Gluten-free baking can be challenging, especially when it comes to getting breads and other baked goods to rise properly. For those avoiding gluten, the most common questions are: Does yeast work with gluten-free flour? And if so, how can you get the best rise out of gluten-free dough?
What is gluten and why do some flours not contain it?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It provides elasticity and structure to dough, allowing it to trap the gases produced by yeast during fermentation. This is what gives bread its characteristic chewy texture and helps it rise.
People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten and must follow a strict gluten-free diet. This means avoiding all foods and ingredients containing wheat, barley, rye, and any derivatives of these grains.
Gluten-free flours are made from naturally gluten-free grains and starchy foods. Some examples include rice, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, almond, coconut, chickpea and potato. While many of these flours can be used successfully in baking, they lack the gluten proteins needed to give rise and structure to baked goods.
Does yeast work with gluten-free flours?
The short answer is yes, yeast will still activate and cause gluten-free dough to rise. Yeast feeds off sugars and starches in the flour or dough, producing carbon dioxide gas that makes the dough expand.
However, the quality and height of the rise may be diminished when using gluten-free flours. Without gluten, the dough cannot form strands and networks to stretch and hold in the gases.
Factors affecting rise in gluten-free baking:
- Type of flour – Gluten-free flours have varying amounts of protein. Higher protein, such as chickpea or quinoa flours, can help mimic some of the elasticity of gluten.
- Dough hydration – More water makes a wetter, looser dough. Too little water can prevent the yeast from activating and feeding properly.
- Resting time – Longer rises and proofing times allow the yeast to generate more gas to lift the dough.
- Kneading – Thorough kneading develops protein strands and helps trap gas bubbles.
- Binders and thickeners – Adding xanthan gum, psyllium husk or flax seeds can add structure to support the rise.
- Leaveners – Adding baking powder or eggs whites gives an extra rise effect.
By using the right techniques and ingredients, it is possible to get a good rise with gluten-free dough. The yeast will still do its job, but the overall result relies heavily on therecipe and the baker’s skill.
Tips for working with yeast in gluten-free baking
Here are some tips for getting the best results when using yeast in your gluten-free baking:
1. Use bread flour or high protein gluten-free flour
Gluten-free flours higher in protein, like chickpea, quinoa or amaranth, will provide more structure to trap the yeast gases. Look for flours labelled “bread flour” or add a couple tablespoons of chickpea flour to your regular gluten-free flour blend.
2. Increase the yeast amount
Many gluten-free bread recipes call for more yeast than regular wheat breads, sometimes up to 2 or 3 times more. The extra yeast helps generate increased carbon dioxide gas to give a better rise.
3. Add a binder
Binders and thickeners mimic the elasticity of gluten so the dough can stretch rather than deflate. Xanthan and guar gums are commonly used. Alternatives are psyllium husk powder, ground flax seeds, chia seeds or gelatin. Use around 1-2 teaspoons of binder per cup of flour.
4. Include an acid
Adding a small amount of acidic ingredient like yogurt, buttermilk, vinegar or lemon juice will help strengthen the gluten-free dough. Acids slow down yeast fermentation, allowing gases to accumulate and rise properly.
5. Knead the dough well
Thorough kneading develops the protein structure and forms a network to hold in gases. Knead gluten-free dough for 8-10 minutes. The dough should feel stretchy and have a slight spring when poked.
6. Let it rise more
Be patient and allow plenty of time for dough to rise, 1-2 hours usually needed rather than the 30-60 minutes for wheat dough. Punch down and let rise twice to increase volume. Place dough in a warm area around 80-85°F to speed rise.
7. Use loaf pans or molds
Baking gluten-free dough in a fixed shape like a loaf pan or bundt pan provides support and prevents spreading or flattening. Grease pans well so the loaf can rise vertically and pop out of the pan nicely.
8. Steam the oven
Creating steam in the oven for the first 5-10 minutes of baking will prevent the surface of gluten-free breads and buns from setting too quickly. This allows more oven spring. Place a baking pan with boiling water on the rack below the bread.
9. Cool on a rack
Let gluten-free breads and buns cool completely on a wire rack before slicing or tearing to prevent gums and moisture from redistributing. Proper cooling helps the loaf retain its risen shape.
