Many bakers consider mixing the most important step in baking. All steps of the baking process are connected and all of them are important. However, knowing that mixing is the first mandatory step to produce bread, a lot of attention must be given to this stage of the baking process. Especially when it comes to gluten free bread as there are many flours to combine and slightly different aspects of the ingredients that need to be taken account for but all is greatly benefited by the technique of mixing.
The general objectives in mixing bread doughs are:
- Uniformly incorporate the ingredients;
- Development of the binders structure;
- Hydrate the flour and other dry ingredients;
- Initiate fermentation.
Mixing is the most technical aspect of bread baking. There are different mixing methods that produce different results. Mixing methods affect crumb size, open or closed, color of the crust and crumb and how long the dough needs to ferment.
The three commonly used bread mixing methods are:
- Straight dough method - the most common method used for bread baking. All the ingredients are mixed together at one time in one bowl, kneaded and left to rise until double in size. Then dough is 'punched' down, shaped and set for a second rise until doubled in size again. Finally dough is baked. This is the method used for most gluten-free doughs, and it's also the easiest method.
- Sponge and dough method - extends fermentation, allowing for better texture, rise and complex flavor. A percentage of the total flour, water, and yeast are mixed to form a sponge or pre-ferment. As less yeast is used, a longer, cooler fermentation can be applied, from three to twenty-four hours. When the sponge is ripe, it is incorporated into the remaining flour, water, salt, and other ingredients to form a dough, kneaded, shaped, and and given a second rise then baked. During the long rising time the lactic acid bacteria in the water-flour mixture have full time to develop. The resulting buildup of organic acids and alcohols contributes to a more developed flavor profile and has proved to be a method very beneficial for gluten free breads.
- No knead method - is the simplest of all of the mixing techniques. It uses a very long rising time instead of kneading to form the dough and is characterized by a low yeast content and a very wet dough. A very moist dough is made from a simple mixture of flour, yeast, water and salt, is left overnight to ferment, and then folded one or two times, rather than a lengthy kneading process. It is rested and then, shaped, and allowed to rise another two hours. Finally baked in a very hot oven.
This method relies on the development of gluten during the slow rise to from the breads structure. Since there is no gluten in gluten free bread, the combination of gluten free flours and their different proteins, fibre and starch contents have similar gluten benefits from a long and wet fermentation time providing structure for gluten free bread.
During mixing, aeration and thorough blending of the combination of gluten free flours is performed and the binders, such as psyllium, release their gelatinous substances which is necessary to develop the structure of the dough. For example, yeasted bread dough made without wheat flour lack extensibility or stretch. The psyllium adds the flexibility and stretch.
Mixing, especially for yeast breads, is very different when you use gluten-free flours. First of all, you must mix together the different flours thoroughly before you add them. Gluten-free flours are all different colors. The best way to make sure the flours are well-mixed is to stir them together with a wire whisk until the mixture is one color. Then, you use a stand or hand mixer to thoroughly mix the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Some gluten free bakers say you can not overmix gluten-free doughs because they have no gluten to overdevelop but you can make your dough denser with to much mixing. A balanced amount of mixing will provide efficient ingredient corporation while still keeping a lighter dough.
Most bakers experience with gluten free bread insist that the dough should be a batter and that kneading is not necessary as there is no gluten to develop. Bread dough needs to be elastic in order to capture the gases created by the yeast, stretch as bubbles form in the dough, expand, and rise. Without that elasticity, bread would not have the open texture we enjoy nor would bread be chewy. When using psyllium as the binder it creates a structure and elasticity much like gluten thus producing a mass thats not a batter but more like a gluten bread dough. Kneading gluten free doughs improves the crumb structure. Only a minimal time is required for kneading but it is necessary to develop the crumb and to ensure the dough obtains the right consistency.
Kneading gluten free dough is done when all the ingredients are incorporated together before the first rise. The easiest way to knead the dough is with a stand mixer. Using a stand mixer ensures proper distribution and incorporation of the ingredients. Kneading is done until the dough looks shiny, smooth, elastic and is extensible (stretchy). This time is much less that gluten bread, by more than half, only several minutes is needed.
A second knead is done after the first rise and takes place as turning and shaping the dough. Turning, also called folding,the dough is done by gently deflating, stretching, and folding the dough. This helps to improve both the texture and flavor of the finished bread. Turning is a gentler form of 'punching down' (degassing) the dough and is more beneficial for gluten free dough. Next shaping forms the dough for optimal rise and containment. It is also the last chance to build strength into a loaf. The goal is to turn and shape the dough without popping valuable air bubbles, losing carbon dioxide that provide the structure and crumb texture in bread. Once shaped a second rise will take place. A double fermentation creates stronger stability and structure in the bread but also increases the flavor.
The most common reason for dense breads is the addition of too much flour, most of us add flour to get a smooth feel. Learn to work with slacker (wetter) dough, which is somewhat sticky. Use only just enough extra flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the bench. It's the moisture content in the dough that turns to steam in the oven that helps to give it the oven rise, creating an open, light and airy texture and crumb, and more flavors.