Getting gluten-free bread dough to rise (without the use of a bread machine with a gf setting) does take some practice, but mostly you need to know the tricks of the trade. I hadn’t posted these tricks and tips before because I didn’t want to micromanage. But I do want to help. It’s time for some learnin’, and school is in session. Just check out the Brioche Bread above. The recipe will be in the GFOAS cookbook come March 2011, so you’ll have to wait, but I thought the picture might provide some useful motivation.
First, a little edumacation. Gluten-free flours are heavier than conventional flours, and they are also water-loving. All that means is that encouraging gluten-free yeast breads to rise can be a bit more complex, and that they rise best in a warm, humid environment. I know many people are accustomed to rising bread in a 200 degree F oven, which creates a warm environment, but also an inhospitably dry one. If it does work, it was a bit of a fluke. You’re counting on your bread to rise to the occasion, so you want a fail-safe method.
You can create the proper environment in any tightly enclosed space, like a microwave oven, with a very wet kitchen towel that has been heated until hot. I use my microwave oven, but in a pinch I have also used a large Rubbermaid container with a tight-sealing lid, and it works a treat, too. You will still need the microwave to heat a wet towel, though.
Follow me here: First, I saturate a tea towel with water in the sink, and then heat the wet towel alone in the microwave for at least 1 minute (or until it’s so hot it’s a bit hard to handle). Immediately after the towel is finished heating, I quickly open the microwave door, place the bread dough (covered loosely in plastic wrap) loosely covered with the hot towel, and close the microwave door in a hurry. Next, I allow the dough to rise for about 20 minutes in that controlled environment (absolutely NO peeking), then check. If the dough has not risen enough (or at all), that’s totally normal. Don’t worry. Just remove the dough from the microwave, rewet the towel, rewarm the towel on high for 1 minute in the microwave, and place the dough back in the microwave with the hot towel again; check again after another 20 minutes, give or take. Every once in a while, I have to do a third go round of about 15 minutes, but it’s rare. You should be good to go.
A few other words for the wise: be sure the water you are using in the bread is no more than 100 degrees F or you risk killing the yeast, and be sure the salt is mixed in with the flour before the yeast is added or it, too, could potentially kill the yeast. Both of these events are relatively rarely the problem. And as long as your yeast is not past its “use by” date, there really is no need to proof it. It’s alive. Trust me. It’s convenient to use the yeast as a scapegoat, but it won’t butter the biscuit.
Please remember that gluten-free bread dough is stickier and much more fragile than its conventional counterparts, so don’t add too little water in an effort to create dough that can be rolled, for example, without benefit of plastic wrap. In a similar way, don’t be afraid to add a bit more flour if you feel you have added too much water and the dough is too sticky.
When you’re making a loaf of bread that doesn’t require any shaping (just scraping into a pan), sticky dough is no biggie. But when you’re making something like French Bread, you need to be able to roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap, so you may have to massage the recipe by adding more gf flour by the teaspoonful to achieve the right consistency. Once you have rolled it out into a rectangle, just sprinkle the outside of the dough with just enough extra gf flour to allow safe handling. It’s not going to torpedo the recipe. And please remember the significance of the environment in your kitchen. Some days will be more humid and rising will come easier and perhaps take longer; some days the opposite will be true and you’ll need to add more water. Whenever you’re working with yeast, the amount of water the recipe calls for is approximate; think of it like an average. Trust your instincts. If it seems way too wet to handle, add some flour. If it seems way too dry and crumbly, add some water. And always use plastic wrap when rolling out gluten-free dough.