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Baked Goods

Feb 10

Happy Valentine’s Day

Pictured: Basically yummy cookie dough from Enjoy Life Foods.

My father’s mother graduated from high school a year early.  She’d just turned 17, and no one wanted to hire someone so young.  So she put on high heels and make-up, and she got a job doing filing at a wholesale flooring distributor.  It wasn’t long before a 23-year-old salesman who’d worked his way up from stock boy noticed her.  She lied to him about her age, too… they were married six months later.

My mother’s father was drafted not long after he married my grandmother.  He lucked out… after basic training in Texas, he deployed to Germany.  (The rest of his unit, stationed in Korea, did not make it.)  He was stationed in Dresden from 1951-1953.  Every week, he would walk down to the china shop with his paycheck and buy my grandma another piece of her dinner set, which he’d ship home from base.  A dozen place settings, each almost as many pieces, and not one of them broke.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Feb 10

With breads like these, who needs wheat?

A few days ago I baked a wonderful loaf of rosemary bread, adapted from the recipe for Gluten-Free Crusty Bole that appeared in Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois’ Healthy Breads in Five Minutes a Day.  I served it warm with butter, rosemary infused olive oil, italian spices and a pinch of parmesan cheese.  Jashin liked the texture.  I liked the crispy crust and soft inside, and the fact that this bread I could eat.

The quest for decent bread has been ongoing since my diagnosis.  The day after I went gluten-free, I remember optimistically layering turkey and cheese between two nearly-translucent slices of Ener-G tapioca bread.  I spit the first bite out and began to cry.  I’ve since found better breads.  I’ve also found out that bread is not an essential product for day-to-day living, but mostly a convenient vehicle for transferring other food to your mouth.  I crave bread less and less these days, but I’ll go in spurts where all I want to do is find that perfect loaf.  I tend to find a loaf I like (or at least can tolerate), eat it too often, and burn out.

Take Kinnikinnick.  With a half-dozen frozen loaves, they’re a staple in many gluten-free pantries.  Frozen has its advantages – no spoilage – but popping a slice of bread in the microwave for a few seconds and toasting the hell out of it does not make it taste like Wonder bread.  I find Kinnikinnick’s various tapioca loaves tolerable, but only if toasted (preferably with cheese).  A girl can only eat so many grilled cheese sandwiches.

If you live in the U.K., Sainsbury’s is a godsend to the Celiac.  Their “freefrom” line has little sandwich baguettes, rolls and toast that all hold up reasonably well when stuffed full of chicken salad, and at prices far more reasonable than what you see here.  But alas, their grocery delivery program is not transcontinental.

I got a bread maker from my brother and his wife for Christmas a few years ago, and that’s when I started baking my own bread.  Unfortunately, a gluten-free loaf doesn’t hold up as well as wheat bread through all the various rise cycles.  I did find I liked the original Breads from Anna mix, but it was always a bit persnickety.  It would usually still be doughy in the center when the cycle stopped, meaning I had to manipulate it out of its basket and onto a pan to bake in the oven.  It also had a very tough, hard crust of which I was never a fan.  Still, it had  good texture (for a day or two), but like most gluten-free breads, it would go from rock on to rock solid in no time at all.

There was a wonderful natural foods store that I visited all the time in Springfield, Ill., that carried a millet and flax loaf from Sami’s Bakery, which is in Florida.  It came fresh – not frozen – but could handle a deep chilling and retain its flavor and texture.  It was great for toast and sandwiches, and it had a wonderful “seed” flavor from the specks of flax.  I loved this loaf, and perhaps my quest should have ended here. But it’s not available locally in Columbia, and even more trouble, it’s not baked in a dedicated gluten-free facility.  Now, I don’t usually let this trouble me.  Plants scrub down lines between batches, and the chance for cross-contamination is usually slim.  But there are a lot of reports online about sickness stemming from Sami’s that are quite troubling, even though I’m of the general opinion that a lot of people just post on GF message boards to complain.

Then there was the crusty yeast loaf from the Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook, which was easy enough to make (you don’t mess with yeast, just dump in a bottle of Redbridge).  It tasted wonderfully salty in the potato soup I made that night, but by the next morning – even stored in an airtight Lock ‘n Lock container – it was dry and hard.  I’d make it again, but only if serving it to a large enough crowd there wouldn’t be leftovers.  It wasn’t a good enough sandwich bread, and besides, I don’t really want my perfect loaf to be of the dairy-free, egg-free variety, because I can eat all of those things, and why deprive myself of more than I have to?

Back to the rosemary loaf.  One of the blogs I watch regularly is Gluten-Free Girl, and while I respect Shauna’s dedication to serving her family the best food made from the best ingredients, I don’t have the money or resources to cook the way she does.  You’ll hear me make this comment a lot.  I’m all for gluten-free food that tastes good.  I’m all for cookies and cakes and muffins, and I agree with Shauna that I shouldn’t have to make something gluten-free for myself and cook a big gluten-y meal for everyone else.  But I also can’t spend $10 a bag for amaranth flour… at least not very often.

Last week Shauna posted a gorgeous loaf of crusty boule, a recipe she’d helped adapt for Healthy Breads in Five Minutes a Day.  I almost scrolled past it because I didn’t have any millet flour, and I was low on white rice and potato starch flour as well.  But I was surprised to find Shauna’s version – chock full of rosemary and kalamata olives – did not contain any ingredients that were unfamiliar to me.  I went straight to the source.

