I first went gluten-free in 1995. The options at that time were limited, to say the least. I believe I swapped bread for rice cakes, or loaves of white rice flour bread that were like compact bricks of starch and filler. Which brings me to today, in which the abundance of product options are overwhelming. Furthermore, I am blown away by the amazing resources out there that enable us to make gluten-free foods at home that are substantially better than anything we could ever find in stores.
As you know, I have been creating and teaching gluten-free eating for well over a decade, and teaching you how to do the same with the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program. Yeasted and sourdough baking, however, was something I resisted. I attempted a sourdough way back in 2008. I kept my starter in the window to catch wild yeasts. Did I let my dough rise? I can't remember. All I know was after a week, I baked something that could double as a brick. I never went back to try it again until my long-time friend, Heather Crosby, launched her Gluten-Free Baking Academy. The photos she shared of her breads blew me away!
More recently, I was inspired by the work of Chantal of Fresh Is Real. Chantal is a Culinary Nutrition Expert Program alum, who also did the Gluten-Free Baking Academy and was sharing beautiful photos on her Instagram feed of amazing sourdough creations.
And so, the time was right for me to give sourdough baking another shot. My son has become my bread-baking partner. He is two and a half, and takes care of dumping the measured flour and sifting it. We take turns on the dough mixing.
The pride he has in taking a bite of our finished loaf is pure magic!
Let me preface by saying, I am no way near as expert at this as Heather is. I am not sure I'd be equipped to answer any troubleshooting questions and I definitely can't offer recipe alternatives. Bread baking is an art and a science and I am merely a novice here.
Overcoming The Sourdough Barriers
The Time Challenge
One of the most prohibitive factors for me was the timing. I followed loads of different people's guides and recommendations, but it wasn't until I turned it on its side, broke a few rules and made some new ones that I was able to make weekly bread baking fit into my schedule. I have given timeframes below but have also indicated when I did each step to make it easy to fit into any day of the week.
There are so many different ways to make a gluten-free sourdough. The key is that you don't have to try them all at once. Begin by getting only what you need for your first loaf. When you are ready to branch out, get other things then. Stocking a pantry like you're opening a bakery will be very costly and likely wasteful.
Again, this could also easily become overwhelming when you start looking at baking supply shops online. People are passionate about bread baking. I have found that I can easily make do without most things, and have added a couple basics as I go. Below I have outlined the tools for a round, rustic loaf:
- Ceramic Dutch Oven (I have the 4.5 QT Le Crueset with a 9-inch diameter)
- Pizza Stone (I got the 14 x 16 inch one – and also use it for making pizza) - I do think this may be optional but since I have one, I use it so I am recommending it.
- Glass mixing bowl
- Silicone spatula
- 2 Mason jars
- 1 cereal bowl with an 8-inch diameter - You could use any bowl to help shape your bread or get one of these. You just want to ensure whatever you use is slightly smaller than your dutch oven.
- Parchment paper
- Dry measuring cups and spoons
- Sieve for sifting flour
Could you do this without a pizza stone? Probably. Could it work without a dutch oven? Yes – the Gluten-Free Baking Academy offers some options. All I can do is share what I have personally tried and what works great for me!
Get Your Starter Going
Getting your first starter ready is likely the most nerve wracking and challenging part of the whole process. The starter is what will make your bread rise, and creating a starter with wild yeast takes about 8 days. It's a process of adding flour and water to a jar, twice a day while catching some wild yeast in the air. That yeast helps activate the starter, and ferment it. It's this fermentation that gives sourdough it's signature sour taste, and gets your bread rising.
To get your starter started you will need:
- 1 Mason jar
- 8 cups of sorghum flour
- dry measuring cups
- cloth or paper towel and elastic band
I highly recommend downloading this thorough guide from Fresh Is Real.
(Where it says Morning + Night, it means you are doing this step twice)
- Day 1 Morning + Night: Add 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water and 1 Tbsp maple syrup, stir and cover with cloth.
