I explore with a gluten-free baking expert the elusive perfect homemade gluten-free loaf – it’s really possible!
It’s weird being friends with me.
I tend to give a lot of food advice, and when my dear friend’s daughter suffered from headaches every day, I kept gently mentioning that I thought an elimination diet meal plan might really help, such as cutting gluten and dairy for starters.
After a whole year, the family finally tried it – headache gone within a week, and every time the little girl eats gluten, she suffers for a day. She’s old enough to make her own decisions on things like this, and sometimes, the doughnut at school is just worth it. 😉
This has also meant that mom, a good cook and budget-conscious, has been on a search for a great gluten-free sandwich bread recipe for months now. She’s had almost a dozen fails, and when they fail, they’re really, really bad! She’s about to throw her hands up in despair, and I know she’s not alone.
Many people, myself included, feel like good homemade gluten-free bread is a sort of holy grail, something no one has ever seen outside a factory that makes commercial bread (and even then sometimes they’re pretty gross!). We resign ourselves to using gums and weird additives and still have low expectations.
That is, until I met Chris Stafferton.
This guy bakes only gluten-free bread, uses gluten-free sourdough often, and NO gums. He even enters his loaves in baking competitions alongside wheat bread – and wins! His gluten-free bread is mostly whole grain, plus did you know that sourdough already adds health benefits to bread and makes it easier to digest?
That’s a gluten-free sourdough croissant that Chris made, more than 50% whole grain!
I was totally honored to interview him all the way from Australia, and I think he’ll fascinate you as he did me:
Video Interview: Chris Stafferton on Baking Bread That is Gluten-Free
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Abridged Transcript of the Gluten-free Bread Interview
If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, use these notes to glean some info and decide where you want to “skim” the vid. There are a few parts that you must see, when Chris shows us around his kitchen!
I want to start with your story first, Chris. I think there are two really important pieces to learn. First, how did you fall in love with baking? Second, how did you get to be a gluten free specifically baker, what’s that part of your story? (0:59)
- 1:16 – It all started when Chris’s mother discovered at the birth of her first child that his father was useless in the kitchen. This sparked his mother to decide that all of her kids would be able to take care of themselves in the kitchen.
- 1:51 – Twenty years later, Chris decided that if he had to cook for himself he was going to make it into a hobby and enjoy it.
- 2:22 – Testing through his doctor led Chris to a gluten-free diet. This was a difficult finding for Chris as he is a bread lover. At that time, the gluten-free options were not tasty (to say the least). His daughter was found to need a gluten-free diet as well and Chris took it upon himself to provide her with all the goodies children want but in a gluten-free way, so she would not miss out.
And had you been baking homemade bread before that? Because you talked about cooking and to me cooking is very different from baking as far as the finesse and the skills that it takes. Were you a homemade bread baker at that time? (3:39)
- 3:51 – When at university there was a bread strike in Sydney and Chris could not find bread so he started to make his own. He became more passionate about baking after he had to go gluten-free.
This is interesting because your bread now (recipesforliving.info) is just incredible. First of all they do not look like gluten-free. There are huge bubbles and it’s so airy. And so much free form, where people find and where people find working with gluten-free dough can be really hard to work with but you do beautiful things. (Pic above is Chris’s gluten-free homemade challah!) So what did you have to go through to get your recipes to work as well as they do? (5:34)
- 6:07 – It took a lot of time. Finding ingredients on hand was a challenge due to living in a smaller regional community in Australia.
“It took me about a year before I produced a loaf that excited me.”
And what kind? What kind of loaf? Was this just your average sandwich bread or were you going fancy already? (6:39)
- 6:44 – A basic sandwich loaf baked in a pan. You can find it in his Etsy store: Chia Poppyseed Bread. It has no gum in it!
- 7:26 – Chris shows us what is left of the first bag of gum he every bought! It’s now over ten years old.
“It’s just there to remind me. You don’t need gum.”
- 7:44 – Started with chia, flax and psyllium husk to bake. Psyllium husk was used as his staple ingredient to structure his bread. Using chia or flax can get to be expensive but using the psyllium husk, in the amount Chris uses, is relatively inexpensive.
