I make lots of breads and muffins, most of which aren't on this blog, but until recently hadn't decided to explore the world of soaking my flours and letting the dough rest. I soak all my whole grains, but why not flours? Fermenting flour products is a time honored tradition that we have let go in the West; I decided I needed to give it a shot. I had never attempted a naturally leavened loaf of bread, it seemed a little intimidating, even to an adventurous sort like me. But why? It is just fermenting, letting flour and water sit. Then sit some more. And some more. Why not try making one from scratch? So, five days ago I set out on a sourdough journey, and I made my own sourdough starter using quinoa and millet flours (see this blog post for my recipe and record of the experience). After days of patient fermenting, stirring, and feeding my little starter baby, I decided to give my first loaf of naturally leavened, yeast free, sourdough gluten free bread a shot. Here I go!
This recipe is adapted from Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, and amazing book that I would recommend to anyone interested in natural healing and whole foods. I substituted a gluten free flour blend of quinoa, millet, and sorghum flours for the whole-wheat flour in his recipe. Also, his recipe makes an enormous batch, so I chose to quarter the proportions, but used slightly more starter and slightly less water than proportional. For added nutrition, I included flax meal and kelp powder, and I decided to add a savory seed mix to the top of the loaf. And that's pretty much it, no yeast, no binders, no oil or sweeteners, just whole grain flours, some seasonings, water, and my starter.
I'm not into using loads of starches or refined flours in my baking. I think they are boring and nutritionally void. No flavor, no real vitamins or minerals, just carbohydrates. I might use a pinch of starch or sweet rice flour here and there, since it does help with texture, but I don't want it to the base of my flour mixture. I never liked white bread or overly refined flour products, and I don't want to start eating it now. Heck, if I'm going to use flours, I want nutrition - amino acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals. In the case of binders, they are tricky for me; I currently avoid xanthan gum due to my corn allergy, and I'd really prefer not to use loads of guar gum, since it can have a laxative effect. That makes creating a loaf of bread that actually sticks together a little challenging; you can only add so much flax or chia. I just want all the simple, wholesome goodness of a 'normal' loaf of bread, the classic flour-water-salt combination, without all the added, overly-processed stuff that a lot of gluten-free baking uses to make it seem more like a 'normal' loaf. Is that too much to ask?
So, while researching for this quest, I came across the website for Grindstone Bakery. They are based in California, and make naturally-leavened, yeast-free sourdough breads that look amazing, full of whole grains. They even feature a number of beautiful gluten-free products, and while they do use xanthan gum, their gluten-free breads have all the simple goodness of a true loaf of bread, no added starches, no other crazy stuff - just naturally leavened, sourdough goodness. Naturally leavened breads are easier to digest; the starter breaks down the proteins and carbohydrates into amino acids and simple sugars. The fermentation makes nutrition more easily assimilated, and the healthy bacteria can help to restore a proper intestinal environment. After coming across their website, my mind started turning, wondering if I could make a similar loaf at home...
So, this is my attempt. The result? A very (um, VERY) dense bread that actually raised while it rested, has a sourdough flavor, and nice, golden crispy crust. Toasted, it is really really tasty. This loaf totally sliceable with a good, sharp serrated knife, but wouldn't hold up to sandwiches - better for dipping in olive oil, using for bruschetta, or eating with soup. And boy, is it dense, but not in that undercooked, funky dense way that gluten free breads can have; it is good, hearty kind of dense. It is a little dry, but part of that might be because I messed up on the oven temperature.
In terms of how it baked, it raised a bit more in the oven, cracked on top, and browned nicely. And when I turned it out of the bread pan, I got the classic hallow "thud" when I tapped the bottom of the loaf. There will be some tweaking, but I think this recipe was a pretty decent success for a first attempt! I devoured some right out of the oven, and it was very satisfying.
Need a recipe for GF sourdough starter? The sourdough starter recipe and process I used for this recipe is HERE
yield: 1 loaf (12-14 thick slices)
- 1 1/4 c quinoa flour
- 1 1/4 c millet flour
- 1 c sorghum flour
- additional 1/4 c flour of choice for dusting
- 1/4 c ground flax seed
- 1 c warm water
- 1/2 c sourdough starter
- 1/2 t salt
- 1 t kelp powder
- optional savory seed topping:
- 1/2 t each caraway seed, dill seed, dill weed, celery seed, flax seed, garlic flakes, onion flakes
- Mix together and sprinkle on bread, or use as seasoning.
In a large bowl, whisk or sift the flours together until light and well blended. In a separate bowl, mix half the flour with water, starter, salt, kelp powder, and flax meal. Gradually add remaining flour until dough becomes too thick to stir. Remove from bowl, and transfer to floured surface. Knead until smooth and no longer sticky. Since it is gluten-free, it won't be elastic, but knead it until it feels as close as gluten-free bread dough can get to the feel of 'real' bread dough.
Cover and let rise 2 hours in a non-metal bowl in a warm place. Replenish starter with 1/4 c each flour and water. Knead dough again. Shape into a loaf, cover with optional seed topping, and place in an oiled and floured bread pan. Cover, and let rise 4-6 hours in warm place. Loaf should increase in size.
Place in a cold oven with a pan of plain water on the oven floor. Turn oven to 425º F. Once heated, bake at 425º F for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350º F, and continue baking until golden brown, approximately 45 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool. Slice with a serrated knife.
- I may try making a sponge of some flour and the starter first, letting that sit overnight, then adding the rest of the flour, letting it rest for 2-4 hours, then kneading, and then letting it rest a final time for another 6-8 hours.
- I'm going to try shaping the loaf and baking it on a baking sheet or pizza stone, instead of in the loaf pan, just for fun.
- I'm going to try slitting the top a couple times to see if that reduces the cracking.
- I'm not going to mess up the oven temperature - I forgot to turn down the heat after the first 15 minutes at 425*, and realized about 30 minutes into my second timer that I was still at 425*. So, I turned it down at that point, and baked it for the remaining time. But I think it dried the loaf out just a little too much.
- I may add a little olive oil to the recipe, for moisture. The crumb was pretty good, and the density was nice, but that might help the dryness issue.
- I may try adding whole grain soaked millet or quinoa for fun added texture.
- I may mess with my flour proportions, or try a different blend.
- I will use a larger pan for water, and fill it all the way up. My pan of water dried up by the end.
- I may add a little honey or agave, to see if it feeds the natural bacteria and makes it raise a little more.
I will definitely be trying another sourdough loaf. I'd like to try a quinoa-millet-buckwheat blend. Until then, my starter will be fermenting in a cool place...