Monday, September 14, 2009

It's All About the Bread, Baby!

As most people do when they’re told they can no longer eat gluten, I found my way to the very small gluten-free section of my grocery store and I began my first gluten-free grocery shopping adventure. Okay, that makes it sound a lot more fun than it really is. Stay tuned for g.f. shopping tips, but for today, let’s start with bread. On that fine day three years ago, I reluctantly plunked down $6 for a loaf of gluten-free, brown rice bread. This was painful. My favorite crusty loaf of rosemary bread from a local bakery wasn’t even that spendy, but I didn’t feel I had a choice if I ever wanted to eat a sandwich again. One I arrive home and attempted to consume a slice, I realized I had just purchased a $6 door stop. Ok, I’ll toast it, I thought. It’s half way to hard already, so I bet my turkey sandwich with mayo, havarti, roasted red peppers, lettuce and alfalfa sprouts will be wonderful on warm, toasted bread. I then discovered that store-bought, gluten-free bread doesn’t toast. It’s some sort of freak of nature that I still don’t understand. Three attempts with the same slice on the highest setting produced burnt edges and a center that never toasted.

Enter Bette Hagman, the authority on baking your own gluten-free bread. I checked Bette’s The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread: More Than 200 Wheat-Free Recipes out of the library. I tried two of her basic dough recipes for bread machines and fell in love with one of them. I’ve since modified it slightly and the recipe follows. I should go back and try others from the book, but I’m so thrilled with this recipe that tastes amazing and turns out perfectly every time, that I’m adhering to the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” in this situation.

Now, with that comment comes a disclaimer. I gave my tried and true recipe to a fellow gluten-free friend, telling her that no one would ever guess that this is gluten-free bread. It is nothing like the bricks of brown rice breads at the grocery stores. I swear if you put one of my loaves in a taste test with any other bread machine bread, no one would know which one was gluten-free. Well, she followed the recipe exactly and ended up with her very own doorstop. She said it was a good thing that her husband of many years didn’t happen to get on her last nerve that day, because she would have had a deadly weapon at the ready. I chalk it up to differences in bread machines, so proceed at your own risk.

My machine is an older model Breadman Ultimate TR2200C. Breadman currently makes a few models with gluten-free settings but they cost more than $100. Considering that bread machines were the holiday gift of choice by many misguided husbands in the 1980’s, I bet you could find the model I own at Goodwill for less than $20. Hey, as much as I love starch and love kitchen appliances and gadgets, I do not want them as a gift from a man. Go bling or go home is my motto.

Anyway, good luck with the recipe. Let me know how it turns out for you and it you came up with any tasty variations. I’d also be curious to know if this works with an egg substitute for those who can’t tolerate eggs.

Gluten-Free Bread Recipe
This recipe starts with a base flour mix. If you’re new to g.f. baking, you may be wondering where to find these funky flours. If you live in the Seattle area, Manna Mills is g.f. mecca! Alternately, try health food stores in your area or mail order. Bob’s Red Mill sells these as well, and many mainstream grocers are starting to stock this brand, but buying bulk from a health food store is often much cheaper, even for the organic versions. I buy most of my dried goods bulk now. It’s so much cheaper (especially for dry yeast and xanthan gum) and reduces my carbon footprint with reduced packaging.

Base flour mix for g.f. bread in a bread machine:
3 cups brown rice flour
3 cups tapioca flour
3 cups corn starch
3 tablespoons potato flour (this is different than potato starch)

Basic bread recipe:
In a bowl combine and mix well:
2 cups base flour mix
1 and ½ teaspoons xanthan gum (a necessary binding ingredient when gluten is absent, available at health food stores)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons raw sugar cane or white sugar
¼ cup powdered milk or unflavored soy protein
2 and ½ teaspoons dry yeast

In a separate bowl combine and mix well:
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter or Earth Balance Non-Dairy Spread
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup warm water (about 100 degrees)

Generously butter your bread pan for a nice, crispy crust. I usually spray the mixing paddle liberally with non-stick cooking, in hopes that it will stay in the pan when I remove the bread and not stay buried in the loaf. Layer the contents of the two bowls, starting with the wet mixture and alternating until all contents are in the pan. I start with the wet ingredients, so the machine’s motor doesn’t have to work quite as hard when it begins mixing the ingredients. I set my machine for a two pound, white-bread loaf with a medium crust - complete baking and rising time is three hours and ten minutes. This is likely where a lot of the experimentation is needed for different machines. Find the closest setting to this and give it a try.

