The color photographs in “Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five minutes a Day” – baguettes, pain d’epi, pretzels and lots more – are so beautiful, some loaves homey, some looking straight out of a French or German bakery, I could scarcely believe I was looking at gluten-free bread. The book, the fifth in a popular series by Dr. Jeff Hertzberg and pastry chef Zoë François, came about, they say, in response to many reader questions on their blog. Their previous books tackled artisan bread, healthy bread and pizza – all in five minutes a day.
Their idea – the coolest part of the book if you ask me – is what you don’t need to do in order to bake bread every day. You don’t need to wait for yeast to proof, or mix a new batch of dough, or knead (which helps develop gluten, which these recipes don’t have), or fuss over the rising process each day. Instead, their method calls for mixing up one large batch of dough and using pieces of it over the next five to 10 days to bake daily loaves. This method removes so many steps from the usual bread-baking process that homemade gluten-free bread every day is not only possible, it’s easy.
“Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” is great for newbies to gluten-free baking. The first 62 pages tell you what tools and equipment you need and what ingredients to stock in your pantry (such as ground psyllium husk and millet flour). This is also where you’ll find tips and techniques and straightforward questions and answers. A section explaining the difference between celiac disease, wheat allergies and wheat or gluten sensitivities is informative and simple enough that it won’t overwhelm you. Basically, the book clearly spells everything out for people who want to/need to avoid gluten.
There are also 90 very tasty-sounding gluten-free recipes, from Peasant Loaves and Wisconsin Beer-Cheese Bread to Focaccia with Onion and Rosemary. The ingredients lists are written in chart form so home bakers can use either weight measurements (metric or ounces) or cups and teaspoons; black and white step-by-step photos are scattered throughout the recipes, too. At first, when I saw that at least a few pages are involved in making many of the recipes, I was overwhelmed by the whole idea of baking gluten-free anything. Before you can even start on the recipe you select, you have to make a basic wheat-free flour (which you can use for most of the recipes in the book). But once I went ahead and made that, my confidence grew, and I decided to try my luck with Crisp Cheesy Bread Sticks, a variation on Vermont Cheddar Bread.
Happily, the recipe was much easier than I’d anticipated. The dough was a little sticky to work with, so you really do need the wet fingertips the authors suggest. The biggest problem I had was transferring the strips to the prepared pan so I could bake them – they fall apart pretty easily. Next time, I will cut them wider and, fingers crossed, they’ll be easier to handle.
Soon after the bread sticks came out of the oven and had a chance to cool slightly, they tasted crunchy and chewy and wonderful. The next day, they were a little tougher, but I can’t imagine that if you made these for a gathering, you’d have any leftovers anyhow. (Plus all sorts of breads taste better on day one.)
I have baked all my life and am finding gluten-free baking takes some trial and error, exactly what the authors themselves discovered. “We lived through a steep learning curve,” they wrote. For me, it is a real adjustment. With “Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five minutes a Day” in hand, I’m off to a great start. I can’t wait to try all the recipes now that I am beginning to understand how it all works.
Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
You need this basic flour in order to make many of the recipes in the book, including Crisp Cheesy Bread Sticks. The authors call it their “workhorse flour.”
Makes about 4¼ pounds of flour mixture.
6 cups white or brown rice flour
3¼ cups sorghum flour
1¾ tapioca flour or starch
1¼ cups potato starch
¼ cup xanthan gum or ground psyllium husk
The ingredients must be very well mixed, or the xanthan gum will not be evenly distributed and your loaves will be inconsistent. Whisk and mix the ingredients in a 5- to 6-quart lidded container. Finish by picking up the container and vigorously shaking until the flours are completely blended.
Crisp Cheesy Bread Sticks
These are made from the same dough as Vermont Cheddar Bread, and you could use this same recipe to make 4 loaves of that. The bread sticks took 18 minutes in my oven, a little longer than the instructions called for.
Yields 4 batches of bread sticks
6 cups of Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (recipe above)
1 tablespoon granulated yeast
1½ tablespoons kosher salt (or less)
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
3½ cups lukewarm water
1 cup grated cheddar cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
Olive oil, for drizzling
Coarse salt and herbs, for sprinkling
1. Mixing and storing the dough: Whisk together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar (if using) in a 5- to 6-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
2. Add the water and the grated cheese and gradually mix them in, preferably using a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for 1 minute, until the dough is smooth.
3. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises, approximately 2 hours.
4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate it in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 7 days. Or freeze for up to 3 weeks in 1-pound portions and thaw in the refrigerator overnight before use.
5. On baking day: Pull off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece of dough.
6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with oil or butter or line with parchment paper.
7. On a well-floured surface press out the dough into an 8-x13-inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick, adding Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour as needed to prevent sticking. Cut along the long side into ¼-inch-wide strips using a pizza cutter or sharp knife.
8. Very carefully pick up the strips (a long spatula is helpful) and lay them on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about ½-inch apart. Drizzle olive oil over the strips and sprinkle with coarse salt, cheese and/or herbs.
9. Bake the bread sticks in the middle of the oven for 10 to 16 minutes. The bread sticks are done when nicely browned and beginning to crisp. They will firm up when cool.