Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ratio Rally! Gluten-free, Vegan Mediterranean Soda Bread

Time for another Gluten Free Ratio Rally Challenge. After sitting last month out, I'm ready to get off the bench and back in the game!  Now if you're new to the Rally, allow me to give you some quick backstory.  The Ratio Rally was started in February of 2011 by Shauna James Ahern (aka gluten-free girl).  Based on Michael Ruhlman's work with ratios, the use of weight and proportions rather than volume is emphasized in developing and communicating recipes.  You might ask, "Why?"  Well, while one person's scant cup will always be different from another person's scant cup, one ounce will always be one ounce.  And when it comes to gluten-free baking, which involves a huge array of non-wheat flours that both weigh and behave differently than wheat, this is particularly important in ensuring consistent results.  

In Ruhlman's book, Ratio, he outlines several different baked goods and their proposed fundamental ratios.  Now since these ratios were determined using wheat flour, the point of the Rally is to see how or if these ratios change when using gluten-free ingredients.  So each month, a small, but powerful, army of bloggers from across the globe get together to experiment with a given baked good and its ratio, and on the first Wednesday of the month, we reveal our results.

Which brings us to today and the results of the "Bread" challenge, hosted by the lovely Karen Robertson of Cooking Gluten-Free.

Gluten-free bread doesn't have the best track record - that isn't news to anyone.  From desert dry and crumbly to mushy, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth-like-peanut-butter, there are a lot of breads out there that give it a bad name.  And I know how disappointing it is when you're served a glorious sandwich that makes your eyes light up and face hurt from smiling only to have either the taste or texture of the bread make you wish you'd ordered something else.  But on the other hand, I've also had bread that tasted so good that it scared me into thinking I was eating gluten.  Which leads me to believe that the issue isn't necessarily the lack of gluten, but maybe more to do with the ingredients, execution, and technique in making the bread.

So for this month's challenge I had a clear objective: To make a bread that wouldn't disappoint or make someone feel like they're "settling."  Aim high, they say.

Studying Ruhlman's ratio for bread (5 part flour : 3 parts liquid), it was based on the use of not only wheat flour, but yeast as well.  And as my body doesn't care much for yeast, I decided to research breads that used other forms of leavening.  I eventually settled on Irish soda bread, a simple quick bread that uses baking soda as its leavening agent (surprise).  Also, cross referencing multiple recipes for it on the internet and cookbooks, the ratio of dry to wet ingredients remained fairly constant (5 parts flour : 3.5 parts liquid).  It sounded like an ideal jumping off point for gluten-free, vegan, yeast-free bread, so I got the scale out and started playing.

I had never baked bread before, so I was braced for some epic fails.  But I was pleasantly surprised that over four trials I produced bread that inspired multiple "proud papa" moments.  

#1: Hardly rose & a bit crumbly but the flavor was out of this world.

#2: Lighter flours, less oil, less leavening.  Less flavor, but great texture.

#3: Less liquid, with currants; treated like a huge biscuit. Back to crumbly.

#4: Back to more liquid, using different starches.  Not as much rise.

I stuck to the basic soda bread components of flour, buttermilk, salt, and baking soda, but to that I added psyllium husks and hydrated garbanzo flour for binding, olive oil for moisture, and a touch of agave to rein in the savoriness of the flours and starches I was using.  I also tried mixing in currants, a traditional add-in.  Over the trials, tweaks were mainly aimed at getting a texture that was both tender but also relatively sturdy, a quality that too often leaves much to be desired in gluten-free bread.

In the end, while all four versions were delicious in their own way, I found the second trial to be the most successful, particularly when it came to striking that balance between not being too soft and not being too tough.  And the Mediterranean spices really complemented the prominent flavors of the olive oil and millet.

Using the ingredients that I did, I found that the ratio did change:  4 parts flour : 3.75 parts liquid : 0.5 parts fat. 

So without further ado, here is my contribution to this month's Ratio Rally challenge.  Easy on the eyes, easy on the tastebuds, and really quite easy to make.

