Beer Pretzel Rolls

Beer is without a doubt one of God’s best creations and gifts to man. When Mr. Photographer was diagnosed with celiac, he embraced his new gluten-free way of life pretty quickly; we learned to bake decent gluten-free breads and found substitutes for most of his beloved foods. It’s been a couple of years, and I think the only thing he still truly misses is a good ol’ beer. There are gluten-free beers on the market, of course, but none of them is really on par with the real stuff. There is nothing quite like a cold beer on a hot summer day. It’s the ultimate fizzy treat, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and for that reason is often dubbed liquid bread. Beer and bread are actually closely related and originate from the same starting point: in their most basic form, they’re both made with same ingredients, just cereal and water. The yeast eats the sugars and multiplies, which in turn causes rising and produces alcohol. In contrast to beer fermenting process, most of the alcohol is unfortunately going to be burned off in baking, but even so, there are many reasons to experiment with beer in the kitchen: it adds a subtle malty sweetness to baked goods, and makes them lighter and crispier as well.

In all my years living in the States, I’ve never managed to develop the taste for the pillowy soft and squishy white bread sold in supermarkets. I need something hearty and substantial to sink my teeth into (not to mention all that sugar in commercially made breads makes my hair stand up on end). I make all gluten-free breads we eat, and 99 percent of gluten bread our men-sons consume. I like to know what’s in our food, and it does my mother’s heart (and I’ll be honest, my pride!) good to hear them saying “Could you bake something? We’re out of bread!”, even though there is store bought bread sitting in our freezer, and has been there for weeks – still wrapped up and untouched.

So as my first bake of 2017 I present to you bread the way we like it: crispy from the outside and chewy on the inside, pleasantly salty, with wonderfully crisp crust. These rolls are great dunk in a hot soup, even better as hot dog buns and make wicked good sandwiches with salami and cheese. Their secret ingredient? Beer. Don’t worry, it’s not at all overpowering – actually adds just a touch of sweetness and interesting taste you’re not sure where is coming from. The dough is easy to make and a dream to work with, and the scraps are great for pretzels: sprinkled with coarse salt and seeds and dipped in mustard, they’re the greatest little bites of beer to share with friends.

Turns out, you can have your beer and eat it too! How awesome is that?! Cheers to the new year – may we all continue to bake the world a better place!

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Beer Pretzel Rolls

(makes 8 rolls)

Dough:
  • 500 g (17.5 oz.) strong bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 40 g (about 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 200 ml (oz.) lager
  • scant 150 ml (5 oz.) full-fat milk
  • pinch sugar
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast

+ 1 ½ liters water with 3 tablespoons baking soda – for water bath
+ 1 large egg yolk, mixed with 1 tablespoon water – for egg wash
+ coarse salt & various seeds (optional)

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Method:
  1. To make the dough: Combine lukewarm milk with pinch of sugar and yeast; let stand for 15 minutes to activate.
  2. Place all the remaining ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, add it to the flour and start mixing on a low speed. If the dough looks too dry, add in couple more tablespoons of milk, 1 tablespoon at a time; if it’s too wet, sprinkle in more flour. Continue kneading until the dough comes together in a ball, and it’s soft, smooth, and elastic, about 15 minutes. Transfer the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, non-drafty place for about 1 hour, until it doubles in volume.
  3. Making the rolls: Divide the dough into 8 equal portions, each around 100 g (3.5 oz.) Form small balls and then roll each one into a sausage about 15 cm (6 inches) long. Place the rolls with enough space between them onto baking sheets lined with parchment. Cover and let them rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C).
  4. In a large enough pot, bring water and soda to a simmer. Working with one roll at a time, carefully lower it into the water, cook for 30 seconds, turn it over, and cook it for 30 seconds more. With a slotted spoon, remove the roll from the water and place it onto a parchment lined sheet. (Baking soda bath gives the rolls distinctive flavor and helps with browning as well.)
  5. Brush the rolls with egg wash, score with a sharp knife or baker’s lame, sprinkle with coarse salt and seeds, if using, and bake them in the preheated oven for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the rolls turn deep brown. Don’t try to rush the process and don’t take them out too soon – you want them dark; this way they will be crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
  6. To make pretzels, divide the dough into equal portions, each about 50 g (1.7 oz.). Roll each piece into a long rope and twist into pretzel form. Let the pretzels rise the second time on baking sheets, give them a coat of egg wash, sprinkle them with salt/seeds, and bake at 400 °F (200 °C) for 12 – 15 minutes.
  7. The rolls are best on the day they’re made, but can be frozen and reheated/freshen up in the oven.
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Easter Carrots with Curried Egg Salad Filling

