A loaf of bread
A loaf of bread. Such a simple thing. Stuff of life. Stuff of sandwiches and quick lunches at any rate. Yet for coeliacs it’s the holy grail. The symbol of all that they cannot eat. The unattainable cooking feat that shows they’ve progressed from buying free-from biscuits and tasteless rice cakes to taking their destiny in their own hand and building their future from scratch. Or something.
The number of treatises on bread-making is almost limitless; many bakers devote their whole lives to the art, experimenting with different flours, different levels of gluten, different proving and baking times. Something so complex becomes even more so (and at the same time less so) when you remove the main component. Gluten. Breads get their character from the gluten in them. A strong bread flour with lots of gluten will take lots of kneading to get that stretchy, springy, elastic texture. One that’s overworked, conversely, will become tough and heavy. But what happens when you take the gluten out? The result, as I’m sure we know all too well, is a dense loaf of dry, crumbly bread, more akin to cement powder than Hovis. And so the holy grail; a loaf of gluten-free bread that is light, spongy, springy, moist but holds up to butter and a slice or two of cheese, could even support a tomato slice without becoming soggy and falling apart.
Everyone has their favourite recipe, and each recipe could be improved upon in some way (come on, don’t tell me your perfect recipe is 100% perfect, failsafe, the yummiest bread you have ever or will ever try, there’s always room for improvement). This however is a great basic recipe for a loaf of white sandwich bread. It slices (it doesn’t guarantee a straight slice, for that you need to be able to cut straight, a skill I have seemingly yet to master) but it will give you a lovely crisp-crust, soft-crumbed bread that’s fabulous straight from the oven. On subsequent days you can toast it, or microwave it to regain that “just-baked” freshness, and it’s ideal for slicing and freezing away for future use too.
Adapted from Easy Gluten-Free Baking
Ah yes, another U.S. recipe that uses volume measurements instead of weights. In exasperation I long ago gave in and bought a set of U.S. measuring cups, and learnt the relationship between weights and volumes of butter (1 stick = 115g, a 250g block of butter is about a cup plus a tablespoon). In some ways volumes are easier – we still use teaspoons and tablespoons here for small amounts, so why not measure out larger amounts in cups? But equally it does lead to more washing up and different flours probably take up different volumes, so substitutions are less easy. In an attempt to bridge this divide, I have added in a couple of weights here for the flour and dried milk and will try and remember to do so for future recipes (erm….).
1/2 stick butter (60g)
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups warm water (187.5ml)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dried yeast
3 1/4 cups gluten-free flour (500g)
4 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2/3 cup dried skimmed milk powder (40g)
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1. Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave. Don’t burn it. Use a tiny dribble of the melted butter to grease in the inside of a 9×5″ loaf tin.
2. Whisk the eggs, one at a time, into the melted butter. Add the warm water (should be just warmer than body temperature, about 40-45 C). Sprinkle the yeast over the top, whisk in to the mixture and leave to sit while preparing dry ingredients.
3. In a smaller bowl measure out the flour. Mix in the xanthan gum, dried milk, sugar and salt.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and beat well until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Beat for a little longer until the mixture comes together. It will be wetter “normal” bread dough, but should still form a loosely cohesive lump.
5. Once the dough has come together, drizzle a little vegetable oil into the bowl and coat all sides of the dough lightly with the oil. Then tip out the dough into the loaf pan, spread roughly into the corners, cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to prove for an hour or so (if your kitchen is a mite on the chilly side, turn the oven on to 50 degrees while preparing the dough, then turn the oven off, put the dough in to prove for 45 minutes or so. Remove when you have to preheat the oven to bake the bread).
6. Preheat oven to 160 C 15 minutes before dough is ready (about 45 minutes after first leaving it to prove). Once dough is roughly doubled in size, remove plastic wrap and transfer to the hot oven. Bake for 55 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when knocked (obviously try this outside the oven). If the top is getting too brown, cover with foil halfway through baking.
7. Turn bread out onto rack to cool completely. Despite the delicious smell try and resist the temptation to slice the bread when it’s still hot, as the crumb will go gummy if you do this (not to mention you’ll burn your fingers). Serve with butter, or pate, or homemade jam.
NOTE: Once cool this can be sliced and frozen in ziplock bags for a good couple of months, and then toasted straight from frozen.