Aaaand we’re back on the gluten free sourdough train. A train, might I add, that I have never gotten off. I am totally and utterly obsessed with the world of gluten free sourdough bread right now. I have been baking around the clock, learning the ins and outs of sourdough. After sharing my original recipe for gluten free sourdough a few weeks ago, I figured it was time for another loaf. So today I’m sharing a recipe for gluten-free ‘white bread’ sourdough.
This gluten-free ‘white bread’ sourdough is vegan, FODMAP friendly and nut free. It combines the techniques of traditional bread making with the necessary adaptions for gluten free baking.
GLUTEN-FREE ‘WHITE BREAD’ SOURDOUGH – THE HOW AND WHY OF THE INGREDIENTS
- This gluten free sourdough uses a higher proportion of starch to wholegrain gluten free flours. The starch in this recipe is responsible not only for the ‘white bread’ nature of the recipe, but also for the loftiness of it. Starches are light and fluffy, and their inclusion makes for a light and fluffy bread.
- Sorghum and millet flours have been purposefully chosen. They are both great performers in a gluten free sourdough – they are wholegrain, which gives the starter something to feed and grow on. However, they’re also neutral in flavour, which assists in the whole white bread thing.
- Sorghum is my new MVP gluten free flour. I highly recommend you seek it out. If you had to choose one wholegrain flour to work with, I’d recommend sorghum.
- Millet is a lovely sweet flour, but it does tend to make bread taste a little cakey, which is why I rely more heavily on sorghum. Needless to say, it might also tint your bread yellow.
- I have pivoted from using white rice flour in the preferment. Using a wholegrain flour in it’s place amplifies the sourness of the loaf, because the starter has something ‘wholemeal’ to eat. If you prefer a less pronounced sourdough, you could probably use white rice flour. However, I’d recommend adjusting the water content to suit, as white rice is a thirstier flour than sorghum.
- At the moment I am using a 100% white rice flour starter. This began out of necessity (due to 2020) but I quite like it. Personally I still recommend growing the starter on wholegrain flour before transitioning it. Here is my sourdough starter guide, in case you haven’t read it yet.
- I am loving potato starch in my bread recipes. It has a great quality to it that I can’t describe but really love. Potato starch is often misnamed as potato flour. All you need to know is the potato starch you’re after is snow white and powdery. If you have a more grain like flour that smells like potatoes, it is not suitable for use here.
THE PURPOSE OF PSYLLIUM HUSK IN GLUTEN FREE SOURDOUGH
Basically, psyllium husk is your gluten. In the absence of anything gelling the sourdough together, psyllium husk absorbs liquid and creates a network of elasticity. Without it, your dough would have no strength to rise as the yeast creates bubbles, and no ability to absorb the hefty amount of liquid we’re throwing at it.
The psyllium husk needs some time to create a gel with all the liquid we’re throwing at it. Often when your dough seems too wet, you just need to leave it be for 10 minutes to absorb a little extra water. We’ll discuss this a bit more in the troubleshooting section.
While there are other ingredients that act in the same manner as psyllium husk (flax meal, chia seeds) psyllium husk is my preferred ingredient, and all I ever test my loaves with. It is super accessible here in Australia, predictable to work with, and doesn’t leave little seedy bits in your loaf. Seedy bits aren’t always a bad thing, but A) I don’t want them in a white bread sourdough and B) if you’re using a knife instead of a lame, they can get in the way and mess up your scoring.
Please note: psyllium husk and psyllium husk powder are two distinct ingredients. While yes, they are technically the same thing, psyllium husk powder is milled much more finely and has a much greater absorbency. I don’t know how much more absorbent it is, because I’m happy with psyllium husk. If you use it, you’re on your own in terms of how much water you will need.
A NOTE ON GLUTEN FREE BREAD ENHANCERS
This is a topic we didn’t really cover in the first gluten free sourdough post. There exists such a thing as ‘bread enhancers’ which can be thought of like an espresso for your yeast. I’m tinkering with a few, but for this recipe I have used ground ginger powder and vitamin C powder.
