A few weeks ago, in the midst of the end-of-book frenzy, I posted this piece, about my gluten-free attempt at the no-knead bread going around the internet, slavishly reported upon by blogger after blogger, all of them able to eat gluten. Dutifully, twice, I followed all the instructions, with gluten-free breads. Both times, my attempts were disastrously funny.
Readers wrote to me, asking me to try again. Many, many people on this thread at the Delphi forums insisted — in almost messianic tones — that it was possible! Really! Even though I was within weeks of finishing the most important project of my life, and I really should have been devoting my time to testing all those recipes in the book, one more time, I swerved away from my original plan. Beguiled by the smell of yeast in warm baked goods, and the desire to conquer something I publicly admitted I could not do, I relented. I started baking bread.
Hard work and sheer mule stubbornness pay off.
Over the past month, I have made at least twenty loaves of this bread. The first few attempts were mediocre, a modicum of bread taste and too much denseness. But then, I stumbled upon a couple of secrets — with the help of the Chef — and I started making bread. Warm bread, straight from the oven, with an almost-airy crumb, and a crust so crunchy I worried I could crack my teeth. Bread. I started making bread.
Last August, when Sharon was here, visiting for my 40th birthday, she and the Chef and I sat down to breakfast. I happened to have some packaged gluten-free bread — a semi-decent brand, their cinnamon-raisin bread — and toasted some to go with my eggs. Sharon asked for a slice. I handed one over, reluctantly. She chewed, thoughtfully, then chewed some more. After a full moment, she said, “Hm. It’s really more of a texture than a taste, isn’t it?” We all laughed. She was right. Most gluten-free breads really are just a dense texture, a weak-signal echo of real bread. That’s why I spent the first full year after my celiac diagnosis divorcing myself from bread, entirely.
This gluten-free bread, however, tastes like bread. Soft and warm, a small chewiness, then air between the teeth. A brown, cracked crust, a wonderful contrast against the soft crumb. It smells like yeast and grandmothers and a cold winter’s day with a bowl of soup.
Now, here are a few notes for you, based on my baking instincts, and tweaks from the Chef.
The eighteen hours of rising called for in the original recipe? Absolutely not necessary. No matter how hard we try, or how well intentioned we are, we will never replicate the physical characteristics of gluten. The eighteen hours of rising make the gluten strands grow, in the typical bread. We gluten-free girls and guys just don’t need it. However, this is a joy. From mixing the bread to eating some can take as little as two hours. Save some time.
One of the secrets of the bread? Club soda. On one of my baking attempts, I knew that I wanted the bread to be lighter, a little more airy. It needed…carbonation. I used the warm club soda on the counter, instead of water or milk. It does the trick, every time. Make sure the club soda is warm when you use it, however. Cold club soda could kill the yeast.
(And when I told the Chef that I had come up with club soda, he said, “That’s my girl.” Turns out that club soda is one of his tricks too.)
The only part of that eighteen-hour recipe that turns out to be a revelation here is the last part. Heating the oven to 500°, then putting in a Dutch oven for half an hour to heat? It makes the pan sizzle when you throw in the gloppy dough. This is what creates that incredible crust. Keep that. It’s important.
I have fiddled with a dozen different combinations of flours and starches for this recipe. This is, for the moment, the one that works best for us. But you should try some yourself, and let me know if you find anything you like more.
One note for those of you in Seattle. The Chef approves of this bread so highly that he has asked me to make a loaf every few days for the restaurant. That way, those of you who must eat gluten-free who come in for a meal can have warm bread delivered to your table. And one of his appetizers this month is a salad, with “Shauna’s croutons.” That’s the way it is printed on the menu. Oh, that man.
However, I have to say this. We have eaten this bread for a month. We had a loaf of rosemary sea salt bread with Christmas dinner. We have made French toast, pappa alla pomodoro, bread pudding, macaroni and cheese with bread crumbs, and a dozen sandwiches. And you know what surprises me? I find that I am tired of bread.
Strange, isn’t it? After worrying that I would never eat it again, I found that I have eaten my fill, for the time being. I’m back to toasted quinoa and sautéed kale and rice pudding these days.
Still, I hope you enjoy it. Bon appetit!
ARTISANAL SORGHUM BREAD
Some recipes are merely a list of ingredients, a guideline for what to try. But I have to say — as is true for most baking — the techniques and the order in which you use these ingredients really matters here.
The Chef told me recently that one of his favorite head chefs, when he was training long ago, said this, “Try a recipe exactly the way it is written, once. That way, when you adapt it for yourself, you will always have a memory of what worked for you.” I recommend the same for this bread. Then, go wild.
2 cups sweet white sorghum flour
½ cup potato starch
½ cup sweet white rice flour
1 ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet active dry yeast (.28 ounces or 8 grams)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ cup warm club soda (or as much as is needed to wet the bread)
Preheat the oven to 200°. Let it come to temperature.
Put all the dry ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer. Turn on the mixer and combine the flours and other dry ingredients well. Turn it off.
Add the white wine vinegar and keep the machine running. Add the eggs, one at a time, and allow the mixer to beat them into the dry ingredients, on low speed. After you have added all the eggs, pour in the club soda, in a slow drizzle. Pour in only as much as is needed to wet all the ingredients completely and combine this into a dough.
Turn the oven off, immediately.
Attach the dough hook to the mixer and stir the dough on medium speed for three to four minutes. This will give the dough a chance to cohere more evenly. It will also whip air into the dough, which will cut the usual density of gluten-free bread. After those three to four minutes, turn off the mixer and transfer the dough to an oiled bowl.
Put the bowl into the oven, which will be warm, but not actively heating. Allow it to stay in there for forty-five minutes. It will not have risen much, at this point. Just a bit. It’s gluten-free, after all. There is no gluten to push along that rising. Accept that.
Take the bowl out of the oven and put it on the stovetop. Turn the oven up to 500°. Put a cast-iron pot, large enough to hold the bread, into the oven. A cast-iron dutch oven with an enamel surface is probably ideal. But any large pot or pan will do, as long as it has a lid. Leave the dutch oven in the 500° heat for half an hour. Meanwhile, the dough will be doing its small rising on the stove.
After half an hour, take the dutch oven out of the oven, carefully. Without worrying too much about the perfect shape, transfer the wet dough into the hot dutch oven. Put the lid on and push the dutch oven back into the oven, immediately.
Set your timer for thirty minutes. Do not turn down the heat. Allow the bread to cook in there, with the lid on, for the entire thirty minutes. By the end, it will really smell like fresh-baked bread. Take the pot out of the oven, take the lid off the pot, and voilå — a lumpy, wonderfully crusted loaf of gluten-free bread. Allow it to cool for ten minutes, then cut right into it.
(It really doesn’t hold up that well overnight. Eat as much as you want, just after baking. Slice up the rest immediately and put it in the freezer for another day.)
You can also use this dough and technique for any number of variations. For olive bread, put ½ cup chopped kalamata olives into the dough. For rosemary bread, add one tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary into the dough, the sprinkle thick crystals of sea salt on the top of the bread before baking. Be creative and do what you can.