It is tempting to post something sweet and chocolatey - cakes get the most hits on any website, especially if they claim to be sugar free or good for you. However, this week is about living with coeliac disease and eating the sort of everyday food that sustains and nourishes as well as delights our tastebuds. The holy grail of which is bread, no? How to make a loaf that rises, holds together when you slice it, with flavour and depth, a satisfying crumb and thin crust? How to make this mythical loaf without recourse to gums and stabilisers, starch, strange fats and added sugar? Since the gluten free bread available to buy in supermarkets is both full of rubbish and unpleasant to eat, my solution is to make my own.
I love a deeply flavoured loaf and brown teff is the perfect flour for something with hints of malt loaf - without the sweetness - and a touch of Weetabix on the finish. It would probably be my desert island flour if I had to choose one. When fermented, teff has a particularly sour quality that is perfectly balanced by the sweet nutty flavour of chestnut flour. Because I use both sweet rice flour and chia seed, the loaf has a very slightly chewy crumb with a great structure that is wonderful toasted straight from the freezer, or as bakers perk spread thickly with butter as soon as the loaf has cooled and settled. All of the flours are available from Shipton Mill or Doves Farm.
In my book River Cottage Gluten Free, I give instructions on how to make a gluten free sourdough starter. If you want to make the loaf without a sourdough starter, just follow instructions for making it with yogurt instead of starter. I find that adding a little extra yeast does help get a little more rise in the loaf, but if you would like to make it as a pure sourdough, just leave it out and allow the loaf to rise for longer - up to 5 hours depending on how vigorous your starter is.
Before you start baking, you will need to activate your starter. It will need several hours to properly wake up if it has been in the fridge so to make sure it is nice and vigorous, you can feed it the night before you plan to bake and then feed it again as soon as you wake up. I generally keep about 700ml of starter, so I feed it with 300g flour and 400g water each feed and discard any excess that isn't used, leaving 700ml to go back in the fridge when I have finished baking. You can use the excess, or 'discard' for making pancakes, crumpets etc or throw it away.
Malty gluten free sourdough
150g chestnut flour
100g brown teff flour
50g sweet rice flour
50g buckwheat flour
200g active gluten free sourdough starter (or 90g live yogurt + 110g brown teff flour)
1 tsp (4g) quick dried yeast (or 12g fresh yeast)
100g potato starch
7g fine sea salt10g chia seeds (or golden linseed)
1 tsp blackstrap molasses (optional)
2 - 2 1/2 tsp ground psyllium husk
40g pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
butter/lard/coconut oil to grease tins & sesame or sunflower seeds to coat
a 2 lb loaf tin - approx dimensions 25cm x 11cm x 8 cm (I use Vogue brand)
• First make the sponge. In a mixing bowl beat together the chestnut flour, brown teff flour, sweet rice flour, buckwheat flour, sourdough starter (or yogurt + flour) and 400g tepid unchlorinated water until smooth. Cover and leave at room temperature for 4-6 hours or overnight for a more sour loaf.
• When the sponge has fermented, make the dough. Sprinkle dried yeast into the sponge mix and beat well, or mash fresh yeast in a little of the wet mix until completely smooth and add back to the bowl. Leave for 5 minutes to start to work and then add the rest of the ingredients except psyllium husk and pumpkin seeds. Beat well with a spoon or your hands, squidging any lumps of potato starch through your fingers, until completely smooth.
• Add pumpkin seeds and 2 tsp of ground psyllium husk to the dough and beat well with the spoon, leave for a couple of minutes to thicken a little, while you prepare the tin.
• Line a 1 lb (454g) loaf tin with baking parchment or butter the inside and coat with sesame or sunflower seeds. Check if the dough is a dropping consistency - it should just leave the spoon, not pour off and shouldn't be stiff like a traditional bread dough. If it needs to be stiffer, add another 1/2 -1 tsp ground psyllium husk. Scrape the bread dough in, smooth to level it, sprinkle with sesame, sunflower or pumpkin seeds and put in a warm place for about an hour, until it has risen by about a third and the top has little cracks appearing. Don't let it come over the top of your tin as it will flow down the sides!
• 15-20 minutes before the rise time is up, heat the oven to 240ºC top and bottom heat - not the fan setting. Put a baking tray in the bottom of the oven and boil the kettle.
• Very gently ease the loaf tin into the oven – if you tap or bang it at this stage it will collapse, as there is no gluten in the mixture to hold the bubbles in. Straight away, pour a mug of boiling water into the tray in the bottom of the oven - watch you don't burn your face with the steam! Bake for 20 minutes and then turn the oven down to 180ºC and switch to fan setting for another 40 minutes. Take the baking tray out of the bottom of the oven if it still has any water in it.
• After the loaf has been at the lower temperature for 20 minutes, put some tin foil over the top to stop it burning – the crust will be fairly dark on this loaf anyway, so don’t be alarmed.
• After an hour in total, take the loaf out of the oven – it should have shrunk away from the sides of the tin a little and sound hollow-ish when tapped on top. Leave in the tin for a few minutes, then lift out the loaf and bounce your fingers on the side to see if it seems firmish. If not, just put it back in the oven without the tin at 160ºC for another 10-15 minutes to continue cooking.
• Cool on a rack and do not cut until completely cold. Slice and freeze anything that won’t be eaten within 24 hours.