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. Pingback: Wandering Wednesday | Wheatless Rochelle

  2. Holly says:

    I love your bread recipes. Sometimes when my bread passes all the done tests, beautifully brown on top, wooden pic clean, etc. the middle of the loaf comes out not quite done, a bit moist/doughy. Do you think this happens because it didn’t bake long enough, dough batter was too wet, or what? Thanks for all the work involved in making a great gluten free book book with delicious recipes.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Hi, Holly–

      Yes, both: Use slightly less liquid and slightly more cooking time. If you find that you are getting excessive external browning but persistent incomplete interior cooking, you can lower cooking temperature by 25 degrees F, too.

      • Adri Krehbiel says:

        Thank you for asking this! I have the same problem. I have really loved all the recipes from the WB cookbook and I have notice that I have to cook my baking goods a little longer than recommended on the book. Dr. Davis, do you use a convection oven or just the regular over when you are baking? Thank you so much for all your great work on teaching us how to live a healthy and happy live!!!

  3. Heather says:

    I have been wheat free for 5 days now and I’m seeing improvement especially in a reduction of acid reflux and bloating. I plan on continuing to eating this way however my family wants to continue eating wheat for now. My question is should I continue giving them whole wheat flour, crackers, cereal, etc or give them things baked with white unbleached flour? Is the whole wheat really better than white or is it like sweetners (sugar, honey, agave, etc) all the same effect on the body? Thanks!

  4. Carol Podwinski says:

    My husband & I have been wheat free for 2 months n& love the results: no bloating, reflux gone, lost weight, no need for Tums anymore. Love the recipes too but as I am on Tamoxifen for breast cancer, I am not to eat flax seeds. Is there something else I could replace the flax seeds with in the bread recipes? Thank you!!!!!

  5. Lori goodrich says:

    My husband &i have been on wheat free for 5 weeks. I have lost 13.5 # a nd husband has lost 1.5″ off waist!! We have more energy and sleeping much better!! I tried basic bread recipe for first time and it came our dry & crumbly. I,ll use it for coating. Any suggestions? I followed measurements as per recipe

  6. Brenda says:

    For people who would rather buy their breads, are there any brands out there that are wheat free, or do all breads contain at least some wheat?

  7. Leah says:

    Thank goodness for this page! In the basic bread recipe, it says to add the egg yolks and buttermilk at the same time, but should we be adding the buttermilk first to react with the baking soda and then adding the egg yolks after a few minutes? Does the baking soda react with the egg yolks too or just the whites?

  8. jenni k. says:

    Surely there has to be some bread out there we can buy that is “kosher”? Allowed by Wheat Belly rules & regs? I work full time and have other things I have to do that don’t afford me the time to bake bread. Doesn’t Whole Food or other store like that have something you would approve?

    • Boundless says:

      > Surely there has to be some bread out there we can buy
      > that is … Allowed by Wheat Belly rules & regs?

      There will eventually be, and if you find it, be sure to report it here :)

      There was an effort last year to market such a product, but I can’t find a web site for it now.

      > Doesn’t Whole Food or other store like that have something you would approve?

      Most of the stuff in the Gluten-Free section of Whole Foods and other chains is high glycemic junk. Two slices is typically double your single-meal limit of net carbs, and consists of refined flours that will spike your blood sugar just as high as wheat.

      The other products in the GF aisle are similar horror stories, often loaded with agave or “natural” sugars, containing uselessly low levels of fat, but sporting organic or non-GMO claims for symbolic effect.

      The fundamental problem with the GF section of current stores is:
      1. Like makers of wheat-contaminated food, GF brands are, as a rule, utterly clueless about actual nutrition.
      2. They are chasing what they think are food fads and buzzwords. They think that GF is just about being gluten-free.
      3. They think their customers are equally clueless about nutrition, and to the extent that their junk sells, they are obviously correct in this assessment.

      But keep watching, and the thing to watch on a loaf of bread is when a “Low Carb” claim appears, and becomes at least as prominent as the current “GF” claim on the package. You are looking for a product that has well less than 5 grams net carbs per slice.

      Check the coolers and freezers when looking. It is apt to be some time before a low-carb GF bread has an adequate room-temperature shelf life.

      The emergence of acceptable packaged foods may or may not happen before the store adds a “Paleo” aisle or a “Keto” aisle.

  9. Laurie says:

    I was wondering if there was anything I could substitute for the chick pea flour in your bread recipe…I am low carb and trying to be gluten free and would like to try your bread recipe.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      The recipe still works fine by just increasing the almond meal/flour to compensate. The end result will be just a bit heavier, but still quite useful and delicious.

  10. Sally Gordon says:

    Regarding the Basic Bread Recipe… my first attempt was not encouraging. I am an expert bread baker & followed the recipe accurately. I did bake it in my wood cookstove & pulled it too soon. I returned it to the oven until it was ‘done’. It had an ammonia odor & did not taste appealing at all. Very discouraging. What happened? What did I do wrong? Any thoughts would be appreciated!

    • Leslie says:

      I too made the basic bread and it wasn’t a very successful effort. The smell and taste were off for me. I have it in my head that the chickpea flour is the offender – at least for my tastes – because everything else I have made tastes great. I just omit chickpea flour and add more almond meal/flour.

  11. Annie says:

    husband and I want to start the wheat belly diet. Cannot bake bread,do not have access to an oven.He loves sandwiches.Is there any substitute for bread when making a sandwich. If not, any idea for what you can have
    for lunch that does not need cooking.

  12. Winona says:

    Hi- I’ve tried a few of the baking recipes in the cookbook, but find that I gag at the smell and taste of flaxseed. Can I leave it out of the baking, and if so do I need to make any adjustments?