Recipe ideas for yeast breads with gluten-free flours
Here are some delicious recipes to try baking with yeast and gluten-free flours:
Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread
- 2 cups brown rice flour
- 1 cup tapioca starch
- 2 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2 1/4 tsp fast-acting yeast
- 1 1/4 cups warm milk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
1. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the center.
2. Add the wet ingredients and stir to combine into a thick, shaggy dough.
3. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes.
4. Place dough in greased bowl, cover and let rise 1 hour.
5. Punch down dough, shape into loaf and place in greased 9×5 inch pan.
6. Cover and proof for 1 hour.
7. Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes.
8. Cool on wire rack before slicing.
Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls
- 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour blend
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 1/2 tsp yeast
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp butter, softened
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4 oz cream cheese, softened
- 2 Tbsp butter, softened
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
1. Mix flour blend, xanthan gum, yeast, salt and 2 Tbsp sugar.
2. Whisk in milk, egg and butter. Knead to make a smooth dough.
3. On floured surface, roll dough into 12×8 inch rectangle.
4. Spread dough with 2 Tbsp softened butter, then sprinkle remaining sugar and cinnamon.
5. Tightly roll up dough lengthwise and cut into 12 rolls.
6. Arrange rolls in greased baking dish, cover and let rise 1 hour.
7. Bake at 350°F 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
8. Mix frosting ingredients until smooth and pipe onto cooled cinnamon rolls.
Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
- 1 1/4 cups gluten-free flour
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp yeast
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour blend, xanthan gum, sugar, salt and yeast.
2. Add the water and olive oil and mix until a shaggy dough forms.
3. Turn out onto floured surface and knead dough for 3-5 minutes until smooth and elastic.
4. Place dough ball in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour.
5. Punch down risen dough and stretch out into 12-inch round pizza crust shape.
6. Transfer to pizza pan or baking sheet and build pizza as desired.
7. Bake at 425°F for 15-18 minutes until crust is golden brown.
Troubleshooting yeast doughs with gluten-free flours
Even with the best techniques, gluten-free yeast breads can still be temperamental. Here are some common issues and how to fix them:
Problem: Dough is not rising
- Check that yeast is active – proof in warm water with a pinch of sugar
- Water temperature may be too hot, killing yeast
- Water too cold, preventing yeast activation
- Too much salt inhibits yeast growth
- Not enough kneading to develop dough structure
Problem: Risen dough deflates quickly
- Increase binders like xanthan gum or psyllium
- Knead dough longer to strengthen it
- Let dough rise more slowly at cooler temperature
- Avoid opening oven door too early while baking
Problem: Gluten-free bread has poor rise and dense crumb
- Use bread flour or higher protein gluten-free flour
- Increase yeast amount
- Ensure dough is adequately hydrated – add more liquid
- Knead dough longer to develop structure
- Do longer proofing times – let dough rise twice
Problem: Gluten-free rolls or buns spread out rather than rising
- Increase binders like xanthan gum or psyllium
- Let dough proof longer to generate more gases
- Place close together in pan so they support each other as they rise
- Use muffin tins or custard cups for better shape retention
Gluten-free yeast bread alternatives
If your gluten-free yeast breads continue to be a struggle, there are a few alternatives to try for sandwiches, toast, and rolls:
- Quick breads and muffins – Made without yeast by mixing together and baking immediately
- Flatbreads and wraps – Do not require as much rising as yeast breads
- Sourdough – Uses wild yeasts and long fermentation for rise rather than added yeast
- Banana bread – Bananas help bind and moisten gluten-free bread
- Nut and seed breads – Nuts add protein and structure to aid rising
- Cornbread – Uses naturally gluten-free cornmeal as flour base
- Pumpernickel – Dense, heavy bread made with rye flour
With some patience and experimentation, delicious gluten-free yeast breads are achievable in your home kitchen. Play around with different flour blends, kneading techniques, and rising times to find the magic formula that works for your gluten-free baking.
Yeast can definitely be used to make gluten-free breads, rolls, and pizza crusts rise. While it presents more challenges compared to baking with wheat flour, there are ways to mimic the elasticity and trapping of gases for lift. Choosing the right flours, adding binders, allowing for longer rising times, and proper kneading techniques are all keys to success. With a well-developed gluten-free dough, the yeast will produce carbon dioxide bubbles to achieve an airier texture in the finished bake. Be patient through trial and error to find recipes and methods that work for your kitchen. The result of fresh homemade gluten-free bread is well worth the effort.