Some weeks ago I was asked if I had a bread recipe for gluton free bread and I had to confess I had not. Because I love home baked bread (and can eat gluton) I have never really looked at an alternative. So rather than experiment with existing recipes I asked my 'bread expert' friend if he could give me a good gluton free bread recipe.
His answer was an emphatic 'No!'. Not to be dissuaded I asked him why.
I think it will be easier to put it in his words.
"To make bread there are some basic chemical processes that have to be undergone, gluton is an essential part of those processes.
If we take away the gluton we have to replace it with something else and we have to use flours which do not contain gluten. Some of these flours have very different
properties and tastes so I have to say that no, you can't make gluton free bread. You can make a totally different product however that is an approximation of bread."
Well, not to be distracted by semantics, I asked: "Could you give us a recipe for a 'bread approximation?" He wasn't happy. Eventually he agreed to have a go and he also agreed to make me some of his speciality bread in my kitchen.... Which was nice.
As he baked I was given some information and here is what he told me.
"Unless you know for sure that you have intolerance to gluton through other products than bread or through a medical condition you may be missing out."
What did he mean?
"Well, I can't eat so called 'shop bread', not that I would want to but it makes me ill and yet, I don't have a gluton allergy."
Tell me more.
"The problem comes from the poor quality of commercial bread. A big change in bread manufacture happened in 1961 with the development of the Chorley Wood Bread Process which used the intense mechanical working of dough to dramatically reduce the fermentation period and the time taken to produce it. This takes away the taste and some of the nutrition though and makes the bread totally different.
It enables the use of inferior grain and leaves a poor texture which has to be manipulated to make it react and look like bread. It is also bolstered with chemicals and flavourings to make it visually stimulating and approximate food.
More recently, and especially in smaller retail bakeries, chemical additives are used that both speed up mixing time and reduce necessary fermentation time, so that a batch of bread may be completed in a lot less time that you would credit.
Dough that does not require fermentation because of chemical additives is called "quick bread" by commercial bakers.
Common additives include reducing agents such as L-cysteine or sodium metabisulfite, and oxidants such as potassium bromate or ascorbic acid.
These chemicals are added to dough in the form of a pre-packaged base, which also contains most or all of the dough's non-flour ingredients.
Using such bases and sophisticated chemistry, it has been possible for commercial bakers to make imitations of artisan and sourdough breads."
So 'shop bread' isn't real bread at all?"
"No and much so called artisan bread isn't either."
So making your own is a much better option?
"Of course, but these days no one wants to put the time in to making it, we are all in a
rush to go nowhere but I'm sure the rise in chemical breads have contributed to so called gluton
intolerance. That is why I suggest trying homemade bread if you are having trouble eating the
rubbish that is sold in supermarkets."
It made sense to me and I admit that I also can't eat most commercial bread as it lies very heavy.
"Gluton intolerance is a real problem but it is worth thinking about it on an individual basis and if it is just commercial bread that is the cause, it may be chemical poisoning and nothing to do with gluton. If that is so, bake your bread once a month and freeze it. There are many recipes that freeze well."
'But,' I pointed out, 'There are a few gluton free breads on the market and there are many commercial flours out there too.
"Yes there are but if you look at them they range in colour and texture from cake to
plasticine. As for the taste, well I have tasted linseed oil in several and what I considered was like heating oil in one."
It was clear he was not impressed by them and he did promise he would go away and try and 'design' a better flour mix to try and get a better texture and taste.
So as the gluton free bread cooled we examined it. It was heavy as it doesn't rise like
real dough and the colour and texture are very different. The taste is.... well, it's not bread but as he says a rough approximation.
"The problem is with fake bread, some of the flours can have a detrimental effect on the finished item and taste as they have to have things like xanthan gum or chick pea water to bind them and these can effect taste and texture. Most commercial versions have chemicals added to try to sort out the problems. That's back to square one in my book"
Well I tried it and I wasn't impressed I admit, It was edible but not like normal bread an I far more enjoyed the Christmas Bread he made and the white bread rolls.
The bread he made was a blend of Sorgum, rice and Gram flours with potato starch but he did confess that he had a few ideas to make a better copy. He has promised to continue development and come back to try it out. I hope that means I get some more Christmas Bread!