I’m a wimp when it comes to baking bread; it scares me. Even when we were eating with no dietary restrictions and had a bread-maker, my bread was nothing to write home about. Then, we discovered that book about how to have sourdough every day in five minutes, which was very much along the same guidelines for Nourishing Traditions, which we had just started to follow. We had bread a handful of times using that method, but then I would forget or get bored with keeping it going. It never blew me away with taste or texture, so I was content to buy sprouted bread at Trader Joe’s or just go without.
But now, after a year of having no bread, we miss it. I don’t need a hunk of it with every meal, but a sandwich now and then would be nice, or a slice of toast, or garlic bread when we have Italian. Those are the times when I really miss bread and nothing else will do.
There are definitely some great gluten-free breads on the market. There are some disgusting ones too- like all rice flour bread, which could be used for a weapon. Udi’s is a good, soft bread that a lot of stores carry now. The problem with these gluten-free breads is… well, several things… they aren’t grain-free, and definitely aren’t soaked or sprouted grain, they contain sugar, and most contain corn. They also contain yeast. I’m not 100% opposed to yeast, but if I can avoid it, I would like to. I also want my bread to be organic. Usually, I can’t find processed or pre-made foods that meet all of our criteria- just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s not packed with sugar and corn, and just because something says gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with preservatives. Those labels don’t equal healthy food, even though they are steps in the right direction.
The only thing left is to do it myself, which is scary. Last Passover, we really wanted Challah, which my brother-in-law usually makes (and it’s delicious!,) so I found a recipe online that looked doable but a little strange. It was not grain-free, but gluten-free and contained about a dozen eggs. It was not a dough that was very pliable, but I tried to shape it into a braided loaf anyway, and failed so very miserably. I should have blogged about it, but I was so upset about having wasted the ingredients, I threw it all away and tried to forget it had ever happened. A few days later, I found a recipe using egg whites and ground nuts, and nothing but those two ingredients. The reviews were great, so I tried again- just for a plain loaf. Again, it was like goo coming out of the oven. I decided to give up for awhile until I could really study about what makes gluten-free breads work, and what makes them GOOD.
For the past week, I have been researching bread. I keep coming back to coconut flour and almond flour recipes to substitute for grains. I have seen problems with using both one or the other, but I had such great success with my biscuits, that I thought I would try combining the two and see what happened. Luckily, it worked! No wasted ingredients today, and a delicious loaf of bread as my reward for crouching in front of the oven door for half an hour waiting for it to turn into either a brick or goo.
A few things to know about gluten-free bread. Gluten is the protein that makes breads work. It’s stretchy and holds air bubbles. It is what gives your bread the soft texture and makes it stick together instead of crumble to pieces, as well as what makes it fluffy. Breads without gluten are usually, from what I have gathered from my own research, either gluey (chebe-type bread with tapioca), grainy or dense (from use of other grains that don’t blend well or absorb too little or too much moisture), or eggy (as in the case of recipes using egg-whites (most GAPS diet recipes are of this variety, including the one that just turned to goo in my oven.)
Coconut flour is a great gluten-free flour, and I love using it. It’s taken me some time to figure it out, and here is what I have learned:
-You only need a little bit because it is like a sponge
-It’s unpredictable- sometimes your batter looks too thick and sometimes your batter looks too thin. You have to take a deep breath and hope it works and write down your successes as you go, so you’ll know what to do next time!
-You need lots of fat and protein so your baked goods don’t turn out dense (enter eggs and butter or coconut oil to fill these needs)
To get great fluffy bread, you have to get some air in the dough. Without gluten, there is really only one way to do this, since most things don’t hold air. Whipped eggs, and chemical reactions can help. Yeast can be one way, but so can an acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) and baking soda, or both.
Here is my first attempt at bread, that actually turned out edible! Twig was curious what the texture would be like tomorrow, but we’ll have to find that out some other time because we ate the whole loaf. I guess that tells you it was good! We had half of it immediately, with butter, and the other half sliced very thinly and toasted,with goat cheese, olive spread and cherry tomatoes. Twig said it tasted something like rye or pumpernickel, but you could leave off the seeds on top and it have a less strong taste.
1/2 c sunflower seeds
1/2 c pecans (nuts and seeds soaked and toasted previously)
1/3 c ground flax (or 1/4 c whole seeds, then ground into meal)
1/4 c coconut flour
3/4 c arrowroot flour/starch (I use Bob’s Red Mill- sometimes tapioca is billed as arrowroot, but they are very different, so be sure you’re using arrowroot, NOT tapioca. You could sub cornstarch or potato starch too.)
1/3 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
5 eggs brought to room temperature (this helps them hold more air, for fluffier bread)
1 tsp honey
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (I used Bragg’s, but lemon juice would also work if you are on Feingold, etc)
3 1/2 tbs butter
coarse sea salt
1 tsp milk (or dairy-free milk)
Pre-heat oven to 350*F. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper, draping it over edges to cover sides.
Grind together nuts and seeds (or you can sub one for the other if you have allergies and do all seeds, etc.) and mix with dry ingredients in large bowl. Meanwhile, soak your eggs in a bowl of warm water to bring them to room temperature.
Melt the butter and pour into dry ingredients. Mix with hands to make sure dry ingredients are thoroughly covered with butter and mixture becomes crumbly/mealy in texture.
Measure eggs, honey, and vinegar into separate bowl. Add eggs and whisk, by hand, with rotary egg beater or whisk until egg mixture is light lemon colored and air bubbles stay on surface (about 4 minutes.) Whipping with an electric beater/mixer will whip them too hard and cause them to lose their capacity for holding air.
Immediately pour the egg mixture into the dry mixture and fold together with spatula until just mixed. (I think I stirred mine about 10 times really gently.) There will be some bubbles and some liquid egg mixture that doesn’t blend, but don’t worry- the coconut flour will absorb this and you won’t end up with scrambled eggs!
Pour mixture, carefully, into loaf pan, making sure the parchment stays folded against the sides and your batter is not going to drip down underneath the parchment paper lining. Sprinkle batter with dill seeds and coarse sea salt.
Bake at 350*F for 35 minutes or when top starts to become golden around the edges. Remove from oven and test with toothpick in middle to see if it comes out clean. Brush top with milk and return to oven for 3 minutes or when entire top of bread is golden.
I was able to lift the bread out by using the ends of parchment, and I sliced it immediately. It did not crumble at all, and was very flexible as you can see in the photos.
I’m pretty pleased! Years ago, I had some tins for baking Melba toast- long, thin pans. I wish I still had them for this recipe- they would be perfect! I am going to play with it some more and see if I can get an even fluffier loaf and one that rises a bit more, or maybe double it for a sandwich sized loaf, and I will get back to you on that. I’m not quite as scared anymore, now that I understand some of the science!
*Linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday