Secrets of making wheat-free bread rise

When we divorce ourselves from wheat, we lose the gluten that, when combined with yeast, generate the “rise” that gives wheat bread that light and airy texture. It means that we often struggle to create non-wheat breads that are big enough to make sandwich breads.

The rise generated by yeast just means that carbon dioxide (CO2) was generated by the metabolism of carbohydrates (amylopectin and amylose) by yeast. We can also generate CO2 by other means, called “chemical leavening.” (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 of incorporating air into the mix; whipping with a power or hand mixer is one example.

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 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 with cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate, used in winemaking) helps stabilize the whipped whites. Use 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar per 2 egg whites; whip at high-speed until peaks form. This represents a modification of mechanical leavening. 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.

Microwaving–If you are using a microwave-safe baking dish, you can increase risk 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. (Yeah, yeah, yeah: I know all about the objections some people raise to the use of a microwave!)

I will often use all three methods, including the two-stage acid-base step, to generate plenty of rise when I want it, e.g., for greater rise for a sandwich bread or a fluffier cake. It’s not perfect, but you still can obtain some very nice results using these techniques.

And I’d love to hear whether any of you clever wheat-free bakers have come up with any of your own methods!

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185 Responses to Secrets of making wheat-free bread rise

  1. Mimi says:

    Thank you thank you so much. I am still doing so well on this, and it’s still easy to follow. I’m going to try this with some recipes that I already have!

  2. I used to make regular bread and it was an art and science unto itself that I never picked up but did just fine following recipes. Are there any recipes that you recommend for a good gluten-free sandwich bread using the techniques discussed above? I just purchased the Wheat Belly Cookbook but haven’t received it yet…hopefully there is one in there?

  3. KristenS says:

    A-ha! Now I know why my first attempt at the basic bread recipe came out smelling like ammonia! I was so stumped. And it was strong enough to make the bread unpalatable, though the texture was nice.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yes, the Baker’s ammonia is quite unpleasant!

      It took me a fair amount of playing around with the recipes to get rid of it, once and for all!

      • Sharlyne Jay says:

        I just tried the basic bread again and it still came out with the ammonia smell and that strong taste, what am I doing wrong? I did let the mixture sit for probably 5 minutes before putting the egg whites in, is it the cream of tartar that makes the difference?
        Thank you.

        • George C says:

          WHAT are you guys talking about?? There is NO cream of tartar in the Basic Bread recipe, I just made it. What am I missing?

          And then I made the rye bread, and discovered baker’s ammonia. We must get to the bottom of the cure.

      • George C says:

        So what was the solution? I’m afraid of making them again, for fear of the smell (both Basic and Rye).

        The buttermilk is the acid, correct? And, do you know what Sharlyne is referring to with “cream of tartar”? Are there different versions of your recipe book perhaps?

        Thanks so much, George

        • John V says:

          George the cream of Tarter is used when you whip the egg whites, it helps make them firmer. ~ 1/4 tsp per two egg whites. It is not mandatory. The ammonia is caused by adding the egg whites to the dough too early. After the dough batter is completely mixed give it 5 minutes to sit before folding in the egg whites that should work. it does for me. My problem is “mini” bread I have to try the rise method this weekend.

          • George C says:

            thanks so much for reply.

            do you know if it’s the Butter Milk that’s the Acid, that needs to be added before the Oxygen (egg whites)?

            I got HUGE rise, just that the ammonia smell was INTENSE (especially while pulling off the wax paper). Could be from beating the eggs longer. My first time I didn’t really see “white peaks”, but the second time I beat the egg whites longer, until it really started to turn to foam at the top. I had to scale back to double recipe for 3 pans, because the triple had big overhangs like the giant muffins. One big piece even broke off it was so big.

          • George C says:

            sorry, I’m a little thick, but I think I got it now (I’m in the middle of baking again).

            It’s the OXYGEN (egg whites), not the ACID (buttermilk, or whatever that is) that produces the baker’s ammonia.

            I’ll give it at least 15 minutes, b/c someone wrote that 5 minutes wait was not enough.

