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This is how my brain works:

I’m hungry, what’s for dinner? Sees onions. Mmmmm French Onion Soup would be fabulous. But I can’t have French Onion Soup without bread. That calls for a nice baguette, or French bread. Yes, I must now make French bread. Google and Pinterest search. Ensues epic gluten-free baguette quest.

My first search brought me here. This is a recipe from an expert, so it should totally work, right? FAIL. I’m not sure what kind of magical kitchen she has that turns those ingredients into a dough right after you combine them, but that didn’t even come close to happening in my kitchen. I got runnier-than-pancake-batter dough. So I let it sit. And sit. And sit. 18 hours later, I plopped it onto a stone and into the oven, and got…I don’t even know what that was, but I had to bake it just to see what would happen. Into the trash that went (trust me, not salvageable, and I’m the queen of saving things). So, I searched some more. And I caved. I needed a kitchen scale. I keep reading about how much better it is to weigh rather than measure your flour, and the face of Gluten Free Girl keeps scolding me every time I dip a measuring cup into my flour bins (so I bought this one, it’s AWESOME and so bright yellow you can see it from space and yes, I know it was expensive but I just had to have one RIGHT NOW and this is the brand my local kitchen store carried). And I just needed to prove to myself that I could be an epic baker like all the fabulous people who’ve participated in the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally. I read a few more things, like this post for gluten-containing baguettes and this post and this post on gluten-free baguettes. But I was determined to keep it simple, with ingredients like those in that first expert recipe that went so wrong. And wouldn’t you know, in the end (and oh so many loaves of bread in my freezer later) I came really close to replicating that recipe! I finally realized that my many baguette “failures” weren’t actually failures, I just needed to reframe and rename: they were actually loaves of French bread, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that! (I just have to find something to do with some of these other loaves…)

So, this took multiple tries and multiple versions of flour blends so appreciate it damnit, using the principles of the Ruhlman ratio (flour, water, salt, yeast). The Ruhlman ratio alone wasn’t completely working, and that’s ok, it shouldn’t, and I kind of figured that going into it. Gluten-free flours are whole grains that behave differently and absorb more water. And even though I have plenty of luck without xanthan gum in cakes, cupcakes, and cookies, bread doesn’t always work that way. It needs true binding and levening agents, something to give it that airy, chewy texture so unique to bread. But you (might) know how I feel about xanthan gum. Well, a few months back I bought psyllium husk, in an effort to find something natural to give my colon a kick in the butt (pun intended). You can add it to just about anything (smoothies, water, milk, cereal), and I had seen it a few times in gf bread recipes before. I decided this was worth my money: way more versatile and cheaper than xanthan gum (roughly $0.83 an ounce compared to upwards of $1.37 an ounce), and maybe healthier? It at least has properties that are immediately useful to me.

Ruhlman Ratio: 20 ounces of flour, 12 ounces of water (that’s 5:3), 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon yeast

My new scale!

My new scale!

My Final Ingredients:
20 ounces total, as follows: 2 teaspoons psyllium husk (o.2 ounces), 13.5 ounces white rice flour, 5 ounces tapioca flour, 1.3 ounces potato starch
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
14 ounces of very warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons INSTANT yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten (room temperature)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Ingredients explained:
1. This is the random mixing of flours and starch that worked for me (which is the wrong way to go about it, I know, but it worked). You can do just about anything you like here, and I would recommend a higher tapioca to rice flour ratio. My rice flour isn’t extremely fine, so more tapioca flour might smooth out the texture a bit, or use brown rice flour instead of white. (I also plan on trying this with buckwheat flour, I just haven’t been able to pick up any in a while.) And psyllium husk is added at roughly 1 teaspoon for every cup of flour, but you could also do the same with ground flax seed, or, if you must, xanthan or guar gum.

2. The sugar is both for the yeast and to help with a browner crust, so I opted for only 2 tablespoons, so as not to really taste the sweetness.

3. After many tries with both dry active and instant yeast, I prefer instant, there’s no need for proofing. You do, however, need to make sure that your flours and salt are well combined before you add the yeast; I hear that salt might affect it somehow. I didn’t want to ruin another dough so I went with it.

4. The eggs are for levening and moisture, the olive oil is for moisture and flavor, and the apple cider vinegar is the acid that helps to create a happy environment for the yeast (you could use white or rice).

