Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why Gluten-Free Sourdough?

I created these breads and bread recipes to cope with my own multiple food allergies and sensitivities. After mastering and enjoying old fashioned sourdough rye bread I learned I was gluten intolerant and could no longer eat rye. I learned I was also allergic to eggs,dairy and soy products, ingredients that are often used in gluten-free breads. There were other ingredients used in conventional gluten-free baking that I would rather not use: commercial yeast, baking soda, baking powder, xanthan and guar gums, and sweeteners.

Wanting to continue eating bread, I looked at the ingredients
in retail gluten free breads and found there was at least one ingredient I needed to avoid in each one. If I was going to be able to eat bread I needed to be able to control the ingredients.

I began experimenting with some gluten-free flours using the sourdough techniques I had mastered for the rye bread. I learned pretty quickly that gluten-free flours are more delicate than gluten flours and spoil easily. I solved this challenge by boosting the starter with a small amount of a lacto-fermented drink called Water Kefir. I used it to begin all my starters for a number of years. Now, I dehydrate and sell my own Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter as an alternative.

What is Water Kefir?

Water Kefir cultures

Water Kefir is a culture, which is a colony of bacteria and yeast, similar to a yogurt culture. The water kefir culture is added to water, that has had sugar dissolved into it. The fermentation process begins when the bacteria and yeast eat the sugars and in exchange, put probiotics and enzymes into the sugar water. Most of the sugar will actually be consumed by the bacteria and yeast during fermentation. The sugar water turns from very sweet to sweet/sour/bubbly.

There are many uses for this tasty liquid. It can be drunk in small amounts as a tonic or digestive. It can also use it in a gluten-free sourdough starter to kick-start the bacterial activity and prevent spoilage in the starter. This enables the starter to stay fresh as it grows to the size needed for  baking. Water kefir is a culture that must be acquired and cared for. Cultures for Health is an excellent company that offers dehydrated water kefir culture with directions for rehydration.

Finished Water Kefir
Ready to drink or use as a booster

An Alternative Booster: 
Dehydrated Sourdough Starter:

An alternative to boosting a starter with water kefir is to boost it with  Dehydrated Sourdough Starter.  I recently began offering 2 of my own Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter cultures, Brown Rice and Teff. While you have to regularly care for a water kefir culture, the dehydrated sourdough starter will last many months in the refrigerator or freezer until you need it.

Learn more and purchase Sourdough Starter Here

The starters are grown in my recenlty opened dedicated Gluten-free commercial kitchen. Click for photos of the construction!

Track Record of Sourdough
Sourdough baking is an ancient and time tested bread baking technique that was used exclusively until the discovery of modern commercial yeast. It utilizes the natural yeasts and bacteria present on the grain and in the air to leaven bread. Sourdough bread becomes highly digestible because the flours are “soaked” in the starter and as well as during the long rise period.

Some people may remember their grandparents soaking oatmeal the night before cooking it for breakfast. Soaking neutralizes natural enzyme inhibitors in the grain, begins breaking down the tough cellulose fibers, fosters the formation of probiotics and enzymes and releases vitamins. All this makes for a more nutritious finished product that is easy on the digestion with many more nutrients available for assimilation. Sourdough breads have a robust taste, a long shelf life and freeze well.

One other benefit of the sourdough process in gluten-free breads is that it eliminates the need for gums and sodium-based leaveners. For people who want to eat as simply and cleanly as possible, this is a tremendous benefit!

The recipes in my book, The Art of Gluten-Free Sourdough Baking, are free of gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, yeast, baking powder/soda, and xanthan and guar gums. They use whole grain ingredients and minimal amounts of starch flours and sweeteners.

My New Recipes PDF are recipes that I perfected after publishing The Art of Gluten-Free Sourdough Baking. They were developed upon the foundation of experience I gained from the first 5 years and are simpler and use less ingredients. They will become part of my next book and are now available in PDF. The cost is only $10 for all the recipes as they become perfected.

My  baking technique is different than what most bakers are accustomed to but with a little time and patience the technique can be easily mastered. You could be baking your own high quality homemade breads soon!

 Teff Tapioca


Rice Quinoa Cranberry English Muffins

Teff Pumpernickel

Friday, January 3, 2014

A bit less water may make your bread just right!

One of my readers sent in photos of her Teff Carob Pumpernickel loaf. The bread looked excellent but I noticed a slight dip in the top of the loaf. From my own many trials and errors, this usually means there is too much moisture (water) in the overall dough. I suggested that the next time she make the bread, she reduce the water in the last feeding of the starter. Sometimes, reducing by just 1-2 tablespoons makes enough of a difference to get it just right. 

Here's the first bread. Notice the slight dip in the top.

This recipe is Teff Carob Coconut minus a bit of extra moisture.
Instead of a dip, a nice arc on the top!

The sliced bread shows a perfect form: a nice arc and nearly uniform texture

There are many factors that affect the moisture balance in gluten-free sourdough bread:
-Some grain mills reach very high temperatures.

If the grain was heated when it was milled, it will dry it out causing it to absorb more water.
If it wasn't heated when it was milled, it won't absorb as much water.

-The humidity in the kitchen will affect the starter.
Very high humidity causes the flour too absorb less water.
Very low humidity causes the flour to absorb more.

-The grind of the flour
A very fine grind will absorb more water.
A medium to coarse grind will absorb less.

Another interesting piece of information:
A reader wrote to me wondering why I used volume measurements (cups and spoons) rather than weight measurements (a scale) for my recipes. She reminded me that the most accurate baking uses weight and that professional bakers use weight.

A few years ago I tried to convert from volume to weight but discovered something very surprising. I measured 1 cup each of home milled brown rice flour, Arrowhead Mills brown rice flour, and Bob's Red Mill brown rice flour. Each of these has a different fineness of grind resulting in a slightly different weight per cup!
Instead of an exact weight I was looking at even more variables in a sourdough process that already has enough variables.

The more coarsely ground flour particles leave more air space between the particles. The finely ground flour takes up less space, filling up the spaces between particles with more flour. The finer flour will weigh more per cup than the coarse.

I did not see how I could give an accurate  measurement given the fact that people use all sorts of different brands of brown rice flour and use all different types of grain mills to mill their own. I decided to stay with the volume measurements and give helpful information about how to work with the flours and what the visual and tactile goals are for the final texture.

I wish I could say " Just follow the recipe and it will be perfect every time". I wish it were true! Sourdough is a living entity that is affected by everything around it. To receive the benefits of sourdough, we must respectfully, and sensitively, learn to work with it.

Keeping this in mind, when you make starters and breads, you gain experience as to what thicknesses and textures you are looking to create.