For this week’s Food Blogger Spotlight, we’re doing something a little different and talking to two fabulous cookbook authors about baking gluten free bread recipes. When Zoë Francois and Jeff Hertzberg began working on their most recent bread-baking book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, they discovered early on that there was a huge desire for healthy gluten free breads. Jeff, a doctor, and Zoë, a pastry chef, set about developing a series of recipes for their gluten-free, yet still bread-hungry, readers. They quickly realized it wasn’t an easy feat, but powered through and have included an entire section of their book dedicated to bread recipes that will tempt even the most gluten-obsessed bread-fiend.
To keep with the Food Blogger Spotlight theme, Jeff and Zoë also blog at Artisan Bread in 5, while Zoë keeps her own personal blog at Zoë Bakes. If you love baking, I highly recommend you check out both! You might also check out their first book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking.
Let’s welcome Zoë and Jeff as they share their experiences with gluten free baking.
Before writing Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, what were your initial thoughts on gluten free baking?
Jeff: I’d never tried anyone’s homemade gluten free breads, and the store-bought ones seemed awful, really not tasting like bread at all, just sweet and weird. And that texture! So it was a revelation to find that you can get really nice results at home. Zoë and I really had to collaborate on these. Translation: I started working on them, but got quickly flummoxed by the differences from wheat flour, and tried to punt it over to the professional chef. She really made them work beautifully, and I’m ever-grateful.
Zoë: I had very little experience with gluten free baking other than what I tried at various bakeries. Some of it was very good, but mostly cookies and sweets. The breads that I tried were generally from the frozen section of the co-op and not all that exciting.
Had you made any gluten free bread recipes before you began work on the book?
Jeff: I had not!
Zoë: No, I have to admit I was taken aback at how many requests we had for gluten free bread recipes. I didn’t realize just how many people were on gluten free diets, including several of my friends. It became immediately obvious that this was a big need and would have a prominent place in our second book.
What caveats did you run into while developing gluten free recipes for the book?
Jeff: The caveat is “BE PATIENT!” It’s not at all easy to convert wheat recipes into gluten free , so it’s going to take much trial and error if you don’t start with a working recipe. Remember also that in our method, we need to be able to store the dough in the refrigerator so that busy people have time for daily baking. It’s challenging to convert wheat recipes to gluten free , but it’s not at all difficult to mix and store the recipes from our book in your refrigerator. The method is exactly the same as in our wheat-based breads, it’s just as easy.
Zoë: The gluten free dough doesn’t feel the same as dough made with wheat flours. We wanted the dough to be mixed and stored in the same way that all of our other breads are made, but once it is mixed it feels entirely different. It is much softer, lighter and has no stretch to it. In order to get a smooth surface on the gluten free dough you need to wet your hands and rub it smooth – it is just as easy to work with, but feels different. For those used to baking with traditional dough, they will have to enter into this chapter with a sense of adventure. Suspend any expectations of how it will feel.
What resources came in handy when developing your gluten free recipes?
Jeff: We really relied on other bakers who’d been down this path before, and people were wonderfully generous with their ideas. That’s what makes baking so much fun. This hobby is really about connecting with people, and now that we’ve added gluten free recipes to our books, no one is left out.
Zoë: We credit several people in our book for helping us develop this chapter. Those folks generously shared their experience baking with gluten free ingredients with us. We wanted to make sure that the recipes were as easy as our other recipes, but more importantly they had to taste great. It was through testing and dialog and more testing that we came to the breads that are included in this chapter. I had read several books about baking gluten free breads, but in the end it came down to trial and error. None of the books were storing the dough and that really changes the whole equation. In order to have a dough that bakes well after 5 days we had to change the ratios of the recipes. The experience was a real challenge and yet in the end one of the most satisfying accomplishments.
Which gluten free recipe in Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day is your favorite?
Jeff: That would have to be “Not Rye (But So Very Close).” The teff flour is a bit sour and together with the caraway seeds, it gives the illusion of sour rye. Second place goes to any pizza– the toppings become the focus, so you really don’t notice the lack of wheat flavor (which is subtle in the first place). I’m a pizza lunatic, I could eat it every night. In fact, we just signed the contract for a third book, tentatively titled “Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day,” or something to that effect. Seriously, I defy a non-culinary school grad to distinguish our thin-crust gluten free pizza from wheat. At least if they’re willing to accept our offer of wine or beer with the slice.
Zoë: I tested all of the recipes and then served them to people, some who were used to gluten free baking and others who were not. For a picnic I made the gluten free brioche and my father said it was the best bread I’d ever made. He does not eat a gluten free diet and he loved it. It was so exciting to have the bread stand alone and be satisfying as a bread, not necessarily a gluten free bread!
What sage advice can you offer home bakers who are just learning to bake gluten free ?
Jeff: It isn’t all that hard, this works just like our other recipes– you dump everything into a bucket, mix it, and then let it sit on the counter for a couple of hours. After that, it goes into the fridge. Don’t over-handle it when you shape the refrigerated dough into loaves or you’ll knock gas out of the finished product, which causes density.
Zoë: The gluten free recipes are just as easy to put together as the traditional ones, but you have to add the liquids slowly. If you add the liquids all at once as you would with our other recipes you will end up with lumps in the dough. If this does happen you can just throw the dough into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and let it mix on medium high for a couple of minutes and the lumps work themselves out.
Do you have any tips for home bakers who are setting out to develop their own gluten free bread recipes from scratch?
Jeff: You need to use xanthan gum, which mimics the action of gluten to trap fermentation gases, promote leavening and give stretch. Can’t succeed without it, especially if you’re going to store the dough.
Zoë: Start with a recipe you love and make subtle adjustments to it. Start by substituting a little at a time so you can keep track of the changes and keep the texture of the bread the same. One thing about gluten free flours is that each has its own flavor and texture profile. Potato flour and corn starch may look similar but that behave differently in the recipes. A sense of adventure is key!
I think just about any style of bread can be recreated with gluten free ingredients, but the flavors and textures will be different. I think they are fabulous, but are their own thing. There are some breads that really come close to the wheat breads people grew up with, but then there are loaves that are unique and should be enjoyed by everyone just because they are delicious.