Mediterranean Soda Bread
Gluten-Free, Vegan, & Yeast-Free

Active Prep Time: 5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 10 minutes
Baking Time: 15-20 minutes
Yield: one small loaf

1/4 oz or 1 tablespoon garbanzo flour
1 tablespoon warm water

3 1/2 oz  or scant 1/2 c unsweetened So Delicious coconut milk beverage
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon psyllium husks
1/2 oz or 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons agave

1/2 oz or 2 tablespoons garbanzo flour
2 oz or scant 1/2 c potato starch
1 1/4 oz or 5 tablespoons millet flour
1/2 teaspoon GF baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

up to 1/2 oz or 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for greasing
1 tablespoon ground flax for dusting

up to 1 tablespoon dried Mediterranean spices to garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2.  Begin my making your garbanzo "egg" and "buttermilk."  Add warm water to garbanzo flour and mix well and add apple cider vinegar to coconut milk beverage and stir.  Set both aside for at least 5 minutes.
3.  After allowing both the "egg" and "buttermilk" to hydrate and curdle, respectively, add psyllium husks to the buttermilk, stir, and allow to sit for another 5 minutes.  The husks will begin to absorb the buttermilk and expand significantly.
4.  After those 5 minutes, add the extra virgin olive oil, agave, and garbanzo "egg" and stir to combine.
5.  Sift all your dry ingredients except the salt into a mixing bowl.  If you don't have a sifter, you can also whisk the ingredients thoroughly or pulse them in a food processor.  Add salt and mix to combine.
6.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in your wet ingredients.  Using a spoon or spatula, mix until well combined.  The dough will be quite moist and "goopy."
7.  Prepare a small ceramic baking dish (I used a 6" round dish) by greasing thoroughly with the extra virgin olive oil and then dusting with ground flax.  Pour dough into prepared dish and garnish with Mediterranean spices.  I used ground oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes with a pinch more of salt for good measure.
8.  Place in the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown on top.  The bread should roughly double in height, producing a dome-shaped loaf.  If the top crust of the bread browns too quickly, tent aluminum foil on top.
9.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before releasing from dish & slicing.  Store in an airtight container and eat within 3 days or freeze to enjoy later.

"Buttermilk" & garbanzo "egg."

Wet ingredients combined.

Greased & dusted baking dish: Check.

After cooling completely: tender & sturdy.  Score!

While most Irish soda bread recipes will advise you to eat it fresh from the oven, I found that this recipe is actually best when given time to cool completely and then toasting/heating it before eating.  I believe that it would work well as sandwich bread, but my favorite way to eat it would be dipping it in your best olive oil with balsamic vinegar or making a simple bruschetta with fresh basil leaves,  hummus, heirloom tomatoes, some nutritional yeast, and a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  No-frills and fancy, all at the same time.

I hope that this gluten-free, vegan soda bread defies the bad rep of the moist-free, flavor-free bread that we've all had.  I hope it gives you reason to be proud instead of apologetic when serving bread.  And I hope it makes you smile.  After all, respecting and honoring the body's dietary constraints need not be separate from respecting and honoring the body's need for good food.

Can your gluten-free bread do this?  "Proud Papa" moment, indeed.

And speaking of good food, please do yourself a favor and visit all the wonderful links below to all the other fabulous gluten-free bread offerings from the other Rally folk.  Thank you again to Karen Robertson for hosting this month's challenge - leading by example, as always.  Enjoy!

Aunt Mae / Honey From Flinty Rocks / Millet Chia Bread
Adina / Gluten Free Travelette / Seedy Sandwich Bread
Angela / Angela's Kitchen / Basic Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Bread
Brooke / B & the boy! / Buckwheat-Oat Bread
Caleigh / Gluten Free[k] / Quinoa Naan
Charissa / Zest Bakery / Cherry Pecan Pot Bread
Claire / This Gluten-Free Life / German Vollkornbrot (Seeded Bread)
Erin / The Sensitive Epicure / English Sandwich Bread
Jenn / Jenn Cuisine / Gluten-Free Boule
Karen / Cooking Gluten-Free / Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread & Naan
Meaghan / The Wicked Good Vegan / Gluten-Free, Vegan Bread
Meg / Gluten-Free Boulangerie / Gluten-Free, Vegan Ciabatta
Monika / Chew on This! / Amaranth Skillet Flatbread & Mini Pita Rounds
Morri / Meals with Morri / No Knead Sundried Tomato & Basil Flatbread
Pete & Kelli / No Gluten, No Problem / Gluten-Free Challah
Rachel / The Crispy Cook / Gluten-Free Chickpea Sandwich Bread
Tara / A Baking Life / Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread & Boule
TR / No One Likes Crumbley Cookies / Gluten-Free White Bread


