gluten-free bread

A few weeks back my husband started wondering if he might have a gluten intolerance. He’s known he’s lactose intolerant for years now, but recently the pain — the stomach cramping and bloating he’d usually been able to keep under wraps with his lactaid pills and reduced dairy consumption — was flaring up. In fact, this time it didn’t even seem to be linked to dairy. So he decided to experiment with gluten.

I took his announcement in stride. The man is forever saying he shouldn’t eat something or other and then forgetting what he said and eating it anyway (and feeling just fine). There was no way I was going to overhaul my cooking if this was just another one of his whims, so when he declared war on gluten, I just rolled my eyes.

“Sure, go for it,” I said, pulling steaming loaves of crusty sourdough bread from the oven. “Maybe you’ll feel better.”

So then after skipping gluten for a week and feeling great, he ate some sourdough bread and spent the next 18 hours feeling terrible. Which then sent me into a tizz. How, exactly, did one go about cooking gluten-free?

Of my four basic starch groups — rice, potatoes, bread, and pasta — two were gone. Overwhelmed, and unable to sort out a menu that didn’t upend our lifestyle entirely, I dashed to the store for a bunch of GF foods: frozen pizza, rice noodles, pancake mix, sliced bread, all-purpose flour substitute. Once I had some supplies, I felt less trapped. Now I could make a plan. In the meantime, he wouldn’t starve.

Turns out, the switch to gluten-free cooking wasn’t actually that big a deal. We ate more rice and potatoes, tons of veggies, a little more meat. My husband, to his credit, was extremely low-key about it all: granola with water for breakfast; boiled eggs, nuts, and apples for lunch. He didn’t make a stink about missing food or needing anything special. As long as he had chips on hand, he didn’t even seem to miss the pies, cakes, and bread that had gone missing (though I missed making them for him!). 

I quickly realized that, since the store-bought GF bread tasted distressingly like cardboard, homemade gluten-free bread was the number one thing I’d need to figure out. (The number two thing would be pie pastry.) My sister-in-law shared some of her recipes with me, and after a couple tries and a few tweaks, I was actually quite pleased with the end results.

the psyllium and yeast mixture

Even though this bread is yeast based, it handles more like a quick bread: no kneading and a spoonable dough. Instead of flour — and it feels so weird to make bread without flour! — I use rice flour, tapioca starch, and an all-purpose gluten-free substitute. Which made a very white bread. So then, for color and texture, I toasted a half cup of rolled oats until they were dark brown and ground them into flour.

so brilliantly white that I almost need sunglasses

Psyllium, the husk of a seed that is often used as a laxative (and that I hear advertised on NPR all the time), is the special ingredient. They say it makes all the difference in gluten-free baking since it helps the bread to retain moisture and makes it a little more elastic.

Don’t go overboard on the psyllium, though! Once I mistakenly added too much and the resulting bread had a distinctly cobwebby mouthfeel.

scooped into the pan and ready to be smoothed out with the back of a spoon

fully risen

The bread doesn’t rise in the oven at all (again, weird!), and the top turns dusty-white as it bakes instead of golden brown. The bottom and sides, though, get nice and golden.

The bread needs to rest for a good 12-24 hours before slicing into it because otherwise it’d be gummy.

It’s not anything like sourdough, of course, but it tastes good. The texture, what with all its little bubbly holes, reminds me of English muffins. There is a slight grittiness to it (the psyllium?), but it’s barely noticeable.

Toasted, with butter and jam, it’s delicious, and even though I’m not gluten-free, I eat it willingly (or I would eat it if I wasn’t saving it all for my husband).

And then just as I was getting into the swing of things (stocking up on tapioca starch and xanthan gum, contacting GF bakers, finding GF blogs), my husband did another gluten test. This time, wouldn’t you know, he had no negative reaction.

We tested a couple more times since but with mixed results. Sometimes he has stomach pain when he eats gluten, and other times he eats it and then feels perfectly fine. It’s all very confusing. I’m convinced he needs to adopt a scientific approach — tracking his diet and monitoring his symptoms — but that would require him to remember to do that, and he and I both know that’s probably not going to happen.

with toasted ground oats

So now I’m back to cooking however want, and he eats however he wants. Whatevs. It is sort of disapppointing, though. I would love for him to feel better and, all things considered, eliminating gluten would’ve been a small (and easy) price to pay.

