Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bread. Wonderful Bread.

Oh, bread. How I love thee. Let me count the ways. The gluten-free ways!

Gluten-free bread has come so far in its creation and really what has happened is better bakers have needed to go gluten-free and have created the most amazing recipes because they needed to.

And we get to reap the benefits.

I subscribe to a wonderful gluten-free culinary magazine - the best around in my opinion - called Living Without. There is a lot of discussion about the name because it implies that we have to live without all these wonderful things and must get by. Don't let the name fool you. Inside their pages, you will not go without anything. You will not want for anything. In fact, they celebrate living without various things to make our lives better. Maybe they should call it Simplify or Enjoy or Eat and Be Free because you will do all those things. Every time a new issues comes to my doorstep, I rush out and read through the entire thing in about twenty minutes. The articles are fantastic, the recipes are outstanding and they have substitutions for just about every allergy known to mankind. And then some.

Sidenote: Check out their website for a whole bunch of great recipes that are usually in the magazines. Not all of the magazine recipes are included there, but quite a few show up. Invest in the magazine if you can (it's really not that expensive) and sign up for free recipes in your email. Lots of options here.

Almost all their recipes are adaptable to fit each dietary requirement and they really strive to bring cutting edge research about such body-specific needs into your home. It's the best gluten-free/allergy-friendly magazine out there. In my opinion.

I like to try lots of their recipes as soon as they come out from the presses, but as most of us gluten-freers know, breads and baked goods are the most challenging.

Not anymore.

The culinary gods have smiled upon us. This recipe for French Baguette in the Oct/Nov 2008 issue is something I've been wanting to try for a year now. Why haven't I? I suppose I haven't because I don't want to be disappointed. None of us do. We want to eat and love our food and really enjoy ourselves, no matter what our bodies like. And we want to please our bodies into healthy happiness. It's not a compromise; it's a quest for healthy wholeness. We want to be free to enjoy our food and be healthy, right? Well, now, my friends, you can. The baguette from this recipe was just like I remembered it. Fresh and warm, soft on the inside, crunchy and crispy on the outside. Oh, yes. So deliciously good, I ate a whole baby loaf yesterday. By myself.

I don't care.

It was good.

The above picture is actually day two of the second loaf and it was still just as soft on the inside and slightly less crisp, but still crunchy on the exterior. I am controlling myself today. I know. Why, right? But I am.

The best part of this bread is how ridiculously easy it is. I was a little intimidated at first because bread is like chocolate - slightly temperamental and you do kinda need to know what you're doing or something will go terribly wrong. I have learned much from my bread baking friend, Hannah, and I will share some of my simplifying tips as we go on.

Okay, onto the recipe. But before we go there, I have one more little sidenote to share. I have a bit of a butter issue. I love the flavor and it is necessary in some instances like for making caramels and such, but I don't do dairy. Can't do dairy. And many of the natural margarines include things like soy and whey and other things that my body just says a resounding 'no' to. So, for the longest time, I was using Whole Foods' 365 Natural Margarine. It was the only thing that wouldn't make me sick. It tasted good, no hidden hydrogenation or partially-hydrogenated scariness, I could read and pronounce all the ingredients, and worked for just about every recipe I needed it for.

And then I went in to buy some two days ago.

The location it normally sat in was filled with something else, so I scoured the area looking for it and a label of some sort to tell me it was on order and they were just out for the day.


Panic. Cringe. Cry.

Okay, so no tears came, but I thought, What am I going to do? I can use palm oil for some stuff, but it has no flavor and my body isn't super fond of it. And the other natural margarines, well, most of the other brands make me sick. Literally.


I hunt down a stocker and inquire about the missing margarine. She informs me to my dismay that Whole Foods will no longer be making it because it just didn't sell.

What? I should have bought more.

I stalked back over to the dairy case, peering in, sadly, at my choices. Some of the dairy-free margarines can't be used in cooking and some just taste icky. Earth Balance tastes good and is virtually everywhere, but my body disagrees with the consumption. I will not eat stuff that makes me sick. So, what's a girl to do?

Hmmm. That's new. When did they start making that? Could that work?

I pick up the red and white tub and scrutinize the ingredient list. Seems okay. They replaced the soy with other things that seem potentially favorable. I won't know until I try it. I also read that it can be used for baking, frying, sauteing, spreading and cooking. Very important. Some of them can't be used in cooking or baking and well, that's just annoying. I'm all about simplifying and making things easy. I look at the tub for a long time. Hopefully, nobody was standing there watching me frittering over a small tub of fake butter and wondering who the crazy girl was panicking in the dairy aisle. Finally, I decide that most of the Earth Balance brands have a nice flavor and well, what have I got to lose? I have to find a replacement to my beloved 365.

