Sunday, October 7, 2012

My first try at making a gluten-free sourdough bread

For a while now, I've been developing a gluten-free sourdough starter. I didn't even know if such a thing were possible. Not that considering possibilities (or lack thereof) ever stopped me from trying something new. I recently learned of Manini's, a Seattle company that makes several gluten-free bread mixes, as well as a fabulous gluten-free pasta mix. I bought a bag of "Rustic Multigrain" bread mix and decided to try using it as the base for a sourdough starter.

The reason why I went to the trouble of making the starter is kind of simple and kind of complicated. In one of my bread books (the one that goes into a lot of scientific detail about what makes good naturally fermented bread), I learned that certain kinds of acid have an effect on the starches in bread grains. This led me to wonder if the acidity of a sourdough starter might have a beneficial effect with gluten-free flours.

After almost two weeks of nursing the starter along, I decided that it was ready to use. The other day I mixed up enough dough for a loaf, adding about 1/2 cup of starter. I'm used to the long, slow, cool fermentation of true sourdough, and I let the dough rise slowly for about four hours at around 65F. (With any bread, you don't want it to rise too quickly before it goes in the oven; the yeast loses much of its rising power and you won't get the dramatic "oven spring" that characterizes good bread.)  Into the oven it went at 375F to bake for almost an hour.

 And here it is! Looks a lot like "regular" bread, doesn't it? It has a nice crispy, brown crust and delicious aroma. When it cooled I weighed it; 3/4 kilo (1 lb 12 oz). Definitely more substantial than most commercial gluten-free breads I've tried. I was good and waited for the bread to cool before I sliced into it, all the while wondering what the texture and flavor were going to be like. I could hardly believe that my first attempt would have good results, but actually it turned out really well. As you can see in the photo below, the texture is like "real" bread. It has an interesting flavor, being a combination of several whole and ground grains. I haven't tried it toasted yet but I suspect it will be even more tasty.

By the way, Manini's pasta mix is amazing. I mixed up a batch using our duck eggs, and made fettuccine noodles with it. At first it was a little tricky to put it through the rollers, but with every pass it held together better and got smoother. It cooked up in about 3 minutes and it was simply delicious. It looks, smells and tastes like, well, fresh pasta.

In case you're wondering, I'm not gluten-free myself, but my mother and a few other people I know are. We like to try to accommodate dietary preferences when we have guests, plus I think bread and pasta would be the two things I'd miss most if I were going gluten-free. And as you know, I love baking bread! I've had it in mind for quite some time now to try making a decent-tasting gluten-free bread, and thanks to Manini's, I think I've made a good start.


  1. This sounds great!
    My fiance and I are extremely, err, sensitive to wheat gluten (explosively so), and I've been craving sourdough!

    I look forward to having sourdough, without a side of pepto bismol! :D
    (for most gluten-free people, it isn't a "dietary preference", but a necessity. For people with Celiac's disease, eating wheat can result in hospitalization)

  2. If you want to make your own GF sourdough starter, be prepared to give it some time. Wheat is a much stronger fermenter than most other grains, and I found my GF starter needed nearly 2 weeks to show adequate signs of yeasty life. I think next time I'll try making a starter with one of Manini's other mixes (a plainer one); it could be that the proportion of whole grains also had an effect on the fermentation.

    Re: "dietary preferences," I do realize that being gluten free is not simply a preference for most people, and I know people myself with Celiac disease. I was simply speaking generally about our efforts to take others' needs into consideration, as food is a big part of hospitality for us.

    I'm a pretty serious bread baker, and I'm enjoying taking on the challenge of gluten-free bread. Good luck, and let me know how it goes for you, OK? Thanks for your feedback.