In my early days of being gluten-free, I swore I would never use binders like guar gum or xanthan gum. I thought they were creepy (I still do, actually). I wanted to believe you could bake healthy, delicious breads relying only on the natural qualities of flours and things like flax seeds and chia (I still believe this too). So, I went forth without them. Over the last two years of my gluten-free life, I have baked lots of crumbly loaves of bread, breads that were like sponges, breads that were like hockey pucks, breads that I put in my mouth and promptly threw away. Thankfully, I had more successes, but never was truly satisfied. I yearned for the beautiful breads on gluten-free sites like Gluten-Free Girl and La Tartine Gourmande and Gluten Free Goddess and Whole Life Nutrition. I too wanted to become more ambitious with my baking. I got sick of sawdust and pudding. I wanted the gluten back. So last Fall, I started experimenting with guar gum, and was generally disappointed. Too much guar gum makes me feel like someone injected putty into my intestines, and I don't really enjoy the texture that it creates in baked goods. It is just too, well, gummy. I've used it probably less than 5 times, and each time find myself unhappy.
What about that other infamous gluten-imatator, xanthan gum? Well, xanthan gum has occupied a touchy place in my life. You see, xanthan gum comes from the dried cell coat of a microorganism called Zanthomonas campestris. It is an all-natural ingredient derived from the fermentation of corn sugar, however, all corn sugars are removed in the processing of xanthan gum. Xanthan gum contains no corn protein and is usually tolerated by most corn-free people. Some people, however, have reactions. Fearing myself to be one of these people, I have been rather hesitant to jump on-board the xanthan gum train, nervous I would have some kind of corn-allergy reaction. Occasionally it would its way into my life, in a brown rice tortilla or something else pre-made, but for the most part, I have been actively avoiding it for the last two years.
A couple nights ago, I broke down. I did it. I threw care to the wind, and I bought my first bag of xanthan gum.
I don't know how I feel about this turn of events. I feel rather conflicted, because using it feels fake and icky, but it will allow me to do lovely things in the kitchen. Hmn.
I do, however, know one thing for certain. I know that when added to flour and wet ingredients, my fancy new powder allowed me to create a yeast-free sandwich bread that is unlike anything that has come out of my oven in the last two years. My bread sliced. It had a crisp, chewy crust. The inside was light and moist, with a definite crumb. It was like bread, and that made me very, very happy. Suddenly gluten-free baking seems a whole lot easier; I felt like I received some kind of magic key. Seriously, xanthan gum changes everything - what are those xanthan-loving people intimidated by when they have this in their gluten-free baking toolbox?
Bread! Awesome, right? I love a loaf with cracked, crackled top and an earthy appearance; I've never appreciated the alien-smooth surface of a white loaf. And the texture? Well, I audibly gasped when I sliced it, touched it, and felt it spring back a little under my finger. Wow. It is both light and nubby, flecked with bits of pumpkin seeds. Yum.
The recipe is inspired by the Dark Teff Sandwich Bread and Hemp Bread recipes from Whole Life Nutrition, adapted and combined with a bunch of my own twists. I used a nearly equal blend of finely ground roasted pumpkin seeds, teff flour, and starches. It is free of dairy, eggs, yeast and sugar, and tastes earthy and wonderful. Best yet, it is high in protein and loaded with iron, magnesium, zinc, omega-6 fatty acids, amino acids, and fiber.
Not only was this my first experiment with xanthan gum, it was also my first time weighing flours. Shauna, everyone's favorite Gluten Free Girl, has made the transition to metric weights in her baking, and swears by it. Why? Because each flour weighs different amounts. Anyone who bakes regularly will pick up on this; this is why you need to add more of one type of flour and less of another when you are trying to swap them out in a recipe to reach the right consistency. When you use cup measurements, it is always going to inaccurate. The amount of air in your flour (spooning vs. scooping vs. packing in flour) and the type of flour you use will change the actual quantity in that 1 cup measure. Try swapping flours cup for cup, and you might end up with a weight difference of 50 or 80 grams, depending on which flours you are trying to swap. That, my friends, is going to mess up your recipe. But when you weigh it, you really know how much flour you have - numbers don't lie. If you swap 100 grams of one flour for 100 grams another flour, and you are on the path to making a good adaptation. Granted, each flour behaves differently, so you need to take that into account when making substitutions, but at least you know you have the proper quantity! I used weights when adapting and combining recipes to ensure that my dry to wet ratio would stay consistent, and it worked. Hooray! I felt like a scientist. I need a digital food scale; my little non-digital one just won't cut the mustard for much longer.