They are simple tricks that you can use to boost the yeast in a loaf. Ideally, they will contribute to a more open crumb and a better rise.
Just 1/4 teaspoon each of ginger powder and vitamin C powder is enough for this purpose. You can add the powder into the flours as you’re mixing them.
I am aware, however, that you might not have pure vitamin C powder lying around if you’re not a bread nerd like me. So, I have read that apple cider vinegar vinegar is a suitable replacement. Add it in with the wet psyllium husk mixture as opposed to the flour, though. Another tip? Vitamin C powder and apple cider vinegar counteract each other, so don’t use them together.
A NOTE ON HOW MUCH SOURDOUGH STARTER TO ADD
I’m learning that the amount of sourdough starter that should be added to a loaf in dependent on a number of factors. Firstly, a loaf with more starches will proof quicker than one with more wholegrain flours. This means that a loaf with more starch can use less starter. I think this is because the starter easily feeds on starch, although I haven’t bothered to google these suspicions.
Secondly, a loaf made at the height of summer will proof quicker than one in the depth of winter. This means that you could play around with adding less starter in summer. The idea is to balance out these out these factors to create the perfect proof. The perfect proof is a balance between the dough having enough strength to rise, while also having had enough time for a longer proof, which develops flavour.
Thirdly, this will depend on the strength of your starter. A newer starter might need a little extra added for oomph, whereas a mature starter might need less.
I’m not a mathsy person by any means, and I really struggle with bakers percentages. I prefer to throw everything together and learn by doing. At the moment I can’t be sure if bakers percentages work for gluten free sourdough, or whether it’s a whole new ballgame altogether.
If you bake a loaf that proofs particularly quickly, try adding less sourdough starter to your next batch and see where that leads you. A classic sign of an over proofed loaf is a hollow, cavernous top of the loaf and a dense bottom. If you experience this with a relatively short proof (2 hours in a medium heat kitchen) then add less starter to the preferment next time.
Finally: a cold fermented loaf stays nice and perky when compared to a room temperature loaf. This makes it helpful in achieving a tall, aesthetically pleasing loaf.
NOTES ON PROOFING
As we all know, proofing time is hugely dependent on the temperature and climate where you live. A hot kitchen in summer could proof a loaf at twice the rate of a cold winter kitchen.
You’ll notice that the proofing schedule of this recipe is different than the original sourdough, and this is for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to give people an alternative option to a bench proof, which essentially consumes an entire day. It’s helpful to know that you can utilise the fridge in order to make the proofing process more life friendly.
Secondly, fridge proofing is a more foolproof way of proofing such a high starch, high hydration loaf. I think that the starch is (like sugar) much more quickly consumed by the bacteria and yeast in the sourdough starter. This results in a more rapid growth, which can quickly spiral into an over-proof, particularly in summer or a hot kitchen.
If you really don’t want to use the fridge, you can still proof this loaf on the bench. However, I recommend watching it carefully, and potentially adding only 100g active starter if you’re baking in summer or a hot kitchen.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED
- A gluten free sourdough starter. It should be thick like paste, super bubbly and active. Many people say that you won’t get a great bake out of your starter until it’s at least a month old, so be patient and stay the course. I’ve got a bunch of recipes coming up for things to make with your sourdough starter discard.
- Something to proof your loaf in. This could be a banneton or just a bowl with a tea towel. I like both, although make sure you use a tea towel without colour or ink. Learned that one the hard way.
- A baking vessel. Ideally this will be a Dutch Oven, although as we discussed in the first sourdough recipe, not all are suitable. Because we’re cooking at high temperatures, some have lid handles that aren’t destined for this. At the moment I’m using a very old Chasseur (whose lid handle has popped off) but ideally I’d love a Le Creuset. One day. If you don’t have a dutch oven, go and read the section in the gluten free sourdough about alternatives.
- A sharp scoring blade (lame) or a really sharp knife. Some box cutting blades will do in a pinch – I bought some at Bunnings while I was waiting for my lame to arrive.
- Patience! Sourdough is an art, and we’re throwing gluten free into the mix. You can’t rush sourdough because the results don’t lie.
