Oops. I do believe I titled this blog A Baking Life, and yet I have said nothing on the subject of baking in general, let alone gluten-free baking.
So, we might as well begin with the hardest thing to master: gluten-free bread. I know, I know, bread, the most basic of foods, should not have to be the Holy Grail for celiacs and other gluten-free types. But it is. There are very few other baked goods that rely so heavily on gluten for their structure, and on wheat flour for their flavor. Want gluten-free cake? Cookies? Quick breads? Crackers? Pie? Even profiteroles? Done and done. I've got recipes for them all, and after years of baking gluten-free, don't even bat an eyelash when making up something new.
Except for bread, of course. Good, artisan bread can be so intimidating anyway. The yeast, the magic of fermentation, the dynamic of temperature and time - it takes years of study and practice to really master the art of bread, and that's with gluten! Take out that essential element, and I've felt lost for years. And deprived.
Back in my gluten-full days, I was the biggest bread eater around. A perfect snack was a plain bagel. I subsisted on baguettes when I was in Paris (crowned, of course, with Nutella). Hot dog buns, dinner rolls, English muffins, whole wheat bread, Wonder bread, I loved it all. Remember those pasty white rolls served with school lunch? I loved that everyone else eschewed them. More for me!
So going bread-free has been difficult, at best. Especially given the fact that most gluten-free breads on the market are a very poor substitute for the real thing. So I've gone without when my standards were too high to compromise, and accepted inferior taste and texture when I just had to have a sandwich, or wanted something bread-like to wrap around my burger.
Things haven't actually changed that much. Commercial products are getting better, but "better" in the gluten-free world is not the same as "better, period." And recipes for us bake-from-scratch-types can seem weird, to say the least, especially to one coming from a traditional baking background. (Ground pumpkin seeds? Soy milk? Lemon juice? Gelatine? Please!) It's an uphill battle, but at least the momentum of the ever-increasing legion of gluten-free bakers is pushing us up that hill faster.
HOWEVER, there are exceptions. Case in point: gluten-free crusty boule. Who ever thought a loaf of gluten-free bread would look like it came out of your neighborhood artisan bakery? And that it could taste so truthfully like bread? Honest, real, delicious bread? I didn't. Even when I was making it, I didn't think it would be anything special. And when I began to get my hopes up, Josh reminded me that I'm never pleased with my gluten-free bread-baking attempts. Which sent my hopes right back down where they belong.
Amazingly, (drum roll of the most exaltatory type, please) . . . I am happy to report that we were wrong! This bread looks good. It smells good. And believe it or not (and really, you'll have to make it yourself to fully believe it can happen), this bread tastes like bread. It is yeasty, flavorful, with a good crust and a flexible crumb. Really, I should have expected this, since anything Shauna has a hand in turns out delicious! And I'm thinking - although I haven't acted on it yet - that the recipe would be a good base to play around with. Sub in some gf oat flour for some of the sorghum. Or maybe some buckwheat. Throw in some seeds. I even wonder if you wouldn't need so many eggs if you increased the protein content of the flour mix. So much to try!
In the meantime, I think I'll go have another piece of toast . . .
Gluten-Free Crusty Boule - yields enough dough for at least 4 1-pound loaves
adapted from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day
2 cups brown rice flour
1 1/2 cups sorghum flour
3 cups tapioca starch
2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp xanthan gum
2 2/3 cups lukewarm water
4 large eggs, whisked together
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp honey
super-fine sweet rice flour, for dusting
Mixing & storing the dough:
Whisk together the flours, yeast, salt, and xanthan gum in a 5-quart container (I used my KitchenAid bowl).
Combine the oil, honey, and water; set aside.
Dump the eggs into the dry ingredients and stir while pouring in about 1/3 of the water mixture. Continue to stir while pouring in another 1/3 of the liquid. The dough will start to come together in a thick dough. Add the final 1/3 of liquid and stir until the dough is nice and smooth. Cover it loosely, and allow it to rest on the counter for about 2 hours. Place the dough in the refrigerator and store for up to 7 days.
On baking day, remove the dough from the refrigerator. The dough will be quite fluffy, and you want to try not to handle it too much. Use wet hands to remove a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough and place it on a piece of parchment. The dough will be quite scraggly.
Use wet hands to smooth out the surface of the dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest on the counter about 90 minutes (75 minutes for a very warm kitchen). Note: if you're baking on the same day you made the dough, without refrigerating it, 90 minutes is WAY too long to proof! Trust me, I'm speaking from experience here. Maybe half that, at the most.)
30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a baking stone on the lower rack.
The dough will not have grown much while proofing, but it should seem a little bit puffier. Give it a light dusting of sweet rice flour. Use a serrated knife to cut slashes in the dough.
Transfer the dough, on the parchment, to the baking stone. Place a pan (not glass) on the bottom of your oven, and pour 1 cup of hot water in it (this will create the steam that will give your bread such a nice crispy crust). Bake for 30 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. (In my - very inefficient - oven, baking time is closer to 1 hour. Use your best judgment.)
Allow the bread to cool completely (the hardest part of the entire process!) before cutting or the center may seem gummy. Enjoy!
Posted by Tara Barker at 10:15 PM