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Beautiful, Beautiful Bread

October 9, 2009

focaccia

No lie: going gluten-free has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  I haven’t had a cold since. My skin looks (and feels) better. My joints don’t hurt. I have more energy. My digestion does what it’s supposed to do. The difference has been astounding.

And I still get to eat so many of my favorite foods. I enjoy wonderful pasta, perfectly crispy pizzas, quesadillas and burritos in chewy tortillas. Cakes, cookies and muffins have all been mine. Acquiring these things hasn’t been quite as easy or convenient as it was in the past, but the improvements in my health have been well worth it, and I feel gastronomically satisfied most of the time.

But I do miss bread.

Finding the right gluten-free bread is a journey. While I adore New Cascadia (their pizza crusts are practically my life’s blood), many of their breads just don’t quite have what want when I’m looking to fulfill my cravings. Too, I miss that special something about making my own bread – the promise of blooming yeast, the soft warmth of freshly risen dough, the drama of a loaf exploding into its final shape and size in the hot oven, and, best of all, the crunchy-soft texture of the freshly baked bread, laden with butter, still warm.

Gluten-free bread recipes are hit and miss. Not just because gluten-free baking is challenging, but because everybody has their holy grail of bread, their own Platonic ideal loaf, the one they’d go running for if a magic fairy bopped them with their wand and enabled them to eat gluten once again.

So when I tried these dinner rolls, I knew I had found something special. The photo alone was enough to sell me (those holes! That crust!) but Jill’s description was enticing, too. I baked the bread as a loaf, instead of rolls, and proceeded to scarf down several thick slices with butter immediately.

As much as I enjoyed the bread, I decided to tweak the recipe the second time I made it, to bring it a little closer to my own ideal loaf, the bread that I dream of and miss since going gluten-free. I reduced the sugar to the minimum required to activate the yeast, as I prefer bread without sweet overtones. In addition, I removed the eggs from the recipe. I’m a bit princess-and-the-pea about eggy flavors in baked goods – I dislike them, and I can sense them under all those other layers of flavor, even when other people don’t find the item in question eggy at all. There’s a common perception that gluten-free baked goods absolutely require eggs for binding and structure, but I have had good success using replacements – in this case, ground flaxseeds, which contribute both their binding power and an extra smattering of fiber to the recipe. The yeast provides enough lift that additional leaveners aren’t required.

I worked the dough into a focaccia loaf this time, and it tastes just wonderful. I’d feel no compunction about serving this to gluten-loving friends and family (in fact, my glutenous husband has polished off a fair amount of the loaf already.) If you’re searching for a gluten-free loaf to serve with soup, pasta, to make wonderful paninis with, or even just eat to eat plain, try this. I know you’ll enjoy it.

Gluten-Free Focaccia with Garlic Oil
This recipe will work best using a pizza stone. If you don’t have one, use a sheet pan instead.

3 cups rice flour mix
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup teff flour
1 and 1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed mixed with 1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon xanthan gum
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

salt, freshly ground pepper, and crushed red pepper to sprinkle on top
toppings of your choice (such as chopped olives, caramelized onions, or fresh herbs)

1. Combine the chopped garlic and one tablespoon of the olive oil in a small bowl and set aside.

2. In the bowl of a mixer, combine lukewarm water, yeast, and sugar and set aside for the yeast to proof, about ten minutes, until the yeast has begun to foam.

3. Add flours, flaxseed mixture, xanthan gum, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Mix well, scrape down the sides, and turn the mixer up to medium high and beat for a few minutes, until a smooth dough is formed. The dough will be a bit sticky.

4. Turn dough out onto a piece of parchment paper. With damp hands, pat the dough out into a round about one inch thick. Allow to rise in a warm place for about thirty to forty minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

5. Poke dimples into the surface of the loaf with your fingers. Brush with the garlic olive oil you set aside earlier, discarding the chopped garlic. Sprinkle the loaf evenly with salt, freshly ground pepper, crushed red pepper, and the toppings of your choice (if any,) and slide it into the oven. Bake for thirty to forty minutes, until the surface is lightly browned and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you knock on it. Serve fresh and hot, the same day you bake it, if possible. Leftovers should be wrapped in plastic and reheated or toasted to serve.

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