How to Make Light Fluffy Bread (Even if it's Gluten Free and Low Carb)

By JULIE - 9:49:00 PM

  My test loaf for fluffiness.  It's even  low carb (grain) and gluten to boot!  Get the recipe here.
I recently made the worst loaf of bread ever.  I think it was even heavier than a brick!  I should have weighed it.  My poor husband brings a sandwich to work for lunch every day and usually loves my bread and is very appreciative of me baking all of our bread.  But he actually asked me to buy bread after this last disaster.  Luckily I was able to slice it thin and use it like a bready cracker. 

I have been making all our bread for about a year and a half, and after some trial and error and taking a bread making class I felt pretty confident in my bread making abilities.  I've even been trying to make bread with less grain to pretty decent results, until now. 

I spent all day yesterday and the night before reading about how to make fluffy bread and watching videos of people making bread to get a feel for what the dough should look like. I was determined to make a nice fluffy light low grain (low carb) sandwich bread loaf.  But first I had to find out what went wrong and what are the best tips to get fluffy light bread. 

This was a heavy loaf but not as heavy as my last.  This is the same recipe as the above just  cooked at a lower temp, made with dead yeast, more flour, xanthan gum, and without water on the crust and slashed.  Notice the difference in texture!  This one looks more like a quick bread.

Why Did My Bread Turn out Like a Brick?

While many factors can contribute to a heavy dense loaf.  They're might be some that I'm not aware of that I did, but there are two that I am sure of that contributed to my heavy loaf.

Old Yeast That Was Likely Dead
First of all I had been using old yeast that had not been stored properly.  I had just stored my yeast in our pantry for an embarassing long time.  Apparently the freezer would have been better or at least the fridge.  I attributed the lack of rise to the lack of gluten in my bread sense I've been progressively decreasing the grains in my loafs, so I did not notice that it wasn't working.  I did use dry active yeast that you have to proof, but it's hard for me to tell what foamy should look like.  It did not look that different to me dead or alive.  I also learned (which I talk about in more detail below) that most active yeast are actually already dead, only a small amount are ever alive.

Other Ways Your Yeast Can Die
Besides improper storage and expired yeast there are other ways your yeast can die.  One way is to not give it the environment it needs to grow.  Yeast need to be fed sugar and to have the proper temp (100- 115 degrees F). You can also kill your yeast if the temperature of water you use is to high (above 120 degrees F) or you do not give sugar to feed the yeast.

Chlorine in Water Can Kill Yeast
According to Alton Brown (in the video below) chlorine (or chloramines)that are added to our water can kill yeast so you should use filtered water only (do not use distilled water)I never thought about this but it makes sense since chlorine is added to water to kill germs, bacteria, and what have you.  Luckily I do filter my water anyways, but unfortunately Minneapolis adds chloramines to our water instead which are nearly impossible to get out of your water.  Since I have had yeast rise before, our filtration system must work enough I guess.  

Too Much Flour and Two Little Water
I stupidly added more flour on purpose with this loaf, because I thought the dough should not be sticky.  Apparently this is literally a recipe for a heavy dense loaf.  According to Denise Weaver at Nancy's Kitchen, "Dough must be soft and flexible in order to rise properly--a factor of how much water is in the dough. If the dough is stiff, it is difficult for the expanding gases to lift the dough and create volume. After your dough is kneaded, it should be soft and nearly sticky. As a general rule when mixing bread, error on the side of too much water." 
Also Maggie Glezer’s author of the bread book “Artisan Baking Across America.” told bread author Rose Levy Beranbaum the key to holy (and fluffy) bread is high water content.

