When you first go gluten free, the feelings of relief that come from knowing what’s wrong with you tend to overshadow all of the foods you have to give up, but eventually, reality hits. Typically, gluten-free bread is horrid. Most of it is extremely dry, dense, and tastes like Styrofoam.
If you’re used to soft, fluffy homemade bread or even a loaf of high-quality whole wheat, you'll soon realize it isn’t easy to replicate a good loaf of bread without the gluten. In fact, some people would tell you it’s impossible. With all of the months it took me to fine-tune this amazing gluten-free hamburger bun recipe, I would have told you the same thing only a few weeks ago.
But thanks to the latest trend within the gluten-free community of weighing out their flours, and trying to figure out an easier way to make these gluten-free buns, I was able to put my finger on what was wrong with the way I had been doing things. I still don’t weigh my gluten-free flours. I’ve discovered that if I use a homemade gluten-free bread mix, I don’t need to. So if you don’t want to weigh your flour and starches, don’t run away.
Gluten-Free Baking is a Challenge
Baking without gluten is a challenge because it contributes important properties to baked goods. For that reason, those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergies have had to settle for less than high-quality products. With the upswing in gluten awareness over the past few years, that's changing.
Gluten-free baking is a trial-and-error activity. We're trying to imitate the solid structure and stretchiness that gluten brings to the bread making process. In wheat bread, the gluten forms a complicated, interlocking network of elastic fibers, similar to a net. This network expands, holds onto the bubbles of carbon dioxide that form as the yeast grows, and then keeps that air trapped.
Since trapped air is vital to producing light and airy baked goods, gluten-free cooks have to find alternative methods that produce similar results.
Homemade Gluten-Free Bread Mix Controls Flour Volume
One of the largest problems with imitating the properties of gluten is the amount of gluten-free flours and starches you have to mix together in order to get a nice blend. It takes a minimum of three, and sometimes as many as six to get an acceptable product. Unlike traditional all-purpose flour that is a ready-made combination of different varieties of wheat, gluten-free bakers have to mix up their own.
Although a combination of flours and starches is designed to give the bread volume, softness, and texture, by the time you individually measure them all out, you end up with a total mixture that’s quite a bit more volume than what the recipe called for. That’s why many cooks started to weigh their flours. Weighing gives you exactly the right amount of flour each time.
While that certainly works, it takes more time than it does to measure with a cup. I’ve found that you can avoid weighing your gluten-free flours and starches if you make up a gluten-free bread mix ahead of time, and then use the amount of mix that gives you an amazingly soft, gluten-free hamburger bun.
What About Using a Commercial Gluten-Free Bread Mix?
I’m not fond of the commercial bread mixes I’ve tried so far because many of them use strong-flavored bean flours. Those that don’t often come with chemicals, cornstarch, or natural flavors that many people need to avoid due to corn allergies or additional food sensitivities. I do like the convenience because it can be a hassle to stop and measure out your flours each time you want to bake.
I decided that since we liked the gluten-free hamburger bun recipe I’d already created, I would just use that combination of flours and starches to construct my own bread mix. So that’s what I did. For added convenience, I multiplied the amount of flours I used in my original recipe several times. That way, I wouldn’t have to stop and measure them every time I needed hamburger buns.
With a homemade gluten-free bread mix on hand, I was able to zero in on the right amount of flour mix I needed to get the results I was looking for.
Homemade Gluten-Free Bread Mix
- 2 cups tapioca starch
- 1 cup potato starch
- 1 cup brown rice flour
- 1 cup sorghum flour
Place all ingredents into the bowl of a stand mixer and blend on medium speed until well combined. This will take about 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can place the gluten-free flours and starches in a large bowl and stir them together by hand, but don't rush the process. For best results, this has to be thoroughly combined until you no longer see any streaks of white showing.
This makes more than the apparent 5 cups because of the way gluten-free flour measures. It's also a lighter mix than tradtional gluten-free bread mix. You can't make a loaf of gluten-free bread with it. The loaf will fall as soon as you take it out of the oven, if not before. Gluten-free loaf bread needs more structure than this flour mix provides, but it makes amazingly soft, gluten-free hamburger buns.
Using Sorghum Flour
Alternatively, you can use 2 cups of brown rice flour in the above homemade gluten-free bread mix, and eliminate the sorghum flour completely, but it won't taste the same, nor raise nearly as nice. Sorghum is a smooth flour that improves the way the bread rises and helps eliminate the grittiness of the rice. The taste of this flour mix is similar to the way a light whole-wheat bread would taste.
Sorghum flour is a whole grain flour that supplies plenty of fiber and vitamins. It's mild flavor doesn't compete with the other ingredients in the recipe, so it makes a good flour to begin experimenting with once you're ready to branch out from using white rice flour. Since we used to eat store-bought whole-grain bread before going gluten free, the flavor of this bread is perfect for us.
In addition, the sorghum gives these gluten-free buns a nice texture. In fact, when toasted, no one I've served them to have been able to tell that their gluten free.
Is a Stand Mixer Essential for Gluten-Free Bread?
Since these gluten-free hamburger buns don't need the structure that a loaf of gluten-free bread does, you can make the dough with a heavy-duty electric mixer provided you have a dough hook. The dough will climb up the rods of traditional beaters and make quite a mess. I have a Kitchen Aid Professional 600 Series stand mixer that I use to make these gluten-free buns, but I used to use my electric mixer before I purchased it.