Oh well, at least now I know how to make a yummy gluten-free bread.

Gluten-Free Bread 
Adapted from a screen shot of a recipe that my sister-in-law sent me.

There are lots of other GF breads and methods out there (including, I hear, sourdough!) so I’ve only scratched the surface. Which makes me feel hopeful — there are options should my husband actually need them. GF bread is doable. Be ye (me) not afraid.

The original recipe called for black olives and caraway seeds; I skipped both. Also, it called for sorghum, which I didn’t have. My sister-in-law said I could substitute millet flour, but I didn’t have any of that, either, so I ended up using more rice flour and the all-purpose blend. But then a couple days ago when I was digging around in the basement freezer, I discovered a five-pound bag of millet flour, oops!

1⅔ cups warm water
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons yeast
4 teaspoons psyllium powder
½ cup rice flour
½ cup ground rolled oats (that have first been well-toasted)
½ cup tapioca starch
¾ cup all-purpose flour substitute, such as this
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

In a mixing bowl, stir together the water, honey, and yeast. Once the yeast begins to bubble, stir in the psyllium and let it rest for ten minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. The batter will be like a stiff, spoonable cookie dough. (If it’s too runny, add more of the all-purpose flour blend.)

Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and, if you wish, brush it with canola oil. Spoon the dough into the pan and smooth the top. Cover with a towel and let rise until double, about one hour. It will not rise at all in the oven, so make sure the bread is well-risen prior to baking.

Bake the bread at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from the pan and set the loaf directly on the oven rack and bake for another 15 minutes. The tops of my loaves always take on a whitish hue.

Let the loaf cool to room temperature before storing in an airtight bag. Wait to slice the bread until the second day — if you cut into it the same day, it will be gummy.

This same time, years previous: facts, the quotidian (5.29.17), simple lasagna, the quotidian (5.30.16), an evening together, in her element, spicy cabbage, the race we saw, showtime!, the saturation point, barbecued pork ribs.



    I have a very good friend who blogs at Biscuits and Such and had made her living making all sorts of baked goods. Turns out she had celiac so she is adapting her cooking and blogging to gluten free living. Her food is always outstanding so if anyone out there in internetville needs some gluten free inspiration I recommend checking out her blog. She's been making sourdough throughout the pandemic and her posts are making me want to break social distancing to eat it all!

  • Hummingbird

    I have found with my hubby that the foods he has issues with can be eaten occasionally without issues. It seems to be sort of a build up that occurs. The gluten free flours such as rice or tapioca have a much higher glycemic index rating. For some, this can cause blood sugar issues. It's sometimes best for those with gluten intolerance to eat even the gluten free foods only occasionally.

  • b.

    Functional Diagnostic medicine addresses this…..I find it extremely helpful. You may have a one in Harrisonburg.

  • RobynHeud

    My husband has had similar issues, but it turned out it was enriched breads that were causing him problems. We did genetic testing and he has a recessive gene (MTHFR) that can cause folic acid toxicity. Cutting out enriched foods (including certain rices) did wonders for his stomach. Not sure if that's the case here, but could be worth looking into.

  • beckster

    Oh, and I meant to mention that I tolerate super sprout wheat and spelt very well. It bakes more like white flour because it has been sprouted before milling. Since it is already partially broken down by the sprouting before it is baked, it is much easier to digest. The only difference in baking is that the flour tends to suck up much more water than either white or whole grain.

  • Mama Pea

    You could try using a digestive aid capsule (or two) for your husband with his meals. (We use AbsorbAid with each of our meals.) Like it or lump it, as we age, the natural enzymes in our stomachs become depleted and need a little help. (Sometimes a lot of help.) Also, a friend has a bloating/cramping problem and she's switched to using only einkorn flour which has helped her immensely. Yes, it is all very complicated and trying to work out the correct formula for each of us is not easy. Or fun. 😮 Good luck!

