. Starches add lightness and CRRRRUNCH to breads. So we use both in our breads, not necessarily cornstarch as it seems to be a little softer than the others. Try using a mixture of potato starch and slightly less of tapioca starch.
We recommend millet, amaranth, or white and red sorghum. Although quinoa flour is extremely popular, for me the taste is bitter and unpalatable. Buckwheat (part of the rhubarb family) and teff flours are very heavy and need to be used in moderation. Rice flour soaks up every bit and more moisture, so use this sparingly. The same applies to coconut flour. Chestnut flour is quite expensive and we suggest using it only for sweet items.
A good quality dried yeast is perfect for regular baking and, once opened, should be kept in the refrigerator. Fresh yeast is also fine to work with but has a very short life, again keep chilled. In Tasmania we are unable to purchase small quantities of fresh yeast. Frozen fresh yeast which is available turns to liquid upon being defrosted and therefore has far less strength. We recommend avoiding the cheap brands of instant yeast.
Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide secreted by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Translation: Xanthan gum is a sugar derived typically from corn (can also be from soy or wheat) that has been pooped out by a bacteria that produces rot on various vegetables. Doesn’t this make you twitch and squirm!! However, as we made dozens of loaves each week gums were the easiest to use. Thickeners are necessary to avoid crumbling, and we have found Xanthan gum and guar gum a good combination. You can use only guar gum but you would need double the quantity. A tablespoon of psyllium husks also helps.
SUGAR of your choice.
SALT of your choice.
EGGS whole, fresh, or your egg replacer.
Warm water, around 38°C or so, or soda water or gluten free beer.
OIL of your choice
EXAMPLE RECIPE Tested by Karen from Sourdough Bread Recipe
Ingredients in Metric
Ingredients in US Imperial
- Turn on your oven to about 130°C (266°F.)
- As with most breads, you need to mix the yeast (dry or fresh) with a little of your warm water and perhaps a tiny pinch of sugar or sweetener, and set aside for several minutes.
- Beat your eggs.
- Sift all dry ingredients into your mixing bowl or stand mixer, stirring well to incorporate the flours.
- Pour eggs into yeast and water, add to dry ingredients then beat with hand held beaters for several minutes. Your mixture will be smooth and glossy with just a hint of movement. If it is stiff add a touch more warm water.
- Tip the dough into a high sided bread tin. Our preferred bread tin’s measurement is around 19cm along the bottom but 21cm (8 inches) along the top, it’s width is 11cm (4 inches) and it’s depth is 6cm (2.5 inches). If the sides of your tin are too low your loaf will grow all sorts of elbows, fingers and other shapes as it climbs above the top of the sides. (we’d share a picture but it’s quite inappropriate…!) Using a spatula, push the dough into all the corners which helps settle the dough, then leave to rise for between 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the warmth of the water you used and the warmth of the room. Beware of letting it rise too rapidly as it can form air holes.
- Once you think it’s risen enough use the flat surface of a wet spatula to lightly press down the top of the dough, then place in your heated oven to bake for abut 15 minutes. This slow rise is called oven spring.
- Now turn your oven up to 175 – 185°C(347 – 365°F) and bake another 45 to 50 minutes. If you have a standard size domestic oven you may need to check the loaf after 45 to 50
- To check if your loaf is baked remove it from the tin and turn upside down. Using a knuckle knock the bottom of the bread heartily. If it sounds like a hollow drum it is baked, but if the loaf sounds dull and quiet it needs more baking time.
The potential of gluten free sourdoughs (even more satisfying!) is another skill well worth learning, but perhaps best left for a separate post.
Enjoy your gluten free baking. It is a simple yet essential skill for Coeliacs.