Easter is coming really early this year. The spring is playing with us in our neck of the woods – it teases us with blooming trees and sun here and there, and just when I’m ready to let out a sigh of a relief that the winter is finally over, we get slammed with two major windstorms within three days. And let’s not even get into the subject of spring cleaning. I know it should be done, I heard it can be very cathartic… I may even find some things I’ve been looking for all around the house for months. But just when I muster up the courage to tackle those windows, I remember my poor back, and the courage dissipates within seconds. I wish at least one of my personalities would like to clean, but alas, I haven’t had that luck. I take some comfort in the fact that the Easter Bunny is a male, and judging by the three male specimens I’ve had the opportunity to observe, they don’t see dust until it’s a layer one inch thick. We haven’t reached that stage yet, so I don’t think the Easter Bunny will mind enough to refuse to visit. Quite the contrary, I’m convinced he’ll come hopping whether we’re ready or not, and will try his best to kill us by cholesterol overdose as he does every year.

Unlike many other Easter traditions from back home that I’m not too fond of (how would you like to get whipped, albeit lovingly, just *a little*, and with the promise of great health and outstanding beauty next year, just because it’s Easter and you were born with a wrong chromosome?!), I actually like egg decorating. The thing is I always end up with way too many eggs to know what to do with, and after five days of eating hard boiled eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner my men are ready to start throwing them at me, or maybe even to become vegans if it means to never see eggs again.

But now we’re just starting out, and I see lots of deviled eggs, eggs on toast, and eggs in casseroles in our near future. Blue eggs, green eggs, red eggs; organic eggs, free-range eggs, omega-3 enriched eggs; whole eggs, sliced eggs, chopped eggs. So to start out the season right, and to make the Easter Bunny feel welcome, I made him these nice little carrots, filled with – wait for it – curried egg salad! I got the idea when I was making the sweet cream rolls some time ago. Those were made with puff pastry, and if you don’t feel like making yeast dough or simply don’t have the time, you could use puff pastry here too. I just wanted something a little more substantial and “bready” to accompany the salad, and I’m glad I went with yeast dough. The carrots emerged a little crunchy from the oven, but then softened some under the egg salad, and I liked the combo very much. It’s a wonderful finger food for lazy people who don’t want to bother with slicing bread for sandwiches 🙂 I think they turned out pretty cute, and would be a nice addition to your Easter table menu!

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Easter Carrots with Curried Egg Salad Filling

 Yeast Dough Carrots:
  • 500 g (1 lb.) bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 150 ml (5 oz.) olive oil
  • 300 ml (10 oz.) lukewarm milk
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 150 ml (5 oz.) olive oil
  • 2 ½ teaspoons dry yeast

+ carrot juice mixed with tomato paste – for brushing the carrots; egg white for egg wash

Curried Egg Salad:
  • 6 hardboiled eggs
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, finely diced
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves roasted garlic
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • salt & pepper to taste

