Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to Make Your Own Gluten-free Bread Flour Blend

My last post on the Best Gluten-free Sandwich Bread Ever generated a flurry of interest and responses. All of them were about wanting to try the recipe.  Most of them, however, were from people who couldn't.  They really, really wanted to.  However, they can't get the unique Gluten-free Gourmand No. 7 Bread Flour.  It's not their fault!  It's just that due to things like food regulations and exorbitant shipping prices I only ship my specialty baking mixes within the United States.  What's a gluten-free baker to do if she lives in Australia (or Canada, or New Zealand)?

Now, I'm all about promoting my beautiful, artisan flours that are lovingly tested in small batches to make sure they have fewer than 10 ppm gluten.  I'm also very dedicated to bringing my customers more recipes to enjoy.  However, my blog didn't start out to sell flour.  I started blogging to share what I know about gluten-free baking, about how rewarding it can be to make something really good from scratch that's perfectly gluten-free.  Something that tastes just how you want it to taste, and feels just how you want it to feel.


It took me years to build up the courage to tackle gluten-free bread.  Then it took another year to perfect my own recipe with my own blend of flours.  That was the Teff Sandwich Bread Recipe which has gotten a lot of good feedback.  I learned so much about bread making while creating that recipe.  One thing I learned was that teff is not very readily available in many places.  I'll get to why I chose teff as my main flour in a minute, but first I want to show you who reads my blog.

Here is a screen shot of my Google Analytics.  I tried to get as close to 1,000 people in this statistic as possible to have a good sample.

Click on the image to see it larger.

I'm continually surprised that only 67% of my readers are in the United States!  Almost 12% of my readers are in Canada, and over 7% are in either Australia or New Zealand.  I can blame my Gluten-free Friand Recipe for that!  And it's no wonder that I have some readers in the UK, considering how obsessed I am with Traditional English Scones.

But enough with the statistics.  The point is that a website is international.  It can't be contained.  I'm really excited to have such a wide readership, and I want everyone to be able to make bread and scones.  That's why for almost every recipe that I have on this website that uses my artisan baking mixes, I also have a recipe that shows you how to blend your own gluten-free flours.

I've been hearing from my Australian and New Zealand readers over the last couple of days.  They really want to try my bread recipes.  They can get the psyllium husk and other binders, but it's difficult to get teff flour.  That makes sense.  It's a specialty flour that's native to Africa.  We happen to have a few farms here in the US that grow it in dedicated gluten-free fields.  Australia may not have such a farm.  So what to do?  Figure out your own flour blend, that's what!  Everyone who has written to me seems eager to experiment, so I'm eager to share what I know.

How to Find the Best Bread Flours


First of all, I want to share my thought process regarding the creation of my first bread recipe.  I wanted to find flours that had these properties:

  • strength
  • flexibility
  • ability to ferment well
  • Has been used in traditional breads
That's how I came up with Teff for my main flour in my first sandwich bread recipe: it's one of the few gluten-free flours that has been used traditionally to make a yeasted bread, called injera.  It's a sourdough flat bread that has been made for centuries in Africa.  Injera is very flexible and spongy, and it's traditionally made with 100% teff flour so I knew the grain would have great properties for making bread.  When you go to create your own blend with flours that are available in your area, think about them in the same terms.

What I quickly verified upon starting to experiment, though I always suspected it from the first bite of gluten-free bread I ever ate, was:

Rice flour is not a good flour for making bread


There, I said it.  Rice flour is typically very stiff, folks.  It's heavy.  It hates to rise.  I love it in quick breads, but not for yeasted breads.  If you live in a place that just doesn't have much else, try to find sweet rice flour, glutinous rice flour, or something with a very fine grind and do some experimenting.

After I decided on these parameters, I decided to make a list of non-rice flours that I thought might make for good bread:

teff
buckwheat
sorghum
millet
potato starch
corn starch
tapioca starch
arrowroot (I've actually never tried this, but some bloggers swear by it)
bean/soy flours (if you like the flavor)

How to Blend Gluten-free Flours for Bread Recipes


Blending gluten-free flours may be an art form, but you need some science to measure your progress.  I didn't start to get anywhere in blending my own flours until I got a scale and started doing it by weight. There's just no way to measure flour accurately by volume.  Trust me, every time you scoop out a cup of sorghum flour, it's going to be a different amount of flour.  I know, because I've done it and I weighed the results!  It's impossible to be accurate or consistent.  Go by weight.  Take very detailed notes on what each blend contained, your method, and the results.

How you combine your flours is, in part, up to you.  For the lightest, fluffiest bread you will need a relatively high proportion of starch.  For a denser, more whole-grain taste you will want more dark whole grains.  Here are a few suggestions on how to get started.  Keep in mind that my percentages are by weight, not volume.

