English Sandwich Bread (gluten-free & egg-free)

Bread remains the holy grail in the gluten-free world. With good reason. Gluten proves critical in achieving everything we know as bread. Karen of "Cooking Gluten-Free!" posed us the bread challenge this month for the brave and few who are willing to have a many failures before producing a success one can be happy with. In professional baking, I was taught that there are two kinds of bread: a lean yeast dough, in which no fat, oil, nor eggs are used like baguette, boule, rolls etc.; and a lean yeast bread which does have fat and/or oil like brioche, challah, etc. For those of us developing recipes for gluten-free breads that are palatable with a good texture, we will use anything we can.

The Gluten-Free Ratio Rally is a group of GF bloggers, rallied by Shauna of GlutenFreeGirl.com, where we put our on spin a a culinary standard. These culinary standards are known formulas, ratios, that professionals use. The caveat is that everything is done by weight, since weight is more standardized and much more accurate than measuring by volume. This is the foundation of the GFreeRally as started and explained by Gluten-Free Girl here. The book that we base our ratios is Michael Ruhlman's Ratio. The ratio for bread he defines as 5 parts flour : 3 parts water, with a scant amount of yeast and salt. My ratio for this bread was 2 parts flour : 3 parts water. However, it's not that cut and dry. Now, time for the science:

Let's talk about the properties of gluten in bread. Gluten plays several different roles. Of course, we know it builds the elasticity and chewiness of the dough. Imagine a ball of intertwined rubber bands; that is how gluten behaves. Therein, imagine how that tight gluten network acts as a selective membrane, retaining the carbon dioxide that is produced in fermentation. While baking the gluten network slowly releases water as vapor in the baking process. These both result in the air pockets in crumb. Another important aspect of gluten is how it serves as the outer member, that is, the crust. When making a gluten-free bread, all of these properties need to be mimicked obviously without using gluten. The caveat is that there is nothing out there exactly like gluten.

Yes, there are gums such as xanthan and guar. Gums act as rheology modifiers, that is, they will thicken water-based batters and doughs. They are not elastic and plastic in the same way that gluten is. Yes, by definition xanthan can act "pseudoplastic" in a liquid medium (think store-bought salad dressings) but this property disappears once baked (into a solid). They prevent the ingredients from separating, keeping everything cohesive. Both are very effective at low concentrations, 0.5% or lower (for xanthan) by weight. Xanthan is effective at room temperature, but guar needs a little heat to activate. Keep in mind that guar gum degrades in a low pH and high temperature environment.

Ways to build in gluten-like properties is a fine balance of what every ingredient brings in to the final recipe/formulation. Yes, a gellant or thickener I find critical whether it's a gum or a gellant such as flaxseed/linseed, chia seed, or hemp seed. Another aid I rely on is a type of colloid, keeping everything evenly distributed in both the wet form and after it's baked. Psyllium husk is a very effective hydrocolloid, as well as adding fiber. Other great hydrocolloids are agar, gelatin, carrageenan, pectin, gums (xanthan, guar, locust bean), cellulose, alginate, and starch (corn, potato, tapioca, etc.).

Different flours, starches, materials/ingredients have different absorption rates and capacities. It varies greatly, as I'm sure the ratios we all came up with are different. A good example we can all relate to is the amount of water it takes to cook white rice versus brown rice. Generally speaking, gluten-free ingredients require more water than the "regular" gluten-filled counterpart for the same consistency. When switching out ingredients, adjusting the liquid is usually needed. This can play a big role in how wet or dry the crumb is. I know I have seen extremes at both ends of the spectrum of gluten-free breads. It takes a lot of fine tuning to get the how system right.

In making gluten-free bread, the 12-steps for bread-making can be reduced down to only 6 steps. Since there is no gluten to work up and relax, there is no work involved there. Since the gluten-free system is more delicate, not needing to punch out excess gas, Once it the dough is mixed, it can be panned/shaped only once to leave for one solid proofing time before heading straight into the hot oven for baking. 

