Archives for posts with tag: gluten-free Italian baking

gluten-free stromboli (rolled focaccia stuffed with mozzarella and basil) 1

I have a confession to make. I have been idly playing around with my focaccia recipe for some months, changing a quantity here, adjusting a ratio there. It was never quite right so I didn’t post it. Then I discovered psyllium husk and I thought, “Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to crack it some time over the next few months.”

Then, Christmas came around and I was given a shed load of cookery books. Heaven. One of them, Gino D’Acampo’s Italian Home Baking, I flick through nearly every day. It is gluten porn in spades. There are only two (I think) gluten-free recipes in the whole book. The rest is gluten-a-go-go: wheat, semolina, rye, barley… Why would I put myself through this?!?!?! Why would a member of my family put me through this?!?!?!!?

Because I love it. Because I specifically asked for ‘normal’ cookery books, especially baking ones. I like to look my enemy right in the eye and very coldly and very calculatingly work out how I’m going to TAKE HIM DOWN (gluten is a ‘he’, don’t ask me why). Oh yes. I live to de-glutenise. No wheaty snack is safe from me.

And when I got to the recipe for stromboli, a focaccia which is stuffed with mozzarella and basil and then rolled, my mouth watered and my (left) eye squinted slightly as I imagined biting into crisp bread, oozing with hot herby cheese. I sized up my competition: my main problem was that I needed a reliable focaccia recipe first, never mind how I was actually going to roll the darned thing. I set to work and cracked it within a week.

So, that is my confession: my motivation to perfect my focaccia recipe was driven by gluttony and covetousness, pure and simple.

I feel so dirty.

gluten-free stromboli (rolled focaccia stuffed with mozzarella and basil) 2

Gluten-free stromboli (rolled focaccia stuffed with mozzarella and basil)

According to Gino (I look at his book so often that we’re on first name terms now), this loaf is named stromboli (the stress on the first syllable, not the second) after the volcanic island just off the Sicilian coast because it originated in that area. It traditionally contains mozzarella and basil but I don’t see why you couldn’t pimp it up a bit with other stuff, like olives, sun-dried tomatoes or marinated artichokes. It probably wouldn’t be a stromboli then, but, who cares?

The aroma that comes wafting out of the oven as it’s baking is U-N-B-E-L-I-E-V-A-B-L-E. Have you ever seen a cat on a scratching post after it’s had catnip sprayed on it? That was a bit like me around the oven door this morning…

Makes 1 medium loaf

130g mozzarella, cut into small cubes
50g fresh Parmesan or Grana Padano, grated
3 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
good grinding black pepper
5 tsp psyllium husk
5 tbsp cold water
215g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
120g potato flour (starch)
15g tapioca flour (starch)
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Vitamin C
1 egg white
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
300ml lukewarm water
1 tbsp olive oil plus extra for brushing

You will also need an electric whisk and a 36cm x 12cm x 3cm rectangular loose-bottomed tart tin*.

Get the filling ready: place the mozzarella, Parmesan, basil leaves, crushed garlic and black pepper in a small mixing bowl and gently stir to combine. Set aside.

Prepare the tart tin: grease the tin and line with a strip of parchment wide enough to fit the base and long enough to go up the two short sides and overhang by a few centimetres either end (i.e. a strip approximately 50cm x 12cm).

Next, make up the focaccia batter by following my recipe here.

Place a piece of baking parchment 36cm high and about 70cm wide on your work surface and brush with oil. Spread the batter, using a well-oiled palette knife or spatula, to form a rectangle about 32cm high (leave a couple of centimetres between the edge of the batter and the edge of the parchment top and bottom) and about 20-25cm across in the middle of your baking parchment. The batter should be about 1cm thick. Avoid leaving holes in the batter, as the cheese will ooze out whilst baking and go brown.

Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the surface, leaving a border of a couple of centimetres all the way round. Now, you need to roll up the batter, Swiss-roll-stylee, using the baking parchment to help you. Start by lifting the left-hand long edge until the batter starts to roll onto itself. Keep coaxing the batter along by lifting up the edge of the parchment with one hand and nudging the base of the roll with the other. When the batter is completely rolled up, carefully roll it back to the middle of the parchment and lift it, paper and all, into the tart tin. Trim off any excess parchment so that the overhang is a couple of centimetres all the way around.