Light-textured bread with a "white wheat flour" feel:

50% starch, 50% lighter whole grains (grains that are lighter in color tend to have a milder flavor)

Dense, whole-grain bread with deeper flavor, try:

30% starch 70% whole grains

Happy medium:

40% starch 60% mixed whole grains

Mix it Up


Try using at least two starches and two whole grains in your blend to start.  If you can get them, I recommend using an equal portion of potato starch and tapioca starch.  Potato starch seems to absorb too much water while tapioca flour doesn't absorb enough.  Exactly equal portions seems to be the best blend for these two flours; they compliment each other well at this ratio.  If you can get your hands on some sorghum flour, use lots of that.  It may seem like it's going to be heavy and sticky, but it rises well, gives your loaf strength, and has a beautiful, sweet flavor.  

Here's a suggestion on how to blend flours for a recipe that calls for 450g flour:

200g sorghum flour
100g whole-grain flour of choice
75g potato starch
75g tapioca starch

Take notes about what you like in each loaf, and what you don't.  Make sure you measure the liquids in the recipe very carefully each time.  Did the bread take forever to cook?  You may have too much liquid.  Did the bread fail to rise much?  The dough may be too dry, or you have too much whole grain or heavy flours in your blend.  Adjust the blend the next time you experiment.

Binders


I wrote a whole post on the different kinds of binders you can use here.  I wrote a post on chia, flax, and psyllium husk here.  I've gotten a lot of questions regarding the amount of psyllium husk I use in my bread recipes.  The answer for those who blend their own flours is, it depends.  If you use more whole grains, you may need less binder.  If you use more starches, you may need more binder.  If you're mixing the psyllium with other binders, reduce the amount of psyllium.  The range of psyllium husk you might use for a bread recipe that calls for 450 grams of flour is about 20-50 grams.  Unlike with gums, it's difficult to use too much psyllium husk. Start on the high side and reduce the amount by a little bit every time you try your flour blend to see what gives you the best texture.


What kinds of gluten-free flours can you find in your part of the world?  What kinds of blends have you tried, and what has worked for you?  What has failed?

7 comments:

Ellen Allard (Gluten Free Diva) said...

I've been flirting (but mostly skirting) this issue but now you've given me pause to really embrace it. I'm going to take my latest posted GF bread recipe and convert it to measurements by weight. Thank you for the inspiration.

Gina Kelley said...

Ellen - It's so freeing to bake by weight! I thought it would be more finicky, but then it ended up saving time. I hope you enjoy it too! Thank you!

aka Mamma D said...

Gina, I am busy developing dessert and pastry recipes for my work. My boss is highly gluten intolerant.
We were using the Udi's multi grain bread which has Teff in it and many of our GF customers had a reaction. Reasearch says that Teff is in the grass grain family..So does it or does it not have gluten?
I am going to follow your blog so I can learn about baking GF breads.

Gina Kelley said...

Mamma D, As far as I know, teff flour is not related to wheat in any way and does not contain any gluten. If your customers had a reaction, I would not suspect the teff flour first. If you are making the pastries in a kitchen that also uses wheat products, cross-contamination is the most likely source of gluten. If your kitchen is gluten-free, then you might check the gluten-free status of your ingredients. You can buy test strips if you can't verify that the companies you are buying from are truly gluten-free. E-Z gluten is what I use, although there are other tests out there as well. I hope that helps! Thanks for following.

Anonymous said...

Greetings, I just found your blog this morning and thought I'd let you know that a lot of people who are tested find they have a sensitivity to teff, potato and or tapioca starches, as well as gluten. I discovered a few weeks ago that I fall into that category. Dairy products are also out for me as well. :( Hate the only GF bread without the offending ingredients as it is pasty and tasteless to off flavor and poor texture. I've never done much in the bread baking arena, but am looking for a recipe or 2 to try so I don't have to eliminated bread completely. Maybe you or one of your readers can help? Looking forward to reading more on your website. Thanks for all the great info. :)

Gina Kelley said...

Hi there! Thanks for commenting. I do have some GF friends that can't do potato starch. Teff of course is a bit of a strange one - some people don't like the taste, some people can't handle it. If I were to try to make a flour blend without these items I'd probably explore arrow root powder. I haven't tried it but plenty of people like it and it's supposed to be really easy to digest. Then I'd just forget the teff and work with any other favorite flours. White buckwheat flour is great, but tricky to find commercially. I grind my own. I use sorghum in almost everything. If you can handle that, I bet you could come up with a tasty flour blend that works well in bread.

Anonymous said...

I NEED HELP!!!! I am new to all this GF Baking and very confused with things. I would like to make the --- Light-textured bread with a "white wheat flour" feel bread (figured this would be most like the store bought "whole wheat" bread that I am getting my family off!), can you tell me the recipe for making it, thank you!!!