Category Archives: baking

Gluten-free bread, take 2

I’m teaching a course on bread in about a month’s time, and I have yet to develop a perfect gluten-free recipe to share with students. This one comes pretty close, though–particularly in comparison to my last effort, which was more scone-like in consistency than this batch, and inherited an unfortunate aftertaste from some bad millet flour.

This is freshly-mixed dough, before the rise. I've tossed the ball in a bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking. Next time, I'll shape the loaf from the start, so I don't disturb the structure post-rise.

This version gets its taste from a combination of sorghum, buckwheat, and almond flours.  The buckwheat is probably the most noticeable flour in this bread; it has a strong flavor that I like, but it can be swapped out for something else if it’s not to your taste. The almond flour provides moistness, and I believe the sorghum is responsible for the relatively light texture of the bread. It has a mild flavor, so it’s a good choice as a base flour for baked goods.

Here's the dough post-rise. It feels kind of spongy when you press on it. It does not rise much, especially not in comparison to normal bread, and will not rise much in the oven, either.

To create the spongy structure of the bread without gluten, I used a chia seed slurry (ground chia seeds, boiling water) and added in some psyllium husk for good measure (which I first read about here).  Both ground chia seeds and psyllium husks mimic gluten by creating gel-like strands when mixed with water; these strands reinforce the structure of the rising bread and give it a nice crumb, which can often be difficult to achieve with gluten-free flours.  You can also use a flax / linseed slurry if you prefer, and can supplement with xanthan gum as noted below.

Gluten-free buckwheat bread

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Filed under baking, baking tips, buckwheat, experiments, gluten-free

Gluten-free bread, Experiment 1

It looks edible, at least.  This is my first attempt at gluten-free bread, and the crumb has worked out pretty well. It’s light, airy, and not what I expected, texture-wise, for gluten-free bread.  The taste? Well… These rolls ended up with an incredibly bitter aftertaste.  We’ll just call this experiment #1 and leave it at that.

I did learn a few interesting things along the way, however, which I thought might be worth sharing.

Lesson #0: Gluten Free Girl’s gum-free version of gluten-free bread is an excellent recipe to start with. 

Some of the ingredients aren’t readily available here in Australia, so I am on my own in terms of the final combination of flours, etc, I use. I’m also hoping to make a vegan version of this bread. I have relied on the weight ratios, etc, she uses in this recipe as a starting point.  At least as far as texture goes, I’m on the right track.

Lesson #1: It is possible to make gluten-free bread without weird ingredients.

Yes, “weird” may be a fairly subjective term in this case, but I tend to think that chia seeds are pretty easy to get. I used freshly ground chia seeds in this experiment; when you mix them with boiling water and let the mix cool, you get a stretchy, almost putty-like paste. The chia seed “slurry,” as Gluten Free Girl (a.k.a. Shauna) calls it, looks like this:

You can apparently use flax/linseed or psyllium husk in place of the chia seeds, both of which I intend to try. These ingredients work because they are all pretty high in dietary fiber, some portion of which forms long chains of sugars that can be used to stabilize foams. Bread, as it turns out, is essentially a set foam, so anything that helps foams set properly could work in gluten-free bread.

Lesson #2: Gluten-free dough is really wet. 

It does not feel like normal dough. There is no window-pane test, you will not create a nice, taut ball of dough, and you should add as little flour as possible. In fact, I followed my usual rule for scones and avoided working this dough more than I had to. I think it paid off in the end, as the bread ended up fairly light considering the ingredients I used.

Lesson #3: This bread looks funny when it rises.

Yes, that’s two hours after the dough was mixed. It did rise a bit, but not a lot, and definitely looked nothing like normal bread dough.  I was able to shape it easily enough, at least.

Lesson #4: Too much buckwheat does not a tasty bread make, perhaps? Or I need to be more careful about where I get my flour.

I stuck to the same flour:starch weight ratios defined by Gluten Free Girl (weight ratios really are the key to making a good loaf of bread in any situation), but I changed the flours (to millet, buckwheat) and the starches (to potato, tapioca). I definitely used a lot more buckwheat than most recipes I’ve found.  At first, I thought this might have been it, but then I remembered the last buckwheat noodles I cooked. They didn’t taste bitter at all, and they were all buckwheat. Perhaps my millet flour was bad? If so, well… Bad news for the co-op, because that’s where I got it.  I’ll have to do a taste test and see what I find.  As for the next experiment, I’ll try a different set and proportion of flours, but stick to a similar technique. I think I will also add some olive oil next time, just to make it taste a bit richer.

The verdict?

I’ll spare you the recipe. This one simply isn’t ready for release yet.

Forgive the photos. Our apartment is dark, and as is typical for Sydney, the only place I could store a light-box for photos is in the bathroom.


Filed under baking, baking tips, bread, buckwheat, gluten-free

A course!

I volunteered to teach a bread course for a local co-op a while ago, and just heard back. It looks like they’re interested! Naturally, these pages will be filled with bread in the coming weeks as I prepare, so stay tuned…

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Meyer lemon tart and a recipe in pictures

Meyer lemon tart

One of our first purchases for our new home in Sydney was a dwarf Meyer lemon tree. $50 and several months later, we picked our first three fragrant fruit. Not bad for a partially sunny balcony in Sydney’s Inner West, don’t you think?

Meyer lemons, a cross between lemons and mandarins, have a bewitching floral scent and a sweet, tart, juicy interior, so they make especially good additions to baked goods.  With this in mind, I decided to use the juice from two lemons to make a tart and the zest to make a Meyer lemon vodka. The tart lasts several days in the fridge, and the Meyer lemon vodka lends the fragrance of these beauties to everything from cocktails to cookies for months after the citrus season has come to an end.