Place the tin on a baking sheet and cover with a large plastic bag (my supermarket carriers were too small so I ending up using a black dustbin bag). Leave to rise at room temperature for 12-14 hours.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Before baking, remove the plastic bag and brush the surface of the loaf with olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and continue to bake for another 30 minutes. The loaf is done when it is golden brown on the top and the base sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckle.

Remove from the tin and carefully peel off the baking parchment. Place on a wire rack to cool. Eat warm, either by itself, or to accompany soup, or with a selection of cold meats and salads.

* My tin has fluted edges: it really doesn’t matter because the parchment should stop this marking the bread.

gluten-free focaccia with rosemary and sea salt

I’ve been working on a gluten-free focaccia recipe for quite a while but I’ve never been completely satisfied with it. Usually gluten-free bread needs a certain amount of egg in it to help it to rise, but I’m always a little disappointed at how heavy and ‘cakey’ it can be, especially the day after baking.

Then, I discovered psyllium husk. I’d already read a bit about it and its pseudo-glutenacious properties on the internet, so I decided to give it a try. I managed to track a bag down in my local Natural Grocery Store, which is an Aladdin’s cave of organic, vegetarian and vegan foods, beverages, toiletries and cosmetics.

Psyllium husk is usually put into fruit and vegetable juices as a natural way of oiling the cogs of the digestive system and keeping everything moving, if you get my drift. When baking with it, you mix a little with water, give it a stir and leave it to sit for about 10 minutes. The resulting mixture, depending upon how much water you add, ranges from very gloopy and a bit like egg white to a speckly lump of jelly, and you just add it along with your other wet ingredients to your dry ones. I haven’t experimented with it extensively yet but I have a feeling that overall liquid volume probably needs to be increased when baking with it.

It’s quite expensive at £3.99 for 200g (working out at nearly £20 a kilo) but that 200g bag lasts quite a long time and the results it has when used in gluten-free baking are truly worth it. I’ve managed to cut down on the egg content by over half in this recipe and the resulting bread feels much lighter, less ‘cakey’ and much more ‘bready’.

gluten-free focaccia with rosemary and sea salt 2

Gluten-free focaccia with rosemary and sea salt

Please note that the top of the bread has a slightly grainy texture from the psyllium – it isn’t visible inside the loaf, however.

Makes 1 medium loaf

5 tsp psyllium husk
5 tbsp (75ml)  cold water
215g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
120g potato flour
15g tapioca flour
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp fast-action yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Vitamin C (I used Dove’s Farm)
1 egg white
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
300ml tepid water
1 tbsp olive oil + extra for brushing
couple sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped
sea salt

You will also need an electric whisk, a 23cm x 20cm x 4cm rectangular non-stick cake tin, its base and short sides lined with one strip of greased baking parchment, and a couple of supermarket carrier bags or large plastic bags.

First, place the psyllium husk in a small bowl or mug with 5 tablespoons (75ml) of cold water. Give it a good stir and set aside while you measure out the other ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, sift all the dry ingredients (apart from the xanthan gum) and give them a good whisk with a balloon whisk to make sure they are thoroughly mixed.

In a scrupulously clean bowl, whisk the egg white on high speed until light and foamy (about 20 seconds). Sprinkle in the xanthan gum and continue to whisk until the egg becomes white and marshmallowy. BE VIGILANT! The egg white will take on a life of its own and will start to swarm up the beaters. To avoid it fouling up the motor on your whisk, withdraw the beaters and it will swarm back down again.

Give the psyllium husk a good stir with a spoon. It should have become a fairly solid jelly. Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the psyllium jelly, the water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the egg white. Stir in the liquids, using a spatula, with a loose folding motion until everything is well-combined. The mixture should be quite wet and sticky.

Pour the mixture into the oiled cake tin and smooth flat with an oiled spatula or palette knife. Using well-oiled fingers, make deep dimples in the surface of the batter. Form a tent over the tin with a double layer of carrier bags (they always have anti-suffocation holes punched in them) or a single large plastic bag. Leave to rise overnight at room temperature for 12-14 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 190°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Lightly brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle on the fresh rosemary and sea salt. Bake the bread for 10 minutes then lower the temperature to 180°C and continue baking for another 30 minutes.

At the end of the baking time, remove the bread from its tin, carefully strip off the baking parchment and place it on a wire rack. Leave until completely cool before slicing.

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