Gluten is a protein found in foods processed from wheat and wheat-related grains. In the case of bread, it functions as the glue that holds it together and gives it a chewy texture. It is also the bane of people who have celiac disease or who are gluten-intolerant.
Celiac disease is a genetic, autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that prevents the body from processing gluten. Gluten intolerance is a condition in which the body reacts to gluten in food adversely. All symptoms of gluten intolerance suck. They include abdominal cramps and pain, bloating, vomiting, excessive pooping, not pooping enough, hives and headaches.
But I really want some bread!
You can’t have gluten but you really want to bake a loaf of bread. Well, you need to keep a few things in mind. If you are going to forgo a gluten-free mix and use gluten-free flour to bake your bread from scratch, it is strongly recommended that you measure your ingredients by weight and not volume. For example, 1/4 cup of potato starch weighs more than 1/4 cup of rice flour, and this can spell disaster if you are substituting flours.
You also need to mix gluten-free bread vigorously, either with a stand mixer or by hand — and if you mix by hand, be ready to throw your body into it. Handheld mixers are not recommended because of the dough’s texture. If this all sounds daunting, you can use pre-mixed gluten-free flour. There are various brands on the market, but Pamela’s comes strongly recommended to me.
Low and slow is the way to go
Gluten-free anything — cookies, cake and that bread you’re trying to get just right — must be baked at lower temperatures than their gluten-containing counterparts. This means, of course, that it will take longer for your bread to finish baking. Those braving gluten-free flour and baking from scratch should keep in mind that all blends of flour are different and some starches cook faster than others. Flour blends generally include some of the following: rice, potato, amaranth, tapioca, corn flour/meal, sorghum, teff, arrowroot, soy and various nut flours, such as almond, chestnut or coconut.
So what makes it crumbly?
In short? No gluten. Is your gluten-free bread ever going to have the same texture as regular bread? No. Never. There will be crumbs. But fear not! Eggs and various binders come to the rescue in gluten-free baking to prevent your bread from being excessively crumbly. Eggs give the mix stretchiness — don’t start adding more than what the recipe calls for, though, because too many eggs will make your bread too dense. And make sure those eggs are not fresh out of the fridge! Your ingredients should all be at room temperature, whether you baking with or without gluten. Binders, such as guar gum and xanthan gum, help as well, since they become the glue that holds your bread together.
Your bread might also be too crumbly because your dough was too dry. Reducing the amount of flour can help the binding ingredients saturate your dough more. Gluten-free baking means working with very wet dough because the ingredients are compensating for the lack of gluten. You can also add a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin — a binding agent — in addition to the guar and xanthan gum. Last, make sure you’re using a bread knife and refrigerate your gluten-free bread before slicing it.