Couldn’t you just shout it from the rooftops, Oprah-style? I. LOVE. BREAD!!!!
There’s almost nothing that smells better than fresh bread baking in the oven. Then there’s that feel of a warm baguette in your hand. The crackle of the crust. Watching the butter instantly melt into a golden puddle of oily goodness as it hits the steam rising from the warm, pillow-like center.
Sorry, lost myself for a minute there.
Sadly, millions of beautiful baguettes could go uneaten this year (can you hear Sarah McLachlan singing “In the Arms of an Angel” somewhere in the background?) Why? Fear of gluten.
Is this you… Like a zillion people, you’ve given up bread because you’re convinced you must be gluten intolerant. And you figure you must have been the right thing to do, because now that you quit eating bread, you feel better.
Then, you go to Europe. You eat bread! Pasta! More bread! You’re cured!
Then, you come home, and bread makes you all bloat-y again.
Here’s the deal – there is about 1% of the population of America with celiac disease who must avoid gluten (apparently they all live in Los Angeles) and possibly as much as 6% that may be gluten sensitive (although there’s no real test for that). The rest of us can probably handle it just fine.
But, if you’ve felt better after giving up bread, there is a real reason for that and it’s not all in your head. Let me ‘splain.
It all starts with the stuff they make flour from. Outside of the whole GMO and pesticide thing, here in America most of the wheat produced is hard red wheat. It contains about 15% gluten, and the gluten is stronger and harder to break down, resulting in the fluffy bread we’re used to consuming here.
In Europe, most wheat is the soft variety, containing 10% gluten which is easier to break down.
And then yeah, there’s the whole GMO and pesticide thing.
This doesn’t belong in bread. According to the French Bread Law of 1993 (yes, I’m serious) bread is made from flour, water, salt and yeast. The starch in the flour breaks down into sugar which feeds the yeast, causing the dough to slowly rise.
The lengthy fermentation process allows bacteria to break down the carbohydrates and gluten. In other words, the longer it rises, the less potent the remaining gluten becomes.
In most bakeries in America, particularly commercial bakeries, sugar is added to the dough. Sugar feeds the yeast, causing the bread to rise faster. It also absorbs water, causing the bread to last longer. So the baker (a.k.a. commercial bakery) can make it faster, and it can sit on the shelf longer waiting for you to buy it. Who do you suppose benefits from that?
Yeast is a single-celled micro-organism that feeds on sugar or starch, releasing carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is called fermentation.
The carbon dioxide causes bread to rise, the alcohol gives the bread that wonderful yeast-y flavor.
Most commercial bakeries use instant yeast (or rapid rise yeast), which shortens the time it takes for bread to rise from hours (or sometimes even days) to minutes. This further short-changes the whole fermentation process.
Like I said earlier, traditional bread is made from flour, salt, yeast and water – that’s it. Most commercial breads also contain preservatives such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega 6’s), which extend the shelf life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t extend your life, and can create a host of digestive issues.
What are the options?
If you’re truly one of the 1% who have been diagnosed with celiac, then for God’s sake don’t listen to me! But if you want to bring bread back into your life, or you just want to eat really good bread, here’s my advice.
- Find a great local bakery. Talk to the baker and find out how they make their bread and what ingredients they use. See how it stacks up against the French Bread Law.
- Give sourdough (from a really good source) a try. Sourdough is made with a “starter” which causes a long, slow fermentation, making it easier to digest. It is also a prebiotic, which supports healthy critters in the gut.
- Make your own!
I know, you’re probably thinking “slow your roll there, farm girl.” Seriously though, it’s not hard, and I’ll bet you have 3 of the 4 ingredients in your kitchen right now. And yes, it’s a bit of a lengthy process, but there’s not that much hands-on time so there’s lots of down-time to do other things. And you’ll impress the crap out of people.
Here’s what it takes –
3 ½ c flour (I’ve been using King Arthur organic but I’m ordering French T65, the preferred baguette flour in France, for the next go)
2 ½ t salt
1 packet Active Dry Yeast – not the instant stuff
1 ½ c warm water (about 100 degrees, or bathtub warm)
Dissolve the yeast in about ¼ c of the warm water and let it sit a few minutes, while you thoroughly mix together the salt and flour.
Add the dissolved yeast and water and mix with a spatula or your hands just until it comes together to form a dough.
Turn it out on a board, let it rest a couple of minutes, then start gently kneading for about 10 minutes. Use a bench scraper to bring the bits that stick to the board back into the fold.
When the dough is nice and smooth and dough-y, place it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size (roughly 2 or 3 hours). Then you’re ready to shape it into baguettes.
Shaping is an art unto itself, and here’s a video to help explain that.
Let it rise again, score it, bake it, butter it, receive massive applause.
I hope you give this a shot, but even if you don’t try making your own bread I hope this at least helps with some of your gluten woes so you’re able to once again wallow with me in the world of bread.