According to poster Father Kitchen on Chowhound in response to how to get a fluffier loaf you should,
" Use baker's percentages to determine the ratio of flour to water. The percentages make more sense if you convert them to fractions on first use. So for a medium dough using all purpose flour (62% hydration) use 5 ounces of water for each 8 ounces of flour by weight. (Note it is by weight, and a cup of flour measured by the scoop and scrape method will weigh pretty close to 5 ounces--a little more for whole wheat.) 62% = 5/8. This medium dough works well for French style breads. For Italian breads, the dough is usually a little wetter. Think 2/3, or 2 ounces of water for each 3 ounces of flour. And for a very soft dough like ciabatta, think 3/4 or three ounces of water for each 4 ounces of flour. These figures can be fine tuned, but if you use them as they are to start out with, you won't bake a bad loaf. In humid weather you can hold back a wee bit of water (a tablespoon or two per loaf) since flour absorbs moisture. High protein flour usually absorbs a bit more. Whole wheat flours may take rather a lot more. So that a high protein whole wheat flour may make a medium dough with the 2/3 ratio."   
 My low carb bread recipe is about 56% hydration, although the eggs might increase this ratio I did not include eggs in my calculations. 

I looked at the bread recipes we made in our European breads class wondering how much hydration percentage they had.  I was most curious about the potato bread we made because it was by far my favourite.  It was all that I've been dreaming of in a light fluffy bread.  Turns out it was over 100% hydration, and the whole wheat was only 40%.  I just assumed it was the potatoes that made it great but maybe it was the high hydration level?  So what is the perfect hydration level for fluffy light sandwich bread?  I don't know yet, but my guess would be 60- 65%.  I'm basing this on experiments from Seasoned Advice.  She made bread with hydration of 50-80% in a bread machine to compare the results. It seemed like she liked the 60% the most.  This also correlates with the percentage of hydration in the recipe for the Pullman loaf which is considered to be a great light fluffy loaf.  And according to Rose Levy Beranbaum the typical loaf has 66% hydration. A NY Times Article quoted a baker as preferring a 68 % hydration.  The author said if a recipe is over 70% hydration expect a flat loaf.

While it seems hydration is important to a light fluffy loaf it also could result in a flat gummy bread according to Harold McGee in an article for the NY Times.  He said, "I wasn’t happy with all the wet doughs I tried. While some held their shape and baked into beautiful loaves, others would flatten out and turn themselves into something like a focaccia, with a thin crust and a coarse interior that seemed more gummy than bready."  So I guess the key is to have as high a hydration to the dough that will still safely hold it's shape time and time again.  

My Honey Wheat Artisan BreadI I made over a year ago that turned out great
Other Tips and Tricks to a Light Fluffy Loaf

Give Your Loaf an Opportunity to Expand
There are two ways you can help ensure your loaf has room to expand:  

One is to simply make sure that your loaves do not develop a crust while rising.  According to Father Kitchen in a post on chowhound , "It is even possible that your loaves are very dense because you let the surface on the loaf dry out while it is rising so that it formed a skin. As a result, the loaf cannot expand much in the oven spring."  

Another way is to slash your bread at the top, to allow it to expand while cooking.  I never knew this!  I slashed my sandwich loaf down the middle in the first picture in this article with a wet knife before I put it in the oven and as you can see it seemed to work well.  This is why sandwich bread has that indentation down the middle?  I never questioned why.  I plan to do this every time I bake bread from now on!  For artisan breads (baked free form style not in a pan) you can slash it a few times across horizontally.   

Use the Right Flour
I learned in the bread class I took the power of using different flours.  We tried out all the breads we made in class and my bread was the most dense.  I made a Nordic walnut bread with whole wheat and rye flour and it turned out to be very dense and chewy in comparison to the breads made with refined flours (it was also a lower hydration at 42%) Whole wheat flours, while healthier are denser than refined flours.   

In this video of America's Test Kitchen (on rolls and multigrain bread)  they said it would not raise as much if you subsitute to much all purpose flour for wheat because the bran in flour shortens the gluten strands.  They also showed the differeance in how different flours rose in their dinner roll episode by baking 3 loaves with different flours.  The one with cake flour rose the least, next all purpose, with the clear winner being bread flour.