            I’ll let you know either way.

          • George C says:

            OK, here are the results –

            1st Shipment (of 3 loaves) – I waited 25 minutes before mixing whipped egg whites into the rest of the Rye bread recipe – lots of baker’s ammonia, though not quite as intense as the last time.

            2nd Shipment (Basic Bread) – I waited 35 minutes, still smell

            3rd Shipment (Basic Bread) – I waited 45 minutes, still smell when I go close and smell. I hope it goes away soon.

            Still huge rise every time, it’s just the smell I need help to get rid of.

          • James says:

            Hello George,

            Make this bread and you won’t have any smell issues:


            You won’t make loaves of bread with this recipe but buns instead. It is very inspired from Maria Emmerich’s recipe.


  4. Deb says:

    I plan to try the 2nd pizza crust recipe as a bread since I am allergic to eggs. It made a great pizza crust!

    So far, we have liked the 5-6 recipes tried. I will try out all 3 of the suggestions above to make bread rise.

    BTW, you said “Microwaving–If you are using a microwave-safe baking dish, you can increase RISK ”
    and did you mean RISE?

    • George C says:

      that’s good detective work, of course that’s what he meant.

      I understood exactly what he meant, but couldn’t figure out how the RISK fit in – risk of more rise?? Perfect.

  5. Joe says:

    Try xantham gum. It adds the stretchiness back that the non gluten takes away. Helps in rising.

    • tess says:

      i second the xanthan-gum recommendation. depending on the recipe, you get that chewy, elastic quality that quick-breads don’t offer.

  6. Lory T says:

    You just gave me an idea of an additional thing I can use whey with. I have just learned how to make mozzarella cheese using raw milk, and tonight was actually my second time to make it, but I am overwhelmed with the gallons of whey I am left with…I have read using whey in soups or added (by tbsp) to cold water, etc. Now you just gave me an idea! That whey had the citric acid (2 tsp per gallon of raw milk). So now it’s time to experiment with one of your recipes. :)

  7. bill says:

    In your microwaving paragraph, you probably did not mean: “you can increase risk considerably”

  8. Cynthia S. says:

    Thanks for all these tips about breads but I have to say the fact that non-wheat breads are more solid or just plain different texture does not bother me ,,,I rather like it. I was never a fan of the fluffy stuff . I too have used Xantham gum in the past.
    The recipes that I have tried from your first book and now the new book are all fabulous!

  9. TJ says:

    I bake both yeast and yeast free (baking powder) breads. The best way to get, and keep a rid, for me is th addition of Guar gum as well as 1/2 – 1/2 cups of FINELY ground chia seeds. It requires some extra liquid in the recipe, but works like a charm.

  10. TJ says:

    Sorry, I meant RISE and not rid. (Terrible typist).

  11. Heather says:

    Thank you, Dr. Davis! I am so happy you posted this info!! I was just going to post my rye bread making experience to see if anyone else had this issue. I made it exactly by the recipe and the “ammonia smell” from the bread so so strong, to me, that I couldn’t eat it. My husband, on the other hand, didn’t notice it. Weird. So I guess this explains it! I though I was losing my mind!

    I have made the basic biscuits and several different bread recipes, and to be honest, I just didn’t like any of them. I was so sad:( I have LOVED every other (and I have made lots of them) recipes in your book, but the bread is just not good. Do you think if I try these methods it will make a difference? Also, I am using almond flour/meal, is that ok? (not the blanched almond flour)

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    • Grace says:

      I’m not the Dr (of course!), but I didn’t like the bread either – I got taht horrible ammonia smell and oddly my husband didn’t notice it either! But I do two things – definitely use the blanched almond flour for the bread and biscuits. Anything you want a lighter texture for. That made a big difference for me. I will try the waiting thing before adding the egg whites to get rid of that ammonia smell. And when measuring the coconut flour, I always use a little less and sift it really well. That has helped a lot as well to getting a better texture to my breads.

      • Michelle says:

        I didn’t like the bread either. I am usually a good baker, and it was terrible. The ammonia smell was horrible. Any suggestions?