Do you use it whole or ground? (8:20)
- 8:24 – For a really fine, smooth dough use ground husk (like this one on Amazon). If you are making a generic plain rough bread you can use the whole psyllium husks. Base the husk vs. ground decision on how fine you need your dough to be for your finished product to turn out the way you want it.
You mention you used the word structure – this is kind of what we lose when not using gluten. Developing that gluten gives the structure that holds the bubbles from the yeast. Am I saying that correctly, or what does structure mean? (9:33)
- 9:54 – Gluten only does part of the job of doing the binding of holding the gas inside the dough. The starches help with this and psyllium husk, when evenly distributed throughout the dough, helps to achieve the trapping of the gas as well.
I’ve read you say that when you make your gluten-free bread, it’s just another variety of bread. Are you trying to not be separatist between gluten-free and whole grain, what does that mean? And then what can we expect as we begin to understand bread making the way you do it? (11:15)
- 11:31 – Chris explains why he is working so hard to simply make really good bread that just happens to be gluten-free instead of focusing on being gluten-free first.
- 11:53 – To make the best bread that he can, Chris uses a really small number of ingredients.
What are the flours that you have in your kitchen? (12:14)
- 12:19 – Chris lists the various flours he keeps in his kitchen. Since he mills his own flour these are mainly stored as the whole berries, including millet, brown rice, many other unique rices, buckwheat, and quinoa.
- 13:28 – Chris explains his new loaf which he calls “The Emperor’s Baton”, which is made from black rice. It produced a really deep purple bread.
It sounded to me like your staples though are just brown rice, buckwheat and the millet. And the others are like fun, experimental ingredients. I love that they are all whole grain as well. (14:45)
- 14:59 – Chris does use tapioca starch to help achieve stretch on some of his breads. To get really stretchy bread you would need to use a polished white rice.
- 16:20 – The structure changes that occur with the use of the polished white rice also help to hold in those gasses.
Could you learn about just by messing around with flour and water and watching it go? (17:01)
- 17:08 – Playing with it like that is one way to see how it feels. A traditional store purchased rice flour and millet will be gritty.
I seeing you wrinkle your nose and your brow and you’re saying ‘it’s gritty, it’s gritty, it’s the stuff you buy’. And I don’t think that you really like the stuff that people have available. I know I have never had luck with commercial buckwheat flour. Only milling my own, it’s like a totally different animal. How do you mill the flour that you use that doesn’t make you wrinkle your nose up? (18:04)
- 18:27 – Chris owns four different mills.
- 19:35 – Hand mill: His main reason for purchasing a hand mill was to work on tempering his flours. He found he really had to use them with brown rice as if it had gained the slightest bit of moisture it would muck up his mill.
- 21:10 – Chris has both types of Mockmill, the attachment for a stand mixer and the Mockmill 200, which gives him really, really fine flours.
- 21:45 – Even with all of these mills Chris still often puts some of his grains through the mill multiple times to get the consistency that he wants! Start at coarsely ground (10 on a Mockmill), then go to level 5, then to level 1 (finest).
- 21:58 – That is Chris’s secret to achieving the best consistency for sorghum and rice. The best part – no sieving!
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Just so we don’t scare people away, at Kitchen Stewardship® we talk a lot about saving time too, you don’t have to triple mill everything if you are just making the everyday bread. Is that just a one mill process? (22:56)
- 23:10 – For an everyday bread you would only need to mill it once.
Now we’ve talked about freshly milled being a much finer grain than anything you can buy commercially. Is there any other reason that anyone baking bread, which happens to be gluten-free, would want freshly milled versus commercial? (24:15)
- 24:31 – It will depend on how fast the turn over in your store is for the given flour.
- 25:58 – Chris tells us which grains he keeps on hand, how he stores them and how often he purchases them.
Now I saw when you slid that camera over, what I know to be sourdough starter. So we have got to talk a little bit about gluten-free sourdough. I’ve been curious, Chris do you only bake using sourdough? Is yeast something that’s not even really allowed in your kitchen? (27:20)
- 27:37 – Chris uses a variety of things including yeast, sourdough, a fermented honey water (a 50/50 mix of raw honey (use the code Katie15 for 15% off at that site!) and water and he leaves it to ferment), as well as a grape ferment from his own garden.
