gluten-free sunflower and linseed bread

Aahhh, bread: the Holy Grail of gluten-free baking. Something that is so simple when you are in league with the devil have gluten on your side, becomes a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, when it decides it hates you. I know, I know, that’s Churchill’s take on Russia, but you get my meaning…

I have struggled with gluten-free breadmaking, I’m not going to lie. I have already regaled you with my early woeful attempts to master the art. I almost gave up. But I’m stubborn, me, and I really hate it when something or someone gets the better of me. I decided that I wasn’t going to go down without a fight. This recipe started off as an adaptation of my flatbread recipe but has undergone so many changes that it’s no longer recognisable as such. I have been tweaking this for months and months, trying new flour and starch combinations and ratios, increasing and decreasing fat, milk and liquid and I’ve never been satisfied.

It was starting to become my Moby Dick, though, and I finally thought, enough is enough. I’ve been trying to recreate a glutenous loaf but what makes a glutenous loaf a glutenous loaf is…well, the gluten and no amount of xanthan gum is going to produce that. Commercial brands are light and fluffy but that’s because they’re mainly starch and have little nutritional value. I find that they stick to my teeth and undergo some kind of alchemical change to cement in my digestive tract.

This is the best loaf I’ve come up with so far – it’s not light and fluffy – but it’s moist and flavoursome and smells delicious coming out of the oven. I’ve subbed some of the plain flour for buckwheat to boost the nutritional value and I’ve added sunflower seeds and linseeds to give the digestive system something to fight.

One of the problems I’ve found with making gluten-free bread has been that by the time I’ve mixed the ingredients, left the batter to rise, baked the loaf and allowed it to cool, it’s mid-afternoon, I’ve already had my breakfast and lunch and now don’t need bread again until tomorrow morning, by which time the loaf is no longer fresh. So this time, I mixed the ingredients late (it was about 10.30 last night) and left the tin of batter to rise by a cold radiator overnight, but which I knew would be coming on at about 6.00-6.30 this morning. By the time I went down at 8.00 this morning, the loaf was beautifully risen and ready to go in the oven. It was baked and cool enough to cut by about 10.00 so I had a lovely late breakfast of boiled eggs and soldiers (!) and then I had some more for lunch. If you don’t have a radiator that comes on by itself like this, you could easily leave it out overnight and then pop it in the airing cupboard a couple of hours before you need it. Cooling it before cutting is really important – if you cut it too warm, it’ll go claggy and horrible. I must confess I did cheat somewhat and stuck it outside the back door for 10 minutes to speed things up a bit.

As with all gluten-free bread, it’s best eaten fresh on the day of baking and toasted thereafter. You can also rejuvenate it in the microwave for a few seconds. Any bread that I don’t think I’ll eat in two days, I slice thinly and freeze. Make sure you separate each slice with a piece of greaseproof paper before bagging.  One tip for toasting – wait a couple of minutes before adding butter/spread to allow the steam to escape – you’ll get a crisper result.

gluten-free sunflower and linseed bread

Gluten-free sunflower and linseed bread

Makes 1 medium-sized loaf

240g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
135g potato flour (starch)
50g buckwheat flour
25g tapioca flour (starch)
10g skimmed milk powder
1 tbsp gluten-free baking powder
2 tsp + 1 tsp xanthan gum
3 tbsp linseeds
3 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tsp fast-action yeast
25g butter, cubed
1 1/2 tbsp runny honey
1-1 1/2 tsp salt*
1 tsp cider vinegar
150ml boiling water
200ml cold water
2 medium eggs, separated

You will also need an electric whisk and a non-stick, 1.3l capacity loaf tin.

First, grease and line your loaf tin with a strip of parchment that is long enough to line the base as well as the two short sides, leaving a couple of inches either end for ease of lifting.

Sift the plain, potato, buckwheat and tapioca flours into a large mixing bowl, along with the milk powder, baking powder and 2 teaspoons of xanthan gum. Sprinkle in the linseeds, sunflower seeds and fast-action yeast. Stir with a large balloon whisk to distribute all the ingredients uniformly.

Put the butter, honey, salt and vinegar in a heatproof jug and add 150ml boiling water and set aside. Put the egg whites into a clean, grease-free bowl and whisk for 15-20 seconds until light and frothy. Add 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum and continue to whisk. The egg whites will go white and marshmallowy. YOU MUST BE VIGILANT! All of a sudden, the egg whites will seem to take on a life of their own and will begin to swarm up the beaters like something out of a 1950s black-and-white B-movie. Make sure you lift the beaters clear and they will crawl back down again but if you’re not careful, they could end up fouling up the motor of your whisk. When they begin to crawl, they’re ready. Set aside.

Go back to your butter, honey and vinegar mixture. Give it a quick stir with a balloon whisk to mix all the ingredients then top up with 200ml of cold water. Add the two egg yolks, lightly beaten and give it a final whisk.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Add the butter, honey, vinegar and egg mixture and then scoop the marshmallowy egg whites on top. Gradually fold everything together until you have a sticky batter. I tend to use a spatula for this as you can scrape all the flour off the sides of the bowl. Tip the batter into the lined loaf tin and smooth down with the spatula (it should come up to about a centimetre to a centimetre-and-a-half below the rim of the tin). Cover loosely with a sheet of oiled clingfilm (plastic wrap). Set on a baking (cookie) sheet and place near a radiator (that you know will come on in the morning). Leave overnight to rise.

Check the loaf in the morning – it should have risen about a centimetre-and-a-half to two centimetres above the rim of the tin and have a domed top. If it hasn’t, leave for a while longer in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Remove the clingfilm from the top of the loaf and bake for 40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown on top and sounds hollow when you knock the base with your knuckle.

Remove from the oven and take the loaf out of the tin using the greaseproof paper straps. Remove the paper and leave on a cooling rack until completely cool before slicing.

* I used 1 teaspoon of salt and I don’t think it was quite enough.