  • beckster

    I agree with all that has been said above, but I also think that it is more complex than most people think. I have lots of food intolerances, and really that's what they are, intolerances, hence the bloating and diarrhea. Most people are not allergic to any type of food, they just can't digest it well. It has a lot to do with what types of bugs you have in your microbiome. Some people say that they cannot tolerate sourdough, the wild yeast causes a problem. All the sugar substitutes cause me to have horrible bloating and gas. I cannot chew or eat mints or gum with sorbitol, etc. Also, for me, it depends on whether I have eaten simple carbs vs. complex carbs. I have IBS, and I have spent a lot of time with a food diary. All the ancient wheat varieties are fine for me, like spelt, emmer, einkorn, kamut, and red fife work fine for me, but I find red fife and spelt are ones that I like the taste of best in baked products. I would suggest that he pay attention to things other than gluten. Just my 2 cents worth!

  • Melissa

    One my one of my sons needed to become GF- not due to Celiac. It.was.devistating. I also missed making all the things! But I have since found a wonderful cookbook – The Healthy Gluten Free Lifestyle – and a few different bread recipies we all enjoy. One is from glutenfreeonashoestring and is called Tom's Bread. I make it with the garbanzos bean flour originally called for and it turns out very much like a Brioche. So we are all satisfied – me in the baking department, and my GF kid in his dietary needs. I even find I feel better with less Gluten. I agree that the US food is so polluted/ modified, that our bodies don't handle it well.

  • farm buddy

    My best friend has celiac disease, so I hear a lot about going gluten free. One thing she makes a big deal about is oats. Yes, oats are okay, but the are usually processed in mills that do wheat flour, so the oats are almost always contaminated. It drives her crazy that brands like Cheerios say they are gluten free, when others have tested them and say they absolutely contain gluten because of the milling process. Anyway, good luck!

  • Sparkless

    To be a true test now you need to give him a bit of gluten without him knowing there is gluten. Tell him you are going to test if he has a true intolerance. Give him foods that you make and add in one that he wouldn't suspect has a bit of gluten in it. Do this over a few days and have him tell you after if he had any symptoms of intolerance. That rules him making up his symptoms.

    • Jennifer Jo

      That's a good idea! He doesn't "make up" his symptoms, but he IS rather haphazard in his cause-and-effect methodology…

  • Karren

    I've always been allergic to all kinds of things, and finally convinced my Dr to prescribe a test to find out just what was causing all my problems. They made about 60 small scratches on my back and daubed a substance to each. We discovered that I was allergic to wheat, latex!, cat and dog dander and two more trace things that are used in cosmetics. It's really nice to know just what is causing the problems. The test is expensive, about $600. But so much better to know just what the problems are. Latex, we had no idea about, but it could have made big problems for me. In fact it did. When I had my knee replacement, long before the allergy test, and they used latex tape to close the long knee incision, I developed a huge blister under each piece of tape. That took a long time to peel off carefully and left marks for a long time after.

  • Karren

    I've been reading of this struggle with interest, having gone through the same thing myself. For years, I avoided milk and cheese, because I'd blow up like a balloon when I ate them. That finally went away when I stopped drinking milk and ate only lower fat cheese. I finally had an allergy test and discovered an allergy to wheat! After years of trying all kinds of other gluten free options, I discovered that the problem wasn't gluten, it was modern wheat I was allergic to. Now I simply substitute spelt flour, and make my weekly sourdough breads with no problems at all. I've learned that the fermentation helps make it more digestible too. I believe that the modern American GMO wheat has been changed to be indigestible to many of us. I buy my spelt flour directly from the mill and it's delicious, and I never, ever have a problem with it. Makes a beautiful loaf too. I can use a normal recipe and just change the moisture content a bit. In my studies for an answer to my problem, I learned that, for all the people who think they are gluten intolerant, about 1/6 of them are actually allergic to modern wheat. Good luck in your search for an answer.

  • Anonymous

    I know someone who is fine with European pasta and bread and whatnot, but does not do well with US-sourced stuff – she thinks it's either the GMO wheat or the pesticides, but there are different types of wheat in different places – maybe it's not all gluten, or not gluten itself, but… something? (do you happen to recall what the second gluten "test" was?) Some countries swear that fresh-baked bread is inherently indigestible; there are theories about why that might be with some genetics and some types of bread, but I have no idea if any of it actually… works out?

