Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Focaccia, Gluten Free and Delicious!

Gluten free: a story of loss and rediscovery 

You might be thinking, “why are you talking about loss?”  Well for me, much of my experience in becoming gluten free has been working through loss.  Not loss in the same sense as grief but loss of what I once knew.  What I once lived. What I once depended on.  What I once ate! 

As you might have already figured out, I love food.  I love to eat it and I love to create it.  I love gathering with friends and family over a good meal - and a great bread.  The process of cooking, baking and creating is such a big part of who I am.  But as many people are discovering, I have learned that living without gluten is best for my body.  But what I didn’t realize was what a huge loss that would be for me.  How would I survive without bread and pasta?!

I was a self-described ‘carb-queen’.  I could live on bread.  I loved going to a bakery and buying freshly baked baguettes and would even nibble on them in the car ride home because I couldn’t wait until I got home to try it.  I loved baking cakes, muffins, cookies ... anything really.  However, most of those recipes were packed with flour and I could no longer have it.  I’m pretty strong-willed, so at first, I thought to myself, “no big deal.  I can cope with no flour or gluten.” But I was grossly underestimating my addiction to my doughs.  So I went through my process of learning to let go.  

What I came to realize over the next year, as I adjusted my diet and style of baking, was that it wasn’t as devastating as I made it out to be .... it was just a new perspective.  I learned to let go of what I thought I wanted and what I knew in my world of food.  And through my search for replacement breads, I came to the realization that this is my new norm and this is just fine!  

Gluten free bread recipes are the talk of the town (and food blogs), many of the conversations focusing on how to have a true replica of that tasty bakery bread.  What I have come to see is that I don’t need a replica, rather a new style.  But I don’t want to sacrifice taste, quality and that satisfying bite of a true baked item, that I can dip and butter and enjoy!

I have read many, many, many cookbooks, recipe sites, food blogs and experimented with all sorts of alternatives for a basic traditional bread.  Many were really dense, sour, bland, gritty and tasteless. My own recipes included!   But in letting go of my old expectations, I have discovered a wonderful new world and a fantastic new style of baking.  I became a patient, more tolerant and less frantic baker in the process.  And, now I have some awesome GF breads to eat and enjoy (with the help of some fantastic forerunners in this GF world!).  

I came across the following recipe for gluten free focaccia and let me say, it’s amazing.  The developers of this recipe, Kelli and Peter Bronski, from http://noglutennoproblem.blogspot.com, have a great personal story of their process of becoming gluten free.  But here’s my take on their recipe.

Gluten Free Focaccia Recipe, adapted from Kelli and Peter Bronski's book, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking

1 cup warm water (between 110-115 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
1 1/2 cups of Artisan Gluten Free Flour Blend *
1 teaspoon xanthum gum
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon olive oil
Dried rosemary, oregano and/or basil
Course salt, ground
    • In a measuring cup, put warm water (110-115 degrees; you should use a thermometer to check so the yeast is properly activiated), add sugar and yeast.  Stir well and let sit for five minutes.  This will start to foam and thicken.  That’s just what you want.
    • Meanwhile, in an electric mixer (or in a large bowl by hand) mix dry ingredients.  Mix well to incorporate.  
    • In a separate bowl add egg and two tablespoons of olive oil.  Mix well until blended and very yellow.  
    • When the yeast is foamy and ready, add the egg mixture into the measuring cup of the yeast mixture.  Turn the mixer on low and slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry.  I find that if you mix it for just a minute on slow, so that all of the ingredients are well incorporated, then turn the mixer to high for just five seconds, it adds a nice airy-ness to the ‘dough’.   (Now keep in mind, this ‘dough’ will look a lot more like a traditional muffin batter.  It’s stickier and more ‘batter-like’... and that’s just what you want.  You don’t want it to appear like a lump of bread dough!  Remember, it has no gluten.  And, though it may be tempting to add some flour to this -- don’t!  Your bread will get too dense and hard and be like a hockey puck.
    • Gently spread the mixture into a greased pie dish (or square ceramic 9x9 dish).  Add the extra tablespoon of olive oil on the top.  This will also help to spread the mixture to the edges of the plate.  Sprinkle with course salt and herbs.
    • Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 20 minutes in a warm part of your kitchen.
    • Remove plastic wrap and bake at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.  Sometimes I add a small drizzle of olive oil over the top, when I first take it out of the oven, for extra flavor.
    • This will serve about 8-10 people.  

* Kelli and Peter Bronski have developed an amazing blend of gluten free flours as an alternative in baking gluten free products.  Their cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, offers many recipes that are delicious and tempting.  You can refer to their website or their book for the recipe mix.  

Let us know how yours works out.