- Day 2 Morning + Night: Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, stir and cover with cloth.
- Day 3 Morning + Night: Pour out any clear liquid that has settled at the top. Mix the remaining starter and discard 1/4 cup. Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, stir and cover with cloth.
- Day 4 Morning + Night: Gently mix starter and discard a 1/2 cup. Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, stir and cover with cloth.
- Day 5 Morning + Night: Pour out any clear liquid that has settled at the top. Gently mix starter and discard a 1/2 cup. Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, stir and cover with cloth.
- Day 6 Morning + Night: Gently mix starter and discard a 1/2 cup. Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, stir and cover with cloth.
- Day 7 Morning + Night: Gently mix starter and discard a 1/2 cup. Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, stir and cover with cloth.
Your starter should now be ready to go. It will have a distinctly yeasty/sour smell and will be a bit bubbly. There shouldn't be any grey fur or other indications of mold. If there is, dump and start over. You can store this in the fridge if you're not ready to bake. If you are ready, proceed to my next instructions below.
A Note About Dumping The Starter Each Day
This was the part that was nearly my downfall. I hated throwing out perfectly good flour, but you must just accept it and move on. This only has to happen while you are getting your starter ready. After that, no more dumping (which I explain below).
Why? (My only troubleshooting tip)
The reason is that the yeasts need fresh fuel – the sugars in the flour to digest. If you aren't discarding, you'll be diluting the concentration of your starter. There won't be enough yeast to keep feasting. What I found was that on Day 3, my starter was going gang busters but by Day 4, it had fallen flat. I tried putting it on heat to see if that was the issue. In a last ditch effort, I split my starter in two, so I was now working with half the concentration, and put the other half in the fridge. I continued to feed/dump from the one jar and by Day 6, the bubbles were back.
Preparing Your Starter For Baking
When it comes time to bake your bread, you want your starter to be bubbling – what is often referred to as active! You want those yeasts working.
If you are baking on Day 7 of the starter-making process, you likely don't need to do this, but if, like me, you're not that organized this works great.
- Take the starter out of the fridge and using a spatula, mix well. Transfer about 1 cup of starter into a second Mason jar and allow it to come to room temperature (or if you don't have enough time to get to room temp, just let it sit as long as you have time for).
- Feed with 1/2 cup sorghum flour and 1/2 cup of water, after about two or three hours, you should see some bubbling activity or, if you're not home, just trust that it's happening.
- 4-6 hours later, feed again with another 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water.
- Allow to sit for 3-4 hours before using in baking.
- To get 1 cup of active starter as needed for your bread, just before measuring it out, give your starter a light stir, and pour out the 1 cup of starter just before adding to your dough.
The Recipe: Gather YoUr Ingredients
Once you have your starter ready, the rest is so wildly simple. Believe me. If it wasn't, I wouldn't still be doing this.
Yield: 1 loaf
- 1 cup sorghum flour
- 1 cup brown rice flour
- ¾ cup arrowroot starch
- ¼ cup almond meal
- 1 Tbsp coconut sugar
- 3 Tbsp psyllium husk
- 1½ tsp sea salt
- 1½ cups water
- ¼ cup avocado oil
- 1 cup of active starter
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- Mindfully measure your ingredients. Accuracy matters.
- In a large glass mixing bowl, sift together your dry ingredients.
- Once sifted, use a fork or spatula to further mix to ensure your flour is well-combined.
- Mix in water and avocado oil. Begin mixing with your spatula and then with clean hands, get in there and ensure dough is well-mixed. You can pull the dough off the side of the bowl and then push down in a kneading action. Mainly you want to ensure the dough is well-mixed.
- Set dough aside for 1-2 hours or can keep in the fridge for a day or so or overnight. If putting in the fridge, allow time for it to come to room temperature before the next step.
- Once dough is set, stir in 1 cup of well-fed, active starter and 1 Tbsp of cider vinegar and using your hands, mix together until well-combined and you have a somewhat firm dough that already feels like it has a little bounce.
