Bread is elemental. Flour, water, salt, yeast: that’s it.
Some of my best memories are wrapped around these four ingredients. The details are, as always, blurry-edged and cloudy, but the fragrance of baking bread is sharp and distinct in my mind. Something inside me unclenches every time I gather bread-making ingredients and tools.
Funny thing about memory, though. Bread may have only four ingredients, but the success is in the practice/process. Time. Temperature. Precision (or not). In my memories of bread, as in all my memories, there is very little true understanding, in this case of what exactly it takes to make a perfect loaf of whatever I am making. I remember flat bread that shouldn’t have been and gummy, underbaked insides when the knocking technique just doesn’t quite work.
I come to bake bread when my brain won’t settle. When there is too much of something troubling, or happy-making, or any other too much of something floating around, making all other thinking impossible. When I need to get my hands into something that feels grounding and real and practical and not up-in-the-clouds where I usually reside.
Flour, water, salt, yeast. Hands in dough. Meditation. Kneading. Resting. Baking.
But as I am usually distracted and elsewhere in the brain when I settle into the practice of bread, my bread always seems to not…quite…work. Close. But not quite.
This seems to be the rule when it comes to distraction for me (maybe you, too). A temporary relief from whatever needs to be put away for a time, good or bad, but then whenever that distraction – bread, shopping, TV, whateverthefuck – is done, the thing you avoid comes roaring back.
“[People] can starve from a lack of self-realization as they can from lack of bread.” ~Richard Wright~
So the solution seems to be to focus as much on the bread as The Thing, not just as a distraction from The Other Thing. Not as an escape. #WhereeverYouGoThereYouAre
This morning I woke with Paris and chocolate and cafe au lait and love and baguettes on my mind. I give in, Universe. I give in to allofthethings, and I have made you bread.
NOTE: These are, as ever, gluten-free. Gluten-filled recipes for bread abound on the interwebs, and because it’s bread it is highly unlikely that merely swapping out regular AP or bread flours will work.
250 grams (about 2 cups) gluten-free all purpose flour (or another one, but note that the recipe may not quite work. Avoid bean flours, as usual)
25 grams (about 1/4 cup) almond meal
3 T. powdered milk
1 T. xanthan gum
1 t. salt
2 room-temperature egg whites
2 T. olive oil
1/2 t. apple cider vinegar
3/4 c. warm (80 – 100 degrees) water
2 1/4 t. rapid-rise yeast (one packet)
egg wash (use the leftover egg yolks with a little water, an egg white with water, or skip this step)
spray bottle with water
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, powdered milk, xanthan gum, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment (or in a big bowl), combine egg whites, olive oil, vinegar, and water. Add flour mixture in and mix to combine, then add yeast and mix for two more minutes.
If you are not using a stand mixer, beat the crap out of the dough for as long as you possibly can. It will be stiff and sticky. #ThatsWhatSheSaid
At this point, you can prepare one of two types of pans:
- Fancypants baguette pan lined with parchment, which is really how it ought to be done except most people don’t have those and don’t want to get those because they are really only good for one thing (baguettes) and ain’t nobody got time for that.
- Plain old cookie sheet lined with lightly greased parchment paper. Errbody got time for that.
“Shaping” this dough is less like shaping and more like piping. There is no kneading because there is no gluten to develop, and the dough will be like very thick cake batter. Pour a splash of olive oil into a large freezer bag, then scoop the dough into the bag. Seal, then cut off one corner of the bag and pipe the baguettes into the pan you have prepared. This makes one big baguette or two thinner, smaller baguettes. Obvi, the size of the hole you cut out will determine the width of your baguettes and the cooking time. #KeepThatInMind
Brush the top of the loaves with egg wash if using, then use a very sharp knife to cut two or three diagonal slashes on the top of the bread. Place the loaves in the preheated-turned off oven for 30 minutes to rise.
Clean up your kitchen, surf the interwebs, navel gaze, meditate, write a letter to someone and mail it, call your mom, take a shower…whatever. There is nothing that really needs to be done while the bread is rising.
Remove bread and preheat oven to 375 degrees (regular oven) or 350 degrees (convection oven). Put bread back in the oven, spraying it with water as you close the door.
Baking times? Meh. They vary.
I bake mine for ten minutes, spray, bake for ten minutes, spray, bake for ten minutes, spray, then let it go until it is beautifully brown. I have also been known to stick a toothpick in this bread, or use my beautiful new instant-read thermometer to make sure it is cooked in the middle (an issue for all bread but especially for gluten-free varieties).
Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.
Serve warm with tons of butter or Brie. Consider bringing this and a cup of hot chocolate to your darling child who is STILL SLEEPING, or maybe your lover if you are A) lucky enough to have one who will appreciate it, and B) they are within arm’s reach.
“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.” ~Omar Khayyam~
What is elemental for you?