    Also there's quantity (obviously) and conjunction; my mom has hay fever in the spring when she eats dairy, but not when she doesn't eat dairy or when it isn't pollen season. I have problems digesting some foods while I'm stressed or while my gut has recently been cranky – but I can eat them without a reaction when things are fine.

    (also people have weird ideas about what "can" and "can't" cause a reaction. Lettuce is an absolute no-no for my guts, and a well-meaning friend informed me that of course my gut's reaction is because of what they spray on lettuce before it gets to the grocery store. Nope, the lettuce in question was out of my own [organic no pesticides] garden. She did not cope well with that, because in her mental schema of the world at the time, Bad Things must be unnatural… and no, actually, there are lots of natural things that all bodies do poorly with, and lots of natural things that *some* bodies do poorly with, and… yeah. People had problems digesting things back in the 1500s! Some things are undoubtedly Big Ag's fault, but not all the things…)

    • Jennifer Jo

      And this is why I want to just throw my hands in the air and give up already. It's all soooo confusing! How is anyone ever supposed to figure anything out??? Argh!

    • Anonymous

      Honestly, a food and symptom diary is probably the way to go if he "responded" to one thing but not the other. If he simply won't do that sort of thing [write down in a small notebook – or app – foods eaten and approximate time, for long enough to get at least a few "sample" bouts of misery], not from Being A Jerk but not having… administrative gifting… he might be able to photograph each thing he eats and send it to you for cataloging, if you'd be willing to do that. It is also useful to know and record Onset and Approximate Severity of Symptoms.

      I'd also note that if you give him Food Tests, you have to keep the diet around the food tests stable, because otherwise you will go completely batty trying to figure out what's going on (if he's physically reacting, but to an ambient food instead of the test food). But if you can keep a sector of the fridge for "his foods" that you're pretty sure are safe, then that might be simple.

      For other GI candidates, consider the FODMAPs [they are not my problem, but lots of people have had that clarify and resolve issues], alcohol/fruit-alcohol (if he can drink wine, cross this off the list), occasional-use things like chewing gum or OTC medications [some fake sugars are culprits for some people] or different brands/types of things than usual. Peppers and things in the cabbage family are also really common all-natural "problems" for people. Also keep a vague eye out for pretty much any major source of fiber (flax! beans! wheat bran! fresh or dried fruit!) in quantity, although if he did fine with psyllium husk bread, then a gut that's doing the wrong thing with insoluble fiber is probably not what the problem is here!

      For "mitigating factors" keep an eye out for things like buffer foods for the irritant (empty stomach vs. two baked potatoes sandwiching the irritant: big difference; on the other hand, something that you need a specific enzyme to digest may do better traveling solo), soaking, accompanying probiotics, enzymes wandering along (fresh – but not canned – papaya and pineapple being used in a smoothie, for instance), methods of cooking, and ripeness.

      It sounds more complicated than it is; keep a basic food-and-symptom diary, don't worry about it, then after a couple of "episodes" dig into what came before the episode (not just immediately – lower gut stuff can be one day behind, ish, depending on symptoms). If you spot any correlations or similarities between foods eaten before the two episodes, then look to see if those foods show up anywhere else and, if they do, then what's different or the same about these instances (higher stress? buffer foods in one case and not in the other? a large amount of the culprit on one occasion but not the other? fresh vs. stale/toasted?). And then once you have a likely culprit (or culprits) you can either do challenge testing or just cut the culprit out and call it a day, and if that works, yay! Otherwise, more food diary-ing…

      I'd note that you don't have to know exactly what the problem is; if you figure out that *this* brand of cheese works but not *that* brand, natural detectives (and homeschoolers) want to know why! But it is also okay to just shrug and go "I guess we're going to get *this* brand of cheese from here on out and call it a day." The places where knowing exactly what's going on under the lid helps you out: when you want to stretch the dietary limits safely, and where you want to ID other likely problem foods without doing the whole test thing (this is where the FODMAP categories are handy, *if* you have a problem with one of the FODMAP buckets as a whole).

      (do I let things go before I've analyzed them to death, though? no, no I do not. But one *could* without actual penalties! Really!)

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