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.
This is the Wheat Belly guide to grain free baking. Without grains, like wheat flour, corn starch, corn flour or rice flour, you can recreate delicious, wonderful dishes like cheesecake, birthday cake, cookies, chocolate chip cookies, key lime cupcakes, bagels, muffins, scones — just about anything — using non-grain substitutes.
When you do so, it facilitates weight loss, unlike grains that cause weight gain. These flours and meals don’t cause a rise in blood sugar like grains do. They don’t add inflammation. They don’t feed dysbiosis — disrupted bowel flora. They don’t cause things like joint pains and skin rash like rosacea, seborrhea, like grains do. This is a carefree way of cooking and baking.
We choose our flours and meals very carefully. Find those lists in the Wheat Belly books and the Wheat Belly blog. The most common ones are almond flour, coconut flour, ground golden flax seed, sesame seed flour (an excellent flour) and several others. We choose them carefully for those reasons. We want benign healthy flours and meals to do our baking.
One of the things we give up though, when we don’t use wheat and grains is, we lose some of the rise — the effect that gives bread, for instance, its ability to puff up and become light and airy, as well as stretchiness that’s provided by the gluten in grains. We lose all that, but we can kind of recreate some of those effects. At least it provides us with some familiar substitutes, particularly for people like family and friends who might not know that you’re not cooking without wheat and grains.
One very useful strategy to recreate some of these the effects of grains is to combine or mix your flowers and meals. A very common combination, for instance, would be 3½ cups of almond flour with ¼ cup coconut flour, ¼ cup of ground golden flax seed. That very simple mixture yields a little bit better texture, cohesiveness and lift in your final product. That’s why I have a Wheat Belly all-purpose baking mix and company Wheat Free Market, that I advise, also has an all-purpose baking mix based on a similar type of mixture.
Another strategy used to get better structure and rise out of your baked products is to use more eggs. If the recipe would have called for 2 eggs consider using 3 or even 4 or 6. You can get better rise, better structure, better texture. Don’t be scared of eggs, right? Eggs are full of cholesterol, a fact that we don’t care about. We want more fat. Don’t worry about that ridiculous advice to limit your eggs, saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, etc. We do not pay any attention to that ridiculous nonsense. Use more eggs for better baked product end results.
Learn how to use what are called acid-base reactions. It sounds like chemistry, but it’s really just using some very common ingredients. This is all discussed in the Wheat Belly blog post that accompanies this video. One common strategy, for instance, is to use 1 teaspoon of baking soda (which is sodium bicarbonate) with 2 teaspoons of vinegar. That will generate CO2 (carbon dioxide) bubbles in your product.
There’s a very common combination of them would be 1 teaspoon of baking soda for a ¼ teaspoon of citric acid (acid from citrus fruit). Those are easy ways to generate carbon dioxide that is typically caused by the reaction of yeast and amylopectin in grains. Without grains, you can recreate that by using these acid-base reactions.
One of most helpful strategies to get up generate rise and texture in your foods is to whip your egg whites. Whip until they’re stiff. We’re going to use four eggs, for instance, in a recipe, separate the eggs from the yolks. Whip the egg whites. Use the yolks with the other liquids, let’s say with water or coconut milk — whatever liquid you’re using. After you do the acid-base reaction, then add the egg whites.
I stress that, because if you add the egg whites before you do the acid-base reaction, you can get something called baker’s ammonia, which smells like ammonia, which is very unpleasant — you can’t use the final product. That occurs any kind of baking by the way, so if you’re going to use an acid-base reaction like baking soda and citric acid, or baking soda and vinegar, do that first, and then add your whipped egg whites so you don’t get baker’s ammonia.
Microwaving your dough, your batter, can help. I know some people object the use of microwaves, but I have yet to see any real data showing that microwaving food is deleterious. There’s lots of rumors and internet chatter, some of it from Russia, of all odd places, but I’ve actually never seen any real science. Until somebody produces science that shows that microwaving is deleterious, I use it.
What you do is; you have to put your batter, your dough, into a microwave safe dish or pan, and microwave it. This would be a minute, 1½, 2 minutes. You don’t want to cook it. You just want to generate gas. That gives you about 1⁄3 more volume in your final product, so that can also help.
Lastly yeast: you know in the Wheat Belly books I left yeast out. Some people have a adverse reaction to yeast. It’s only a few percent, but they have an allergy reaction to yeast that can mimic some of the effects of grains, so I didn’t want to cloud the issue by continuing to include yeast. But, if you’ve been grain free, and you’ve had great results, and your stomach is better, and your irritable bowel syndrome, etc. is gone, you can experiment to see if you can tolerate yeast. Most people can; more than 9 out of 10 people can.
You reintroduce that yeasty flavor and smell, which a lot of people like, and it also gives you better rise. You’ll follow the directions on the yeast that you purchase. It does help to proof it; expose it to water and a little bit of sugar — you add sugar because the yeast likes sugar. Even though you add sugar to your yeast mixture, it consumes the sugar and the sugar should not be present in any substantial amount in your final product because it’s eaten and it’s gone. That’s another way of generating better rise.
You can mix and match these strategies. I like to do such things that using more eggs, using one acid-base reaction, then adding whipped egg whites, and sometimes using yeast, to generate more rise. You’ll find, by the way, the how to use yeast in my Wheat Belly blog post on that topic. You can combine these strategies, depending on what kind of food you’re making. Some recipes don’t require much lift. Some recipes do, like when you’re trying to make a sandwich bread, you want to get the maximum lift that’s possible. Use judgement how much you want to do now.
A lot of the Wheat Belly recipes already incorporate some of these strategies, so you don’t have to think about it. That’s the easy way out of course. You can enjoy — bottom line — you can enjoy wonderful products that have good structure, flavor, and texture, with no grains, none of the deleterious downsides of grain consumption. Just enjoy your scone, cupcake or cookie, without grains