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Method:
  1. To make the dough, combine the milk with the sugar and yeast; set aside for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place flour, salt, egg yolks, and oil in a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. When the yeast mixture is nice and bubbly, pour it to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. With a mixer on low speed, knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic. (If the dough is too dry, add in couple of tablespoons milk/water; if it’s too wet, add in some additional flour to achieve the right consistency. The dough should be soft, but firm.) Let the dough rise in a warm spot, covered, until it doubles in volume, about 50 minutes.
  3. Mix ¼ cup freshly squeezed carrot juice with 2 tablespoons tomato paste (use more or less till you like the color). Set aside – this will be your glaze for the carrots. Lightly butter and flour the cream horn molds. Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Roll the dough out quite thinly and then cut it into long thin strips, or roll them into thin ropes – mine were about 4 mm wide. Wrap the dough firmly around the molds. Place the mold upright and glaze the dough from all sides with the tomato – carrot mixture. You can add a coat off egg white to make the carrots shiny if you wish. Place the molds onto the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Bake the carrots for about 15 minutes until golden brown; let them cool for a while, take them off the molds, and let them cool completely.
  6. For the egg salad, mash up the eggs with a fork or chop them finely. Place them in a bowl with chopped pepper, celery, scallions, and garlic. Mix the rest of the ingredients into a dressing and pour it over the ingredients in the bowl. Chill.
  7. Fill the carrots with the salad; decorate with dill or fresh parsley leaves and serve.

Slovak Cod Fish Salad with Homemade Crescent Rolls

There are three things I can’t imagine my domestic goddess career without: Vitamix blender, a big enough food processor, and a strong stand mixer. In my book, they’re like the holy trinity of kitchen gadgets and I have an undying love for each one of them. Having said that, last Monday was a sad, sad day: My beloved KitchenAid, a trusty companion and mighty helper quite unexpectedly bit the dust. I put it on my Christmas list some ten years ago and it proved to be a true workhorse: it never let me down, managed to keep up with my crazy pace of one loaf plus some muffins (or rolls, or pasta) a day and did everything I asked for without a single glitch.

But then the fateful Monday came: out of the blue it breathed its last and left me to my destiny – with sticky hands, counters covered in flour and a sourdough starter bubbling away by the fireplace, ready to make some bread. Mr. Photographer took one glance at my sad puppy face and bless his heart, didn’t hesitate one second. He knows too well that a PMS-stricken woman that can’t calm her all-over-the-place emotions by much needed baking is nothing but bad news and presents a potential threat for the entire family, so he told me to promptly go order a new one and pay for express shipping. What can I say – I married a wise man 🙂

Thirty six hours later (not that I was counting!) my late KitchenAid’s red-colored cousin arrived to my doorstep and I’ve been a happy camper ever since. And this weekend the cheerful newcomer helped me to bring forth some homemade happiness: Slovak crescent rolls to accompany a traditional cod fish salad. Cod fish salad, with finely chopped onions, crunchy carrots, and loads of mayo, most often wolfed down with crispy crescents is a Slovak man’s food, and any guy back home could easily live on it for months on end, especially if he has some cold beer to wash it down with. The homemade version is million times better than the salad sold at delis and grocery stores, of course, and the crescents – crispy from the outside and soft and chewy on the inside – are a must; they round up the whole meal very nicely. The salad needs to be made a day before, so the flavors have time to marry… and the crescents are best fresh, straight from the oven 🙂 Please give this simple meal a try when you’ll be feeling adventurous and will want to branch out a little from the usual tuna salad sandwich!

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Slovak Cod Fish Salad with Homemade Crescent Rolls

(crescent recipe adapted from http://www.bonvivani.sk; recipe makes about 1 kg (2 lbs.) cod salad and 8 big crescent rolls)