  1. Jonathan, this is awesome! I don't like working with yeast in my kitchen because I always have epic fails with them! Your GF, /vegan soda bread looks like something I can try...since yeast - my enemy - is not present! Yipee! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Walang anuman, Jen! Beyond yeast not agreeing with me on a digestive level, it's also proven difficult for me to work with in the past. So this recipe was definitely reason for a "Yippee!" (or two).

  2. Jonathan your bread looks great! "Proud Papa" moment indeed!

    1. Thank you, Aunt Mae! So looking forward to reading everyone's GFRR posts tonight!

  3. Jonathon, you honest, beautiful bread making man! I love your GFRR entries (well, every post you've written, but I'm keeping you humble. :p) This is true: we GFRRers' will never settle. We aim high and we marvel in the success and share it with others. We're "paying it forward", as Karen says.

    This excerpt really struck home: "But on the other hand, I've also had bread that tasted so good that it scared me into thinking I was eating gluten. Which leads me to believe that the issue isn't necessarily the lack of gluten, but maybe more to do with the ingredients, execution, and technique in making the bread."

    You said it, brother. You said it. And your entry looks like you succeeded. I'm curious about psyllium husks though and how it's used. Do you think you could write about how you use it and why. If you do, please send me the link.


    1. Oh Morri - this comment really takes the GF/DF cake. :) Thank you so much for your kind words of support and encouragement - they really mean a lot to me.

      ps - I've been meaning to write an update to my "Project: Better Baker" resolution for the year, which will include some discussion of psyllium and other vegan baking tricks. Will definitely keep you posted.

  4. You are so studious and persistent in this challenge; I love it. Your soda bread looks just great.

    1. Thank you, Rachel! I truly enjoy the GFRR and all the opportunities to learn and share knowledge - really brings out the nerd in me. ;)

  5. I'm so happy that you made soda bread! I have never attempted a soda bread before, and can't wait to try this!

    1. Can't wait for you to try it, too, Jenn! So simple. :)

  6. Jonathan, your tenacity in finding the perfect ratio is admirable! All of the photos look amazing, and I can't wait to try the winning recipe out. It looks amazing and sturdy :) Great job!

    1. Thank you, Claire! The Ratio Rally is such a great opportunity to both gain and share knowledge. If anything, I wish I could do more trials than I already do! :)

  7. Not sure if my first comment disappeared or just isn't showing up yet, so forgive me if I'm being redundant here...

    I just made a sundried tomato tapenade that will go really well with this - and since your recipe is already vegan, I won't have to spend any extra time fiddling with adaptations! Also, I think a version of this made with currants would taste really good with some muscovado thrown in there. Thanks for sharing such a great recipe!

    1. My pleasure! Your sundried tomato tapenade would totally make a great pairing with this - hope to the two get to meet in your kitchen. :) Thank you!

  8. Great job testing all these variations! The Mediterranean bread looks delicious with the spices on top. The crumb looks great too. Believe it or not, I actually just made a gluten-free dish myself.

  9. I love soda bread, it's the bread I make most often. I'm delighted to have now found a dairy free recipe -thanks, Jonathan!

  10. I saw that in your post, Caleigh. I hope that this recipe measures up. :) Yay for soda bread!

  11. What do you do if you are psyllium sensitive? Do you have a suggested substitution?

    1. Great question, Tracey. Psyllium acts as a binder to help mimic the characteristics of gluten in a baked good. So if you have a psyllium sesitivity, other binders, such as ground flax, whole or ground chia, or rehydrated garbanzo flour or tapioca starch can be effective substitutes. Hope that helps!


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