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Organic Gluten-free Sourdough Bread

May 2021
Gluten-free bread, sliced on cutting board
 
Adapted by Ann Anagnost
UW Department of Anthropology

Those of us with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance struggle to find gluten-free bread that tastes like bread and is completely organic. We miss bread. It would be so nice to have sandwiches again! And yet, finding a bread that meets all these desired qualities seems to be an almost impossible task.

The difficulty in finding gluten-free bread products that are organic was initially a mystery to me. My queries to commercial bakeries have not yielded a lot of information about what ingredients prevent them from using the organic label. Apparently, this is considered proprietary information. One clue may be in the ingredients list. Often the last item on the list is simply “enzymes.” The worry here is that enzymes made from genetically modified bacteria are increasingly being used in food processing. In particular, microbial transglutaminase (mTg, also referred to as “meat glue”) is used as a substitute for gluten in many gluten-free products to bind the bread together. Federal labeling laws do not require that these enzymes be included on the ingredients list by name because they have been given the status of “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), often based on research funded by their manufacturers. In addition, they are considered “food processing aids” rather than ingredients and therefore are not required to be included in ingredients lists.

Why would this be a concern? There was a study published last year that suggested that mTg may not only be cross-reactive with gluten sensitivity but may also trigger the genetic expression of celiac disease. About 55% of the general population carry the genetic markers for celiac, although far fewer develop the disease in the course of their lifetime. While this issue requires further research, it raised concerns for me. What gluten-free bread products could I feel comfortable consuming? Would this be something better produced at home?

When I first began to follow a gluten-free diet more than ten years ago, I remember attending a workshop on making gluten-free sourdough bread, but the experience was less than encouraging. The process seemed hopelessly involved, labor intensive, and the final product tasted like, well, cheese. I like cheese; I even like cheese bread, but I also like bread and want my bread to taste like bread.

However, the increasing interest in gluten-free baking has led to a lot of grassroots experimentation and we now have much better ways of making a respectable loaf, one that even our gluten-eating friends and family could love. The recipe below can be made with minimal fuss and bother and tastes better than any gluten-free bread you can buy anywhere. The secret? Psyllium seed husk. Who knew that in addition to being an awesome source of soluble fiber for gut health, psyllium seed husk could be a powerfully binding gluten substitute for making bread? The resulting product has a tender crumb with considerable tensile strength that stands up to sandwich making, even as a replacement for a hamburger bun. The tender crumb is due to the use of millet flour, which can be hard to find but can be easily purchaed online.

This recipe was adapted from one originally developed by Traci, the Whidbey Island author of the blog Vanilla and Bean. Traci’s directions are very meticulous and precise. My approach is much more slapdash and casual, and yet it still manages to produce great bread.

Ann Anagnost credits UW student Chiana Corning with providing research for this content, and Katherine Burge as test baker and photographer.

 

Ingredients

For the starter:

  • Brown rice flour
  • Water

For the bread:

  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 cup millet flour
  • 1-1/4 cup oat flour
  • 1 C tapioca flour
  • 3 Tbs psyllium husk powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 3 Tbs maple syrup or honey
  • Optional: sesame, sunflower, and/or pumpkin seeds
Directions

Make the Starter

For those who are put off by the challenge of “catching” a sourdough culture using gluten-free flours, you will be amazed at how easy it is! Mix 1 tablespoon of brown rice flour with some water until it is the consistency of pancake batter. Keep feeding it a small amount of flour and water a couple of times a day. After 5-6 days it should start bubbling, signaling that your starter is ready to use. Keep feeding until you have about two cups (one cup for the bread and another to put back in the fridge for next time).

Make the Bread

The day before baking:

  • Take starter out of the refrigerator and start feeding it rice flour (white or brown). Make sure it is bubbling and feed it one last time about an hour before you start mixing.
  • Prepare the dough:
    • The night before baking, combine all your dry ingredients. Mix the dry ingredients well to make sure the psyllium doesn’t clump when you add water. You can add a handful of sesame, sunflower, and/or pumpkin seeds for flavor if you want.
    • Add 1 cup of starter and mix until well distributed.
    • Add about 2 cups of water, sweetened with 3 Tbs maple syrup or honey.  Use all the water. The dough should be quite wet at first, but stir thoroughly until the psyllium starts to swell. This amount of water is important to help the loaf rise well and to create an open crumb. The dough should look like marshmallow fluff once the water is all absorbed.
    • Line a 1 lb (4 ½” x 8 ½ “) loaf pan with oven paper, leaving enough paper at the top to contain the rise, and scoop dough into the pan, smoothing and shaping with a rubber spatula. Cover with a clean dish towel and allow to rise overnight (10-12 hours).

Day of baking:

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake for one hour.
  • Cool completely before slicing.

NOTE: Gluten-free bread has more moisture than wheat bread. It keeps best by being sliced and stored in a closed container in the refrigerator or frozen. It is best eaten toasted.

Pumpernickel Variation

Use cold coffee instead of water, add 2 T cocoa powder, and 2 T caraway seeds.

 

See "Treats from Faculty Bakers" for more recipes.