Once the machine hits the first kneading cycle, I scrape the contents of the corners of the pan into the mix with a spatula, as my machine doesn’t seem to mix completely on it’s own and I add a little more warm water - just enough to help combine the last of the dry ingredients. Then go busy yourself with other things for three hours, while enjoying the wonderful aroma in your house! Happy baking - I’ve got my fingers crossed for ya!

Variations: Once I added cinnamon and walnuts to the dry ingredients but the bread ended up with an odd, metallic taste. I think it might have been a reaction between the cinnamon and the Teflon coating of the pan. I’ve also made it with blanched, fresh rosemary added to the dry ingredients. I like to blanch the rosemary, so it’s not so tough. With that version, I brushed the top with melted butter in the final ten minutes of baking and sprinkled the top with coarse salt. I was trying to recreate my favorite rosemary bread from a local bakery, and while it wasn’t as “crusty”, it was still very good!

My two favorite variations have been a tasty browned butter and seed bread and a cheddar-jalapeno version. For the seed bread, simply add about three tablespoons each of poppy seeds and sesame seeds into the mix of dry ingredients, along with a generous handful of raw sunflower seeds. Also, I brown the three tablespoons of butter, melting it in the oven or on the stove until it just turns slightly brown, which adds a wonderful, nutty flavor. For the cheddar-jalapeno version, add one finely chopped jalapeno pepper to the wet ingredients. Keep the seeds in the pepper if you want more heat, or scrape them out if you want less. Then as the machine kicks in for the second mixing, right before the second rise about an hour or so into the baking cycle, mix in about a cup of grated, sharp cheddar cheese. About twenty minutes before the entire baking cycle is complete, sprinkle the top of the loaf with a little more grated, sharp cheddar. Both of these variations rock, if I do say so myself!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Foodie Fight

Many of you know what I’m talkin’ about. You’ve been fighting with food. Your body’s been battling with itself, perhaps unbeknownst to you until recently, because of what you’ve been eating. Perhaps this has resulted in allergic reactions, intolerances and aggravated auto-immune conditions.

So you've made the change because you're sick and tired of being sick and tired, having stomach problems, experiencing achy joints, feeling bloated, developing hives or acne, feeling moody, experiencing sinus problem and a whole host of other "indelicate" issues we really don't want to discuss about on a food blog. Well, welcome my friend. You are not alone. One in twenty-five Americans has food allergies. The number of people with food intolerances is even higher and those who suffer from auto-immune conditions may have far more serious problems due to what they eat.

For me, gluten is the biggest offender. Dairy, soy and corn don’t go over too well in large quantities, either. I still eat those in moderation because they don't affect me in the horrible way gluten does...and you can take the girl out of Wisconsin, but you can’t take the Wisconsin out of the girl. I just haven’t been able to completely break up with cheese or frozen custard (more on that later). So, what does a foodie who loves to bake, cook and eat do when she’s diagnosed with gluten and dairy intolerances? Well, initially I got angry. Like most changes in my life that were not my idea, I entered this new phase kicking and screaming. Well, not literally, but there was a whole lot of grumbling. But then I mustered up all my creative powers to redesign my eating habits and relationship with food and, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, redesign my philosophy on life.

Food was wagging a war on my body, so three years ago I started fighting back with healthy ingredients, a new attitude, my computer, my library card, understanding friends who also happen to have food restrictions and/or are great cooks, and whatever else comes up along the way to help the process. And I’m astonished at how much better I feel. After just two weeks of eating gluten-free, I woke up and thought “Oh, this is what it feels like to wake up and not have a stomach ache everyday of my life!”

So, I hope you’ll join me on my continuing quest to better health and a new relationship with food. I hope you’ll find my ideas, information and recipes helpful, healthful and tasty. I hope you’ll bear with me as I continue to modify my culinary creations so that they’re yumliscious and accessible to people with all sorts of dietary restrictions and philosophies. Grab a gluten-free cookie (stay tuned for recipes) and a beverage of choice (no gluten in wine!), pull up a chair and join me!