I was exhausted last night, and heading to bed, when I thought “hey, if I make up a sponge, I can try making bread again tomorrow.” I’m sure that most people would just have gone to bed… but I did some quick recipe surfing, pulled out my flours, and then realized that all of my measuring cups were dirty, and I had just started the dishwasher, so I couldn’t wash any by hand. Again, most people probably would have just gone to bed, but I scrounged around and came up with a shaker that had liquid ounce measurements on it, and proceeded to use it to measure my flour and my water. It felt a little ridiculous to be measuring flour in a shaker covered with recipes for alcoholic drinks, but it worked. I added the flour and water to my yeast and sugar, and headed off to bed, only twenty minutes or so later than I had intended.

A sponge, or preferment, is a way to give flavor to your bread. Basically, you mix some of your flour with all of your liquid and yeast, and allow the mixture to sit, anywhere from 8 hours to 24, before making your bread. Since I started my sponge last night, when I woke up this morning, I had a happy bubbly bowl full of very liquid dough (which had sat 10 hours). My plan was to cook half of it in my cast iron dutch oven (which is supposed to help give the crust a nice crunch) and then use half of it to make pizza.

The recipe I was playing with was James Beard’s “French-Style” Bread, which my parents always used to make pizza crust when I was a child. The recipe is supposed to make baguettes, and my artisanal-style loaf didn’t rise much higher than a baguette, so no sandwiches. However, the bread is tasty and would be great dunked in olive oil, or as the base for bruschetta.

My version of this bread bears very little resemblance to Beard’s recipe. He does not use a preferment, and uses all-purpose flour. I had to substitute for the flour, add xanthan gum, and add a preferment step. Some things about Beard’s recipe could probably still use some tweaking in my adaptation. I used a tablespoon of yeast, but with the preferment, I could probably cut that back to 2 teaspoons, and possibly even further. Also, the tablespoon of salt seemed a little much as well. Still, I wouldn’t post this, if it wasn’t quite good as is. As bread, this recipe is not perfect, but good. As pizza crust, it is very, very good. Probably the best I’ve had, definitely the best I’ve made since going gluten-free. Maureen agrees. She thinks it tastes like real pizza.

Bread & Pizza (makes enough for 2 pizzas, or 1 pizza and 1 small loaf of bread)

How much did I like this pizza? So much that I couldn’t stand to wait for it to cool down, and almost demolished the entire pizza in its first 15 minutes out of the oven. I even burnt the roof of my mouth on the cheese. Today I topped my pizza with sauteed spinach, mushrooms, and garlic. But you can top yours with anything you want.

Sponge:

3 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast (this will give a very yeasty flavor, you can definitely cut back to 2 teaspoons, the longer you let your preferment sit, the less yeast you need)
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup teff flour
1 tablespoon xanthan gum

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in a non-metallic bowl. Add flours and xanthan gum, stirring until combined. Do not worry if there are lumps. Allow to sit covered on a warm counter for 8 – 24 hours.

Dough:

1 cup rice flour
1 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup teff flour
1 tablespoon xanthan gum
1 tablespoon salt (again, you might want to cut this down, depending on your preferences)

Transfer sponge to a stand mixer. Add remaining ingredients. Mix on high for three to four minutes.

For pizza: grease a pan and lightly dust with cornmeal. Cover with a thin layer of dough. If you want a defined “edge” to your pizza mound some dough on the sides of the pan, or use a pastry bag to pipe a crust. Cover with a moist towel and allow to rise for 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Then, top and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

For baguette: grease and light dust a cookie sheet with cornmeal. Shape a loaf on the cookie sheet. Slash the top of the loaf. Cover with a moist towel and allow to rise for 2 hours, or untl doubled in bulk. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees.

For artisanal loaf: grease a small or medium dutch oven and dust with cornmeal. Scrape dough into pan and shape. Allow to rise from 2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees with lid on. Remove lid and allow to bake for 10-30 minutes longer. I let mine back for the full hour. Bread should sound hollow when tapped.

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