I used 60% whole wheat bread flour in my test bread pictured at the top of this post and the rest was almond flour and flax meal.  While I used whole wheat flour and it turned out pretty fluffy I plan to use unbleached bread flour in the future even though it is not as healthy.  I figure since I'm only using part grain and hope to get my low carb bread recipe from 60% to 50% grain it's not too bad and worth it to get the texture right. 
While you can make gluten free bread, it does help to have gluten to ensure a light fluffy loaf.  According to Ehow, "Gluten is virtually the glue that keeps the bread together while allowing it to be light and airy. When the gluten is lower, the bread does not rise as well. For this reason, gluten-free flours and whole wheat breads are denser than fluffy white sandwich breads or crisp baguettes. To increase the gluten, whether you are using whole wheat or all purpose white flour, you can add gluten enhancers to alleviate denseness and give your bread a fluffier bounce."  So I chose to use bread flour which is higher in gluten, since I'm using non grains as 40% in my test loaf pictured above, even though I try to limit my gluten intake.  I figure it's still probably lower in gluten and added tapioca starch and xanthan gum (common gluten free ingredients) to make sure it has enough structure.  I've noticed most commercially baked breads add vital gluten.  I can only assume this helps to produce a fluffier loaf. You could also try adding vital gluten to your loaf (while I think it would help to fluff up my loaf I choose not to add any myself since I'm trying to lower gluten in my diet).

Whole Wheat Flour Goes Rancid Within 3 Months of Being Ground  
According to Rose Levy Beranbaum the reason whole wheat bread can be dense and bitter is because it's usually rancid, since the maximum shelf life of whole wheat is 3 months after being ground (the day of is most ideal but up to to 3 weeks is finein the wheat seed the germ protects it from oxidizing.  Once it's ground that protection is broken.  So your best bet is to buy wheat berries (you can get in the bulk section of most health food stores) and grind them fresh. If you want to store it for longer than 3 months you should place it in the freezer.  It can be placed in the freezer for up to a year.  Rose said that she also found it helped to not let the dough double because it tears the more fragile gluten.  Perhaps let it rise slightly less than double?

Make Sure You Yeast Rises Enough
Types of Yeast  (from America's Test Kitchen)
Fresh Yeast: Known as fresh, compressed, or cake yeast.  It is soft and crumbly and requires no proofing. Fresh yeast is considered fast, potent, and reliable, but it has a drawback: it is highly perishable and must be refrigerated and used before its expiry date.

Active Dry: Active dry yeasts undergoing processes that reduce them to 95 percent dry matter. Traditional active dry yeast is exposed to heat so high that many of its cells are destroyed in the process. Because the spent outer cells encapsulate living centers, active dry yeast must first be dissolved in a relatively hot liquid (proofed) to slough off dead cells and reach the living centers.  According to Alton Brown in the episode Dr Frakenloaf (can view full episode below) most of the active dry yeast is dead.  If I knew that I would have been using instant or rapid rise instead.

Instant Yeasts: Also called "Instant," "Rapid Rise," or "Bread" instant yeasts are also processed to 95 percent dry matter, but are subjected to a gentler drying process than active dry and therefore every yeast in the packet is active. This means the yeast can be mixed directly with recipe ingredients without first being dissolved in water or proofed.  It is considered by some to have a cleaner flavor than active dry because it contains no dead cells.  This is what America's Test Kitchen and Alton Brown uses.

Temperature and moisture is key to getting yeast to rise as well as having the right amount of salt, sugar and fat.  Yeast rise best (or multiply the fastest) in temperatures between 78 to 80 degrees according to the Prepared PantryAnother thing to consider is more salt can make dough rise slower, and less faster.  To ensure moisture is in the air you can place boiling water with the dough to rise in an oven or microwave.  I often place mine in the oven and place it on warm for awhile (just enough to get the temp to 70-90 degrees) and then turn it off.  Below is a video from Alton Brown that talks about how yeast and sour doughs work.

