Though sourdough wheat bread can be tolerated by some gluten-sensitive individuals—the act of fermenting the wheat makes gluten easier to digest—people with celiac disease and others who can't tolerate any wheat can still enjoy sourdough's tangy flavor, thanks to the wide variety of gluten-free flours now available made with everything from corn to quinoa (find out if you should be eating fermented bread). Most of the baked goods we're familiar with are wheat-based and rely on the balance between the grain's protein (gluten) and starch contents to develop texture, so merely swapping out wheat flour for a gluten-free alternative is often a dismal flop. When baking gluten free, you need to get that same mix of protein and starch by combining a high-starch flour, such as potato or tapioca flour, with a high-protein flour, like one derived from beans or peas. Adding an egg can also improve the results. If this is your first time baking gluten free, buy a premade, additive-free, gluten-free flour blend, such as Bob's Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour, to ensure you get the best protein-starch ratio. As you gain experience, you can start blending individual flours to get just the right flavor and texture for your tastes. If you're short on time and baking from scratch is out of the question but you need to pick up a loaf, here are the 5 best gluten-free breads.
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How To Make Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter
3-4 cups gluten-free flour
Non-metal wide-mouth container
I've made good gluten-free starter with straight brown rice flour along with a packaged blend of garbanzo bean (chickpea), potato starch, tapioca, sorghum, and fava bean flours. But I didn't have much luck with a gluten-free flour mix that contained the added thickeners xanthan gum and guar gum, as my starter got really thick and not much happened. If your tap water is chlorinated, you either need to let it sit in an open container for a day to let the chlorine evaporate, run it through a filter that takes out chlorine, or use bottled water. Chlorine inhibits the yeasts and bacteria you want to encourage.
Day 1: Mix ½ cup of flour and ½ cup of warm water together in your large jar. Use a whisk, as that will help get lots of air—and the airborne yeasts and bacteria you want—into the slurry. Cover the jar loosely with some cheesecloth or an inverted sieve, something that will keep bugs and objects out but will allow air to circulate. Place the jar in a room-temperature location and ignore it. About eight hours later, add ¼ cup of warm water and ¼ cup of flour, whisk it vigorously, cover, and set it aside again.
Day 2: Feed your developing starter ¼ cup of warm water and ¼ cup of flour once in the morning and again in the evening, about eight hours later. The mixture should be liquid and pourable, rather than thick and doughlike. Cut back on the amount of flour you're adding if your mixture is getting too thick.
Day 3: After three days, you should start to see small bubbles in your liquid. Once that happens, you are ready to start baking. If you don't use all of your starter for one project, continue feeding what's left over with ¼ cup of warm water and ¼ cup of flour each day, about eight hours apart. In the event that you're getting more starter than you can use, put it in the refrigerator and feed it once every two to three days. When you're ready to bake with it, bring it back to room temperature and feed it two or three times a day for two days to get it bubbling happily again.
Basic Gluten-Free Sourdough Bread
The next step is to use your starter in bread. Since there are many more variables in gluten-free baking than there are in baking with wheat flour, your first attempt may not be exactly what you were hoping for. But if at first you don't succeed, keep feeding your starter and try again next weekend.
2 cups actively bubbling gluten-free sourdough starter
2 cups gluten-free flour blend
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon organic sugar, molasses, or honey (optional)
2 tablespoons melted organic butter or olive oil (optional)
½ to 1 cup warm water
1. In a large bowl mix the first three ingredients along with the sweetener and fat, if using, until just blended. Add water a few tablespoons at a time until you have a pourable batter like a thick cake batter, not a mass you can handle like a wheat-based bread dough.
2. Grease a baking pan or line the pan with a single sheet of parchment paper. Use a loaf pan to make sandwich bread or a round oven-safe casserole dish or mixing bowl to bake a country-style loaf. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, cover it with a wet tea towel (don't let the towel touch the surface of the batter), and set it in a warm place to rise for four to eight hours (or longer if that's how your schedule works). Your batter should have risen at least a third by this time.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake your bread for about 40 minutes. The bread is done when it no longer jiggles in the center and the internal temperature is at least 200 degrees. Remove it from the oven, let it cool for about 15 minutes, then turn the loaf onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely before slicing.
With any luck, you have a tasty loaf with lots of small air pockets inside. Eat it up in a day or so, or slice it and store it in a sealed container in the freezer (find out what's the healthiest bread for your sandwich). If your bread turns out too dense, you may want to make sure your starter is really active before you mix your next batch. If it's too crumbly, try adding a little more fat and maybe a beaten egg to the batter next time. Either way, don't waste a bad loaf—slice your not-so-great efforts and dry them out to make breadcrumbs for cooking or use it to make bread pudding.
Gluten-Free Sourdough Crackers Or Flatbread
Faster and less prone to failure, since you don't need to let flour rise, you can use just about any type of gluten-free flour to make a thin, crispy cracker or flatbread. Once you've got the basic baking down, you can try your hand at these 3 simple sourdough recipes—simply substitute in gluten-free flour.
Related: 5 Gluten-Free Pastas That Are Healthier Than Wheat-y Linguine
Gluten-Free Sourdough Pancakes
Pancakes are a great way to use up extra starter, and the result is a tangy pancake that lends itself as much to savory toppings as to sweet. Use whatever starter you have left over and add more gluten-free flour and water to get a batter of the consistency you desire: thicker for thick, fluffy pancakes, thinner for crêpe-like pancakes. Cook it up right away or, if you have time, let the batter sit overnight in the refrigerator, which adds flavor and texture.