Above: Chris’s Gluten-free Sourdough Bucket Millet Braided Bread – he says this braid isn’t even a good one! 😮
When starting a sourdough starter, of a gluten-free nature, is it necessary to mix several different grains or stick with the same grain? Let’s say I just want one jar in my kitchen for gluten-free sourdough. What would you recommend? (29:28)
- 29:57 – Chris suggests for the new sourdough gluten-free starter going with a quinoa starter. Very robust and easy to use. It’s very quick to spring back to life if unused for a period of time. We are working on this starter right now and will report soon about how it’s going!!! You can see a bit of our experimentation (and success!) on Instagram, especially the saved story. –Katie
- 30:43 – Flavor profiles:
- Quinoa: slightly nutty, earthy flavor
- Buckwheat: very earthy flavor
- Millet: yeasty flavor similar to a beer
- Brown rice: grassy, chardonnay flavor and aroma.
- 31:07 – It is ok to use any sourdough starter in a bread since the amount you use will not greatly impact the flavor of your final product. Buckwheat is the only one that you should use if you really want a sour sourdough flavor.
Would you ever mix, like a quinoa millet starter, or does that cause problems? (32:08)
- 32:13 – You can start one this way. Chris will generally mix them while he is mixing the dough by simply using half of each to total out to what the recipe calls for.
Now I have to say I noticed that all of your sourdough starters have a solid lid on top and when I used to do whole wheat sourdough I always had a breathable lid, what’s going on there? (32:52)
- 33:04 – Chris has found that by leaving a solid lid on, he is able to leave his gluten-free sourdough starters on the counter unfed for a day or two. He thinks that this is linked to humidity within the jar.
What about just getting started. I have made sourdough starters and I know that it’s flour and water in the right ratio. Do you add anything like fresh organic grapes to just get things going or can you just flour and water it and it still works fine? (35:05)
- 35:18 – Flour based starters are just flour and water and it takes about two weeks to get it the point it can be used. Your kitchen will need to be a 20-32 Celsius (68 degrees in Fahrenheit).
- 36:52 – Chris says your starter does not need to have a breathable lid in the beginning either. Any flour you get already has yeast and bacteria in it from where it was grown. Chris used closed lids to avoid the dust and other particles that were floating in the air of his old home. He wanted to ensure good bacteria in his cultures so he used the closed tops and it has worked great since.
- 38:55 – Chris discusses the importance of the soil health for your grains and how it impacts your sourdough.
As you are starting sourdough, one thing that always throws people off is this idea of discarding some starter. I used to make things that didn’t need to rise, like crackers or a quick bread muffin or pizza dough, with the discard. Especially in that first 8-14 days as you are building your starter, is it important to pull some out or only as it gets too full for your jar? (39:38)
- 40:04 – Do not use the sourdough starter that you are discarding in the beginning since the starter culture has not well established yet so you can not be certain of the culture that you are using.
What am I going to see, like visually, let’s say I’m going to be starting a gluten-free sourdough starter in a couple of weeks here. What am I looking for after seven or eight days to say ‘ah ha, I have the right community and it’s stable’, I have no idea what that would look like. (40:42)
- 40:54 – It’s mainly just a time thing. After about eight days you will get a consistent behavior from your starter.
- 41:38 – With quinoa on the second or the third day you will see a sudden explosion of activity but then it will settle down again. You are looking for a consistent activity of feeding, doubling in size, calming, feeding, doubling in size, calming activity.
- 43:10 – Chris’s gluten-free sourdough starter recipe is 1/2 kilo water and 1/2 kilo flour (500 grams). You can start as low as 30 grams of each though if you are making a smaller starter batch.
So now how if we are baking bread, how does baking with sourdough really differ from baking with yeast? (43:55)
- 44:05 – It will mainly depend on how quickly you want to do it.
- 44:25 – Quick yeast recipes can take about two hours but they require more ingredients than a sourdough that takes a few days to make. The bacteria in a sourdough are doing it all in time in the sourdough version.