Cod Salad:
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) fresh cod fillet
  • 3 l (qt.) water
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) + 5 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 big carrots
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • approximately 250 g (1/2 lb) good quality mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
  • 3 tablespoons mustard
  • salt & pepper to taste
Crispy Crescents:
  • 450 g (1 lb.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) milk, lukewarm
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 egg yolks mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • coarse salt & caraway seeds, for sprinkling
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Method:
  1. For the cod salad: Place 3 l (qt.) water with 1 cup vinegar into a deeper saucepan; add the bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes add in the cod fillets and continue to simmer for 10 additional minutes.
  2. While the fish is cooking, peel the carrots. Set aside.
  3. With a slotted spoon, take out the cooked fish from the water; set aside to cool. Place two whole carrots into the same vinegar water, and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, until still crunchy.
  4. Grate/finely chop the carrots into a big bowl. With a fork, tear the cooled fish meat into small pieces and add it to the carrots together with finely chopped onion.
  5. The quantities of the remaining ingredients are approximate; add as much mayo as to make a moist salad, and salt/pepper/vinegar to taste. Cover and let the salad rest in the refrigerator overnight before serving.
  6. For the crescents, combine yeast with lukewarm milk and 1 teaspoon sugar; set aside for 10 minutes to let the yeast “bloom”.  Place flour, oil, honey, and salt into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook.
  7. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, pour it to the ingredients in the bowl. Mix/knead the dough until smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes. If the dough looks too dry, add in couple tablespoons milk/water – 1 tablespoon at a time; if it’s too wet, sprinkle in some additional flour. (Mine was a little dry and I added in about a tablespoon of sour cream that needed to be used up).
  8. Transfer the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 50 – 60 minutes. Line two baking pans with parchment paper.
  9. When the dough has risen, punch it down and transfer it to a big wooden block (I didn’t even have to flour the board, the dough was very easy to work with.) Divide the dough into smaller balls, depending on how many/how big crescents you’d like to make – I  weighed it and divided it into 130 g (4.5 oz.) portions.
  10. Working with one portion at a time and keeping the rest of the dough balls covered, roll out each ball into an oval. Don’t roll out all the way, and keep one end of the oval thicker. Starting from the thicker end, start rolling the oval into a crescent, pulling the opposite end away to elongate the oval as much as possible without tearing it. Roll the crescents fairly thin (about 3 cm, a little over 1 inch and 15 cm, 6 inches long) – they will rise substantially during their second rise and while in the oven; making them longer and thinner is better. Place the crescent onto the parchment lined pan and continue making the crescents the same way.
  11. Cover the crescents with a clean dishtowel and let them rise the second time for about 15 minutes while preheating the oven to 400 °F (200 °C). Brush the crescents with egg wash and sprinkle them with coarse salt and seeds. Bake for about 15 – 17 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the crescents to a cooling rack to cool (and try not to eat them all while they’re still hot and crackly 🙂

 

Yeast Whey and Pumpkin Bread

It’s a gloomy Saturday afternoon, and as I sit in front of the fireplace waiting for my dough to rise, I think about Paris: its sunny streets, peppered with cafes, patisseries, and bakeries, offering the most wonderful sweet delights. Folks leisurely walking from the market with fresh baguettes and seasonal produce. But I suppose today the streets are empty. Paris, the very symbol of pleasure and joy, is stunned and mourning. Life’s on hold.

Bread is the epitome of life: it’s about growing, maturing, and nurturing. When things get chaotic and uncertain and I feel there is not much to lean on, I always instinctively turn to bread. No yoga or meditation helps me to anchor my wonky emotions more than the simple act of bread making. It is almost as if by touching the living dough and smoothing it out under my fingers I am trying to smooth out the life bumps that trouble me. In such moments I put everything into that loaf: all my sadness and anger and all my doubts and hopes are in it kneaded together.

“Give us this day our daily bread…”

All we really have in this world is this present moment; yesterday’s gone and no matter how much we’d like to know, we have no idea what the future will bring.  We make our bread for today, and only have the chance to grow today, nurture today, love today.  And if we get to tomorrow, we’ll start from scratch again. Fresh loaf. New strength. Fresh love.

But as long as there is a fresh bread rising in the oven, we live. And if we have people to break it with, then life – with all its uncertainties, pain, rough trails, and knobby edges – is worth living ❤

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Yeast Whey Pumpkin Bread

(adapted from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/aug/23/pumpkin-whey-bread-recipe-dan-lepard; makes two 1 kg (2 lb) loaves

  • 450 g (under 1 lb.) cooked pumpkin, drained
  • 450 ml (15 oz.) whey (leftover liquid from making yogurt or cheese); milk, or combination of buttermilk and water
  • pinch sugar
  • 4 ½ teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 50 ml (scant ¼ cup) olive oil
  • 1kg (2 lbs.) high-gluten bread flour
  • 4–5 teaspoons salt
  • oil, for kneading
  • extra flour, for shaping

