The weather here has suddenly turned cold and wintery, and I, in turn, have started cooking as if my life depended on it. In the last week I've made roasted corn salad, corn bread, and brownies in mass quantities, all now stocked away in my freezer. Except for the corn salad. That only lasted a couple days in the fridge before I devoured it. (And don't worry, there are recipes to come!)
After cooking an enormous pot of soup yesterday, I decided that I urgently needed Russian black bread to go with it. I managed to find a recipe on an ancient gluten-free message board, and off I went to the kitchen. I was a little nervous as I put it in the oven, because after the addition of several dough-additives that I haven't experimented with before, the raw dough was feeling a bit rubbery.
Turns out that was a good thing.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have a loaf of gluten-free bread that my flat mates, my friends, and even my impossible-to-feed younger brother would happily scarf down. And I'm not sharing.
After waiting impatiently for the dough to finish rising and baking, I pulled this beautiful, rustic bread out of the oven and tapped the bottom as instructed. It sounded hollow. And the loaf had... spring! Elasticity, even. It didn't feel like a brick in my hands. It felt like a loaf of bread. And the crust was perfectly brown and pliable - it hadn't hardened into an impenetrable shell like I've grudgingly become accustomed to.
I managed to refrain from digging into it long enough to take some photos - which, as I waited impatiently for the camera battery to charge, was a lot longer than I would have liked. But it was worth the wait. I cut off a slice, and... well, first of all, it actually let itself be sliced. It didn't crumble in my hands. I had a perfectly-formed slice of lovely, soft, airy bread that looked and felt like actual bread. And when I bit into it - heaven. A soft velvety crumb with just the right chewiness. It reminded me of the homemade white bread I baked with my mom as a kid.
But the flavor was even better. The heady taste of caraway seeds, cocoa, and tiny morsels of orange peel exploded in my mouth - I've never had rye bread this good before. The orange peel makes this hands down my favorite recipe in a long time. I know the ingredients may not be things you have on hand - even if you're a regular gluten-free baker - but trust me, it's worth it to find them. And once you have them on hand, there will be enough left for several more delicious, fluffy loaves after you've polished this one off.
[Note: I should have been more clear about the extra dough additives - Sure-Jell, gelatin, and xantham gum are used to help improve the texture of gluten-free bread. Since gluten (the protein in wheat and some other flours) is very stretchy, it allows yeast breads to rise and gives them their distinct texture. Without any xanthan gum or other binding agent, gluten-free breads don't rise properly, and their texture is... not very good, to say the least.
If you can eat gluten, and want to try this recipe, just use three cups of normal bread flour in place of the flour/corn starch combination, and omit the gelatin, Sure-Jell, and xanthan gum.]
"I Can't Believe It's Not Gluten" Black Bread
Adapted from Mike Jones' recipe on enabling.org
If you add the gelatin with the dry ingredients, be sure it is designed to dissolve in cold water. If you have traditional gelatin, dissolve it in the warm milk with the liquid ingredients. You'll find Sure-Jell fruit pectin with other jelly-making supplies, most likely near the baking section.
1.5 C. white or brown rice flour
3/4 C. Buckwheat flour
3/4 C. corn starch
1 packet yeast
1 tsp. plain gelatin (cold-dissolving)
1 Tbs Sure-Jell (fruit pectin)
1Tbs xanthan gum or guar gum
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbs corn meal
2-4 Tbs caraway seeds
1 tsp finely grated orange peel
1 C. milk, warmed to about 80°
1/2 C. strong coffee, 80° or room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs molasses
Turn the oven onto the lowest possible setting.
Grease a baking sheet lightly and sprinkle with cornmeal.
1. The dry ingredients:
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. The yeast can be mixed directly with the flour and dry ingredients - but if you think your yeast might be getting a bit old, proof it first and then add with the wet ingredients.
2. The wet ingredients:
In a medium bowl, warm the milk and coffee slightly (and make a mug for yourself, while you're at it!). Beat in the eggs, olive oil, and molasses.
3. Making the dough:
Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the liquid. Stir until everything is completely combined and the dough is pulling cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. If you need a bit more liquid, add milk or coffee a teaspoon at a time. Don't do what I always do a free-pour directly into your dough. You don't want soggy bread dough, trust me.
4. Knead and rise
Knead the dough in the bowl for a few minutes to help mix everything thoroughly. This is a stiffer dough than many gluten-free blends, but it still won't knead like normal gluten dough, so don't worry about it. Turn the dough out onto the prepared baking sheet and shape into a rough loaf. Turn the slightly-warmed oven off and let the dough rise for about 90 minutes.
5. Baking the bread
When the dough is done rising, turn the oven temperature up to 350°, leaving the bread inside. Bake for 50 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Remove the loaf immediately and let it cool on a wire rack.
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