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The Birth of the Goo

Being a celiac, I pretty much have to bake my own bread. If you look hard enough, you can find gluten-free bread in some specialty stores, but I've never found any that was even remotely edible. So, I make my own.

And let's be honest -- it's not really bread. It's kind of an interesting head-fake, but it doesn't have the texture and taste of real wheat bread. Hey. You do the best you can under the circumstances.

The other day, I tried making some french bread and it was a reasonable imitation, but it occurred to me that if I could make sourdough french bread, I could get even closer to the real thing. So I set about trying to find some sourdough starter.

I looked for days through a number of local grocery stores... most of the time the store employees just blinked at me when I asked if they had any sourdough starter. When I finally did find some, it was -- of course -- full of "hard white flour".

Eventually I turned to the web and at long last I found a recipe for making my own starter:

  • 1 package yeast
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups bread flour

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Add sugar, vinegar, salt, flour. Add remaining water until a creamy batter is formed. Place in a glass bowl, cover and let sit until it starts to ferment (about 3 days). It will take on a powerful boozy smell. Stir again until creamy and measure out what is called for in the recipe. Replenish starter with equal amounts of flour and water. Store in fridge and bring to room temperature before using.

Obviously I couldn't use the bread flour, but in a lot of simple recipes you can get away with substituting various gluten-free flours. So, I figured, what the hell, why not try substituting a gluten-free flour mix I picked up from Bette Hagman (2 parts white rice flour, 2/3 part potato starch flour, 1/3 part tapioca flour)?

Unfortunately, by the time I'd added only about half the 2 cups of water, the batter had become more like milk than cream. So, winging it (you do that a lot trying to get gluten-free stuff to work), I just threw in more of the gluten-free flour and less of the remaining water. I'd guess the total amounts ended up being more like: 1 and 1/3 cups warm water, and 2 and 2/3 cups gluten-free flour. That seemed to give it the right "creamy" consistency. (When it comes time to "replenish", my guess is I will have to add about two parts flour to about one part water.)

So, anyway, per the recipe, I threw the whole mess into a glass container, sealed it, and let it sit for three days. After the three days were up, I flipped the lid and -- sure enough -- it had that nice, boozy smell described in the recipe.

So, who the hell knows? Maybe I did it? Maybe I've given birth to some gluten-free sourdough starter. I'll try it out this weekend, see what kind of sourdough bread I end up with.

I have to say that if I really did get it to work, it's going to be particularly gratifying. I can recall being introduced to my grandmother's sourdough starter when I was a little boy. At the time, I think they told me it had been living in gram's refrigerator for something like twenty or thirty years. I was fascinated by the notion that there was this weird creature living in there. Every once in a while, grams would go in and remove some of it, then "feed" it to keep it nice and healthy. I may have imagined it  was a little bit like having some weird, Outer Limits pet in your refrigerator. I may have worried a bit about what it would do if you didn't "feed" it when and how you were supposed to.

So now I have given birth to one of my own. Naturally I'm feeling a little bit paternal at the moment. I look forward to taking "Bud" to Yankee Stadium for the first time, teaching him to ride a bike, and so forth.

Though I think I probably won't be starting a college fund.


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Some of the gluten-free breads are much improved by being toasted. Not that any of them are wonderful, even then, but they're edible.

I don't know where you are, but visiting Nashua, NH last weekend I discovered The Daily Count (www.thedailycount.com), which stocks quite a nice assortment of GF foods. They told me they'll do mail-order, too.

Some of the gluten-free breads are much improved by being toasted.

I've certainly noticed this with my own bread. I discovered it quite by accident one day when I went to make a sandwich from some day-old GF bread I'd made. The bread was all crumbly and practically useless so I thought I'd experiment and toast it, just to see if that would help. To my astonishment, the bread slices regained their structure and ended up serving quite well in my sandwich. Since then I've discovered I don't even have to make the bread into toast. I only have to heat it sufficiently.

I asked a chemist about this once. Why would heating the GF bread regenerate its structure? He looked at the ingredients I'd used, then explained how proteins and heat (and probably some fairy dust) would magically make the bread hang together again. It's great because the biggest problem with GF is that it starts falling apart after a few days. I can make nice-sized loaves now, keep them in the fridge, then re-heat if/whenever necessary to "restore it to health".

I don't know where you are...

New York City.

If it starts whining shrilly, "Feed me Seymour!" you should run.

It was great sharing a gluten free dinner with you last night. Something I meant to mention last night, the very best bakers say that long slow rising helps sourdough breads develop their tangy flavor to the max. You might want to experiment with slow rises in the fridge.


I'll be interested in seeing how this experiment goes. I'm learning to make sourdough (with conventional flour) at the moment, but I know someone with a gluten allergy who rather misses bread; this might be a way forward for her.

Yes, updates!

If you do take "Bud" to Yankee Stadium, make sure it's on a cool day, or your mutant offspring may end up taking over the bleachers and smothering a peanut vendor.

BTW, want a pie crust recipe?

Sure, updates as events warrant. The Recipe Lady said it took about 1 1/2 months for her creature to turn really sour so I might hold off making bread with it for a while. I want the real deal sour.

Pie crust recipe? Sure. Are you a celiac, too?

I'll try and dig it out tonight and e-mail it to you--unless you'd rather have it posted here, for the sake of your reading public. It does involve grounds nuts, though--so if those are a problem it's not the recipe for you. It makes, as you ight expect, a very crisp, non-flaky crust.

I don't happen to be celiac; I just seem to run across odd recipes. Maybe it's because I remember the odd ones when other people look st them and go on to other stuff.

Incidentally, Viennese baking is a treasure-trove of baked goods without flour; I think I even have a recipe for a torte that uses rice, cooked white beans instead of flour. It's not too bad, although you can tell it's not made with flour from the taste.

Sure, you can post a recipe here if you want. As long as it's not, you know, some right-wing, jingoistic, in-favor-of-the-Bush Administration recipe. I hate it when that happens.

Or you can email it, if you want, or if that's easier. I have made gluten-free pies using the GF mix. The shell is not exactly flaky in that wonderful pastry way, but it's surprisingly regular-pie-like in most other ways.

I also made a german chocolate cake once, for a birthday party, and except for one crabby whiner, it went over quite well.

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