Gluten free bread - tips for success

I get so many questions about gluten free bread that I felt a page about the subject was warranted.

The loaves available in the grocery stores tend to be expensive and can be full of preservatives to allow a longer shelf life.

They may not be perfect, but they are 100% times better than those that were available when I was a child! I needed to drink a glass of water with each mouthful so that I could swallow each slice, as it was so dry and rubbery. NOT pleasant!

You might have tried making your own bread at home, with results that were heavy, gritty, dry, or gooey imitations of wheat bread. Before you abandon hope, let me see if I can help.

Raising agents for bread baking

Bread needs something to help it rise. Normally, this is either yeast or baking powder, although other ingredients will also assist in this process.


Yeast is a micro-organism that needs warmth and liquid to start fermenting (breaking down the starches into sugar). The fermentation process produces carbon dioxide bubbles.  

In normal wheat breads these bubbles inflate, causing the gluten in the dough to stretch while still holding the mixture together in a strong structure but open texture. Kneading the dough also helps this process to occur. In gluten free bread this inflation is inhibited.

Think of a soap bubble. If you poke it, the bubble will pop. If, however, your bubble blowing mixture has more soap in it, the bubbles will be stronger and can bounce of a surface without popping.

Of course we can't add soap to bread, but we can use other ingredients to help the mixture to protect those delicate bubbles.

My grandson blowing bubbles on Christmas morning

Baking powder

Baking powder can also be used as a leavening (rising) agent.  It is made from three ingredients..

  • Bicarbonate of soda (or baking soda - this can be bitter used on its own)
  • Cream of tartar (an acidifier)
  • Cornstarch

It is always best to check the ingredients in commercially available baking powders, as wheat flour is sometimes used instead of corn.

Alternatively you can make your own, with the ingredients listed above and store it in an airtight container for up to one year. 

Baking powder can lose its power over time, so to avoid wasting expensive ingredients it is best to test it before use, if you are not sure how long it has been in your cupboard.

To do this, just put a teaspoon of baking powder in a cup and then partly fill it with warm water. If it fizzes, then it is fine to use it in your recipe.

Guar and Xanthum Gum

These two products can, to a certain extent, act as a replacement for gluten. Each of them will help to hold the mixture together, resulting in a less crumbly gluten free bread. 

You would use one or the other, not both, in a recipe.

Xanthum gum is more expensive than guar (unless you live in the UK and can get it on prescription), which may help you choose. Be aware though that it is possible to suffer ill effects from both. 

Guar can sometimes cause tummy upsets and is often used to treat constipation!  Some people are, however, sensitive to xanthum gum.

Whichever you decide to use, it is important to measure these ingredients carefully. Adding too much can cause your bread to end up slimy! Be sure to incorporate the gum with the flour thoroughly, before adding any liquid, or you could end up with a sticky mess.

Gluten free flours to use in bread making

When I was a child the only gluten free flours available were rice, corn, soya and potato. Combined they produced a starchy, gritty result with little nutrition. Now, we have many more options available to us. 

Using a higher protein flour such as bean, quinoa or amaranth will result in a more nutritious gluten free bread.

If you want a brown bread you might like to incorporate some buckwheat flour (despite its name, this does not contain wheat and is gluten free).

For more information check out my gluten free flours page. You may also like to try grinding your own at home.

Other ingredients

Adding ground flax seeds, eggs or milk powder to the ingredients, will result in a more nutritious gluten free bread which holds together better. The eggs will also help it to rise.

For added moistness, some people like to use olive oil instead of margarine. I have even heard of people adding a spoon of gf mayonnaise to their bread mixture for the same purpose, although I haven't tried it myself.

Room temperature

Earlier I mentioned that yeast needs warmth in order to start working. Therefore it is best not to take any ingredients straight out of the fridge and use them straight away.

Try to plan ahead when making gluten free bread, and remove them at least an hour before your baking session. This gives them time to come to room temperature. 

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