Baking Gluten-Free Sourdough with Rani Cruz

A Baking Journey Begins...

I have been afraid of gluten-free baking since my partner’s celiac diagnosis in 2001. Back then, gluten-free anything was rare, let alone certified gluten-free ingredients to make anything remotely “normal”. I am not a bread maker from my roots - my parents grew up in the Philippines where baking bread wasn’t part of a family or cultural tradition. So venturing into a gluten-free space 20 years ago was even more of a hurdle. I had zero tricks and understanding of how to troubleshoot. 

It wasn’t until I had my third child and a full year of maternity leave that I decided to learn something new -  and bread was it. At first it started with the no knead bread recipe from the New York Times. Once you experience the ease of that recipe, many of us quickly move onto sourdough and boom, then you are in another world of baking. I spent two years experimenting and changing up techniques, and as a former scientist, this was my forté - meticulously and methodically changing one factor in a recipe or technique to see how it would change and improve. After 2 years of perfecting my recipe for basic sourdough, I accidentally ended up with the exact same recipe as the famous Tartine sourdough. No joke. For two years I changed up flour, temperature, fermentation time, ratios, hydration - only to end up with someone else’s recipe. I think I am someone who prefers the chase over the prize, because once life got busy I ended up abandoning bread making. Subconsciously, I probably felt like I had done it all. 

Four years later, the pandemic hit. I won’t recall all of the first wave crazy but I live in Montréal, the epicentre of both the first and second wave, so restrictions on what we could do were much stricter than any place in Canada. Which meant we stayed home. A. LOT. 

At the same time, one of my Jewish friends who celebrates Passover, as per our friend tradition, gave me all of her bread products, including her sourdough starter (called Yeasty Beasty). I had some of my old starter that I dried and froze so I decided to resurrect my sourdough nightlife and joined the other pandemic bakers. 

This was a bonding moment of COVID. Many friends of mine were writing to me with their questions about their latest bake, or just wanted to show me their amazing bread. And one of those friends casually mentioned that she made a GLUTEN-FREE sourdough bread, and that it was delicious. I actually had a book about making sourdough gluten-free bread but the process was so involved that I only tried a recipe once and decided it wasn’t worth the energy. My friend tells me that it’s not that hard and sent me a recipe - and this is where the gluten-free story begins. 

GF Testing with Escarpment Lab's Sourdough Starter

The first 5-6 breads were a disaster. Super gummy, huge holes, undercooked on the inside, overcooked on the outside. Then I got better and better until I perfected the recipe. 

My friend Luisa saw my many many bread posts. She works for Escarpment Labs as a Lab Manager, and asked if I would be interested in trying out their new sourdough starter. How could I say no?! 

Unfortunately, it's made with malt which means this starter is not ideal for celiacs. However, they wanted to see if their starter would work with a gluten-free recipe. There are many out there who aren’t celiac but really want to reduce their gluten intake, so I was happy to help with this!

Getting Your Starter Ready

I used the entire package of starter that was sent in a pouch. It contained 45g, and so I added 45mL of water and 30g of quinoa flour and 30g of buckwheat flour. Using this combo for a starter was the only flour combination that actually doubled in height after incubation. However, buckwheat has a really strong taste and it will make your bread taste like rye. I love rye so I use this all the time - but if you don’t like rye, there are other neutral flours too. Some suggest sorghum or rice flour - I find that these flours don’t “double” after leaving for 8h, but this starter does work okay for recipes.


After adding the second feed into the initial starter mix. 

 

After the initial 8 hours, I added 150g more of water and 75g of quinoa flour and 75g of sorghum and let it ferment overnight on the counter. And it doubled in size!!


After 8h of incubation - look at the bubbles!! 

 

Make Your Own Gluten-Free Sourdough

Here is the recipe I used - I adapted this from Cannelle et Vanille’s sourdough boules recipe:

100g oat flour
60g tapioca flour
60g potato starch
60g sorghum flour
40g psyllium husk
2 tsp salt
350g room temp water
200g Escarpment Labs active starter (after feeding)

I adapted because I didn’t have any flaxseed, and I also screwed up and added 200g instead of 150g of starter. The psyllium husk also needs more moisture so I figured I could add more starter than usual.

1. Mixing

In my mixer, I added all of the dry ingredients INCLUDING the psyllium. The original recipe says to make a slurry, but this has always caused problems with my psyllium (likely because mine was fine as is, not sure!). I mixed the dry ingredients well before adding the starter and the water, and then stopped a couple of times to make sure there was no flour unmixed at the bottom of the bowl. But very quickly, this makes a very nice dough that comes off the bowl. 

2. Shaping

At this point I was a bit worried that it wasn’t moist enough. But I figured I couldn’t tinker more with the recipe, and just shaped it, and put it in a banneton for 3 hours on the counter. 30 minutes before the end of the 3 hours, I turned on my oven to 475°F on the convection bake mode and put my cast iron dutch oven with the lid in the oven to pre-heat. 

I removed the dough and placed it on a parchment paper -  it hadn’t risen at all. I was worried but again, this is also kind of normal for gluten-free doughs. However, it was pretty dense and not a lot softer. 


I scored it with a serrated knife (which I do with regular dough) and put it in the hot cast iron pot with a lid with the parchment paper.

3. Baking

I also added a couple of ice cubes in the pot. I baked at 425°F (convection bake) for 45 min. Then I removed the lid and baked at 400°F (convection bake). The recipe says to use 500°F and then 475°F but my oven runs hot and I have also found that for gluten-free bread, longer bakes at lower temperatures seems to make better bread.

4. The Final Result

I removed it from the oven and let it cool on an oven rack for 4 hours. Voilà - here’s the result! It smells like rye bread. It has a very good texture - but it’s missing some aeration - though this might be because it’s missing more hydration.

I am excited to keep at it with this starter (which I have kept going), and change up the hydration and the fermentation to increase those bubbles. But this recipe is easy, and the starter works!!

Want to try our Sourdough Starter for yourself?
Now available here!