Bread. Is there anything more perfect than a warm, crusty sourdough loaf with a perfect, pillowy interior? Probably not. In my new reality of living a gluten free lifestyle, the beauty of quality bread making is only to be stared at, not to be consumed. It’s just plain mean.
I refuse to live my life sans bread, and while I have found some good sandwich-style gluten free bread, store-bought versions of ciabatta and baguettes are just plain bad. That may be harsh, as some are perfectly fine, but when compared to the gluten filled versions, it’s not even close. The texture of gluten free bread is different and getting that perfect, crusty exterior is almost impossible.
But that won’t stop me from trying.
In the past week, I have embarked on some gluten free bread making, trying my hand at cornbread and focaccia. I love both and thought that cornbread would be especially easy to make gluten free since it does not rely on yeast or kneading. Plus, I just wanted to eat some cornbread.
I used a recipe from Jamie Oliver, though I altered it slightly to work for me. I did not have bacon fat available and I decided to use some red chiles from my chile plant on the terrace. Cornbread without some heat is just not cornbread to me.
The batter was similar to any cornbread recipe and looked identical. The only change was swapping out regular all purpose flour for gluten free flour. Researching online, I was lost in a sea of bizarre flour combinations, and many sites recommend making specific customized flour blends.
Maize, quinoa, sorghum, brown rice, rice, coconut, almond, potato starch, tapioca starch. Who knew there were some many types of flour?
I decided to simplify the process and buy a basic, ready-made gluten free flour blend. The only additional purchase was a container of xanthan gum, which helps thicken gluten free dough. There are flour blends available that already contain xanthan gum (or guar gum), but it’s best to buy the basic blend and add the gum when needed, especially for baking. For me, the basic gluten free flour blend worked perfectly and was easier than spending a fortune on a multitude of obscure flours.
1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups gluten-free cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk
6 tbsp unsalted butter
2 small red chiles, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Grease a medium-sized cast-iron skillet (or 8×8 baking dish) with the olive oil, and place inside the oven while you prep the other ingredients.
In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and chilies. Whisk until well combined.
Melt the butter and let it cool slightly while you whisk together the eggs and milk in a separate bowl. Once the butter is cool, add it to the wet ingredients.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir gently together with a wooden spoon or spatula. Don’t over-mix, but let everything become incorporated.
Remove the heated skillet (or baking dish) from the oven and pour the batter in. Turn the oven down to 180°C/350°F and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
The results were impressive. Golden brown on top, perfectly crumbly with a hint of heat from the red chiles. We devoured the pan of cornbread in record time. Adding a dollop of honey on top is always a nice touch. We served it with a Tex-Mex soup, with roasted corn, black beans, chipotles, tomatoes and vegetable stock and garnished with green onions, coriander and avocado. A perfect summer soup.
The focaccia was a little trickier. Looking at recipes online, I saw some horrific photos of “bread” that the writers called focaccia, though they more closely resembled a train wreck. If a professional photo of bread looks unappetizing, then your version will probably look worse. Move onto another recipe.
Luckily, I found this recipe from Free Range Cookies, which was quick and easy. The “dough” looked unlike any other bread dough I’ve ever made before, which I now realize is common for gluten free bread. It looked closer to a brownie or cake batter, and is super sticky. Again, I made a few additions, red chile flakes and rosemary from our herb collection and bumped up the temperature to 375°F for more browning.
1 2/3 cups water, room temperature
1/3 cup olive oil
3 1/4 cups gluten free flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp plus 1/4 tsp instant yeast
3 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tsp red chile flakes
1 tsp sea salt
In the bowl, combine water, oil, and eggs. Mix well.
In a separate bowl combine: gluten free flour, sugar, yeast, xanthan gum, and salt. It’s important to blend dry ingredients thoroughly before adding to liquid ingredients.
Add dry ingredients to liquids in bowl. Throughly mix with wooden spoon or whisk. Dough will have the consistency of a thick brownie batter and will be stickier than its gluten filled counterpart.
After mixing thoroughly, cover dough and refrigerate overnight. It will rise in the fridge, so allow room for that. The next day, remove dough from fridge and let sit at room temp for 20-30 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast on top of dough and stir to incorporate.
Preheat oven to 375°. For thick focaccia, use a 13″x9″ cake pan and grease with olive oil.
Spread dough onto pan, using a dampened spatula or wooden spoon to help smooth and spread. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil on top of dough and spread with your fingers. Dimple top of dough with fingers. Sprinkle with sea salt, chili flakes and rosemary.
Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes in the pan before baking. Bake focaccia for about 30 minutes. After removing from oven, let bread cool for a few minutes on pan, then transfer to a cooling rack. This step is important, because condensation will form and you DO NOT want a soggy bottom.
Again, the results were spectacular. It looked like real, actual focaccia! It got crusty and browned on top and bottom, and the interior was soft and chewy. I tested the bread on a handful of non-gluten free people, who all thought it was normal bread. That’s a win!
After the success, I decided to repurpose the focaccia recipe for pizza dough. I have tried various gluten free pizzas at home and at restaurants, all met with little success. The bases are normally thin and crisp, but more in the manner of a cracker than pizza dough. I have really, really missed good pizza. Along with sushi, pizza is one of my “desert island” foods that I could consume on a daily basis without getting tired of it.
The method was similar, but I split the focaccia dough onto two baking sheets that I greased with olive oil, pushing out the dough to a rough square shape. I also upped the oven temperature to 200°C/400°F for a crispier base.
The key is par-baking the base for 10 minutes before adding any toppings to the pizza. I feared the rather wet, raw dough would yield a soggy base once the sauce and toppings were added.
I don’t do sad pizza.
After 10 minutes, I took out the now partially baked crusts and added the toppings, increased the temperature to a 245°C/475°F and baked the pizzas for 10 minutes. Those are some might fine looking pies!
The bottom was crispy, it didn’t crumble and fall apart (that’s happened to me before). It was not only good gluten free pizza, it was just plain good pizza.
There is now an air of excitement coming out of our kitchen. I have made great gluten free cornbread, focaccia and pizza. Three big wins. I now want to explore more, test more recipes and see if I can make good versions of other breads I miss.
Bread. Even gluten free versions can be perfect.
Have you tried good gluten free bread? Leave your thoughts and experiences below!