  13. Wionne says:

    Please help. I just purchased The Wheat Belly Cookbook. I made the basic bread recipe, and it smells like amonia and it tastes horrible. Did I do something wrong? Is it safe to eat? Will it taste better after it sits awhile? Please help , I am so dissapointed.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      No, I would not eat it. This is called “Baker’s ammonia.”

      See this post to learn how to avoid:

      It’s simply the result of a reaction of baking soda with the proteins in the egg white. So the key is to not allow the reaction.

      • patty says:

        I have not made your bread recipe yet but of all the ones I ever made in the past there was never the reaction some people mention. In most breads you use the same ingreds. (eggs, baking soda etc..)so what is different about this that might cause a reaction with the ingreds.?? Maybe it is the microwaving. Do YOU ever have an “off” batch?

  14. Laurie says:

    Silly question…You mention microwaving first to increase volume…do you then follow by baking in the oven for the rest of the time in recipe?

  15. Roberta Walden says:

    I have baked the basic bread several times and have repeatedly had good success. Today, however, I did notice a peculiar ammonia smell in the bread and a moistness at the bottom when I took it out of the pan. That smell took me to the Internet and I am happy that my Internet search brought me here. First, let me say how happy I am with all the recipes and hoe much I have enjoyed learning about and living the wheat free / sugar free lifestyle . But back to today’s trouble . It was a great relief to learn that there is such a thing as “baker’s ammonia”! At first I thought something mulish have gone awry with my ingredients, but I knew it was impossible because I am exceedingly careful . Then, I thought , gee, my husband could have somehow contaminated my bread with — ? But , no, I don’t let him near my cooking projects. So, again, thanks for the enlightenment. Regarding what went wrong for me, I truly believe it was that I left my bread “cooling” on the pans too long ( I made a double batch). I turned the breads over to allow them to “dry” a little and they smell good now and I no longer notice the ammonia twang. Too, in thinking one problem could have been that I baked a double batch and I only allowed an extra five minutes to cooking time. I appreciate the education I’m getting from the two Wheat Belly books and , now, from this great blog . Thanks! Gonna eat this bread!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      I’m glad you figured it out, Roberta!

      No, it wasn’t the Windex: It is simply a reaction between two food components that can occur in just about any form of baking, wheat-free or wheat-including.

  16. Roberta Walden says:

    I have one more quick observation on ammonia smell and still-moist soda bread. When I looked up “baker’s ammonia” to be sure it was really safe to go ahead and eat my bread that smelled like ammonia while it was still warm and moist, I found a product called “Baker’s Ammonia” that is a bread leavening agent which contains ammonia!! So, not only is the bread that smells a little like ammonia while it is still “working” safe to eat, but you can actually buy a bread leavened which contains ammonia ! Smiles.

  17. Roberta Walden says:

    Agh! Typing on a smart phone is convenient and easy , but the spell checker is smug and assumes it is correct . In my first post here , for example, I typed “must have” and my smart phone spell checker inserted “mulish have.” And in this last post , I typed “bread leavener” and my smart phone typed “bread leavened” — and it matters — or might matter to someone else worried about their bread . What I am trying to say is that if there is an ammonia smell, it is not dangerous. The smell is the ingredients working in the natural way that they work. When the bread is cooked through as it needs to be and then cooled and dried as described in the recipe (ten minutes in pan and then take bread out and finish cooling it on a rack) the ingredients stop working and the bread is fine to eat (and good). And , again, let me say that a bread leavener which actually contains ammonia (called “Baker’s Ammonia”) can be purchased. Baker’s ammonia, then, is an “ok” phenomenon.

    There is so much to learn! –And I am sooo ready! Thanks again, Dr Davis for a good plan and good recipes .

    • Laurie says:

      That must be the odor we all noticed when I baked the bread for second and third time. It really is quite unpleasant and seems to have created an expectation on the part of my family that the bread would not taste so good. I still tried it and found it to be just ok. It is certainly not “delicious” as some have said, at least not to me. I’m not an accomplished baker at all, so I don’t know what the heck to do about it to make it taste better although now at least I have some ideas concerning the odor. I have looked at a lot of gluten free bread recipes which use brown rice flour — I’m wondering if this is as bad an alternative as the dreaded tapioca starches and such. Anyone know?

      • Dr. Davis says:

        No, the brown rice flour causes extravagant high blood sugars and all the consequences that follow. This is why I urge everyone to avoid these gluten-free flours.

        Once you get the baking techniques down, Laurie, I believe that you will be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the products you can generate!

  18. sharon dungan says:

    Delighted to get the EVIL grain out of my life!
    Spiked my suger with the GF flour, I’m catching on…..
    I found all the required wheat free ingredients and was disappointed with the baked goods,
    but there are so many other things to enjoy besides wheat goods.
    My body is deflating, feels Great! Will be wonderful when the rest of the world gets on board!
    Loving my fork and spoon!

  19. Jan says:

    Tried making the basic bread, and I liked the texture, but for some reason all I could taste was baking soda and I followed the measurements exactly. Think it would make a difference if I used 1 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp baking soda instead of 1 1/2 baking soda?

  20. Gale says:

    I read the book this week!! Cleaned out the kitchen and replaced with the almond flour and most of the ingredients listed. I KNOW how bread of any kind, and I am too an accomplished bread maker of all kinds, causes me to bloat and puts the weight on in the middle!! So reading this book really got me to see what it is that causes so many complaints. Never too late.

    Basic bread out of oven and smells good to me and looking forward to tasting. My husband is on board with the change, and I am hoping it makes a difference with some of his complaints and allergies, chronic cough and dry eyes.
    Sure hope more recipies come around but this is amazing already! Thanks so much.