(Hertzberg and Francois recommend making big batches of dough – enough for three and four loaves – to store in your fridge and use as needed.  I might do that next.  But this time, since I was trying one of their recipes for the first time, I decided to make a single batch.  I’m including the measurements that I used.)

Rosemary Boule
Adapted from Gluten-Free Crusty Bole, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

1/2 c brown rice flour
3/8 c sorghum flour
3/4 c tapioca starch
1 1/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2/3 cups lukewarm water
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
2 T olive oil (I used a 50/50 blend of extra virgin and rosemary-infused)
1 1/2 tsp white sugar

Makes 1-1 lb. loaf

Whisk together flour and other dry ingredients in a large bowl with a lid.  Form a well, add the egg.  Mix the liquid ingredients and sugars and add slowly, mixing continuously.  Mixture will be very wet .  Cover bowl with plastic wrap or loose lid and let rise on the counter for two hours.  Move to the fridge and chill overnight or longer.

On baking day, remove the dough to a clean surface and smooth the top over with wet hands.  Let rise for 90 minutes.  With 30 minutes rise time left, pre-heat a cast-iron Dutch oven in a 500 degree oven (don’t worry if your Dutch oven didn’t cost upwards of $200.  I got mine for $30 at Wal-Mart and it did just fine).  Carefully – and I mean carefully – lower the dough into the Dutch oven at the end of the rise time.  With a sharp bread knife, score the top of the loaf.

Bake for 20 minutes, lid on, at 500 degrees.  Reduce the temperature to 450 degrees, remove the lid, and bake 15 minutes longer.  Remove the pan carefully from the oven (it’ll be hot enough to burn through most oven mitts), and pull the loaf from the pan.  Allow to cool completely before slicing… or else you’ll get a “gummy” texture that’s common with gluten-free breads cut too soon.  Serve to your friends.  Don’t tell them it’s gluten-free.

In other news, I’m attempting to make a gluten-free version of 7-up cake – you know, the kind your Grandma on Weight Watchers used to make, the one with a Jiffy white cake mix and a can of diet lemon-lime soda?  No?  Just mine, then?

Jan 10

A dog’s life

Tip: If you’re going to use your dog’s birthday as an excuse to make cupcakes, be sure to stock up on skeleton sprinkles at Halloween.

birthday cupcakes

Happy birthday, Kingsley!  (Don’t worry, I didn’t feed my 7-pound puppy dog a fistful of chocolate.  He got a treat from Foppers to celebrate his special day.)

Kingsley's birthday cookie

His understand of “cookie” was limited at best.  Having made a half-hearted attempt to lick off all the icing, he abandoned said cookie when he couldn’t figure out how to pick it up.

Jan 10

Enjoy Life Cookies for Everyone

I have Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that prevents me from absorbing the gluten protein found in wheat, barley, rye and commercial oats.  There are a lot of blogs out there that bill themselves as gluten-free.  This isn’t one of them.  By virtue of necessity, everything I cook is gluten-free, and a tag labeling my recipes as such would just be superfluous.  I won’t spend a lot of time waxing prosaic about joys or heartaches of gluten-free cooking.  Yes, I feel much better on a gluten-free diet.  No, gluten-free pizza will never taste the same as wheat pizza.  I might talk about new gluten-free products from time to time, and you can bet my recipes for baked goods will include strange flours like tapioca and sorghum.  But there’s no need to call attention to that fact.  Yes, I ask a million questions before ordering in a restaurant.  No, I’m not a freak.  My body just works a little differently than yours.

I won’t lie – I fantasize about a day when there’s a pill to alleviate the symptoms of gluten-intolerance, just as there is today for lactose intolerance.  I’m not an expert or a doctor, and I don’t know if this is a pipe dream.  There are a lot more good gluten-free recipes and products on the market right now – good, but not always great.  I miss wheat a lot less today than I did three years ago when I was first diagnosed.  I don’t want to pay $4 for a teensy sack of all-purpose flour that isn’t all that versatile.  But that’s my reality, and I try not to dwell.

Enjoy Life Cookies for Everyone

If you (or someone you love) has food allergies, do something nice for yourself.  Get a copy of Enjoy Life Cookies for Everyone, one of the best allergen-friendly baking handbooks I’ve ever seen.  It’ll help you cook not just for people like me, but for people with any of the eight most common allergens.  Not all of the recipes are foul proof.  A lot of the bar cookies and cakes I like to make so much still dry up after just two days, as gluten-free baked goods are wont to do.  Sometimes the recipes need a little tweaking because of personal tastes or individuals needs (for instance, I can eat eggs and dairy, and I often miss those flavors in this recipe collection).  Othertimes, the recipes are spot-on, and my tasters can hardly believe they’re eating gluten-free.  If you’re interested in baking gluten-free, start here.  The more you work these recipes, the better you’ll understand how these ingredients work together to create a baked good that’s as close to what you remember as possible.

When stripped down to their ingredients, most meals are gluten-free.  Proteins, vegetables, fruits, spices and oils are all a part of a gluten-free diet.  I want the frustrated, newly-diagnosed Celiac to find easy-to-follow recipes here, like a light at the end of the tunnel.  But I don’t want to write myself into a niche.  If the aspiring home cook can find just as much inspiration in my words, then that’s when I’ll know I’ve succeeded.