TROUBLESHOOTING YOUR GLUTEN-FREE ‘WHITE BREAD’ SOURDOUGH
Before proceeding, let’s run over the basics – the gluten free bread version of ‘did you try turning it off and on again?’
- Did you weigh all your ingredients? Could have potentially used psyllium husk powder or cornflour or an ingredient not listed? Did you slip and add a little extra water by accident?
- Was your starter active, paste like in thickness, and on a rise before making your preferment? You can lie to me, but you can’t lie to yourself.
- Was your oven hot enough? Did you preheat the dutch oven too?
TROUBLESHOOTING Q AND A
MY BREAD DOUGH IS TOO STICKY TO SHAPE?
This is an interesting one, because I think it might come down to personal technique. Obviously you need to run through the basic troubleshooting, because having out of whack proportions is a surefire way to wind up with a wet dough.
To your credit, however, flours can have very different weights – no two bags are the same. And maybe (although I don’t know for sure) there’s variation from country to country. It shouldn’t be enough to take a dough from shapeable to batter, but it is worth mentioning.
While the dough looks wet, it generally is very shapeable. You might panic and think ‘there’s no way I can get my hands in there’ but generally, you can. This dough is a high hydration one, no doubt about it. However, the ideal consistency of it should not be sticky. It might be wobbly and a little too wobbly to form into a shape, but it shouldn’t be sticky. So, what are the possible reasons?
- Your starter was too wet. Starters are a tricky beast. For gluten free starters, you often need more water than flour to create the thick paste you’re after. The ideal consistency of a starter is thick, paste paste, and both spoonable and pourable (in a blobby way). If your starter is thin (anything from crepe batter to pancake batter in consistency) you’re adding more liquid to your dough than rising power. This contributes to a sticky dough and often to a flat, dense loaf. You should gently stir a starter before using to check the consistency (a thick top and liquid bottom is no help either) and feed it again if you must. Your oven light is your saviour here – a heat boost can often give your starter that push it needs.
- You just need to walk away for 10 minutes and let the psyllium husk do it’s thing. If you’re getting nowhere and you really can’t do anything with the dough, leave it for 10 minutes. The psyllium husk will absorb some extra liquid, and it should be easier to handle when you return.
- Not troubleshooting, but solutions! Some things to try for a wet loaf are flouring your hands and the sides of the dough as you work, or just plopping the dough into a bowl lined with a tea towel that has been sprinkled with rice flour, and then putting your loaf in the fridge. I Find the tea towel bowl proof very helpful with a wet dough. Firstly, the tea towel and the rice flour absorb a little liquid. Secondly, the loaf is much easier to remove after proofing than it is from a banneton. A banneton can get a bit of mould on it if it’s left damp for a long time, so a bowl is better in this instance.
MY LOAF DIDN’T GET MUCH HEIGHT?
If it’s not of the above, there are a few reasons as to why your loaf didn’t get much height.
- Your starter isn’t sufficiently mature. Yes it’s bubbly, yes it’s thick, but sometimes newer starters take a while to get into the swing of things. It’s reasonable to expect your starter to start producing more loft in your loaves after a month or so.
- You were heavy handed with the dough. Treat it gently or you’ll knock the air of it it!
- Your kitchen isn’t warm enough. I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of warmth in the sourdough process. They also underestimate just how warm a starter/loaf likes to be. If you can’t use an oven light, a proofing box or something with consistent heat, you will find it a lot harder to create a lofty loaf in the cooler months. That’s just the nature of the beast.
- Your proofing vessel is wide and flat. This seems too obvious, but it’s a real thing. Because a high hydration dough (and gluten free sourdough in general) doesn’t have much strength, it will mould to the shape it is placed in. Try to find a banneton with a deeper base, or use a round bottomed bowl. You can also, as we will discuss in the method section, cold ferment your dough. This means placing it in the fridge overnight, and it will help the dough stand a little more upright.
- Your proofing time was off. Proofing is an art that you really just have to master with experience. Personally I still don’t think I am 100% with my proofing, but I’m getting better with time.
MY LOAF IS DENSE?