           Good Eats Dr Strange loaf: Alton Brown 
talks about the science behind yeast and sour dough (3 min)

Nicole from Gluten Free on a Shoestring gave a great tip about how she gets her bread to rise in the microwave,
" First, I saturate a tea towel with water in the sink, and then heat the wet towel alone in the microwave for at least 1 minute (or until it’s so hot it’s a bit hard to handle). Immediately after the towel is finished heating, I quickly open the microwave door, place the bread dough (covered loosely in plastic wrap) loosely covered with the hot towel, and close the microwave door in a hurry. Next, I allow the dough to rise for about 20 minutes in that controlled environment (absolutely NO peeking), then check. If the dough has not risen enough (or at all), that’s totally normal. Don’t worry. Just remove the dough from the microwave, rewet the towel, rewarm the towel on high for 1 minute in the microwave, and place the dough back in the microwave with the hot towel again; check again after another 20 minutes, give or take. Every once in a while, I have to do a third go round of about 15 minutes, but it’s rare. You should be good to go." 
 I have not tried her method but I have placed a boiling cup of water with my bread in the microwave before. I like to use the microwave for rising in the summer since it's already pretty hot, and the oven placed on warm first (then turned off before placing the dough in) with boiling water below in the winter.  Alton Brown uses this same method in the episode Dr Strange loaf (video is below). America's Test Kitchen also uses the oven method as described by them in the video below.  They said that your dough will rise twice as fast in the oven as on the counter.  They also said to use only plastic wrap instead of a wet towel (which is what I've been using).  Because it seals in the moisture better.  This makes sense also since I've learned that you definately don't want to develop a crust on your bread since it will stop your bread from rising.  I have not had this problem, but I could see this being more likely with the wet towel method versus the plastic wrap.  You can also use your crock pot on warm for rising dough.  I'm just starting to experiment with this myself.

Proofing Bread from America's Test Kitchen (about 1 min)
Ingredients Can Effect How Much Yeast Rises

The main ingredients needed to make bread are air, water, flour, yeast, and salt.  According to Alton Brown in episode Dr Strangeloaf (which can be viewed in the video below) the average loaf is made up of 50% flour, 30%water, 15% air, and 2% yeast and salt.  Other ingredients that are added in addition to this are not necessary, but added for flour or for added characteristics   We already talked about the amount of water to flour is above.  Here are some other ways ingredients can affect your rise.  

Salt can help slow down the rise of yeast so that it "does not run away from you", as my teacher told me.  As you can imagine this means you want to have the right amount of salt.  When in doubt I would go lower on salt rather than higher.  I'd rather have a faster rise than a slower one, plus it's healthier anyways. Also do not add salt directly to the yeast as it will kill it.  I usually wait to the last possible moment to add salt to my dough.

Sugar can also affect yeast rising time.  Yeast eat sugar and when they eat sugar they give off carbon dioxide (that's where the bubbles come from) and start to reproduce.  So if you don't have enough sugar your yeast won't rise.  This also explains why you will never see a yeast bread recipe without real sugar.  So no you cannot sub sugar with a no cal sweetener (like stevia).  It must be the real deal.  If you have too much sugar your bread might rise faster than expected.  I tend to use a moderate amount of sugar, since I try to use the least amount of sugar in all my baking for health reasons.

Another way ingredients can effect your rise is having too much fat.  According to Dennis Weaver of the Prepared Pantry, "Fat shortens the gluten strands so don’t add too much fat, either butter or shortening. " When making my test bread recipe (pictured at the top of this post), I halved the butter I saw in other recipes as a precaution.  I figured I'd play it safe since I knew it wasn't a necessary ingredient in bread and I didn't know if it would help or hurt the rise.  Sounds like I made a good decision and I will not try to test out adding any more fat to my low carb bread recipe.

