Lean and lovn' it: Finding gluten-free baked goods a process of trial and error
Finding a clear path through dense wheat fields to create gluten- free food plans befuddles many of us. I don't have issues with gluten. In fact, I believe that today's highly-hybridized wheat produces high-gluten flour that makes some of the best breads (those made by artisans; not Wonder bread clones) and pizza crusts I've ever seen or tasted.
Making and baking yeast-raised wheat breads at home isn't easy. If you've tried to make bread by hand from scratch (not with a bread machine) you know, unless you're a gifted cook, it can be a touchy process. However, when compared to making and baking wheat-free breads at home; it's a cinch.
That's why, several years ago when I first took a look at gluten-free food plans I headed to my local natural foods store's freezer case and bought already-made, gluten-free bread to sample. Those breads were professionally made and they were just OK, but hassle free.
Almond flour-based boxed-mix breads I've tried and shared with you have ended up being so-so; more like quick bread in texture and definitely missing wheat's flavor and yeasty aroma.
If you find store-bought gluten-free breads not to your liking you could make them at home and hope for better results.
I'm no food scientist; I'll leave that to the pros, which is why I often turn to food authorities. I recently learned that, after a lot of testing, Cook's Illustrated -- America's Test Kitchen came up with a wheat-free, gluten-free flour blend that consists of, in descending order by weight: white rice flour; brown rice flour; potato starch; tapioca starch; and nonfat dry milk powder. They were so pleased with this blend; they included it in their first gluten-free cookbook.
I'm sure that Cook's Illustrated's gluten-free, wheat-free blend works well. My only issue is where to find some of those somewhat unusual ingredients, like tapioca flour.
An easier way to create gluten-free, wheat-free breads, cookies, biscuits and even pizza crust can be to turn to a product line like Blends by Orly.
Orly Gottesman created a line of gluten-free, wheat-free flour blends to address the different end results home baker's want. For example, Orly's Manhattan Blend is made to produce good breads, like brioche and challah, as well as pastries. Her London Blend is blended to make gluten-free cookies, scones and biscuits. Orly has several other blends, too.
Orly's Manhattan blend for bread is made of (in descending order by weight) potato starch, tapioca starch, brown rice flour, sorghum flour, millet flour and long grain rice flour. Her London Blend for cookies brings together potato starch, sorghum flour, brown rice flour, long grain rice flour, soy flour, tapioca starch and quinoa flour. There are other blends you can check out at blendsbyorly.com.
I used Orly's Manhattan Blend to make a brioche and followed a recipe card for that brioche that came with my flour. The batter was so wet and sticky that I had to add an additional 1 cup more blend to be able to handle it. I also used more flour to dust the dough so I could work it without it sticking to everything.
The bread I made was braided a little too tightly and so it took 15 more minutes in the oven than the recipe stated and even then it was still not baked all the way through. Not sure why.
The finished warm brioche tasted good with a very light smear of butter but it was sweet, due to the honey. At $9 for a 20-ounce bag this brioche turned out to be far more expensive than any gluten-free, store-bought bread.
I made Orly's brioche a little differently than her recipe. For example, I used my oven to proof the bread and then heated the oven for baking after proofing was complete; the reverse of her recipe.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at don@ theleanwizard.com.