My bread for this challenge is an English style sandwich bread. What makes it so? First off, this is recipe that has been modified by British pastry chef extraordinaire, Dan Lepard. (I made a couple of modifications: added more water to make into a sandwich bread rather than more of a rustic bread, requiring a bread pan; the amount of flax, and grinding it; and an option to use a (non-diary) milk with a touch of vinegar; and modifications in the procedure.) Second, throughout the UK, Ireland, and Europe, all the gluten-free bread is based on cornflour also know as cornstarch here in the USA. Cornstarch works wonders for getting the moisture content just right. This bread is big, fluffy, chewy, satisfying, elegant. What makes it elegant, different? The crumb is lavender! Yes, a beautiful light purple interior that sets it apart. It looks great for a sandwich. What makes is lavender? There's a complex reaction between trace amounts of iodine with starch, known as the iodine test, which Dan helped give me this insight. I made several different iterations of using non-iodized salt, changing my diary from cow to goat (goat is supposed to be iodine-free), to cutting out the salt all together. Turns out there's a significant amount of iodine in diary products. This reaction is so sensitive, requires only 0.00002M amount of iodine, that just thinking about iodine will turn is lavender. Why not embrace it, be different. Just like those of us who have to eat gluten-free. Different can be good, very good.

(Please refer to Dan Lepard's Original Recipe in BBC Food) See below for modifications:

30 grams golden flax seeds (whole)
10 grams SAF yeast
5 grams sugar
675 grams/mL warm water
100 grams natural plain yogurt (or milk + 20 grams cider vinegar) of your choice
7 grams (1 teaspoon) non-iodized salt

(Please refer to Dan Lepard's Original Recipe in BBC Food) See below for modifications: 
  • Heat the oven to 350F and toast the flax seeds for 8-10 minutes until they darken slightly. Grind immediately in a small processor, mortar/pestle, etc. Then whisk into the liquids mixture, below. They will have this beautiful, deep, nutty aroma. Do NOT use flax meal, as for it can go rancid quickly. And the quality of how the flax plays to overall quality of bread is critical.
  • In a large bowl, scale in the yeast, sugar, yogurt, and water. Whisk well. Add in the toasted, ground, flax meal. Whisk again. Whisk in the olive oil.
  • In a separate large bowl, scale in the cornflour, salt, and psyllium. Mix well.
  • Add the liquids to the flours with immediate and thorough mixing for about 5 minutes. At first it will be very liquid/runny, but will build up to be very thick.
  • Turn into an oil-sprayed/coated, large bread pan. Level out the dough. Put a thin coat of olive oil on top and cover with plastic wrap in a way so it can expand, but covered and no excess air. (Fermentation does not like air).
  • Allow to proof/ferment at room temperature for 60 minutes.
  • At this point, preheat the oven to 450F (make sure you have an oven thermometer to double check your oven temperature), and allow the bread to proof for an additional 15-30 minutes during the pre-heat.
  • Remove the plastic wrap, and place in the center of the hot oven. Bake for 60 minutes. Do NOT open the oven door. Not even a tiny crack! All this heat is critical to the initial rise of the bread. Every time you open the oven door, 50 to 100 degrees are lost.
  • Cool on wire rack before slicing. Don't be tempted to cut into it sooner, it will be gooey. The final texture works its way well into the cooling process. Cut and enjoy! If storing, cut as desired, store frozen in airtight container. 
Also, check out Dan Lepard's books on Amazon.com. Especially his new one, Short & Sweet.
    -Erin Swing
    The Sensitive Epicure

    Head on over to Karen's host post to see her amazing bread and all the other fantastic recipes brought to you by rally participants this month! Thanks again Karen for hosting a challenge that is difficult but so worth it! Also, if you're on Twitter, search #GFreeRally