- Transfer your dough to a towel-lined bowl or bread-proofing basket. Cover and place in a warm spot in your home and let dough rise for 4-6 hours or overnight. It should rise about 1 inch.
- When ready to bake, place your pizza stone and empty Dutch oven into the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Allow the pizza stone and empty Dutch oven to heat for 30-40 minutes.
- With your dough now risen, cut a piece a parchment paper slightly larger than your dough so that you can hold it by the parchment when you lower it into the Dutch oven.
- Carefully turn your dough over, flat side down and place on parchment. With a sharp knife, score the top of your bread about ¼-inch thick in a slight 'S' curve.
- Remove Dutch oven from the oven and *extremely* carefully, lower your dough into it.
- Cover and put in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
- At the 25-minute mark, remove lid and bake for another 25 minutes.
- Remove bread from Dutch oven and place back in the oven directly on the pizza stone or if not using, right on the wire rack and bake for another 10 minutes.
- Remove and place on cooling rack for 2-3 hours until bread has cooled substantially. Cutting it too soon can result in too much moisture loss or potentially, a collapse of your bread.
- Will keep on your counter for 3 days, or slice and store in the fridge or freezer.
My Bread-Baking Schedule
This has been the timing that I have found works really well for me.
Anytime In The Week (let's say Wednesday)
- Sift together the dry ingredients and store/set aside until I am ready to make the dough/bake.
Dough-Making Day (Day Before Baking Day / let's say Friday)
- Take starter out of the fridge and using a spatula, mix well. Transfer about 1 cup of starter into a second Mason jar and allow it to come to room temperature (or if you don't have enough time to get to room temp, just let it sit as long as you have time for)
- Feed with 1/2 cup sorghum flour and 1/2 cup of water, after about two or three hours, you should see some bubbling activity or if you're not home, just trust that it's happening.
Afternoon or when you get home from work (say around 6pm)
- Feed with 1/2 cup sorghum flour and 1/2 cup of water, after about two or three hours, you should see some bubbling activity.
- Mix wet ingredients (oil and water) into dough and set aside for an hour or two. (If you need to do this step in the morning, you can, so instead, at this time you'd take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. I've also forgotten to take it out and mixed my starter into the dough when the dough was cold from the fridge and all was still totally fine).
Before bed (say around 9 or 9:30pm)
- Mix you starter into your dough and knead until well-mixed. Place dough in towel-lined bowl and place in a warm spot to rise overnight (or if not overnight, for 4-6 hours until it's puffed about an inch or so).
Baking Day (Let's say Saturday morning)
- When you wake up (7:00am, right?) with the pizza stone and dutch oven in the oven, preheat the oven to 450 and let stone and dutch oven pre-heat for 30-40 minutes and follow the remaining baking instructions outlined in the recipe above.
Most Important Step: Make A Sandwich
Honestly, though. A sandwich may be one of the most exciting things in all of this. Since going gluten-free, I've been hard pressed to find a bread that isn't a giant starch fest that holds together and is soft enough to make a sandwich. This bread does and it was everything I remembered and more!
Want To Modify The Recipe?
If you want to swap flours around, by all means go for it. But it is your own experiment. The recipe I have provided above is the one I have created and tested. If you would like to replace flours, I recommend having a look at this gluten-free flour substitution chart for reference.
You Can Do It! (It's Not As Complicated As It Reads)
I wrote the above 100% from memory. I have baked maybe five loaves so far and am just now starting to experiment with grain-free flours. But I know that reading through all the instructions above can seem overwhelming. It's not until you start baking that you'll experience how incredibly easy this is to do. Please do it!
Read through the above instructions a few times. Print it out if you need to and make your own notes. Follow it all step-by-step. Google if you have doubts or aren't sure of something. But then just go for it. Practice will make deliciousness!
If you want to take a deep dive into gluten-free baking, then be sure to check out the Gluten-Free Baking Academy. Heather has you covered!
This post contains affiliate links to the Gluten-Free Baking Academy.