  12. pickinthefive says:

    Hello Dr. Davis,
    The “Bakers ammonia” was quite a revelation to me. I thought there was something wrong with my ingredients or that this was just an unfortunate byproduct of wheat-free-cooking. I have made at least one loaf that was unpalatable.

    For us beginners and “novice bakers” could you please provide a little more step-by-step on exactly how you avoid the ammonia odor ?

    Thanks very much,

    • George C says:

      i second that request for elaboration, Doctor. Please help us through this. We want to make it again, and we must get it right.

      Good News, BTW — my daughter tasted the Rye Bread, and tasted it again, and then a while later resurfaced with a question: “Are you SURE, there isn’t any of that stuff in here?” (she means gliadin) “Because I can’t stop eating it!”

      After reading the chemistry lesson at the top of this page, I could not figure out which ingredients in the Rye Bread recipe (which is pretty much exactly the same as Basic Bread, except double, plus caraway seeds, and a little less sweetener). First I thought it must be the Butter Milk. Later I found out that it’s the air beat into the Egg Whites. But what “OTHER” reaction is there before the egg whites, after which we need to wait?

      • Dr. Davis says:

        You will find your answer in the discussion on the blog post.

        It boils down to not allowing the baking soda to contact the proteins in the egg white until after the baking soda has reacted with your choice of acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.). So add the egg whites AFTER you have reacted acid and base.

  13. Janknitz says:

    I love baking bread for my wheat eating family, but since going wheat free myself I’ve found no need for grain free breads. They just aren’t necessary, and too much work for something that will never taste as good as the real thing.

    I sometimes make grain free crackers and wraps (like the Wheat Belly flax wrap) but bread is just not necessary.

    • Neicee says:

      Janknitz, I feel the same way. For me, a recovering wheataholic, eating anything that resembles bread or other items it’s too easy to justify grabbing the real thing at the grocery store. When my hubby wants a cheeseburger, I show him down the street where there are at least 5 different places to get his fix. I don’t make the psuedo replacements, yet.

      • James says:

        I don’t bake very often but when I do, I don’t see the result as a pseudo-bread or replacement but an entirely different (and tasty) food. Call it bread, cake, tubby-toast (hehe ;) ) it remains very palatable and nutritious :)

      • Annette says:

        well we want a cheeseburger we do lettuce buns and yum, messy but you can taste the meat so much better without the wheat mucking it up. and no more bloated tummy. bread does not entice me anymore i see it on cooking shows and go that is not healthy, throw that away and eat the filling.

        • Thomas says:

          Couldn’t agree more about the “lettuce” buns. Yes, they are messy, but the flavors shine through. I have also used the flax seed wraps cooked in a little butter and olive oil. They brown up beautifully, and because they are so thin, allow the flavors through as well. A nice alternative, and not quite as messy as the lettuce. I add no flavorings to the wraps, as it seems the onion powder and garlic powder add kind of a discernable “fake” flavor.

        • George Cauldwell says:

          Peppers, any color, but especially red peppers are blow-away outstanding for burgers. MUCH better than any bun, or anything else I ever had. And big dittos on the flavor comments. I never liked burgers as much as now. Messy, yes, but to me that’s a plus. Messy means meal, neat means Cliff note.

    • Grace says:

      We are enjoying the recipe I found for “bagel bread”. It’s a flat “bread” (I imagine like the foccacia) baked on a big cookie sheet. So far it has been the best “bread” replacement. You cut it into squares. It has onion and garlic powder in it, so it’s savory. Today I put heaping piles of chicken salad on my squares and that was my lunch. I suppose I could have eaten the chicken salad plain, with a fork, but it was just so much nicer on the squares. It’s also great toasted spread with cream cheese (like a bagel) for breakfast. I can’t exactly eat cream cheese all by itself. Or chicken liver pate. Tastes really good with that too. Or, with just some ham and cheese on top. All those things are weird to eat by themselves. So in general, I can live without bread, but sometimes you just need a “vehicle” for some other foods. It would be really good with spinach – artichoke dip too. I will be taking some to the super bowl party we were invited to so I can have some of the dips that are there. :-)

      • Deb says:


        Is there any way you can post the recipe here for those of us who still need bread just not wheataholic bread?

        thanks, Deb

      • James says:

        Hi there, here is my low carb sandwich:
        two slices of aged organic gouda for the bread replacement, one lettuce leaf, organic uncured ham or any sliced cold meat, home-made mayonnaise, herbes, spices, tomato slice, whatever else.

