May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads. Since I’m still not having gluten, this month’s challenge was a bit bittersweet. I absolutely love challah, and find it to be one of the most beautiful breads with it’s pretty braid, and the lovely golden sheen it develops when baking. But after a quick bit of research, I found that gluten-free challah is a whole different beast (as is the case with most gluten-free adaptations), and would probably not resemble normal challah. Still, I was happy to find a Gluten-Free Challah recipe on Epicurious, provided as an alternative to this month’s challenge, that had a couple of rave reviews. After all, if someone else has executed this recipe and loved it, what’s to say I won’t love it too?
I finally rounded out my arsenal of gluten-free ingredients last week, acquiring a bottle of xanthan gum and a couple new flours and starches. One thing that is a lot different about gluten-free baking is that you use things like cornstarch and tapioca starch in recipes in similar quantities as you’d use with flour. For example, this recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of cornstarch, and I just couldn’t wrap my mind around that! I still think of cornstarch as something you use to thicken, 1 tablespoon at a time – not in cup measurements. Oh the things you learn!
I ended up following this recipe almost to a T, except I used more tapioca starch in place of some of the cornstarch, because I had more of it available, and I also used maple syrup in place of honey since I’m not eating honey at the moment. I’ve read that starches – corn, tapioca, potato – are mostly interchangeable in recipes, so I figured that swap wouldn’t make a big difference. Luckily, I don’t think it did!
This dough is extremely soft and spongy when it’s done, and if you didn’t know better you’d probably be concerned you did something wrong, because it looks much too soupy. This is why you can’t braid the dough in this particular recipe, and why I had to bake it in a loaf pan – certainly a bit disappointing, but it is what it is right? I came across a few other braided gluten-free challah recipes, so I’d definitely like to try those in the future.
The bread, despite all concerns I might have had, came out really wonderfully for my first attempt at gluten-free yeast bread. Kevin and I ate a few slices when it was fresh out of the oven, and it was so light and chewy, with a wonderfully buttery flavor and ever so faint hints of yeast. It was actually extremely delicious, taking all breads into account (yes, even those with gluten). We ate it plain, and then slathered on some homemade strawberry rhubarb jam (recipe coming soon!) and had to stop ourselves from consuming half of the loaf. It was really delightful!
Like most guten-free breads, after it cools it gets really dense and dry, so I’ve kept it stored in the fridge and will slice and heat a piece before I use it. I’ve found that microwaving brings it back to the nice, chewy texture it had coming out of the oven, but it also toasts really well. I’ve been able to join Kevin in eating sandwiches lately, and that’s something I’ve been really excited to do, despite how simple it sounds. I know that after this elimination diet experience, I will never take such simple things as a piece of toast or a sandwich for granted again!
adapted from Epicurious
3/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1 cup tapioca starch
3 T almond meal
1 T guar or Xanthan gum (I used Xanthan)
1 package quickrise yeast
1 t salt
1 cup warm (120 degrees) water
2 T dry potato flakes
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1) Mix cornstarch, white rice flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, almond meal, xanthan gum and yeast together in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment.
2) Dissolve potato flakes in warm water, and allow to sit for a couple of minutes. Once dissolved, add slowly to mixer. Add oil, maple syrup and eggs, and mix until well blended.
3) Beat dough on high speed for 2 minutes. The Epicurious recipe said it should look like pudding, and I think that’s pretty accurate – it should be cohesive and smooth, like a thick, doughy pudding.
4) Spoon dough into greased 9×5 inch loaf pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise about 60 minutes, or until it reaches the top of the pan. (Mine never reached the top of the pan, but it still baked up really well. If you have 90 minutes, you can let it proof longer.)
5) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 2 diagonal slices in top of bread, about 1/8 inch deep. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, tenting with foil if top gets too brown. Cool completely on wire rack.