Dense loaves are generally a result of one of the basics being off kilter. However, everything that applies to the height section also applies here. Personally I think that proofing and temperature are two big issues that result in a dense loaf, in addition to issues with your starter.
MY LOAF IS GUMMY?
The credit for this one goes to a few things. Firstly, not giving your loaf enough time in the oven. I KNOW that it’s exciting when you take the lid off and your sourdough looks perfect. You might think ‘I don’t want it to get any darker! The crust is my ideal colour!’ and whip it out of the oven. HOWEVER. There’s a lot of liquid in this dough – both the preferment and the water itself. If you don’t give this time to cook off, you’ll have a wet, gummy dough. You never gave the poor darl time to set. It’s the same as a cake – sometimes it looks done on the outside, but is dead raw on the inside. Give it time.
If your really want to stop your loaf from taking on more colour, you have a few options. Firstly, you can lower the oven temperature. Easy. Secondly, you can cover the loaf with a piece of tin foil, while still leaving plenty of room for steam to escape. Finally, I have read that you can VERY CAREFULLY remove the bread from the dutch oven and set it on the oven racks to finish it’s time in the oven. Because the dutch oven has so much radiant heat, removing it will allow to loaf to finish cooking at a lower temperature.
Secondly on the gummy loaf front, you might have A) cut it without letting it cool B) somehow deflated the loaf (I find dropping it into the dutch oven a culprit here).
TO MAKE YOUR GLUTEN FREE SOURDOUGH INTO A LOAF:
Making a loaf as opposed to a boule requires a few changes to the recipe. Firstly, I would recommend acquiring a loaf pan. Luckily for me I bought an old vintage one as a prop many moons ago, which is what I used. In an ideal world your loaf tin will be metal – metal conducts heat well and has firm sides so that the loaf doesn’t proof outwards as well as upwards.
Secondly, you’ll need to place a metal baking dish at the base of your oven prior to preheating it. Preheat the oven as per usual – an hour at a high heat is ideal. 10 minutes before you’re ready to bake your loaf, boil the kettle. VERY CAREFULLY pour the boiling water into the base of the baking dish and close the door. The steam created will be reminiscent of the steamy environment created in a dutch oven. It will also have the capacity to burn, so be really careful.
Bake the loaf for the specified time, uncovered, in the steamy oven. This will replicate the oven spring capacity of a dutch oven as best as possible. You can lightly cover the loaf in the second half of baking if you feel the crust is becoming too dark. You can also remove the loaf from the tin (after the initial 50 minute baking) so that the heat from the metal doesn’t darken the bottom crust too much. Note that if you take it out too early, you’ll risk collapsing the loaf.
If you don’t have a steel baking tin, you could potentially use a silicone baking tin. Have a read of this forum discussion here. They suggest putting the silicone in something for the duration of proofing to hold the walls steady so the loaf doesn’t proof outwards. Note that you might sacrifice a bit of oven spring, but the bread will still be delicious.
Keep in mind that there is more oven temperature variance and heat conductivity variance when baking a loaf. Use your intuition and adjust the baking times to suit your set up. The loaf should stand proud, have a lovely golden crust and sound hollow when you tap on it.
Gluten free ‘white bread’ sourdough
- Large glass or plastic mixing bowls
- Boule shaped Banneton (bread shaping basket) or a bowl with a clean tea towel
- Lame (scoring blade) or sharp knife
- Dutch oven, baking stone, baking cloche or cast iron skillet and tin foil
To make the preferment:
- 130 g active thick and bubbly starter (see introduction for link, also see notes)
- 100 g sorghum flour or millet flour
- 100 g water
To make the loaf:
- 100 g millet flour
- 50 g sorghum flour
- 100 g tapioca flour
- 100 g potato starch
- 2 - 2 1/4 (11-13g) teaspoons fine salt (I used table, note that different salts are different salinities)
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1/4 teaspoon vitamin C powder (or substitute with apple cider vinegar, added to psyllium liquid mix)
- 25 g psyllium husk (not psyllium husk powder)
- 400 g water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional, makes for a softer crust)
To make the pre-ferment:
- Firstly, ensure you’re using a starter that has been fed a few hours before. It should be on the rise and have a domed top when you measure it into the bowl. I’d suggest feeding your starter at 1 or 2pm, and then waiting until the peak of your starter (2-3 hours in a warm place) to make the pre-ferment.