        So the cheese is no longer a filling but the container :)

    • Nobelly says:

      I feel the sme way too. I would think if it tasted good i would crave it. I think the recipes are most helpful fr those new to low carb eating who cant figure out what to eat besides a sandwich for lunch.

  14. Anthony says:

    I don’t know if Djokovic has gone to making his own wheat-junk free bread, but here’s an exciting article

  15. Shawn says:

    Calculating Net Carbs Example: 1 cup of blackberries has 14 grams of carbs & nearly 8 grams of those carbs are fiber. Total Carbs – Fiber = Net Carbs
    14 grams – 8 grams = 6 grams of net carbs in that cup of blackberries.
    O.k. fine that’s easy, HOWEVER: Lets say there are 12 grams of carbs in a slice of bread.
    If you add 4 servings (8 teaspoons) of Benefiber to that meal consisting of one slice of bread say in your water or whatever, does that REALLY negate the carbs of the bread?
    Truly I can’t see it- I just don’t ‘get’ how one can only count net carbs, as if they are really getting away with eating bread or whatever with less or no carbs depending on the fiber count.
    I can easily add Benefiber to my bread machine and bake carbless (gluten free) bread according to the Net Carb logic that most have adopted as true/accurate.

    What say you?

    • Jeff G says:

      It’s per ingredient, not per meal.

      The carbs IN the fiber are trapped. They won’t get processed by your system. Therefore, they do not affect blood sugar.

      You can’t cause the “untrapped” carbs in a meal to become trapped in fiber by adding fiber to a meal.

      Again … net per ingredient, not net per meal.

    • Stacey Bennett says:

      No, the fiber carbs can be subtracted from total carbs, they do not negate other carbs. In the example of the Benefiber, you would have to add the total carbs from the Benefiber before you could subtact the fiber. If an item is all fiber, then you would have a net Carb of zero. If you added 12 carbs of Benefiber to a slice of bread, then you could subtract the12 fiber carbs. In other words, you would be adding 0 net carbs, not adding -12 net carbs.Does that make sense?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Sorry, Shawn: I’m not following this.

  16. Dana says:

    I’d like to make the Basic Bread recipe but I don’t own a food processor. Will it work if I make it using my KitchenAid Food Chopper (perhaps using the Puree setting)? Has anyone tried this?

  17. Maria says:

    Picked up your book Saturday night and my husband and myself have been following it thus far. Very interesting information and one I plan to share with others.

    One question: how can I integrate wheat and gluten-free foods into my son’s diet? He’s 7 and fairly picky. I made the basic bread and he took only one bite. Any suggestions you have are appreciated.

    Thank you in advance.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Spread with peanut butter or natural fruit butters, Maria. Look at the many “kid friendly” recipes in the Cookbook.

      You may be dealing with a child who has the heightened desire/appetite for wheat-containing and sugar foods. It may require some time to backpedal from that situation.

  18. Susan says:

    I’ve been making the bread from Maria Emmerich’s site using almond flour, egg whites, baking powder, and psyllium seed husks. The way the psyllium replaces gluten is amazing! Much better than xantham gum or chia seeds. The baking powder provides the CO2, but the psyllium provides the “skin” for the air to form bubbles inside, just like wheat bread. This stuff holds together like a good sandwich bun should. It’s been such a wonderful find for me! Plus the noticeable benefits of the extra fiber, lol. Now if only it didn’t give the bread/buns that odd purplish-grey color I have to ignore, it would be perfect.

    Oh, and not to be a nit, but cream of tarter is not used in winemaking, it is a byproduct of it.