Temperature's Impact on Baking
While researching on how to bake fluffy light bread, I wondered what is the ideal temp to bake it at?  My gut says a higher temp, but I hate baking at high temps unless it's really necessary to get the best results, since the carcinogen 
acrylamide usually develops at higher temps Particularly above 200 degrees C or 392 degrees F.

 According to the Fresh Loaf (a fantastic resource of info on bread baking),
"Temperature also has an impact on how your loaf bakes. The general rule is that crusty breads should be baked at as high a temperature as possible. Soft shelled breads should be baked at lower temperatures. When you increase the temperature of your oven your bread bakes quicker (duh).  Professional bakers of rustic breads use ovens that achieve higher temperatures than home ovens achieve. Turning the temperature of your oven up when baking rustic breads will help you get closer to professional quality loaves. Buying a pizza or baking stone is another inexpensive method of capturing more heat in your oven and improving the quality of your bread."
I already have a pizza stone in my oven and I use it for all of my baking (including breads). They're pretty inexpensive and something I recommend everyone have who likes to bake. They're not just for pizza!  Alton Brown uses the bottom of a terracotta pot in his oven (as seen in the video below).

There are other ways that temperature can effect your bread. The Fresh Loaf   says, "While baking, If you want a crusty bread, you'll want to increase the temperature of the oven and reduce the amount of time your loaf bakes. For soft, pillowy breads, do the opposite (more time at a lower temperature)."

So the verdict is I think 400 degrees is likely  an ideal temp based on the fact that most professional bread maker recipes I saw were 400 degrees or slightly higher.  I have personally tried baking my recipe at 350 degrees for 45 min only to have an under done loaf (I wasn't smart enough to use my instant thermometer at the time).  So it's likely you'd have to bake your bread for a very long time if you were to go 350 degrees or below.  It's also unlikely to develop a good crust as explained above.  

Other Cool Tips and Tricks to Baking Bread

Create a Sponge the Night Before
I have never even heard of making a sponge (or pre ferment) before I went on my quest for the aloof fluffy light bread.  I first heard of this on forums at The Fresh LoafThen I heard Alton Brown talking about it on the episiode Dr Strange loaf (you can watch it below).  A sponge is usually made with some of the bread ingredients (no salt) and is left over night to frement in the fridge.  The next day it's married with the rest of the ingredients and then allowed to rise.  Now I'm determined to try to make a sponge the next time I make bread.  So why make a sponge?  It will make the dough softer because the carbondioxide released by the yeast will be reabsorbed and it will also allow the flour to hydrate which will start to build gluten which makes kneading much easier!  According to America's Test Kitchen sponges help to develop the flavor.  The fermentation produces lactic and acetic acids as by products which creates a sour taste.  So if you prefer this taste let it ferment longer, if not then you can let it ferment the minimum time, 3 hrs.   

I plan to merege my low carb bread recipe with Alton's Bread recipe using a sponge. This is the same one used in the video below.  Look for that recipe to come soon!

Good Eats Dr Strange loaf: Alton Brown  
The science behind making Bread (21 Min)
How to Add Seeds and Grains to the Crust of Your Bread

I haven't tried adding seeds and grains to my dough yet, but would love to try.  It makes bread look so pretty.  I just never knew how to do it.  I cam across a cool short video from America's test Kitchen showing you a knifty trick to do just that you can view below.  

60-Second Video Tips America's Test Kitchen: Bread Baking Gets Seedy
While you'll probably never make wonder bread light bread at home.  I've learned that with the right knowledge and trail and error you can make very good bread at home that anybody would be envious of even without gluten or with less grains (don't know about grain free yet since I haven't tried).  Bread making is definitely an art unlike any other baked good and will take time to learn but the pay off of having a lifetime of having home baked bread (which can be way healthier depending on your recipe), is so worth it.  Once you really learn how to bake bread it's only a short bit of time to make and just lots of idle time.  If anybody has some tips on baking bread I'd love to hear it. 

Check out all my bread recipes here (both yeast and quick breads)

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