I have often shied away from baking, preferring to cook savoury dishes instead. The thing I love most about cooking is having the freedom to experiment. I never have all the ingredients I need for a recipe and in fact, I rarely follow I recipe. I will look in my fridge, see what I have and then make something up.
Nine times out of ten, I make something tasty. There are the odd few disasters, but we won’t talk about them. My only problem is forgetting to write it down.
When it comes to baking, you can’t wing it in the same way. Baking is an exact science. If you don’t have eggs and you are making a cake, unless you find a specific egg free recipe, you are not going to have much success if you just omit them. Baking recipes are carefully calculated and you have to follow them to the letter and the gram. The same goes for how you mix it all together and how hard you work the ingredients.
Moreover, to say that baking is a science is one thing, when it comes to baking gluten free, we are taking the science to a completely new level. Gluten is one of the most important ingredients in baked goods, as it provides the structure. Without it, you have to work extra hard to achieve the same results.
I found out on a disastrous baking spree recently how important it is to be exact with your ingredients and measurements when baking gluten free. I was using a cookbook that required measuring in cups. For a start, I don’t get on with this method. The scientist in me needs to measure in grams. Secondly, I wasn’t using the same flour as recommended in the recipe and I found half way through that I didn’t have enough of one of the ingredients. Nevertheless, I plodded on thinking that it would all turn out just fine.
Except that it didn’t. It was a disaster on every level. What should have been light and chewy cinnamon raisin rolls, turned out to be brittle cinnamon and raisin bricks, bearing no resemblance to the photo in the book. The texture was slightly hard, pastry like and it had the completely wrong mouth feel.
I understood my mistakes. The ingredients and the measurements just weren’t right and ok, I take some of the responsibility too (a worker can’t always blame his tools and all that).
The second thing I made was gluten free bread. This didn’t turn out too badly. Taste wise, it was completely different to an ordinary loaf. It had a denser, closer crumb and ironically more of a cake like texture. Gluten free loaves don’t rise in the same way a wheat loaf would and you don’t get the same amount of browning to the crust. However, the taste was pleasant and it made lovely toast. Just don’t throw one of these loaves at any one or they might end up in casualty (trust me it was that heavy).
From now on, I’m taking this seriously. Gluten free baking is not going to defeat me. The challenge is on. In fact, I even dug out my food science books from the days when I worked as a food technologist in order to remind myself of how the ingredients of baked goods work together. I’ve loved getting back to the nuts and bolts details and I’m ready to come back with renewed enthusiasm.
You can see how the texture of the gluten free bread (on the right) compares to a loaf made with a gluten containing flour. The crumb of the loaf on the left is more aerated and lighter, which makes for a softer texture.
I’ve been getting to grips with how to combine gluten free flours to obtain different textures and what to add to help them rise or hold their structure. I’m educating myself about how to obtain different textures using other ingredients, as well as how to handle the mixes.
Now it is time to put the theories to the test and see what I can come up with. It’s an exciting experiment and I hope to share with you the results, both good and bad. Here’s to a non-toe breaking homemade gluten free loaf that doesn’t require a chain saw to cut through!