Wow, I've been driven to laboratory created powders and food scales! Suddenly baking resembles science, my apron a lab coat. This is trouble, but it is so delicious! I'm torn. Oh well. At least I have bread, right? As for negative reactions... well, so far, so good, or so it seems. Much to my surprise, actually, I seem to tolerate it better than guar gum. I don't know if I'll use xanthan often or not, but I am definitely looking forward to trying it in some kind of delicate cake, or in Tartelette's recipe for gluten-free classic puff recipe, or attempting the gluten-free, potato-free, dairy-free lefse I've always dreamed about (am I insane?!). Who knows. For now, it is all about me and this pumpkinseed loaf.
I have to admit, this bread is a little fussy. Teff flour can be hard to come by (look online, at Whole Foods, or at your local co-op). You have to grind your own pumpkinseed flour. It has one little tablespoon of coconut flour. But if you are willing to take the ride, and have a well-stocked pantry, this is a very tasty bread that you will definitely enjoy! I wish that it were made with soaked flours or a sourdough starter or that I'd sprouted the seeds and dried them before grinding, but I didn't. I just wanted bread that would slice and make nice toast, and I got it. Sure, xanthan gum still creeps me out, but when it allows me to bake like this, I suddenly feel more comfortable with it...
Yeast-Free Pumpkinseed Teff Sandwich Bread
YIELD: 1 9X5 LOAF | ACTIVE TIME: 30 MINUTES | TOTAL TIME: 1 1/2 HOURS
1 cup (130 grams) raw pumpkinseeds
1 cup + 2 1/2 Tbsp (190 grams) teff flour
1/2 cup (60 grams) arrowroot starch/flour
1/2 cup (60 grams) tapioca starch/flour
1 Tbsp coconut flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp xanthan gum or guar gum
1 tsp salt or Herbamare
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (substitutions suggestions below recipe)
2 Tbsp finely ground flax seeds
1 1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil or grapeseed oil
Preheat oven to 350º F. Generously oil a 9x5 loaf pan (I used glass). Sprinkle pumpkin seeds in a cookie sheet and place in oven and let bake for about 10 minutes while oven heats. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
In a small bowl, whisk together water, flax, and apple cider vinegar, and let sit for 10 minutes. Then whisk in oil and stir to mix.
While flax absorbs water, place cooled pumpkin seeds in a blender, food processor, or coffee/spice grinder and grind until you have a fine powder, like flour. Place in a bowl, and whisk together with teff, arrowroot, tapioca, coconut flour, salt, and baking soda. Create a well in the center, and add flax-water mixture, stirring to mix with a whisk, then changing to a sturdy rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. Dough will be very thick!
Place in oiled loaf pan and press into a loaf shape with a spatula. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and press them lightly into the surface. Place in oven immediately and bake for 50-55 minutes at 350º, until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 5 minutes, then turn out on a rack and finish cooling. Let cool completely before you slice, if you can, or wait at least 10 minutes. :)
Approximate nutrition information (whole loaf)
1946.1 calories, 69.7 g fat, 0.0 mg cholesterol, 3,358.8 mg sodium, 1712 mg potassium, 295 g carbohydrates, 22.2 g fiber, 0.0 g sugar, 51.8 g protein
FYI: to substitute the 2 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar if you are intolerant:
- equal amount of any other tolerated vinegar like white, rice, brown rice, or coconut
- 2 Tbsp of lemon or lime juice
- 1 Tbsp of cream of tartar
- 1/4 cup white wine
All of these will serve the same acidic effect and react with the baking soda to make the bread rise. They will not give the same "yeasty" bready flavor, but will add loft to the bread, so give it a shot and let me know how it goes!