Above: Chris’s Gluten-free Millet and Brown Rice Baguette
So what kinds of tools and resources beyond a good mill and a straight sided jar would you recommend for someone to really make gluten free baking work? (45:13)
- 45:22 – Pyrex bowl, wooden spoon, dough whisk, shower cap type of cover or wax wraps, scale.
- 46:58 – Chris suggests sticking with a cover that can keep the humidity right in the bowl so using a tea towel but have it be damp so the tops does not dry out.
- 48:00 – Chris suggests using weights in grams, not measurements in cups, so that everything is measured accurately. And do not use chlorinated water.
Do you have fancy pans that you use or can we just use regular bread pans when we re baking gluten-free bread?(49:00)
- 49:10 – Once the bread is in its final form Chris uses a Banneton. You dust the pan and let the bread do its final rise in there and then turn the dough out carefully and then you can bake. (Here’s a circle Banneton.)
So how many rises does it take when doing sourdough? (50:07)
- 50:15 – Usually two. He often lets a big bulk rise happen the first night then lets it rise in the Banneton on the second. You could also let it rise in a lined basket if you do not have a Banneton.
- 51:37 – Baking gluten-free means you will have less sticking as well.
Two rises is the same as doing yeast bread. So it’s just that one is much longer. (51:57)
- 52:04 – Yes, it is so that the bread can rise and give the cultures time to work in the sourdough and change the sugars as well as the gases. Plus it makes it more digestible.
- 54:07 – Chris shows us his bread that came out as a ‘disaster’.
- 54:34 – Chris cuts into another loaf of gluten-free artisan bread to show us how wonderful it looks. This you have to see! Amazing!
Find Chris Stafferton’s Amazing Gluten-free Breads Online:
Photo credit: All photos in this post are Chris Stafferton’s used with permission.
Other Gluten-free Recipes on KS
don’t expect amazing sandwich bread here…yet!
- Gluten-free Flatbread in 7 minutes (buckwheat and brown rice) No flour needed!
- Gluten-free Dairy-free Pumpkin Muffins
- Autumn Spiced Orange Veggie Pancakes (grain-free!)
- Gluten-free Bacon and Green Onion Savory Muffins
- Favorite Soaked Gluten-free Pancakes
- Gluten-free Soft Pumpkin Cookie
- Perfect Gluten-free Dairy-free Pastry Dough
More Grain Grinding Challenge Series Posts
The Grinding Challenge Series is getting me to use my Mockmill grain mill! Here’s what we’re covering:
- Intro to the challenge and a video of setting up the Mockmill for the first time
- How to Translate Whole Wheat Recipe to Einkorn (and an interview with an einkorn farmer)
- Bio-Individuality – why it’s both the new face of health and the genesis of this whole project
- How to Translate Baking Recipes to Weights
- Why Baking with Weights is the Best for Kids
- Testing Pizza Dough with Freshly Milled Grain: Whole Wheat, Einkorn, Gluten-free (whole grain and not-whole-grain)
- Interview with a Master Gluten-free Baker
- Testing Tortillas with Freshly Milled Grain: Whole Wheat, Einkorn, Gluten-free
- Why Mill Your Own Gluten-free Grains?
- How to Make a Gluten-free Sourdough Starter
- Whole Grain, Gum-Free Gluten-free Flour Blend (& a bit on whether xanthan gum is bad for you)
- Interview with a Grain Milling Expert
- The Official Kitchen Stewardship® Mockmill Review
Recipes We’ve Worked on in the Series:
- Spelt Banana Muffins
- Einkorn Applesauce Muffins (with peanut butter variation)
- 100% Whole Grain Gluten-free Tortillas
- Whole Wheat Pizza
- Crispy Crust Gluten-Free Pizza (amazing!)
- Einkorn Pizza Dough
- 100% Whole Grain Gluten-Free Pizza Crusts (no gum!)
- How to Make a Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter
Don’t worry, if you don’t have a grain mill or couldn’t imagine yourself grinding grain yourself, I’ll be sure to address when any of these CAN’T be done with commercial flour. Usually, recipes are very compatible!Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.