    • Kate says:

      I’ve been meaning to try that recipe … now I’m making it a priority. :-)
      If I’m not mistaken, I think Maria mentions somewhere in her blog that if you use the Jay Robb psyllium husks you won’t end up with the weird color.

    • Faith says:

      Any chance you can post a direct link to this? Thanks.

      • Kate says:

        The “Note” right under the first photo says … “SOME psyllium powder will turn your baked good a “rye bread” color. I have found that Jay Robb psyllium husks (ground into a powder) doesn’t cause this to happen.”

        I’ve also seen it other places on the blog. Just search on “psyllium.”

        • Kate says:

          Yesterday I used Maria’s “Healthified Sub” recipe (almond flour version) to make five rolls.

          The dough was beautiful and it rose and baked wonderfully. The texture of the finished product was lovely, very similar to the texture of regular yeasty, gluteny bread with a very nice crust. I really wanted to love it, but wasn’t at all crazy about the “strong” flavor. However, by the next day the flavors had mellowed out a lot and I was beginning to see a future for this bread. I used the Vitamin Shoppe brand of psyllium husk powder. It worked great. The color of the bread resembled whole wheat and there was no greyish or purplish hue at all. The bread was a bit salty to my taste, so if I make it again I’ll try cutting the salt by half.

          • James says:

            Hi Kate,

            Funny you just did it, I happened to have done it too. It was quite good, even while it was cooling down and my kids LOVED IT!
            You know, when I gave up wheat, I knew I would never find a replacement that would provide me good health with the SAME taste and texture. So part of this journey had been to accept to give up classic bread and forget about its taste. When I tried the recipe linked above, it was not in the hope to recreate bread as I knew it but to provide my kids with a healthy alternative that they would grow accustomed to (they’re only 3 y.o. and 1.5 y.o and consequently are not yet “corrupted” by the seducing qualities of wheat). It’s also nice to have such a bread for picnics or other quick grabs.

          • Kate says:

            HI JAMES,
            There was no “Reply” link under your post so hopefully you’ll see this just *above* your post. My sentiments exactly about finding healthy alternatives rather than trying to necessarily recreate classic bread. I’m enjoying the quest and getting to know new ingredients and methods. Have you seen Gourmet Girl’s biscuit recipe? I use it all the time and also find lots of inspiration from her blog for all kinds of delicious wheat and grain-free stuff — highly recommended.
            Kudos for starting your kiddos out on the right path. Keep up the good work!

  19. Kelly says:

    Hi Dr Davis. Thanks for the great post. I have used this ratio to obtain a rise in dough.

    Add xantham gum:

    3 /4 tsp per cup coconut flour

    1/2 tsp per cup almond meal

    I have only baked flat bread since being wheat free. The foc bread recipee on this blog is our staple as is the flax wrap.


    Kelly G.WFF

    • William Taylor says:

      Hi Dr. Davis,
      I’d like to correct a serious typo in the paragraph:
      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 hyroxide–into your dry mix

      I’m sure you meant baking soda or sodium bicarbonate, and not sodium hydroxide…using the latter would have serious consequences, that is what Draino is made from and is very caustic.

      • Dr. Davis says:

        Ahhh! Thanks for catching, William!

        Yes, indeed: sodium bicarbonate. Funny what comes out of your head late at night!

  20. Leslie says:

    The only acceptable wheat free replacement kid food I’ve found is the Tinkyada brand rice pasta. Quick breads, muffins, and cookies turn out well with almond flour, but sandwich bread has been a complete bust for me after many attempts with different recipes. I find it best to just go with foods that never contained wheat, like rice and potatoes with meats and veggies.

    Here is a kid friendly cheese sauce that I make constantly for Mac n cheese or over broccoli:

    Using a Pyrex glass measuring cup, put desired amount (.5 cup is about 2 servings around here) of shredded cheese in cup (we like cheddar/jack or parmesan). Put in enough heavy cream to just fill the glass to the level of the cheese (fill in the space basically). Top with a pat of butter. Microwave for 1-1:30 minutes, until cheese and butter melted into the cream. Stir, being careful of the steam that escapes when you do. Voila! No flour necessary!