Kitchen Stories: Gluten-free bread that defies the fad

Preparing gluten-free bread

Jenny Asarnow prepares the dough for her gluten-free bread – note the scale for weighing ingredients. (Photo by Alma Khasawnih)

Until I came to Seattle, I’d only met one person in my life who had a wheat allergy. But it seems that for the past year I have heard nothing but “I don’t eat gluten.”

Is this the new fad? The new Atkins? What is up with the United States and people with allergies and food issues? Is it the same everywhere or just here?

It came up again as I was searching for recipes for my Kitchen Stories series. My friend Joaquin told me I must meet with Jenny Asarnow who bakes the best gluten-free yummies ever.

My first reaction was “gluten-free, umm, why?”

I tend to eat a lot of bread because it is easy food to find and it is filling. And so far, it didn’t seem to be hurting me.

Or maybe it was.

I had to learn more. And where else would I go but Wikipedia.

It turns out that celiac disease is not entirely new (it was first named by an ancient greek physician). But these days, there are more people than ever before suffering from it.

Apparently, it’s the wheat that has changed, not the people. The grain that humans ate centuries ago is not the same one we eat today. It probably is a distant cousin. The grain has been genetically modified and now we react to it differently.

For example, one of Jordan’s national foods is makmourah; layers of flat bread divided by layers of onion and meat. Traditionally the bread was made from whole wheat flour without any white flour.

But those cooking this dish in recent years have noticed that in order to be able to knead the dough as needed to make makmourah, they now need to mix in white flour in with the whole wheat because the whole wheat they used has changed; it no longer does what it used to do.

Jenny unveils the finished product. (Photo by Alma Khasawnih)

I still think that there are a lot of individuals who follow a gluten-free diet as a weight loss methodology and pass it off as a trendy wheat allergy. But there are those small segments of the population who suffer an abdominal pain, stomach problems and fatigue as a result of eating gluten.

The unfortunate part for both groups is that most of the gluten-free baked goods are just not that tasty.

But I must say that Jenny’s gluten-free sourdough bread was the exception. It turned out to be as delicious as Joaquin promised.

Here’s how she made it:

Jenny starts with the sourdough bread recipe on Gluten-Free Doctor. She usually halves the recipe. Some of these ingredients sound rare, but can be found at most grocery stores, definitely at Trader Joe’s or Madison Market:

75 grams potato starch

75 grams tapioca flour

75 grams sorghum flour

17.5 grams sweet rice flour

15 grams sugar

5 grams salt

10 grams xanthan gum

5 grams guar gum

750 grams sourdough starter, which you have already taken out of the fridge the night before (must be at room temperature)

But then, like any good baker, Jenny adds her own secret ingredients:

¼ table spoon yeast

1 table spoon egg replacement (Egg Beaters)

1 table spoon flax seed

1 table spoon honey

Gluten-free dough

Don’t be afraid if your dough is lighter and more liquid than your average bread dough. That’s Jenny’s secret. (Photo by Alma Khasawnih)

Mix all dry ingredients together. Then add the starter. Then add all Jenny’s extra ingredients, which she adds to make the dough more elastic and not crumble. Mix all the ingredients in a mixer at medium speed. The dough will become fluffy, almost like cake batter but not as runny. It will not be as thick and knead-able as you expect bread dough to be – which is fine because you won’t need to knead it.

Let the dough rise for six hours. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 450° F for 1.5 hours.

Jenny made thin cuts across the top of the bread and added salt and sesame seeds on top before putting the dough in the oven.

And voilà! Delicious bread with no wheat flour required!

alma khasawnih is an immigrant from Far West Asia. Detroit is the city she feels most affinity to, currently lives in Seattle, and wants to grow old in Barcelona. alma is a PhD student in Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington, her focus is street artists and graffiti art in Cairo's Arab Spring. She is interested and involved in Digital and Public Humanities. She finds it relaxing to color within the lines in coloring books.

1 COMMENT

  1. lovely recipe but really, gmo wheat is behind celiac disease? I don’t even think that commercially- sold what is genetically modified. wikipedia? anyway, i do have a relative with a very real condition who appreciates the fad, because it sends yummy food her way–sending along to her, thanks for posting!

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