Sometimes, people ask me, “Why don’t you have more recipes for bread on your website?”
It’s a funny question. There are so many recipes here. But it’s true. I haven’t put up a recipe for gluten-free bread in nearly two years.
It’s not that I don’t like bread. Believe me, before I went gluten-free, I was the bread girl. Rosemary and sea salt on a crusty artisanal loaf got me every time. One look and I was in its grip. I loved well-meaning whole-wheat bread, dark exotic rye, and raisin brioche for French toast. If you live down the street from one of Seattle’s best bakeries, you’re going to eat bread.
But something strange happened after I stopped eating gluten. I stopped craving bread. I’ve heard this from many of you too: the gluten cravings abate over time. It’s almost as though my body wanted what was bad for me. Grow healthy and the body leans toward better food.
I didn’t miss it. No kidding. After awhile, when this site became one of the central forces of my life, I made bread because I felt I had to do it. I was pretty happy with some of it. One of the recipes went into my book as sorghum loaf. At the time, I was proud of that bread.
But so much has happened since. So many dishes cooked, so many cookies and pastries baked, so many lessons from the Chef. And mostly, I got pregnant with Little Bean. Everything changed after she was born. My hair, always baby fine and mostly straight, stretches into incorrigible curls at the first sign of rain now. And after she was born, I started wanting bread again.
Actually, I just wanted toast.
In those first six weeks of the Bean’s young life, the Chef and I wanted toast every morning for breakfast. We didn’t seem to have the energy to roast potatoes, play with eggs until the yolks were the wonderful jiggly texture we desired, and wait for the bacon to sizzle. We just wanted toast.
We ate a lot of loaves from Whole Foods, made more from mixes from a box, and heated up our frozen slices in the mornings after rising from little sleep. We were burning money on bread.
Little Bean grew up some. She started sleeping through the night. Filled with new energy, the Chef and I had the time to make breakfast again. The eggs returned. (Look at this morning’s repast.) But the desire for bread stayed as stubbornly as the Farrah-like fringe in my hair. I started baking again.
I’ve learned so much about how to live gluten-free in the past three and a half years that making bread felt more natural. Here’s some of what I have learned:
— good gluten-free bread dough? It has the consistency of cake batter. Truly. That’s where I fell into problems before, even in the recipe in my book. (I’m not that happy with it now.) I was trying to make loaves like the ones I used to create. So of course they were dry. Think thick cake batter. That’s what you want.
— nearly every gluten-free baked goods book calls for apple cider vinegar in a bread recipe. Dutifully, I put some in mine, since every one else did. But now I know that vinegar retards the growth of yeast. I can’t think that it helps, at all. I leave it out now.
— putting ice cubes in a skillet on the bottom rack of the oven as the bread bakes makes the oven steamy. This helps the rise of the loaf.
— millet is a gluten-free breadmaker’s dream. Without it, all the loaves fall a little flat. With it, there’s a wonderful crumb.
— stiff egg whites, folded into the batter at the last moment, help improve the rise and the lightness of the loaf.
There’s more, but I’m just learning. How lovely that I still have so much left to learn.
And that there is bread in the house again.
GLUTEN-FREE SANDWICH BREAD, adapted from Carol Fenster’s 1000 Gluten-Free Recipes
This bread, adapted from Carol Fenster’s millet yeast bread, makes a lovely loaf. It’s firm yet filled with air pockets, white without being devoid of nutrition, and addictive. It makes fantastic toast. The scrape and brush of a knife and butter meets bread? I can hear it again.
Now, you should know that, no matter what the recipe, bread making is a fickle business. This loaf you see above, the one I made in a hurry this morning so I would have a photograph for this post? It collapsed. I let the yeast go too long, the egg whites grew too stiff, and the millet flour was gone so I used amaranth instead.
It still tastes fantastic. You can pull it apart with your hands and eat bread again.
Made under the right conditions? This loaf would make such a wonderful loaf for stuffing on Thanksgiving day.
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup milk
2 egg whites
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 cup potato starch
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1 cup millet flour
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon guar gum
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, or butter substitute
2 eggs, at room temperature
Put the milk in a small saucepan. Turn the burn on medium-low heat. When the milk just starts to warm, and feels comfortably warm on the inside of your wrist, take it off the burner. You want it at 110°. Activate the yeast by combining the yeast, sugar, and warm milk. Set aside in a warm place to rise. Give it at least 10 minutes before you start looking at it.
Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until they stiffen. This works best in a stand mixer, if you have one. Be patient. You’ll want them done, but they take awhile. (about 15 minutes around here) When they have become stiff enough to hold together, but not so stiff that they form small peaks, turn off the mixer. Gently, transfer the beaten egg whites to a separate bowl.
Mix all the flours together, along with the xanthan and guar gums. Stir them up well. Sift them through a fine-mesh sieve. This makes the combination into one flour. Add the salt to the flour and stir well.
Put the flours into the stand mixer, using the paddle attachment. Slowly, add the yeasty milk, the softened butter, and the eggs. Mix until the dough comes together and has the consistency of thick cake batter.
Turn off the mixer. Working by hand, fold the egg whites into the dough. When they have been incorporated, you are done.
Oil and dust the loaf pan with a light starchy flour (I like sweet rice flour here). I use a loaf pan meant to fit a 1 1/2 pound loaf. Put the dough into the pan. Pat the top of the loaf into evenness. Set aside in a warm place and let the loaf warm for at least 1 1/2 hours. 2 hours is even better.
About half an hour before the dough is done rising, preheat the oven to 375°.
Before you slide in the loaf, brush an egg wash across the top of the loaf. (Whisk 1 egg until it is frothy.)
Put a skillet full of ice cubes on the bottom rack of the oven. Put the bread loaf on the rack above it. Bake for 1 hour, or until the internal temperature reads 205°.
When the loaf is done baking, pull it out of the oven. Be patient. Let it rest for ten minutes in the pan before you attempt to move it.
Run a knife around the edges of the bread. Turn the loaf pan upside down and let the loaf fall onto a cooling rack. Let the bread rest for another little while. And then slice it up.
Makes 1 loaf of bread.