Customizable Flatbread (and a bit of Baking Theory)
Gluten-free baking is a dark and mysterious art — or at least, it must seem like that for someone just starting out. Fortunately, in my years of gluten-free baking, I’ve come across a few tips that can hopefully demystify things a bit for beginners, and this flatbread recipe provides an excellent case study in how to apply them.
First, correspondences are key to effective gluten-free baking. Gluten-free flours can be thought of as falling into a few correspondence categories, and flours in the same category can substitute for each other with good results. The main categories of flour are dense, high-protein flours like quinoa, buckwheat, chickpea, or almond; medium-density flours like sorghum, or brown rice; and light, starchy flours like arrowroot or tapioca. (Gluten-Free Goddess has some more info on this here) Once you learn what flours can easily substitute for which other flours, you’ll be able to throw together an all-purpose gluten free flour blend easily, and customize any recipe based on your personal tastes and what you have in your pantry at any given time. If a recipe calls for a flour you don’t have or don’t like, you can replace it with another one from the same correspondence category and still have the recipe work.
Second, gluten free bread in particular is a very different beast from gluten-containing bread, because the different protein composition means that the rising process will be very different. Although the yeast that makes bread rise primarily feeds on sugars, the enzymatic activity during the fermentation process partially breaks down the proteins in the bread as well. In gluten-containing bread, this isn’t a problem, since gluten forms long protein networks that can withstand a lot of enzymatic activity. In gluten-free bread, however, this can compromise the structural integrity of the bread if the fermentation is allowed to continue for too long. So instead of the long rising process you might be used to from making gluten-containing bread, gluten-free bread tends to come out best if you put it into the oven as soon as you’re done making the dough. It will still rise as it bakes, but it won’t rise for long enough to break down the proteins too much.
What follows is my favorite recipe for flatbread. It’s a leavened flatbread, somewhat similar to pita, so what I said above about leavening applies here. You’ll also notice that, as per my above comments on correspondences and substitutions, it’s not so much a standard recipe as a sort of fill-in-the-blank template for generating recipes. I’ve included some suggestions to get you started, but feel free to swap them out however you like.
1 cup (250 mL) dense, high-protein flour (eg. buckwheat)
1 cup (250 mL) medium weight flour (eg. sorghum)
1/2 cup (125 mL) light, starchy flour (eg. arrowroot)
1 packet dry active yeast
1 tablespoon (15 mL) honey, sugar, or maple syrup
2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil or safflower oil
2 eggs, beaten, or equivalent amount egg replacer
1 tablespoon (15 mL) apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or coconut vinegar
1 tsp (5 mL) guar gum
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) sea salt
3/4 cup (180 mL) water (more if needed)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius). Combine yeast, water, and honey/sugar in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, mix together flours, salt, and guar gum. In the first bowl, the yeast mixture should be getting nice and bubbly. Add to it the eggs, oil, and vinegar and beat to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones a little at a time, mixing as you go, until a thick dough forms. If the dough is too dry, add a bit more water – it should be wet enough to hold together without crumbling. Separate the dough into four equally sized lumps. Dust a baking sheet with flour (any kind will do). Roll the dough-lumps in the flour until they are no longer sticky and form them into flat discs. (Don’t worry if they’re not perfectly circular – mine usually come out kind of paramecium-shaped. They’ll still taste good.) Bake for 15 minutes. Cool and serve.
This flatbread is a perfect match for the shakshouka from last week’s post. It’s also great with hummus, or topped with mashed avocado and a fried egg for a Millennial-style breakfast. 🙂