Mixing and Baking:
1. I struggled for a while to get a dough that would rise well, which is the major issue with gluten-free baking. One problem is that I can’t yet afford a standing mixer, so I do everything by hand or with my handheld electric mixer when appropriate. Using a standing mixer really helps to combine the ingredients and add air, making the bread fluffy and contributing to the air pockets that elevate the bread. So, I decided, after many attempts at hand mixing, to give my electric hand mixer a go, but with only 1 mixing attachmnet rather than both. At the very least, there’s no gluten (obviously) to overbeat, so a hard, stiff bread can’t be blamed on the mixing.

2. I tried the 200 degree warm oven method for proofing the dough and letting it rise, but in the end I kept getting a dry, crackly bread. So, I opted for Nicole’s method (from Gluten-free on a Shoestring). I got a kitchen towel wet and wrung out the water, and microwaved it for about a minute and a half, to get it very hot and steamy. I covered my bowl of dough loosely with plastic wrap, and when the hot towel was ready I quickly opened the door, shoved in my bowl, covered it with the towel, and slammed it shut (trying to keep steam from escaping, so there are no pictures, I had to act with lightening speed). Let it sit for 20 minutes, without opening the door (and don’t turn the microwave on…). I didn’t get a good rise the first time, so I had to do it again (which Nicole said was ok, so I didn’t panic), and for my second go there was definitely a noticeable difference in size, but just for good measure I did it again, but for only 10 minutes (it’s been awfully dry here these past few weeks, could be it?). And it was marvelously poofy. (And I’ve done this twice now, both times I had to go for an extra 10 minutes.) Thanks, Nicole!!

3. For the baking of my final loaves, I used a sheet pan with parchment paper, sprinkled with cornmeal, but I also tried using a baking stone for my other loaves, which worked just fine. A few times I also put a skillet in the preheating oven to warm up, and poured about 2 cups of water in it during baking time to create steam to enhance the crust. But my final loaves came out crusty just fine without this step.

Steps:
In a large bowl, mix the flours, starch, psyllium husk, sugar and salt. Once well combined, add the yeast. Make an indention in the center, and pour in the water. If you have a standing mixer, crank that baby up and paddle mix away. If you have a hand mixer, using only 1 attachment, start gently beating to combine the water and flour. It’ll get gluey, it’s ok. Then add in the lightly beaten eggs and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, mixing until incorporated. Then add the teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, mixing well until your “glue” is coming together more smoothly (a couple of minutes, and a few more for good measure). It should be wet and jiggly, not a true dough.

Just after the water, before eggs, oil and vinegar

Just after the water, before eggs, oil and vinegar

all ingredients combined

all ingredients combined

Next, start the microwave proofing method, as described above. I went for a total of 50 minutes, 2 20-minute sessions and 1 10-minute session to get that rise we’re looking for.

almost doubled in size!

almost doubled in size!

Now, the baguette-shaping part. I wrapped a large cutting board in plastic wrap and extremely-well dusted it with tapioca flour. With well-floured hands, I scooped up a third of the dough and plopped it down on the board, then well-dusted the top of my blob with more tapioca flour. This should be enough to start kneading your blob into a workable dough. I folded it into itself many times, and then started rolling it around the board into a cylinder. When it got close to a baguette length, I pinched the ends and very carefully lifted it off the board and onto my parchment paper. Repeat for 3 loaves of French bread (these spread a little when resting, so make sure you have anough room between each loaf).

resting before baking

resting before baking

Brush each loaf with olive oil or lightly spray with cooking spray (or even melted butter), and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for about halfan hour, but no more than an hour. It should puff up a little bit and spread. Preheat your oven to 375. Place your sheetpan in the oven, with a piece of tinfoil loosely over the loaves, and turn the temperature down to 350. Bake for about 20 minutes, and then pull the rack out to see what’s going on. I decided to spray it with a little more oil in some dry spots (could’ve used butter), then pushed it back in and let it go for another 25-30 minutes, uncovered. Finally, I cranked the oven up to broil, to get a nice brown top crust, for about 7-8 minutes.

photo 3 (2)
photo 4 (2)

Did I ever get around to making French Onion Soup? Nope. Did I spend days trying to make a French bread? Yes. Am I happy with the result? Extremely. It’s not perfect, I’d like to get a higher loaf, but it has a lovely crunch with really soft insides. So, we’ll call it Artisinal. :)

Now, I have a ridiculous amount of bread. Some I like, some I don’t. So, what to do? Make Bread Pudding, DUH!