I can’t believe it has been a month since I last posted. Where have I been? Well, I’ve been studying for, stressing about, and taking my “preliminary PhD exams.” Basically, once I pass them, I will get to start writing my dissertation. Last weekend I took the written portion. I had 72 hours to answer 3 questions for a total of 30+ pages. Mine ended up at 33. I haven’t wanted to touch my computer, or write since. Even though I managed to sleep almost a full eight hours every night (okay the last night I only slept 6), even though I slipped out for yoga around noon on Saturday, the test was excruciating. I had no appetite, my shoulders and back hurt badly, and worst, by halfway through the second day I was exhausted mentally. Try writing ten pages when you are so tired you can’t put together coherent sentences. Not pretty.

Hopefully though, I will pass. A week from Monday I take the oral portion. That part only last two hours. I’m sure it will be challenging and intense, but I think I am ready. I am definitely ready for this to be over.

So, only the Daring Bakers could draw me back into the blogosphere in the middle of this test. But I am glad that they did. This month we made lavash, an Armenian flatbread. Better yet, the recipe was already gluten-free and vegan. We could top the crackers with whatever we wanted, as long as it was vegan. I made hummus for my Lavash. Yum. Thanks Natalie and Shel for a great challenge!

Recipes after the jump!

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.

Recipe after the jump

sandwich

As I was rushing out the door to meet Marc, I couldn’t resist grabbing a hunk of bread and then another… the flavor was great, especially right out of the oven. I felt victorious, but I also realized that a more relaxed tasting was in order. After lunch, we both stopped by my place and tasted (the now slightly deflated) Ciabatta. The bread is yeasty and has a lot of good flavor. The absence of eggs (a mainstay of so many gluten-free recipe) also removed the odious egg-y flavor that has dominated past attempts. However, the texture left a little to be desired… it was too doughy, and too moist, but a little more time might have helped that, as the middle was doughier than the outside. Still, it was great warm, perfectly edible once cooled, and great again when I toasted it and sliced it down the middle to make a sandwich. This is definitely a recipe I will continue to play with. First, I’ll try cooking it past the point of just barely golden and go for a more solid brown color (and I might turn up the oven), next I might replace all or part of the white rice flour with sorghum or teff, and finally, I might reduce the liquid just a little (a constant temptation for me in gluten-free bread recipes, and an impulse that rarely pays off.)


ciabatta bread

For the first month or so after going gluten free I didn’t really crave bread. At least, that is, after the first three days of withdrawal symptoms during which no matter how much I ate I never felt full. Instead of worrying about the lack of bread, I felt the need to convince myself that there could still be cakes, and pies, and cookies and muffins. Luckily, those types of recipes are actually quite easy to make gluten-free, and I soon had my family swearing that my lemon yogurt cake was about as delicious a cake as they had ever eaten. Then, the desire for bread asserted itself. Real bread, bread with good texture and great flavor. sandwich bread, French bread. I turned to mixes, to Bette Hagman’s books, to the internet, I played with flours and sourdough starters, but I still haven’t found the perfect bread. Some of my attempts have had good flavor, some actually rose enough to look like bread, but most have been too moist or too bland. The search continues.

This recipe, is my latest attempt. I believe the key to finding a gluten-free bread that I truly enjoy lies in some variation of the European method of making a sponge first and letting it sit for several hours before making the final dough. The longer yeast is allowed to work, the more flavor it imparts to bread, and some studies have shown that the slower rise also helps gluten-free flours create a better crumb. My intuition was already pointing me this direction, when I came across Naomi Poe’s post on exactly this topic. I decided to start with her recipe for ciabatta (changing only the flours – since I don’t own her mix).

But how does it taste? I honestly don’t know. It smells heavenly, with approximately 5 minutes left in the oven, but I magically developed lunch plans so the tasting will have to wait…

Recipe after the jump