    ~Aunt Mae (aka ~Mrs. R) | Honey From Flinty Rocks: Millet Chia Bread & Variations
    Adina | Gluten Free Travelette: Seedy Sandwich Bread
    Angela | Angela's Kitchen: Our Family's Basic Gluten Free Dairy Free Bread   
    Brooke | B & the boy!: Buckwheat-Oat Bread   
    Charissa | Zest Bakery: Cherry Pecan Pot Bread, Gluten Free
    Claire | This Gluten-Free Life: German Vollkornbrot (Seeded Bread)
    Jenn | Jenn Cuisine: Gluten Free Boule
    Jonathan | The Canary Files: Gluten-Free, Vegan Mediterranean Soda Bread
    Karen | Cooking Gluten Free: Gluten Free Sandwich Bread and Gluten Free Naan
    Meaghan | The Wicked Good Vegan: Vegan Gluten-Free Bread
    Meg | Gluten-Free Boulangerie: Ciabatta (gluten-free, egg-free/vegan)
    Monika | Chew on This!: Amaranth Skillet Flatbreads, Amaranth Mini Pita Rounds
    Morri | Meals with Morri: No Knead Sun-dried Tomato & Basil Flatbread (yeast free & grain free)
    Pete & Kelli | No Gluten, No Problem: Gluten-Free Challah
    Rachel / The Crispy Cook: Gluten Free Chickpea Sandwich Bread
    Tara | A Baking Life: Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread & Boule
    TR | No One Likes Crumbley Cookies: Gluten Free White Bread


    I love to read and learn about the science behind your cooking! Your bread looks great, and I love the color purple. :-)
    Karen said…
    Thank you for your primer it really helps to understand the inner workings.
    Gah! Thank you for making an egg free bread! I am going to have to try this as soon as I finish the store bought loaf I just bought.

    And I have a love of purple food, so this bread is perfect!

    -mary fran | frannycakes
    Morri said…
    Erin, you awesome chemist you!

    Thank you so much for the quick science/chemistry/gastronomy lesson, and this amazing recipe. I was so excited when you said you had a cool story when you came back from your trip...

    ... you did not disappoint.

    Again, this is an amazing entry.
    Jenn said…
    Erin, this is amazing - congrats on an egg free version, and so interesting using all cornstarch and fun that you got the colored iodine reaction from it!

    Based on your description of the gums, I really think I need to redo mine with xanthan rather than guar gum..
    Super cool, Erin! Looks fantastic. Echoing the others: I love the baking science behind your posts! I want to try psyllium husk more. I know gum free is in high demand!
    Jonathan said…
    Your posts always excite the academic in me. From water absorption to colloids, it's fascinating and your description makes the inner working of gluten-free baking accessible and logical. And btw, I love the science behind the lavender color - that has totally inspired me. Thank you, Erin!
    windycityvegan said…
    No eggs, and it's lavender! Can't wait to make this bread. And thank you for taking the time to discuss the properties of gluten free bread. It was like reading something by Shirley Corriher!!
    Caleigh x said…
    Thank you for explaining the science bit! Your debunking of this will be a massive help next time I attempt to bake.
    This is so fascinating and informative! I also love the lavender crusts. Very unique. And the bread looks so moist and light. Bravo!
    Anonymous said…
    Thanks for this recipe with its modifications. I wrote up the original recipe & then "folded in" your mods so I could figure out what I was doing beforehand: having them all on one page as a single recipe would help.

    Bread had great crumb, great structure. It's like Italian bread, bit of a miracle in gluten-free land. Didn't get even a trace of purple but was using only a tiny amount of salt with iodine. All of that was pretty exciting! :) Unfortunately the bread also has virtually no nutritional value (other than the flax it's entirely starch) and psyllium is pricey. Can you please make any suggestions about adding even a bit of gluten-free flour without changing structure too much?? My husband LOVES this bread because he can make a real sandwich on it, but it's expensive to make. Thanks again!