A Gluten-Free Extravaganza! (Update #9)

Hello people! Earlier in the summer I attempted an experiment to improve upon the basic yeasted sandwich loaf by using different flours to see if they had an effect on height, texture, and the overall viability of a loaf for its desired purpose. In this past experiment, which was based on a recipe that assumed the baker was using flour with gluten in it, the gluten-free flours that I tried fell flat. This outcome, while being pretty darn easy to predict, made me sad and reflective about my inability to let all my flours shine in their best form. It was out of this period of soul-searching that arose my most recent project: the gluten-free loaf. Gluten-free baking has often been marginalized as a tiresome practice for those who are allergic to gluten and nobody else. It has been seen as an activity for people who cannot taste the wonder of “real” bread without getting sick. In designing this experiment, I aimed to break through these preconceived notions by making a delicious loaf of gluten-free bread. I wanted to test common gluten-free flours in a recipe designed for gluten-free bread in order to see what came out best. I hoped to turn the tide a little bit from having this type of baking be something only for people with an intolerance to a certain ingredient to a fun alternative way to make bread at home.

Ready for some goodies!

Ready for some goodies!

I used four common gluten-free flours recommended for baking and one gluten-filled flour (all-purpose) in my experiment. The trials were as follows: paleo blend (trial 1), brown rice flour (trial 2), coconut flour (trial 3), almond flour (trial 4), all-purpose white flour (trial 5). I included classic all-purpose flour in my experiment so I could give flours with gluten in them a taste of their own medicine; seeing how they would perform in a recipe designed specifically for gluten-free flours would shed light on the differences between the flours and how they perform. Also, just for clarity, the “paleo blend” flour is a mixture of almond flour, arrowroot starch, coconut flour, and tapioca flour put together by a fancy flour company called Bob’s Red Mill. My hypothesis was that the paleo blend from the gluten-free flour experts would yield the closest flavor, texture, and height to the all-purpose loaf. Of course, I predicted that the all-purpose loaf would be the tallest and the tastiest.

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To start my day of baking, I took a walk to Safeway and picked up all the flours that I needed. During this shopping trip I learned a valuable and slightly horrifying lesson: gluten-free baking can be extremely expensive. Coconut flour, almond flour, and the paleo blend all retailed for around $13 per three and a half cup bag. That’s almost $4 per cup! Ridiculous! My thought at the time was “these buddies better make some kick-butt bread, or else what’s the point of buying them?” In contrast, a small bag of brown rice flour cost only $3. Therefore, I was curious to see if the drastic difference in price would be reflected in the final products that the flours would produce. Once in the kitchen, I whisked flour, xanthan gum, yeast, cream of tartar, sugar, and salt together in a bowl by hand before pouring in milk, apple cider vinegar, egg whites, and melted butter. I mixed these dry and wet ingredients together in an electric mixer for 3 minutes on medium to high speed. Then I scraped the dough (which looked a lot more like batter) into a loaf pan and let it rise for an hour. After the rising period was over, I placed the loaf in a 375 degree F oven for an hour to cook it through.

Just a Mystics fan separating some eggs :)

Just a Mystics fan separating some eggs :)

Mix it up a little!

Mix it up a little!

From bowl to loaf pan and back again

From bowl to loaf pan and back again

After the loaves were all out of the oven, there was an instant and noticeable difference in the way that the various flours affected the loaves’ composition and structure. Both the paleo and almond loaves collapsed under their own weight, while the coconut flour essentially made a dense brick of a bread that had a tendency to crumble. The all-purpose loaf stood tall and luscious-looking, dwarfing its glutenless opponents. However, of the four gluten-free flours, it was brown rice flour that made the most presentable-looking loaf, it being both the tallest and the most structurally-sound bread of the bunch. This observation was a surprise to me due to the fact that brown rice flour cost ten dollars less than the other alternatives. The height measurements for each bread are as follows: 8.2cm (paleo blend), 9.0cm (brown rice), 7.2cm (coconut), 5.9cm (almond), 11.5cm (all-purpose). Interestingly, the brown rice loaf also won out in taste among its gluten-free brethren, and, even though this part of the experiment was totally subjective, unofficial, and quantitative, it gives me enough information to endorse brown rice flour as the best gluten-free ingredient for baking bread among the ones I’ve used. Now, of course, I didn’t try every single gluten-free flour on the market (as I hope to one day), but the results of this experiment get me really excited about brown rice flour both due to its affordable price point relative to all of its expensive neighbors and its results in the kitchen. Even though my hypothesis was confirmed in that the all-purpose loaf looked and tasted the best, the brown rice flour loaf held its own and helped me reject the part of my hypothesis that stated that the paleo blend would produce the best results. For gluten-free bread, it’s brown rice flour all the way.

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From left to right: all-purpose, coconut, almond

From left to right: all-purpose, coconut, almond

From left to right: brown rice, paleo

From left to right: brown rice, paleo

My experimental error during this experiment was all timing. Some batches of dough rested a little longer than others which could have impacted their height (due to a different rising time) slightly. That being said, everything else was controlled, and I am confident enough in my ability to experiment in the kitchen at this point to confirm the results of this bake! If there are any gluten-free queens/general loaf enthusiasts out there reading this, I hope that I could help heighten your bread experience. Go forth, and taste good stuff!

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