Make sad face.

I purchase the tub along with a few other goodies and head home. Eager to try it, I pull out some Food for Life Millet Bread and take a little taste. I don't want to overdo it in the event I have a reaction not uncommon between my body and Earth Balance.

Tastes good.

So far, so good.

I eat a little more and settle back to see if my body approves or not. I watch a little TV and try to hope everything will be fine. To my amazement, it is.

The next morning, I pull out the tub again and make some pancakes. I need to know if the reaction is going to come or not and it might as well be today. The day passes without so much as a reaction and I am rejoicing! I have found my butter replacement and it is good. Thank you, Earth Balance! You have made my day. You have no idea.

Now that we have something to put on our toast, let's get to making that bread. Oh, the delicious bread. Yes.

This recipe is slightly adapted from Living Without's. I chose slightly different flours than theirs, but with the same basic properties, and I did some old-fashioned hand-mixing because I don't own a stand mixer and well, trying to beat this with a hand-held mixer just seemed daunting. I'd rather just get in there and infuse my food with some love.

So, I did. Try it. It's really fun and isn't it so true that when we get food filled with love, it just tastes better? They so do. You can taste the love and passion in every spoonful. Or in this case, in every lovely, crunchy and sweet, soft and supple bite. Aaahh, bread. Real, true bread. Just like the wheat connoisseurs make.

Only better.

Happy eating!

Gluten-Free French Baguette

Makes 2 baguettes

This bread is best eaten within two to three days. To crisp and freshen, place the bread in a preheated oven (350 degrees) for 5 minutes. It will keep up for two months in the freezer. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and again in foil.

1 cup white rice flour (not sweet rice flour)

1 cup millet flour

½ cup potato starch

½ cup arrowroot starch

2 tsp xanthan gum

1 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp active dry yeast

1-2 tsp dried rosemary, dill or herb of choice (optional)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ cups warm water (110-120 degrees)

Rice flour for dusting

1. Grease or lightly spray a double French bread pan and dust with rice flour.

Note: I used a regular heavy baking sheet with a silicone baking liner, like Sil-Pat (or parchment) because I don’t have a bread pan. I laid the two baguettes side by side. It worked really well, but be aware the bread will spread out as it proofs. I didn’t bother to grease or dust because the silicone would prevent it from sticking. Grease and flour if you like.

2. Sift flours, starches, xanthan gum, salt and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add yeast and herbs (if using). Mix to incorporate ingredients.

3. Blend olive oil and warm water (110-120 degrees) into dry ingredients and mix on high speed for 4 minutes.

Note: I used a spoon to incorporate the ingredients together and then just shoved my hands in there and started kneading the dough. I got rough with it for about 3 minutes, infusing my cooking love, leaving it in the bowl because it’s sticky and you’ll have to flour the countertop to knead it there. I didn’t want to add any extra flour and putting my hands inside the bowl wasn’t that big of a deal.

4. Spoon half the dough into each loaf pan, spreading dough into shape of a French loaf. (The dough won’t fill the length of the pan. It should be approximately 10-12 inches long.)

Note: Since I don’t have a French loaf pan, I used the silicone liner and a baking sheet, pulling the dough into 12-inch-long tube shapes and placing them lengthwise side by side, evenly apart on the pan. I didn’t smooth the tops or sides of the dough and this made for nice, little crags and crooks in the bread, but if you want a smoother top, just lightly oil or butter a piece of plastic wrap and smooth down the top and sides to your liking.

5. Place a clean kitchen towel over the dough and place in a warm, draft-free area to rise for approximately 35 minutes. The middle of each loaf should rise to the top of the pan and be double its original size.

Note: My baker friend, Hannah, taught me a little proofing trick: Heat your oven to 200 degrees and place the bread on the middle rack for the length of time you need to proof it. No towel is needed. Just set the pan in the center and proof away. When the time for proofing is done, just turn the oven up to whatever temperature you want to bake at and set your timer. If you can, don’t even bother to open the oven door unless you have to move the bread or don’t have a window to look in and check it. This works well in wet and humid Seattle where it is never quite warm enough to get a good proof and the breads, bagels, and pretzels come out fabulous. Thank you, Hannah!

6. Preheat oven (or just turn it up, if using Hannah’s proofing method) to 400 degrees.

7. Bake bread in the lower third of preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. After the first 20 minutes, check the bread for browning. If it’s well browned, cover it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil. When finished, bread sounds hollow when tapped and registers 200 to 220 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

Eat and enjoy!

Adapted from Living Without Oct/Nov 2008

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