Book Review: Gluten Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

For all of you bread lovers out there, this holiday season has a special treat for you:  Gluten-free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a new book in the "Bread in 5" series by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François.  Released on October 21st, this book is just for you gluten-free folk, with beautiful, stunning photos of crusty, golden-brown loaves of bread of all shapes and sizes, and a comprehensive list of recipes for everything from baguettes to doughnuts.  I was lucky enough to get an advance copy so I could try some of the recipes and tell my readers what I think.

I was excited to try these recipes because the first gluten-free bread I ever made was from a recipe adapted from one of the original Bread in 5 books and published on Gluten-free Girl.  It wasn't
everything I wanted in a bread, but I was impressed that it even worked - and it was tasty!  I had a mixed first run with the new bread recipes in this book, but I soon realized that with some experimentation I could make these recipes do exactly what I wanted.

The first loaves I made came out incredibly dense.  This must be a somewhat common occurrence because there is a whole troubleshooting section of the book dedicated to explaining why this might happen.  I ruled out almost every possible explanation - I didn't smash the dough when shaping, I was using the same flours as the authors (Bob's Red Mill), I weighed everything in grams.  After a few more bad batches, I realized that the dough was just too dry.  I'm still not sure if it was just a matter of humidity in the air, but with one batch I made on a dry day I ended up putting more than a cup of extra water, rather than the extra tablespoon which the book suggested.

The odd thing was that there is no description in the book of how the dough should look or feel.  Describing the dough is typical in most recipes, and especially for gluten-free bread where there is no standard frame of reference for dough texture.  The book also didn't offer a way to diagnose the problem other than trial and error.  I figured it out based on my previous experience with making the Gluten-free Girl recipe mentioned above - the dough was just too stiff to rise.  Once I knew to adjust for that when needed, I had great results.

The lack of a description of dough texture is my main criticism of the book, but I was trying the recipes before some of the additional content was added to the authors' website  People who are new to the system can take a look at this video to get a better idea of the texture of the raw dough:  I am sure the authors will be addding more content to the website regularly to promote the book during the holiday season.

I had a few other qualms about Gluten-free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, but they weren't major ones, and many of them were calmed after reading more of the recipes and descriptions.  For instance, the basic all-purpose flour mix is very low in nutrients and heavy on white rice flour.  However, they offer a 100% whole-grain flour blend as well, which can be used on its own or in combination with the AP blend.  You can also sub out the white rice flour for brown rice flour in the AP blend for a little more nutrition.  I really liked that they had an option for using psyllium husk instead of xanthan gum.  I tried it both ways and they came out similar, so I've been using psyllium husk on all my subsequent test batches.  In fact, I was impressed with the number of variations that the book gave for ingredients and techniques that could be incorporated into the process.

Small Boule - Early batches weren't perfect, but still good to eat

After I got the hang of it, I was incredibly impressed by the bread that came out of my oven with these recipes.  Even the loaves that were too dense had really good flavor, and it was easy to get the loaves to brown nicely.  I have always been opposed to rice flour in bread blends, but somehow the authors figured out a way to make it work, with the result that you can get a really nice, crispy crust that crackles coming out of the oven - something I've never gotten out of my own rice-free recipes, or anyone else's actually.  That's a major feat, and if you are the type of person who really misses a crisp, crusty bread this book is going to be a must-buy for you.   

The book itself is beautiful - the photo on the cover is inspiring, and it is filled with beautiful full-page color photos that would make anyone drool.  The index leaves something to be desired, as it has proven useless on several occasions for finding recipes or instructions that I knew were there, but the full-color photos were really helpful in finding new kinds of bread to try.  (Another quibble: not enough crumb shots!)  Based on a color photo in the book I decided to try making bagels, which were fantastic and became a staple in my house right away.  It was surprisingly easy to make a batch of these every day or two - which is the whole point of the five-minutes-a-day system.  I like that there's lots of flexibility in the time frames to fit different scenarios.

GF bagels from my own oven

Crumb shot

In the end, this is a book about a new system for making bread rather than a traditional book of recipes. I think it's a great thing for the gluten-free community, because it offers an easy, accessible way to make  really tasty bread at home when you can't find anything good in the store.  Being so beautiful a book, Gluten-free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day would make a great gift, whether for a friend who is new to gluten-free, or for a gluten-free person who already loves to bake bread.  I'm sure it will do well on the stands this holiday season.

In a few days I'll post a recipe from the book - check back soon!


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