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Method:
  1. Heat the whey (milk) until lukewarm. Add sugar and yeast, mix, and let stand for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place flour, salt, and pumpkin seeds in a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a kneading hook.
  3. When the yeast is bubbly, add it together with mashed pumpkin and oil to the flour mixture. Knead on a low speed for about 15 minutes, until the dough is smooth, soft, and elastic. (It should still be somewhat sticky, but if it seems too wet, add a little more flour, tablespoon at a time.)
  4. Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl, covered, for about 50 minutes, until doubled in size.
  5. Take the risen dough out of the bowl, punch it down, and divide it into two equal parts. Form each half into a nice round boule. Let the loaves rise again, covered, for about 30 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 425 °F ( 190 °C). Place the pot or the baking stone in the oven to preheat as well.
  6. Place the bread on the parchment paper on the baking stone or in the preheated pot. Bake for about 40 minutes until the bread is deep brown in color and sounds hollow when lightly tapped on the bottom.
  7. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Sun Pastries with Nutella

A couple weeks ago I came across a funny quote on Facebook: Stop trying to make everybody happy. You’re not a jar of Nutella.

It put a smile on my face – I mean, who doesn’t love Nutella?! – but at the same time it got me thinking: how often do we try to do just that? How often do we do everything we can to fulfill the needs and wants of people around us without even considering our own? We want to see those we love happy and want to make their lives easier. That’s love, that’s what spouses, parents, siblings, and friends do, right? But needs are funny. They don’t just go away, they kind of keep regenerating themselves instead. You take care of one, turn around to take a breath, and another three are already waiting for you, tapping foot impatiently. Pretty soon you feel just as a puppet in everyone else’s show, and don’t even have time to realize how miserable you are.

You can’t please everyone, and if you try, it always backfires. If you try to make everybody happy, more often than not nobody is happy at the end. Plus, people pleasing has its flip side: It’s resentment, and it finds its way to the surface one way or another. You can’t manage everyone else’s happiness. You can only manage your own, and in my case, even that not very well sometimes 🙂 There is really only one person you’re able to make happy: yourself.

If it means putting on your hiking boots and spending the day in the mountains, please do so. If it means taking a nice long bath instead of cooking on a Sunday, dive right in. (Nobody ever died because of a lack of cooked Sunday dinner.) In my case it means firing up the oven and baking, even though it’s finally not raining, and the weeds are taking over my yard. There were times when I’d worry what the neighbors might think; these days I think my neighbor the master gardener doesn’t give a hoot about my unkempt yard, because this way her gorgeous garden looks even better. And even if it isn’t so – I say life is too short to worry about other people’s expectations too much!

Figure out what brings sunshine into your life, and go for it. After all, we all have only one shot at this. Do it right.

Nutella Sun Pastries

Sun pastries with Nutella (makes 8 pastries)

Yeast Dough:
  • 3 cups (390 g, 13.5 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (100 g, 3.5 oz.) granulated sugar + 1 teaspoon to sweeten the milk
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, room temp
  • ¼ cup (55 g, 2 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup (150 ml) whole milk, lukewarm
  • 2 teaspoons instant dry yeast

+ 4 – 5 tablespoons Nutella

1 egg yolk + 2 tablespoons milk for egg wash

Method:
  1. Combine milk with 1 teaspoon sugar and yeast; set aside for 15 minutes to activate the yeast. Place all the other ingredients for the dough into a bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook.
  2. When the yeast mixture looks foamy, add it to the bowl. On a low speed, knead the dough until it forms a ball (I had to add about 2 tablespoons more flour; it depends on the size of your eggs. If the mixture looks dry, add milk/water, if it’s too moist, add flour, one tablespoon at a time.) When the dough forms a ball, knead it for additional 15 minutes, until it’s smooth, soft, and elastic. Transfer it to an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until it doubles in volume.
  3. Prepare two baking sheets and line them with parchment paper.
  4. On a floured surface, divide the risen dough roughly in half. Cover one half and set it aside for now.
  5. Roll out the other half into a square about 10 x 10 inches (25 x 25 cm) and 1/6 inch (6mm) thick. With a biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out circles about 3 inches in diameter. Place them onto the baking sheets with plenty of room between them (I did 4 circles per sheet).
  6. With a sharp knife, make cuts into each circle, as if cutting them into eights, but making sure not to cut all the way to the edges, and stopping about ½ inch (1 cm) from the edge of the circle. Take each resulting tip and turn it outward, forming little sun rays. When you are done, you will have 7 – 8 sun shapes with an empty circle in the middle. Cover them with a towel and set aside.
  7. Take the remaining half of the dough and roll it out into a rectangle 1/6 inch (6 mm) thick. Spread the dough with 4 – 5 tablespoons Nutella, and beginning from the long side, roll it up jelly roll style, pinching the edges. With a sharp knife, cut the roll into 7 – 8 equal pieces, and place each piece into the empty space of your little sun pastries on the baking sheet, pressing down lightly. (It is OK if the Nutella “snails” don’t fill-up the circles completely, they will get bigger during the second rise.) Cover the pastries and let them rise again for about 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (185 °C).
  8. Brush the pastries with an egg yolk mixed with milk, and bake for 13 – 15 minutes until golden brown.

