I had one of those days recently.
The kind that rise up out of nowhere.
I never saw it coming. Josh's family was here, we started the day at our favorite local breakfast joint, everyone was pleasant and relaxed. The sun was out.
There was no warning, when the phone rang, that the news would knock the wind out of me, scramble my insides, send my adrenaline-charged mind racing to do damage control. Priorities immediately shifted, I canceled the rest of the days' commitments and sat myself down at the desk to plan and think and map out our defense strategy.
The thing is, two hours later I realized that I had done all I could to respond and prepare, and yet the nervous energy was still clattering around in me, leaving a swirling wake behind me that the boys were surely picking up on.
So, practically without thinking, I did the only logical thing. I took to the kitchen to bake.
And I didn't bake just any ol' thing, something quick and easy and sugary, designed to satiate a mid-afternoon craving. No, I needed to do something substantial, something nourishing, something hearty and grounded and real.
I needed to bake bread. And bake bread I did.
Funny that when people talk about the meditative and soothing aspects of bread baking, they're often talking about all that kneading and punching down. We don't get to do that with gluten-free bread dough. No point in kneading something that doesn't have any gluten to develop in the first place, right? Plus, trying to knead a tacky, sticky batter would just be a messy, frustrating, fruitless endeavor. Very un-meditative.
Yet still I find the process to be extremely calming. I've been working on the recipe for this site for a while now, so I gave my mind permission to dive into thoughts of flavor and texture and aroma, analyzing and comparing the qualities of all the different flours I've grown to know and love over the past few years. And because I bake primarily by weight, there was the familiar, rhythmic pattern of weigh, tare, weigh, tare, watching the flours pile up into little mountain ranges in my mixing bowl, lovely in their complementary hues of yellow, brown, tan, and white.
When I was done, two wonderful, unexpected things had occurred. For starters, I realized I had let go of all my anxiety. I felt fine, really and truly, and knew that I would be able to handle any subsequent curve balls calmly and productively, without panic. That was a tremendous feeling.
But even more wonderful was the external, visible result of my afternoon of baking. Bread. Bread that smelled divine; nutty and wholesome and healthy. Bread with a crisp, crackling crust that broke open unevenly to reveal a soft, chewy crumb inside. Bread that I couldn't get Kalen to stop asking for.
In the world of gluten-free breads, there are a lot of ways, a lot of words, that people use to convince those around them that the bread is not only gluten-free, but good gluten-free. Gluten-free bread can be a tough sell, and rightly so. I could give you a lot more of my words, but coming from someone who doesn't eat gluten-full bread, mine is not the most authoritative voice. Josh, on the other hand, knows good bread. And here's what he had to say about my gluten-free version: "This is good bread. It tastes just like a hearty, whole-grain wheat bread." Thank you.
And lest you worry too much about that bad day I had, it cleared out almost as quickly as my mood did. It was a little misunderstanding, some poor communication, an overreaction. Twenty-four hours later had things straightened out and better than before. For which I am grateful, because it means that my lasting memory of that day can be all about bread, and nourishment and de-stressing.
It's all good, friends. It's all good.
Gluten-Free Multi-Grain Bread
Yields 10 rolls or two small boules
I started thinking about this bread when Michael Ruhlman posted his recipe almost three months ago. Then Shauna/Gluten-Free Girl got in on it, with delicious results. How could I resist learning from the two of them to come up with my own, outstanding-if-I-do-say-so-myself, version?
15 grams ground flaxseed
15 grams ground chia seed or Salba®
70 grams boiling water
18 grams (1 Tbsp) active dry yeast
21 grams (1 Tbsp) honey
8 fluid oz water, warmed to 110ºF, divided in half
125 grams Tara's gluten-free pastry flour mix
100 grams gluten-free oat flour
60 grams light buckwheat flour
60 grams corn flour
55 grams gluten-free rolled oats
50 grams almond flour
40 grams millet flour
40 grams teff flour
25 grams sorghum flour
30 grams dry milk powder
10 grams (2 tsp) kosher salt
2 large eggs, beaten
40 grams (3 Tbsp) canola oil
egg wash, for brushing over bread
rolled oats, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, etc. for garnish
In a small bowl, combine the flaxseed, chia or Salba® and boiling water and mix to create a slurry. Set aside to cool.
In another bowl, combine 4 fluid oz of the warm water with the yeast and honey and stir to combine. Set aside to proof, about 10 minutes. Mixture should double in size and be bubbly and foamy. If it isn't, your yeast is too old and you'll need to start over with fresh yeast.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the flours, rolled oats, milk powder, and salt. Whisk to thoroughly blend.
Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and add the cooled slurry, proofed yeast, beaten eggs, and canola oil. Mix on low speed to blend. With the mixer running, slowly add the remaining 4 fluid oz warm water (which may need to be reheated if it's cooled down too much), until your dough is thick and tacky. You may not need all of the water depending on the humidity of your kitchen and the moisture content of your flours.
Turn the dough out into a well-oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for an hour, or until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF. If you have one, place a pizza stone in the oven while it's preheating. Otherwise, use sheet pans.
Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured board, gently pressing to deflate it. Divide it into 10 pieces for rolls, or in half for 2 boules. Using wet hands, gently shape the dough into rolls or boules and place them on parchment paper. Cover with a towel (or plastic wrap) and allow to rise for 10-15 minutes more.
Uncover the dough, and brush the surface with egg wash. Sprinkle with oats, seeds, etc. to garnish. If making boules, use a serrated knife to slash an 'X' in the center of the loaves.
Transfer bread, still on parchment, to the oven, placing it directly on preheated pizza stone/sheet pan. Placing a pan of hot water on the floor of the oven will help the bread develop a really lovely thick, crackly crust.
Bake until bread is a rich golden brown, and makes a hollow sound when you thump the bottom. Depending on the size (rolls vs. boules), this should take anywhere from 30 to 70 minutes. Cool on a rack.
Bread is wonderful warm, but is also great at room temperature within the first two days. After that, your best bet is to toast it, which revives it a bit. It also freezes well, wrapped airtight, for up to three months.
Posted by Tara Barker at 2:45 PM