Gluten-Free BreadPhoto by: Bob Zumwalt
Freshly Baked Gluten-Free (GF) Bread. These loaves are baked from a 50-50 blend of two GF bread mixes from Bob’s Red Mill: “Homemade Wonderful” (white), and “Hearty Whole Grain.” Good bread, especially homemade or bakery bread, has always been one of my favorite foods. We often just take bread for granted, as something that’s always on the shelf, in the cupboard, or waiting to be thawed out from the freezer. It’s a commodity we get from the supermarket. Mom never baked bread at home, so I grew up on store-bought sliced bread. When we visited Aunt Lelia’s farm, my mouth watered at the appealing aroma of fresh-baked bread. Often, the bread was still warm and soft — so soft it was difficult to slice with a bread knife. I smeared it with fresh-churned butter and Aunt Lelia’s homemade jam. I crammed it in, slice after slice, until Mom in her embarrassment made me stop. Ordinary sliced bread fueled my teenage growth spurt, during which I ate prodigious quantities of toast for breakfast. My consumption peaked at thirteen slices, as limited by the broiler capacity of our oven. Toast tastes best when the bread is buttered first and then grilled in the broiler, and I still do it this way. No toaster for me! In fact, my sister-in-law vowed to get me a toaster for Christmas and I begged her not to. In 1970 we moved to a small company town in Normandy, France. I didn’t realize it until we settled into a routine life in this charming French town, but our appreciation for bread was about to change! Each town — even the smallest village — had at least one boulangerie (bakery). We tried most of their wonderful breads, but our favorite was the ordinary baguette, the long, slim light-brown bread with the crunchy crust. We call this “French bread” in the USA. We bought croissants for special occasions. Never have I tasted croissants so rich in butter and with such thin, flaky layers! We loved another specialty item, brioche, which was a light, yellowish sweetened bread with a very thin crust. This bread was absolutely scrumptious; we lathered still-warm slices with butter and red-currant jam. Brioche was available only on Sunday mornings, and you had to get to the bakery early to find it. We placed a standing order for a loaf, and we dispatched our 8-year old son to fetch it while we prepared the coffee. Years later, on return visits to the village, we bribed the local hotel manager to procure a brioche. The oil refinery where I worked was close enough to town that I could come home for lunch. Our two sons were in French schools near our apartment and they also came home for lunch. A fresh baguette was the platform for our lunch. We combined the bread with butter, honey, peanut butter, and a delicious assortment of flavorful pates from a local charcuterie (deli). Around eleven o’clock each morning a red-cheeked Norman worker, dressed in traditional blue, would deliver a baguette to our apartment door and prop it up on the hallway floor — unwrapped. Yes, the delivery people carried several unwrapped baguettes under their arms! One time, our older son Fred said, “Dad, it looks like a mouse tail is sticking out of the bread!” “Nah, that’s probably just a piece of burned crust.” Sure enough, Fred was right. I broke open the baguette and saw a whole, well-baked mouse! Before living in France, I might well have gagged at this. Instead, I calmly cut away the portion containing the unfortunate critter and tossed it in the garbage. We ate the rest of the bread. Previously, we had eaten snails, all sorts of raw sea creatures, rabbits, and hallucinogenic mushrooms — a mere trace of a mouse couldn’t be that bad! We also learned a few things concerning bread manners in France: (1) there are no bread plates; just place your bread slice upon the tablecloth, (2) you can break off a bite-sized chunk of bread with your fingers, to reduce dental challenges, and (3) it’s perfectly OK to sop any leftover sauce from your plate. I loved to sink my teeth into the crust of a French baguette. The crust is really flavorful, but it’s tough and chewy, and poses a dental hazard. Once, I felt a molar with a big, ancient filling give way. The top half of the tooth was gone! What was I to do, so far from my regular dentist? Alas, there was nothing else to do but see Mlle. Pulzet, the only dentist in town. She spoke almost no English, so this was going to be major dental work in French. After a few iterations, I understood this was to be a root canal followed by a crown. I can still hear her terse commands in French: “ouvrez (open), fermez (close), mordez (bite)!” Years later, on a business trip to Baton Rouge, a similar scene ensued — for the same reason. Upon our return from the French assignment, we moved to New Jersey and resumed our usual life with store-bought sliced whole-wheat bread. We tried a few specialty breads, but these were disappointing, given our experience with French bread. For me, bread is a necessary part of eating, and I soon learned to enjoy the available store-bought bread. But I cut back to a more reasonable adult serving of three slices of toast for breakfast. After retiring, we moved back to Hallettsville, where we discovered there were still bakeries. We treated ourselves to lunches with still-warm, just-sliced bread. We loved the European-style taste of Czech bread. But we found we couldn’t use this bread on a daily basis, because it was too tempting to over-indulge. For most of my life I enjoyed huge amounts of bread, but this consumption ultimately came back to bite me. After a long siege of weight loss and illness, I discovered I had celiac disease. The immune system of some people generates antibodies against the protein in wheat, barley and rye. This antibody also attacks and damages the small intestine. Alas, no more wheat bread for me! It hasn’t been easy, but after many disasters involving ingredients and methods, I can now bake a decent loaf of gluten-free bread. I mainly use commercial GF bread mixes. I even found a recipe for gluten-free brioche on the Web. This resembled brioche but it wasn’t worth the effort. Fresh, home-baked GF bread can be delicious, but once frozen and thawed, it tends to break and crumble. In defense of GF bread, however, I can say it makes great toast. That said, I am still unfulfilled. My heart, soul and stomach still yearn for the now-proscribed wheat bread!
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