Gluten-free bread does need a stand mixer to come out right. Gluten-free dough is heavier than wheat dough, and a hand-held electric mixer won't be able to whip enough air into the batter, nor get the xanthan gum to develop properly. Gluten-free doughs are mixed at high speed for several minutes in order to help the dough develop a structure that will hold onto the air produced by the yeast.
Pans to Bake Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns In
Gluten-Free Dough Doesn't Hold Its Shape On Its Own
When I used to bake with traditional wheat flour, shaping dinner rolls, English muffins, and sandwich buns was easy. You simply pat them into shape and set them on a greased cookie sheet, or in a cake pan to rise. You can’t do that with gluten-free breads because without the gluten, breads have no structure to hold themselves up. That's why pizza is also difficult to make gluten free.
As they rise, if gluten-free rolls do not have something to help them maintain their shape, they will flatten themselves out sideways. For that reason, dinner rolls have to be baked in a muffin tin or squeezed together into a baking pan with no room in between them. Likewise, gluten-free hamburger buns need some type of container with sides.
If you’re creative, you can make hamburger bun forms by folding square pieces of foil into 2-inch strips and then taping the strips together into a circle. That would be particularly easy with non-stick foil, but I prefer to use large ramekins that I can simply grease with a little bit of shortening. Although using non-stick spray seems to the be the norm these days, spray makes the buns come out wet, and oil causes them to stick a bit.
Ramekins clean up quick and easy. You can reuse them without having to make the forms all over again. In addition, ramekins come in a wide variety of sizes, so you can easily make kid-size burger buns too, but you might have to readjust the baking time of the recipe.
Gluten-Free Hamburger Bun Recipe
*Makes 4 extra-large gluten-free buns
- 1-1/2 cups gluten-free bread mix
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
- 4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons almond milk
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
- 1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
- Grease 4 large ramekins with a little bit of shortening or spray with non-stick spray. Don’t use “baking spray” as it contains wheat flour and is not gluten free.
- In a mixing bowl, combine bread mix, sugar, baking powder, salt, xanthan gum, and yeast. If you’re using a stand mixer, let it mix while you whip up the rest of the ingredients. If not, then mix the dry ingredients well before setting them aside.
- Place the almond milk in a saucepan, and begin to heat over medium heat while you whisk together the wet ingredients.
- In another bowl, combine eggs, oil, applesauce, and vinegar. When milk is just beginning to simmer, slowly whisk it in the hot milk.
- For a stand mixer, the mixer should be running on medium-high as you pour in the wet ingredients. If you’re using a hand mixer with a dough hook, simply pour in the ingredients all at once and then beat with dough hooks for at least 5 minutes.
- The dough should take on a spongy-looking texture as the xanthan gum begins to develop. You want to make sure that the xanthan gum has started working before you stop beating the dough. The longer you beat it, the better the structure will be.
- Evenly divide the dough between the greased ramekins and carefully smooth the batter into the pans with a knife. This will take a little coaxing, but isn’t difficult to do. The dough will be soft and spreadable.
- Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and allow the hamburger buns to rise for at least an hour. You want the dough to rise almost to the top of the pan, but not quite.
- When the buns have almost risen, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the buns for about 20 minutes, until the tops are nicely browned.
- Remove the cups from the oven and allow the buns to cool inside the ramekins for 5 to 10 minutes. If you try to remove them too soon, the hamburger buns will stick. When cool enough to remove, transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
These gluten-free hamburger buns take only a few minutes to cool and can be used almost right away. If you’re use to sesame seed buns as we were, you can brush the buns with a little egg white before baking and sprinkle with a layer of sesame seeds.
How to Use Active Dry Yeast Instead of Instant Yeast
If you’re not at a high altitude, you can use regular, active dry yeast instead of the instant type. It comes in individual packets and doesn't say "quick rising yeast." Quick yeast can be used the same way that the instant yeast was used above. Quick yeast is sometimes labeled as "bread machine yeast."
To use active dry yeast, heat the almond until just barely lukewarm. You don't want to get it too hot or you'll kill the yeast, and your gluten-free hamburger buns won't rise. Add a package of regular yeast and 1 tablespoon of white sugar to activate the yeast. Stir well. Set the yeast aside until it bubbles. Follow the rest of the recipe, using 3 tablespoons of brown sugar instead of 1/4 cup, and adding the yeast to the wet ingredients once it becomes foamy.
Addtional Uses for Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns
Although I originally created this recipe for gluten-free hamburger buns, they are so soft and bread-like that we slice them in half and toast them for breakfast instead of using gluten-free bread. They also make nice garlic bread, and we use them for sandwich buns if we’re going to eat them right away.
Once toasted, these gluten-free buns make wonderful grilled chicken, avocado, and bacon sandwiches, but the bread doesn’t hold up to mayonnaise very well without first being toasted. Alternatively, you could transport the buns, spread, and sandwich filling separately, and then make up your sandwich just before you eat it. You can also use them to make something similar to a French-bread pizza.
However, with the concern about the quantity of arsenic in rice lately, my plan is to begin experimenting with alternative gluten-free grain flours such as millet and amarath to replace the brown rice flour in these buns.