Have you ever had one of those moments where you literally break down in tears because of the sheer joy of discovery? For what seems like years of your life you are missing an essential flavor, taste, or aroma – life has become grey and repetitive. Then, through divine intervention everything is thrown back into high definition color by a single surprising event? Our Almond Bread was THE turning point in our Gluten Free journey…and boy, what an amazing journey it is turning out to be!
One of the most exciting things – and one of the most frustrating to be sure! – has been trying to FIND a real bread recipe that ROCKS! Along the way we have created more loaves of…ahem…”bread” that have found their way to the turkeys, sparrows…or even a few in the trash (that were not even fit for birds) than we care to admit. At first we tried almost every “soda bread” recipe found out there, but you can only eat so many baking powder biscuits and call them ‘bread' – regardless of the seasonings and added textures – before you crave BREAD. Then we tried a few of the yeast bread recipes that we found on the ‘net, many of which seemed to have baking powder in them as well. But these still failed to fulfill our craving for BREAD.
For a long time, we despaired ever having a loaf of Gluten Free bread that would be able to hold it's own in our minds. Having come from a traditional ‘gluten based' world, we found ourselves continually disappointed with the gluten free substitutes – “they leave a lot to be desired” would be fairly accurate – and the few exceptions we treated like gold, treasuring them for the work and effort that went into their discovery.
For our family spending time in the kitchen is mostly an exciting and interesting – typically recipe free – experiment. It HAS to be enjoyable if we are to take gluten free baking and push its potential every single day, finding something better, tastier, or more appealing. Pushing Xanthan Gum to its limits – and then digging DEEP into scientific research to push it further…testing ratios of Guar and Xanthan, Eggs and Acids, different blends of flours to get just the right texture. Through it all we have found that there really is no reason that gluten free baking (or even cooking!) has to be any less than spectacular. Food should taste, look, and function as we expect – regardless of it's gluten content. In this case – bread – should look exactly like a ‘regular' loaf of bread. It should smell and taste like a loaf of bread. It should be able to be sliced thinly and wrapped around a bratwurst without falling apart – like a piece of BREAD. Every bread has it's place – baguettes with soup or salad, biscuits and gravy, quick-breads as hors d'oeuvres or snacks. Yet there is no excuse, nor need, to infer that a quick-bread or a biscuit is – or even SHOULD be – accepted as a real substitute for a yeast bread that satisfies every one of these requirements.
After being genetically thrust down the path of gluten free life we found out that “there is no spoon”. And it all changed for us – literally overnight. When my wife stumbled upon our Almond Bread recipe at first it seemed ‘wrong'. The dough looked too gelatinous – it jiggled!? It didn't pour, but it wasn't (at first) knead-able either. And looking back on it even THOSE first loaves were less than they would become – but what an amazing discovery we had in the pan! It would be another six months before we really understood the secrets and the science behind the gift God had shown us through seeming accident….
After the first rise (yes JUST like ‘real' bread we let the dough go through two rises!) we were afraid to knock it down. After all HOW could we potentially ruin a loaf of gluten free bread that had risen almost 2 inches above the pan!! OK – to be honest we didn't at first, just call it a lesson learned, disposed of, and occasionally hidden… Patience really is a virtue – go figure. We did eventually learn that for the flavor and crumb of the bread you have to go through with it!
Placing the pan in the oven the first time was nerve wracking – it jiggled! – bread isn't supposed to do that. Knowing how fragile some GF structures can be we were afraid of knocking the rise out of it. Then the question of just how long DO you need to bake this thing reared it's head. A ‘normal' loaf of bread cooks for about an hour and needs to reach an internal temperature of about 210 degrees F (98.9 C) – so we gave it a try. Again, go figure – it worked just like REAL bread. Unfortunately we were to discover that we got really lucky that first time… About a month and a half after this first discovery – we had nothing but pop-overs instead of bread. Talk about taking the momentum right out of you – we were afraid that our dreams of opening a bakery were nothing but hot air (!) and there were a few more teary and somewhat sleepless nights.
We were about two months into our ‘market research' of operating a farmers market stand to see if what WE thought rocked the gluten free world would take the beating of exposing it to others. Let me tell you – two months in, with people making a drive of over 90 minutes to get ‘your stuff' and putting down REAL cash for something you made…and then to have the perfect recipe turn into pop-overs rather than bread? THAT was hard. (Let em take a moment and give a BIG shout of thanks to all of our customers who put up with us through all that: THANK YOU! You will never know how much it meant to us!)
What do to? Right? It was about this time that we started talking with an actual BAKER at the farmers market. We learned that there is this highly secret (not really) _formula_ that regular bakers follow in order to get their bread turning out consistently perfect every time… dang it why don't they teach THAT in school! So, we purchased our first digital scale to weigh rather than just'measure' our ingredients – and holy h— it opened our eyes! The reason we had pop-overs? Humidity. We had been measuring by the cup of flour, oil, water…. none of which took humidity into consideration. Add in the time frame (middle of summer) and you can guess how wildly our moisture levels varied.
With our new secret weapon in its place of honor in the kitchen, we went back to work with sleeves rolled and aprons tied. And the result was…. SUCCESS! Family members tried some of our almond bread, and didn't believe that it was gluten free, informing us that we had ‘better remember this recipe'!
Now, with a season of the Farmer's Market under our belts, we have received positive feedback from countless customers – and family members! – asking for more great gluten free products! With our almond bread perfected, we look forward to continuing our experimentations in order to develop more varieties of bread, biscuits, buns, and more that will be sure to satisfy our family and yours!