With the last lemon, we made homemade Meyer lemon-lime bitters—a fitting way to celebrate our first citrus harvest.

Meyer lemon vodka – a recipe in pictures

Meyer lemon vodka essentials

1. Gather ingredients.  Excellent vodka isn’t essential for this; Smirnoff or something similar will do.


2. Peel off the zest of the Meyer lemons, carefully avoiding the pith.

Finished product

3. Drop the Meyer lemon zest into the vodka, and let the flavor of the zest infuse in the vodka for a few weeks. When the vodka is fragrant, it’s finished.

This vodka is delicious in any fruity mixed drink, and also works well in baked goods calling for orange liqueur.

Meyer lemon tart with cardamom and orange zest
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Filed under Australia, baking, dessert, drink, local, Meyer lemons, seasonal

Raisin coriander sesame semolina sourdough

I only started to feel settled here in Sydney when we figured out where to get decent flour.  It was an outright quest for us, slowed only by the oppressive heat of summer, but we found it in the end: high-protein, good quality bread flour, with sufficient gluten to make a proper, self-supporting loaf.  With it, we discovered rye, hard whole wheat, spelt, semolina, all the ingredients we needed to make the bread we missed, and perhaps try a few new ones along the way.

This loaf here? It’s a new favorite. The raisins give it a subtle sweetness while the coriander turns this bread into something decidedly adult.  And the semolina? It makes this amazing toast without messing with Tartine Bakery’s characteristic open crumb.  In short, it’s the kind of sourdough loaf I’ve been trying to create since James and I became interested in baking so many years ago.

The only fault I can find with this bread is that it takes some planning to make. But now that it’s dark when I leave work, I don’t mind this so much.  It gives me something to look forward to on the long drive home.

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Filed under baking, raisins, semolina, sourdough

Georgian porcini, mushroom, and black pepper flatbread

Bread is a staple in our household.  I don’t actually eat a lot of it — if it were just me, I would maybe make it through half a loaf before it went stale — but it’s James’s favorite snack.  And if you’re trying to eat less salt, going to the corner store to buy a baguette isn’t really a very good option.  Most bread (even the good stuff) is pretty high in sodium, to the point where places that make saltless bread are considered anomalous somehow.  And seriously, who chooses Pugliese when they could have a good french baguette?  So I’ve been playing around with various flatbread recipes, just to see if there’s a quick, easy, and tasty substitute for bread that doesn’t need a lot of salt, stores well, and can be used to make sandwiches.  This Georgian flatbread recipe is the best I’ve tried so far.

The original recipe is from Jeffrey Alford’s Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas, which I’ve only been cooking from for a short time but have had consistent success with.  His recipe is for a cheese bread — you make a rather plain dough and fill it with a feta cheese mix, kind of like a cheese pasty but with softer dough.  My version starts with his dough recipe, but I incorporate porcini powder, sauteed minced shallots, and black pepper into the dough as I knead to give it more flavor.  What you end up with is a soft bread (almost biscuit-like) with a rich, earthy, savory taste that can be eaten plain or, better still, toasted with a bit of butter.

This recipe is quite versatile — I imagine you could use the same procedure I describe below for any flavoring you desire.  And it is very quick — you do all the prep work while the oven is preheating, and then just shove them in.  6 minutes later, you have bread.

Georgian Flatbread with Porcini, Shallot, and Black Pepper

Makes 8 ~6″ rounds.

  • olive oil
  • 2 T. porcini powder (or any minced, strongly flavored mushroom)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • ~ 1/2 t. black pepper
  • 3-4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1-1/2 c. greek yogurt (low fat is fine)
  • 1/2 c. milk

Preheat oven to 450°F / 230°C.

Saute minced shallots, porcini powder, and black pepper in olive oil until soft.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Start with 3 c. flour. Stir in the baking powder, then add the greek yogurt and milk.  Stir (probably with your hands, if you’re me) until the dough comes together.  If it’s too wet, add a bit more flour. Sprinkle a hard surface with flour, turn out the dough, and knead for 4 minutes or so, adding more flour as necessary.  It should feel soft and smooth and be fairly easy to work with — if it’s too hard, add a bit more milk or water.  Once you’re happy with the dough, flatten it out a bit and make a well in the center.  Put the shallot mix in the well, then fold the dough over the mix and keep kneading. This is supposed to be a little messy; it will eventually result in an evenly flavored dough.

Shape the dough into 8 round, flat breads (like tortillas, though the dough isn’t quite that stretchy).  Place on parchment-lined baking trays, and place in the oven.  Bake for 6-10 minutes (depending on how brown / crunchy you want them and how accurate your oven temperature is).  Serve warm or let cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container until you want to use them.


Filed under baking, low fat, low sodium, mushrooms, quick bread, shallots, vegetarian

When you need chocolate

I’m not one to actually try recipes from other blogs most of the time.  I tend to quit reading the ingredient list halfway through, or start improvising madly upon discovering that I only have two out of the five ingredients I need for some particular concoction.  But this time, I had all the ingredients, I really didn’t improvise*, and I wasn’t disappointed.

So what are you waiting for?  Try this recipe.  Now.  You will thank me** later.

*I substituted vanilla sugar for the vanilla extract and sugar.  Vanilla sugar = sugar that has been sitting in a bowl with a vanilla bean or two for a week or longer, and if you’ve never made it, I suggest you go buy a vanilla bean and try it.  The vanilla bean can be reused for multiple batches of sugar, and the scent makes me deliriously happy every time I start baking something with it.  If you must, think of it as cheap therapy for the winter months.

** … err, Smitten Kitchen, actually.


Filed under baking, chocolate, dessert