Nutella Sun Pastries 2

Our daily (gluten-free!) bread

Marriage is supposed to make you grow. In this relationship you’ve willingly entered, you need to constantly learn, change, and adapt. My dear husband, Mr. Photographer, takes this requirement to grow very seriously. After many years of eating my food and being seemingly happy with it, he must’ve decided it was time for me to grow a bit, because one day, completely out of the blue, he came home from the doctor with a diagnosis of celiac disease.

*** Public service announcement: Gluten-free diet is not just another fad. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the gastro-intestinal tract, caused by a reaction to gluten – protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. The body of gluten-sensitive people is unable to absorb nutrients properly, and the only known treatment is a life-long gluten-free diet. The symptoms include gastrointestinal discomfort, anemia, and fatigue, but it is also possible to have celiac without any symptoms whatsoever. Those patients just find out incidentally during a regular check-up, and have the diagnosis confirmed by a blood test and a biopsy.***

You can guess which group of patients Mr. Photographer belongs to. Well, I always knew he was special 🙂

He was a trooper. Imagine being told that you can never have bread again. And bread is just the beginning – gluten hides in so many things you wouldn’t believe. But he just decided to concentrate on things he still could eat and enjoy. I, on the other hand, went through a period of real mourning. I’m a baker, darn it. What am I going to do?! After I came to terms with what I couldn’t change, I went to the store to look at what is available to people who need to be gluten-free. And I was surprised, and not in a good way. The breads were papery and sliced so thin you could see almost to the east coast through them. The baked goods were crumbly and dry. And since in that marriage deal I promised to take good care of Mr. Photographer, I’ve decided he would never have to suffer eating that sorry excuse of a food. And I set out to bake him good bread. Hearty, chewy, with a crispy crust. The kind of bread he used to love.

That’s when the real growing started. What’s the big deal? I thought. I’ve been baking forever and know what I’m doing by now. So what – I’ll just swap wheat flour for a gluten free one. It can’t be that hard! Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. My first loaves were hard as a rock and tasted horrible. My pride got hurt so many times I stopped counting. But I’m stubborn persistent. I kept at it, I experimented with different flours. I learned. I grew. I stretched. (Well, somebody had to, when that darn gluten free dough wasn’t going to, right?!)

Until one happy day we achieved bread.  And even though I baked countless different gluten free loaves since then, I keep coming back to this recipe, because it’s foolproof and mighty tasty. Over time, when I came to understand the characteristics of different GF flours,  I started to play around with it, using different flour combinations according to what I had on hand. It never disappoints.  And today I’m offering it to you as a proof that there is life after a celiac diagnosis that might be different, but it is still full of surprises and every bit as delicious as the life you used to know.

