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Monday 11 November 2013

Gluten Free: Focaccia

Gluten free bread can be an absolute pain in the arse to make, just ask the semi-finalists in this year's Great British Bake Off. Actually, only Christine went full-out gluten free, and I'm sure you can remember her tribulations. The problem was (apart from not lining the loaf tin) that the contestants didn't realise that baking gluten free bread is very different from baking 'normal' bread. A lot of time, a few disasters and a brilliant course at River Cottage have shown me that, if you want gluten free bread, you have to be ready to throw the rule book away.

Without gluten to work, you don't knead need to knock back the dough and prove for a second time. In fact, that's positively discouraged, you'll struggle to get it to rise a second time, GF bread dough is delicate stuff. You do need to add something to replicate the stickiness of gluten; xanthan gum, guar gum, psyllium husk and flax seeds are all commonly used and easily found in most free from aisles and health food shops.  You also need to forget about normal bread dough, yours just won't look like that springy, smooth ball that you're used to. It'll resemble thick cake batter, don't panic, it's meant to look that way.

I was inspired by Beca's idea to use potatoes in her spelt* focaccia to replace some of the starchy gloopiness that gluten brings to a recipe, but there's no such thing as a spare potato in my house (not since Sian shared her recipe for Crouque Monsieur potatoes) so I turned to the much-maligned instant kind. It is one of our 12 secret ingredients, after all.

You'll need:
  • 400ml tepid water
  • 1 tsp dried active yeast
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 75g Smash (or other gluten free instant mashed potato)
  • 100g brown rice flour
  • 50g white teff flour (or buckwheat flour)
  • 50g millet flour
  • 100g white rice flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp olive oil (plus a little extra for drizzling)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 12 pitted black olives 
  • a couple of sprigs of rosemary
Make it!
  1. Add the yeast and sugar to the water and stir. Leave to one side.
  2. Put the Smash, flours, xanthan gum and salt into a bowl and mix to combine everything.
  3. Whisk the oil, eggs and vinegar together and add to the Smash and flour mix. 
  4. Mix everything together, adding the yeasty water as you do. You'll need to mix well for a while to get the starches all sticky so a stand (or electric hand) mixer with a dough hook is definitely encouraged here.
  5. Once the mixture resembles sloppy mashed potatoes, spread it out in a lined roasting tray and cover with clingfilm.
  6. Leave to rise for at least an hour.
  7. Preheat your oven to as high as it'll go (mine was at 230°C/450°F/gas mark 8).
  8. Remove the clingfilm and gently push the olives and rosemary leaves into the surface of the dough. Drizzle with a little oil and carefully place in the oven.
  9. After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to 165°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and continue to bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Lift the bread out of the tin, using the baking paper to lift and leave to cool before slicing.
If that list of flours is putting you off, use 300g of gluten free bread flour mix instead. Omit the xanthan gum if it's already in the mix.

*Spelt IS NOT gluten free. It's a type of wheat with less gluten than conventional wheat, but it's still wheat.

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