- To make the preferment:
- Once the starter is ready to go, mix it with the water and then add the flour to create the preferment. Stir until combined and cover with cling film or a wrap. I hate recommending cling film but it does do a good job here. I do recommend reusing the cling film for bread purposes (and everything else, really).
- Leave this in a warm, draft free place overnight. The preferment should look like a starter that has begun to fall after not being fed for a while. The top should have some popped bubbles but it will still look quite watery. Even if you think it has 'failed' it should still strengthen both the flavour and the physical dough. If it has absolutely no bubbles, doesn't look any different and has no sour smell, discard it and start again.
To make the loaf:
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the psyllium husk, water and apple cider vinegar if you can't get Vitamin C powder (never use them both together). Whisk to combine, and then leave for 5-10 minutes to thicken into a gel.
- While you’re waiting, combine the flours, ginger powder, vitamin C powder if you have it and salt in a large glass or plastic mixing bowl.
- Once the psyllium gel has thickened well, whisk it into the preferment and oil (if you're using it) Add this wet mixture to the flours and use a spoon to combine the mixture. It will get to a stage where it looks like a scraggy scone dough - get in there with your hands and squelch it through until you have a hydrated, smooth-ish ball of dough. You could also use a stand mixer and a dough hook, but I find this easier and quicker.
- Place the dough onto a lightly floured dry benchtop to shape it as best you can. I have linked a clip of how I shape my loaves in the notes section.
- When the dough is shaped, lightly flour your banneton or bowl with white rice flour. Place the nice side of the dough (aka the side with no seams that you’ve chosen as the top of the loaf) down into the banneton. The base of the loaf (with all the seams) should be facing upwards.
- Cover the loaf (make it airtight or the dough will dry out) with a lightly oiled shower cap or the cling you used for the pre-ferment. Place the loaf in a plastic bag and place either in the fridge or on the bench to proof. See proofing section for your options. If you proof it on the bench, it will take anymore from 3-6 hours, weather dependent. It might even take more. If you use the fridge, you can leave it overnight.
To bake the loaf:
- Around 30 minutes before the loaf is proofed (telling this is an art you learn with practice, but see notes for tips) preheat your dutch oven at 300-350C/572-662F. Note that some dutch ovens can only go to 300C/572F, so make sure you know which sort yours is. Dough is properly proofed when you poke it and the indent bounces back partially, but not all the way.
- When the oven and loaf are both ready, take a rectangular piece of sturdy baking paper and lay it on a damp bench. It needs to be long enough that you can lower the loaf into the Dutch oven without burning your arms. In my experience, dropping the loaf into the Dutch oven results in a flat and gummy loaf.
- Invert the loaf onto the centre of the baking paper, leaving the edges for lowering handles. Use a lame (sharp scoring blade) or a sharp knife to make a reasonably deep incision in the loaf. Google ‘bread scoring’ for some pattern ideas, or just keep it simple.
- Get all your oven gear ready to work quickly for this next step. Carefully and quickly remove the super hot Dutch oven from the oven. Shut the oven door while you work. Take the lid off and quickly lower in the bread, before quickly replacing the loaf to trap steam.
- For a blonder crust, drop the heat back to 220C/428F and bake for an hour. For a darker crust, keep the oven at 300C/572F for 30 minutes, before lowering to 220C/428F for the next 30 minutes.
- Once the time is up, remove the lid and continue to bake your loaf for another 20 or so minutes, or until the crust sounds hollow when you knock on it. For a blonder crust, drop the heat back to 180C or 356F.
- Once cooked, remove the loaf from the oven and baking paper, placing it on a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely (3-4 hours, ideally overnight) before slicing into it, as you can compress all the air in the loaf and end up with extremely gummy bread.
- You can store the loaf in a bag or freeze it in slices.