Gluten-free bread

Crusty gluten-free bread

(adapted from Gluten-free girl and the Chef)

For approximately four 1 lb. (½ kg) loaves you’ll need:
  • 2 cups (260 g, 9 oz.) brown rice flour
  • 1 ½ cup  (200 g, 7 oz.) sorghum flour
  • 3 cups tapioca starch (a.k.a. tapioca flour)
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons xanthan gum (or guar gum – used as a binder)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 2/3 cup water, divided
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Sunflower, pumpkin or caraway seeds (optional)
 Method:
  1. Heat 2/3 cup water till lukewarm, add a pinch of sugar. Mix in dry yeast and set aside for 10 – 15 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. In a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a flat beater, carefully combine all the dry ingredients. Add the yeast mixture, eggs, oil, honey. With the mixer on, start gradually adding water until you achieve dough with consistency of cookie batter. (The dough will be soft, not at all like gluten yeast dough. You might be tempted to add more flour, but resist the temptation. If you do add flour, your bread will be hard as a rock. Soft cookie batter consistency is what you’re going for. You might not need all the 2 cups of water, and that’s OK.)
  3. Mix the dough for 2 – 3 minutes to combine everything together.
  4. Scrape the dough into a clean bowl, and let it rise, covered, in a warm spot for about an hour, until doubled in volume.
  5. You can now bake the bread, or transfer the risen dough into a bowl with a lid, and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. Chilled dough is much easier to work with and has better flavor and texture as well.
  6. To make the bread: On a parchment paper, shape 1 lb. of dough into a small ball or a tapered loaf (wet your hands with a little water). Let the dough rest at a room temperature for 40 minutes, or 1 ½ hours if you pulled it out of the refrigerator.
  7. Half an hour before you’re planning to put the bread into the oven, put in a pizza stone, and heat the oven to 450 °F (230 °C). Put a metal baking pan on a rack below to preheat as well.
  8. Before baking, make ¼ inch (6 mm) deep slits on the top of the bread. Gently oil the top and sprinkle with seeds if desired.
  9. Transfer the bread onto a hot pizza stone in the oven (I put a small cutting board under the parchment and then slide the bread still on the parchment paper off the cutting board and onto a pizza stone).
  10. Pour a cup of water into a preheated pan on a lower rack and close the oven door. This will create a steam that will give your bread a crispy crust. (You can also throw a couple of ice cubes into the pan, just make sure the pan is not made of glass.)
  11. Bake the bread for about 35 minutes until light golden brown. (The internal temperature should be at least 180 °F, and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom). Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing.
 Note:

Unlike gluten based baking, when you use just one all-purpose flour, gluten free baking requires mixing various flour blends for different purposes. It might seem overwhelming at first, but you’ll quickly get a hang of it and might find it is actually pretty fun to play with different flour combinations. The flours used in gluten-free world are classified according to their density and nutritional value into 3 categories:

Light     – all the starches (tapioca starch, potato starch, corn starch, arrowroot powder)

Medium – sorghum, millet, quinoa,  (certified gluten-free) oat, bean flours

Heavy    – brown rice, buckwheat, almond, amaranth, teff flour

The recipe combines flours from each of the three groups: brown rice is a heavy flour, sorghum is a medium one, and tapioca starch belongs to a light category. You can sub the flours with any other alternative or combination from their respective categories, and are free to play around with many different possibilities. As long as you remember to sub heavy for heavy, medium for medium, and light for light, and stick to the quantities listed in the recipe, each of your breads will be unique and delicious.

The bread can also be baked in a loaf pan – it won’t be as crispy, of course, but it’ll still be very tasty. Just take 2 lbs. (900 g) of risen dough and place it into a lightly greased standard bread pan. With wet fingers smooth out the top and let the bread rise again in a warm spot while you preheat the oven until it rises a little over the top of the pan. (If taking the dough from the fridge, the second rise will take longer). Then bake the bread as written above – 30 – 35 minutes at 450 °F/230 °C. Let cool 5 minutes in the pan, then remove it from the pan and let cool completely.

And lastly, this wonderfully versatile dough also makes an awesome pizza! Just take 8 oz. (225 g) of the risen dough and spread it on a sheet of parchment paper into a thin circle (you can use a spatula or your fingers, just remember that a little water will help a lot to combat the stickiness 🙂 Drizzle the dough with olive oil and spread your favorite pizza sauce on top. Let the dough rest for a while (15 – 20 minutes), and then transfer it still on the parchment paper onto a hot pizza stone in an oven preheated to 400 °F/200 °C. Prebake the pizza for 7 minutes, then add your toppings and bake for 7 minutes more.