The ABCs of Wheat Belly Baking

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When we divorce ourselves from wheat, we lose the gluten and amylopectins that, when combined with yeast, generate the “rise” that gives wheat bread that light and airy texture, as well its stretchy, or “viscoelastic,” property. It means that we often struggle to create non-wheat breads that rise and are sturdy enough to make sandwich breads or buns.

The rise generated by yeast just means that carbon dioxide (CO2) was generated by the metabolism of carbohydrates (amylopectin and amylose) by yeast, with gluten providing a “scaffold” for capturing CO2 gas. We can also generate CO2 by other means, called “chemical leavening, i.e., generating CO2 gas through a chemical reaction.” (Frankly, I don’t like that term because it sounds like we are doing nasty, chemical things but, as you will see, the reactions to generate CO2 are quite natural and safe.) Most forms of chemical leavening involve the generation of CO2 by reacting an acid with a base. There’s also the process of “mechanical leavening,” using some physical or mechanical means that incorporates air into the mix; whipping with a power or hand mixer is one example.

We start by combining our preferred flours and meals. For example, combine 3 1/2 cups almond flour (or meal) with 1/4 cup coconut flour and 1/4 cup ground golden flaxseed. The end-result will have slightly better structure and cohesiveness compared to using almond flour or other single flour alone. (There is also a Wheat Belly All-Purpose Baking Mix recipe in the Wheat Belly 30-Minute Cookbook. Wheat-Free Market also has a pre-mixed All-Purpose Baking Mix based on the same recipe.) Also, more liberal use of eggs generates better structure and cohesiveness.

But generating sufficient rise is the perennial struggle. Here are the methods that I have found helpful in helping to generate rise in wheat-free baking:

Use acid-base reactions
An easy way to remember this if, for instance, you are experimenting with a new recipe, is to mix your base–-baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate–-into your dry mix (e.g., almond meal/flour, coconut flour, ground golden flaxseed); mix your acid–-citric acid, lemon or lime juice, or vinegar–-into your liquid mix (e.g., egg yolks, coconut milk, water). When you combine dry and liquid mixes, you will see a foaming reaction, representing the reaction of acid with base that generates CO2.

Typical (stoichiometric, for your chemistry-minded readers) proportions to use are:

1 teaspoon baking soda: 1/4 teaspoon citric acid
1 teaspoon baking soda: juice of 1/4-1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon baking soda: 2 teaspoons vinegar

You can even do this more than once. For instance, let’s say you are using lemon juice. Start with a little extra (e.g., 1/2 more teaspoon) baking soda in your dry mix. Proceed with making your wet mix using lemon juice, reserving a bit. Mix wet into dry, then proceed with adding your egg whites (see below). Then add the remaining lemon juice, again causing the foaming CO2-generating reaction to occur.

Whip egg whites
Whipping egg whites represents a form of mechanical leavening and is among the most helpful methods to add lightness and volume. It is usually best to add the egg whites after the acid-base step (above) is completed over 1-2 minutes; this avoids the peculiar ammonia-like smell of “Baker’s ammonia,” the product of a reaction between baking soda and the proteins in egg whites.

If you are using a microwave-safe baking dish, you can increase rise considerably (typically 30% increased volume) by microwaving for 1-2 minutes. The amount of time will vary, depending on the size of dish, the depth of the dough, and the ingredients, so a bit of experimentation may be necessary to generate maximum rise. I usually microwave in 30-second increments. (Yes, I know all about the objections some people raise to the use of a microwave, but have yet to see any actual evidence–not hearsay from Russian sources as much of this is, but actual evidence–) that demonstrates any adverse effect of microwaving.

Use yeast for rise
I’ve discussed the possibility of reintroducing yeast into your grain-free baking in detail elsewhere in another Wheat Belly Blog post. In the Wheat Belly books, I was initially hesitant to include any yeast in our grain-free baking because some of the effects of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (the yeast used in baking) can overlap with that of grains in a few percent of people, especially gastrointestinal allergy. But this is something you can experiment with: Add back yeast and you experience stomach upset, gas, bloating, etc., then yeast is not for you. Add yeast back and you feel fine, then you can likely enjoy adding back the yeasty smell, flavor, and improved rise without issue.

Follow the directions on the bottle or package of yeast, first “proofing” it in water with a small amount (e.g., 1 teaspoon) added sugar to feed the yeast (thereby reducing or eliminating any sugar in your final baked product). The Wheat Belly Blog post about reintroducing yeast also provides a recipe.

Combine methods to maximize rise. It still will not match the dramatic rise seen with the amylopectins and gluten of grains, but you can still obtain a very nice end-result.

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