Our foods, like our lives, are works in progress. Nothing is static, at least not for long. And being an inveterate tweaker, I'm constantly playing with the variables. One of the beauties of hanging out on food lists is that there are other food geeks who love to tweak as much as I do. They often come up with ideas that jump start me off in a new direction or affirm the germ of an idea that has been fermenting in the back of my mind.
A few months ago, one of those tweakers mentioned cold ferments in relation to sourdough breads. I had noticed that when I keep my starter in the refrigerator, not only do I not have to feed it as frequently, it also doesn't taste as...well...sour. Don't get me wrong. I like a tangy bread. But then, I have other aesthetics to please. The ones that are shorter than me. What can I say? They outnumber me. Oookay...no sour sourdough. Got it. So I keep my starter in the refrigerator. But TLS was talking about keeping the whole thing in the refrigerator. All the time. It took me a while before I could wrap my brain around it. Sometimes the gluten/gluten-free barrier makes my brain shut down.
Then I decided why not? Let's cook dangerously. I started making up my bread the night before and just shoving it in the refrigerator until the morning. Then I'd pull it out, pop it into the oven at 100* for a couple of hours or until it rose to my satisfaction and baked as usual. Good bread. Really, really good bread.
Then a few weeks ago, she recommended this book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. And I'd like to recommend it as well. Just let me say up front, it's a bread book. And it isn't gluten-free. But this book has a fine attention to detail. As I read through the book, I found myself nodding in agreement, because my experience in the kitchen confirmed what they were instructing. But they've written it down in such a way that organizes it and explains everything, including how to adjust the bread in order to change the texture in the final product. They talk about "slack" dough making a better crumb than a dough that must be kneaded by hand. And guess what, Breatharian? Gluten free dough is best when it is slack, so this entire idea is well suited to the gluten free bread.
They spend a couple of pages talking about how wetter doughs will yield a "custard" crumb, which is a desirable texture in bread. I can avow and affirm that this is indeed true and, while they attribute this quality to the gluten in the bread, I can also avow and affirm that gluten free bread is able to achieve its own "custard" crumb. Perhaps not to the gluten-oriented palate, but to the Breatharian one, the texture is heavenly. All of the Hobbits, including the tallest one whose palate still bears the memory-taint of gluten, noticed and commented on the marked difference in the quality of the bread after doing a long rise, cold ferment. Bug pulled out a slice of day-old bread and inquired, "Did you bake this today?" Poking an inquiring finger into the slice, I felt it give under my finger, then spring back. "Nope. But it sure feels like I did." He spread ghee on it and devoured it without even considering toasting it. How many gluten free breads can you say that about?
In the past year, since the Glutenator laid the groundwork for the sourdough bread and made me believe gluten-free sourdough was possible, I've been tweaking the basic recipe to improve the texture and longevity of the loaf. The Glutenator once observed that Martha Washington's recipes called for a great deal of eggs...many more eggs than contemporary recipes require. She theorized a couple of reasons for this: 1) everyone raised chickens and eggs were ubiquitous and 2) wheat flour of the day was lower in gluten than current strains of wheat.
Building on the theory that more eggs provides more structure for flours that have less gluten, I've added more egg whites to my recipe. Also, having discovered a much cheaper source for guar gum, I'm adding it with abandon to my recipes. Both of these do wonderful things for improving the texture of the bread.
I'm experimenting with the outer limit of how long a loaf of bread can rise in the refrigerator before the yeast cycle is exhausted. Hertzberg and Francois recommend no longer than five days for a gluten bread and I'm theorizing that a gluten-free bread would probably not sustain itself for that long. Currently, I've allowed bread to ferment for up to 48 hours and still turned out a very successful loaf. I've been trying working toward finding the exhaustion point, but it is difficult to stay that far ahead of the Hobbit appetite. But still I try...
Almost Everything Free Sourdough Bread (v. 2.0)
2 cups gluten-free flour
2 cups kefir-fermented apple juice
Mix thoroughly and let stand for 24 hours.
In a bowl, measure out:
1/2 cup tapioca starch flour
1/2 cup potato starch flour
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 teaspoons guar gum
In a mixer, whip up 6 egg whites until frothy.
Into the meringue, pour:
1/3 cup olive oil
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 cups sourdough starter
Mix in dry ingredients. This yields a rather thin batter for a bread. It will be about the consistency of toothpaste, but not spreading out with the ease of pancake batter. Pour into bread pan and return to the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours or overnight. Remove to a warm oven to rise. The dough may have a skin on top of it. I judge that the bread has risen sufficiently when the skin has stretched to cracking around the edges and the dough underneath takes on a more liquid appearance. Bake at 350* for 1 hour or until done.
This is a book well worth peeking in to. I've got my eye on a few recipes in it that might just be tweakable for a Breatharian. Tool Guy has been yearning for foccaccia and reminisces about the batches we used to buy at the farmer's market up the road from us. It just might happen, Guy.
It will take an experienced eye to be able to sort out the tips and techniques that the Breatharian can use and those that are specific only to gluten bread, but it is well worth playing around with and doing some of your own cooking dangerously. Let's hear it for the food geeks who sit around and email each other with their latest discoveries and inspirations! Thanks, TLS!