Saturday, January 24, 2009

Loaves for the Starving

It's the dreaded moment: I have just bought my first loaf of gluten-free bread, and I am about to consume the first slice. I wonder if all my sandwich-eating days are over. Then, thoughts racing and with fear in my heart, I bite into the first slice of what I imagine I'll eat for the rest of my life, only to encounter something so hard, so gritty, so foreign in taste and texture, that I think my culinary world has ended.
My first gluten-free bread didn't go over very well for me. It was the Brown Rice Bread from Trader Joe's that I tried almost two years ago with such disappointing results. The pity is that I kept buying it on occasion for a sandwich fix, but usually some of the loaf would end up going bad in the fridge because I was so unmotivated to eat it. The slices are small and barely practical for the task at hand, and the body of the loaf has no resilience to it. It is made with mostly brown rice flour, which gives it little elasticity.

I gave up on breads for a long time and concentrated on eating foods that are naturally gluten-free. Recently, however, I have discovered several good GF breads that I enjoy eating and that make my life easier. In the two years since I stopped eating wheat, barley and rye I have also experimented extensively with my own baking mixes, and I've deduced some things about gluten-free baking that help me to make educated selections in the store.

New Cascadia Traditional is a dedicated gluten-free bakery that makes breads, desserts, muffins, and cupcakes, among other delights. I especially like their pastry crust, which is very crisp and flakey. It is featured to good effect in their savory and sweet gallettes. The bread loaves they offer are not large, and the slices are a bit small for sandwiches, but I make due in a pinch. As with most GF breads, they are best eaten the day they are baked, and tend to get stiff the day after. They are easily refreshed by sprinkling them with water and toasting them, but nothing beats fresh bread and I try to eat a good portion of it the first day. They rely a lot on teff flour for their doughs, which has a good flavor and a naturally spongy texture. However, the dough lacks the natural soft springiness that a good wheat bread has, and which I have found in a few rare GF breads.

Angeline's is the bread that comes to mind for a soft, springy texture. I am trying the "Just Right White Rice Bread" now, and I'm very impressed. The loaves are almost a full sandwich-loaf size, and come unsliced and refrigerated to preserve freshness. The bread tends to stay fresh for a surprising amount of time. It has a good feel to it without being as delicate as most GF dough tends to be. The flavor is full and rich, but my only quibble is that it is a touch too sweet for my taste. The recipe is mostly a mix of white rice and potato flours, with a little tapioca flour added in for its browning properties. I believe it is the potato flour that gives the bread such a soft feel and moist texture.

For pure sandwich utility, I have also recently discovered the Ener G Tapioca loaf. It lacks the springiness of the New Cascade and the Angeline's breads, but it has a smooth, almost chewy white-bread texture that is almost nostalgic of your childhood favorite white sandwich bread. While they managed to make the dough light rather than dense, the texture is still a little brittle and delicate as GF breads tend to be. However, it manages to hold together enough to be practical for sandwiches, and the flavor is neutral. As the name suggests, it contains a high percentage of tapioca flour, which gives it a nice brown top. However, the tapioca and rice flour combination doesn't lend it a soft, springy texture. The loaves come sliced and vacuum-packed to preserve freshness. It was definitely softest on the day that I bought it, but it held up enough to be edible for several days.

I'm really encouraged by some of the gluten-free bread options I have encountered recently, and I'm looking forward to trying out a few more. Please let me know if there's one out there that you like, and maybe it will make it into my next bread review.


Gluten Prude said...

I like Angeline's too! New Cascadia probably has the best gluten-free bread I've tried, but that's probably in large part because it's fresh-baked. Thanks for the guide!