So you took the plunge and decided you want to make gluten-free bread yourself, but you notice your gluten-free bread is not rising.
More often than not, if your gluten-free bread isn’t rising, it boils down to a few reasons:
- You’re using old yeast that is no longer active
- The temperature, either ambient or of the ingredients you’re using, might be an issue
- You’re substituting or omitting ingredients
- You forgot to add your levaning agent be it yeast or baking soda or baking poweder.
While gluten-free bread is fairly common and can be found in most grocery stores these days, it can be quite gratifying to make your own, like most baking. Making your own gluten-free bread means you know exactly what is going into your bread, this is especially beneficial if you’re steering away from processed foods, prefer to make things for yourself. So, if you’re avoiding gluten, for whatever reason, this is a great place to start.
Understanding the how and why of a rise in gluten-free bread will help you determine which of the above is the culprit.
First, Gluten-Free Bread 101
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of why your gluten-free bread isn’t rising, let’s dive into a quick explanation of what constitutes gluten-free bread as well as the most common ingredients. Whether you’re already familiar with gluten-free bread, or not, basic knowledge is a good starting point in understanding why your gluten-free bread isn’t rising as much as you’d like.
What is Gluten-Free Bread?
Gluten-free bread is pretty much what it says, a bread that is free of gluten. Another simple way of understanding it is it’s a bread that is not made with wheat, rye, barley, or any of the ancient wheat flours (i.e., spelt, einkorn, emmer, and Kamut). These flours are the source of gluten, so as long as they aren’t included as an ingredient, then it’s more than likely gluten-free…
Gluten Free Bread Ingredients
Gluten-free bread is an assemblage of various gluten-free legumes and grain flours such as chickpea, tapioca, rice, potato, almond, buckwheat, sorghum, millet, and quinoa. None of these contain gluten, which is a somewhat integral component of regular bread making as it is what holds the air bubbles and allows the dough to stretch out. That being said, “something” needs to be added to the dough to replace the function of gluten, keep your dough together as well as allow for a nice rise. Here’s where starches and gums come into play.
Locust Bean Gum
When baking any gluten-free goods, you’ll usually find a combination of starch and gum in varying quantities (depending on the type of baked good) to mimic gluten behavior. Gluten-free bread recipes typically suggest larger quantities of gum to ensure that the gas produced by the yeast is trapped within the dough as it allows the dough to become nice and elastic.
Yeast & Gluten-Free Bread
Most gluten-free bread is made with yeast, as yeast works quite well with most gluten-free flours. When you’re making your own gluten-free bread with yeast, however, it’s important to note that not all baker’s yeasts are gluten-free. That being said, double-check the packaging to ensure it’s gluten-free and avoid the mishap of gluten in your gluten-free bread.
While you will find recipes for gluten-free bread that call for fresh yeast, most use dry yeast. Dry yeast is ideal mainly because of how conveniently available it is, you’ll find it in pretty much every grocery store. In addition, its long-term storage potential means even if you don’t plan on baking often, you can still keep it on hand for longer periods of time, about 4 months in the pantry and up to 6 months if stored in the freezer, for example.
The Nature of Yeast
Yeast is a tad finicky and becomes active at warmer temperatures, ideally at about 90°F (32°C) for it to get going. Bear in mind that at 113°F (45°C) yeast will begin to die off. It’s for this reason that you should avoid using boiling water.
Now, there are two ways to incorporate the yeast into your gluten-free dough. Firstly, the most straightforward way is to mix all the ingredients at the same time. This works, but if your yeast isn’t fresh or has expired, you may have dumped all your ingredients into something that wasn’t going to work out from the get-go. The way to avoid this mishap is the second way of incorporating yeast into your gluten-free dough; start by blooming your yeast.
So, what do I mean by blooming your yeast? Well, basically you activate the yeast in warm water with a little accelerator, such as a teaspoon of sugar, and wait for it to bloom. By bloom, I mean puffy foam begins to form on top of, and within, the water as the yeast eats the sugar and produces gases. In about 10 minutes or less, you’ll know whether your yeast is active or not. If it isn’t, you’ve just saved yourself a lot of costly ingredients and a failed attempt at a loaf of gluten-free bread.
Temperature is Key
As mentioned above when working with yeast the key is that it thrives at a warmer temperature. So, if for example, you use ice cold water to bloom your yeast you will find it takes a substantially longer time. Sticking to water that is approximately 90℉ (32℃) means your yeast is very happy and begins to activate. (If you’re looking to maintain or monitor temperatures as accurately as possible read “The Best Bread and Oven Thermometer You Should Use and Why” for my take on the ideal thermometer to use).
Because yeast is happiest at a warmer temperature, any other ingredients, such as eggs, milk, or other forms of liquids, should also be at room temperature (about 70–72 °F and 21–22 °C) to ensure the yeast doesn’t slow down from cold eggs or die off from hot milk, for example.
Even the bowl you use for mixing and resting should be taken into consideration. If, for example, you’re using a glass or metal bowl, you’ll find it keeps cool and takes on the temperature of the environment, particularly on a stone countertop. Using a plastic bowl or container can help maintain the warm conditions the yeast needs in order to stay active.
Once the ingredients are mixed and well incorporated many recipes advise placing the dough in a warm spot in your kitchen. Room temperature is sufficiently warm, with a loose cover to ensure air circulation. Avoiding drafty areas or cold spots is the key here.
If you’ve taken into account all of the above, then you know for certain temperature isn’t the issue with regards to why your gluten-free bread isn’t rising.
Substitutions & Omissions
For a good rise to occur in your gluten-free dough, the right ingredients need to be used. The ingredients that most impact the rise of gluten-free bread include yeast, sugar, xanthan gum, baking soda, and/or baking powder, depending on your recipe and type of bread being made.
Unless you really know what you’re doing, you really should avoid substituting or omitting any ingredients that the recipe you’re following has included. When it comes to gluten-free bread recipes, the ingredients and measurements are exactly what is required, and messing with them means you’re messing with your results. This is particularly true as you’re using several ingredients to mimic the behavior and results of a regular loaf of bread that contains gluten, which relies solely on gluten formation.
For example, the amount of gum used in gluten-free bread should be precisely what the recipe calls for to obtain optimal results (as mentioned earlier). Substituting, omitting, or adjusting the quantity will, without a doubt, have an effect on the ability of your gluten-free bread to achieve an ideal rise.
In reality, unless the recipe has explicitly stated alternatives or substitutes, it’s best to just follow the recipe as precisely as possible, and you’re more likely to get the kind of results you’re looking for.
What Does it all Mean?
Just like with all baking, practice and experience have a remarkable impact on the results. A lot of baking is mostly experience. How do you gain experience? By practicing. Practicing means you’re bound to have a few failures, but it also means you’re on track towards your goal. You get better and better and learn how to feel when your bread is going in the right direction.
While gluten-free bread is a little more complex, as you’re goal is to imitate the behavior, texture, and results of gluten, especially because you’re using more ingredients – it’s worth it in the long run. You’ve made it yourself, with your own two hands in your oven and you’ve watched every single ingredient that’s gone into the final product.
Ensuring you use active yeast is key, followed by maintaining a happy temperature for the yeast and avoiding any substitutions, alterations, or omissions of the recipe and you’re bound to get the loaf of gluten-free bread you’re looking for…with a few possible fails along the way, but that’s okay, because perhaps by reading this article you’ve avoided a few of the key mistakes bakers make when embarking on gluten-free bread making.