If you don’t make your own bread because you think it’s a time-intensive and difficult process, I’m here to change your mind. If you’re committed to Gluten Free, this is not the recipe for you. But if you’re on the edge about Gluten Free, let me talk to you for a minute. I agree 100% that GMO gluten is the devil. And I’ve seen the plants. Look, I spent 4 years living in the middle of wheatfields in Palouse country, and I know what wheat is supposed to look like.
Last year, there were these fields of what looked like grain which I passed every time I went to my son’s. I could not for the life of me figure out what they were. They were short, squat with huge heads, more like a hop, but I knew they weren’t hops. Finally, one day when I was with my daughter-in-law passing the same spot, she told me, “Did you see the Super-Gluten Wheat plants? They had to breed them into shorter stalks because their heads are too heavy now for normal stalks to support them.” GMOs. @#*%# GMOs.
But I’m a baker. Sure, I know how to make lots of Gluten Free breads. But, I will tell you that there is no substitute for a piece of homemade wheat bread still warm from the oven. So I’m detemined to find a way around it. I am breaking nearly every rule of good bread baking, but do you know why? Because bakers consider that the higher the gluten content, the better the bread. You do your own taste test, but I’m going to say that for daily or frequent use, this is perfect. For now, I just buy organic wheat flour, and use this method of breadmaking so the gluten doesn’t have much time to develop. I know that’s not the whole answer. I’m working on it. But for now, this is what I do.
Today I’m making baguettes. But you can shape this bread however you want it (I’ll give you some tips in the end), so that you can have a large loaf, a round loaf, two small loaves or three baguettes. I bake mine on my pizza stone for most loaves, but on a special pan for baguettes. But I’m a baker. You can do the same thing on just a cookie sheet. It will not make a difference.
Equipment preferred (feel free to substitute the closest thing you have): a cake pan (perhaps that old one that you don’t use so much anymore because it’s discolored, but it doesn’t matter), a good sized baking sheet if you don’t have the accoutrements mentioned above, a large plastic bowl, a 2-cup liquid measure, and a silicone mixer/scraper (shaped like this) on a plastic handle (wood gets gloppy), a cooling rack, and a very sharp knife for slashing the loaves before they are baked. The plastic is to spare you. I was a purist when I started out and didn’t want plastic in my kitchen. But after wrestling with dough crusted glass and stainless steel bowls and wooden handles, I now use plastic. You simply let the leftover dough dry and brush it down the sides of the bowl with your fingers. The bowl is clean, and you don’t have goopy, doughy water going into your sink drain.
Note: Do NOT preheat your oven.
2 cups organic white flour + 1 cup in reserve and more for dusting
2 cups organic stone ground wheat flour (you can actually mix that up in whatever proportions you prefer, as long as there is at least one cup of white flour. Total whole wheat flour is a different animal and requires different ingredients and different handling.)
2 cups warm water (and by warm, I mean what is comfortably hot on the inside of your wrist)
1 level T of yeast (Quick Rising yeast doesn’t have to be proofed)
1 t sea salt
cornmeal for dusting the baking pan
Put all the flour into your plastic bowl. Sprinkle the yeast and salt over the flour. Fill your liquid measure with two cups of warm/hot water and pour it into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Take your mixer/scraper and mix the dry and wet together. Get down underneath it and make sure that it is all getting mixed in, not leaving dry flour at the bottom. Once it is pulled into a soft mass, ditch the scraper and use your hand. You are going to knead the dough right in the bowl. If the mass is sticky, use your reserved cup of flour a little at a time, working it in and turning the dough as you go.
At this point, I see that it would REALLY help to be doing this on a video rather than writing it out, but for now, this is all we have. You scoop up the dough from underneath, and fold it on top of itself, then turning it a half turn around the bowl (not turning over), scooping it again, folding it on top of itself, turning it a half turn around the bowl. You keep doing this until the dough is smooth in your hands, and there is no stickiness when you touch it. If you need to add a bit of flour, or even if you end up using the whole reserved cup, that’s okay. Don’t worry if it’s still a bit sticky inside, that’s actually better than too dry. But the outside needs to be dry and smooth and handleable.
Now prepare the countertop or wherever you want to shape your loaves. I generally need a space about 27-28″ in diameter. With the dusting flour, we are going to create a “veil” of flour over the area. So, scoop up a generous handful of white flour. Holding your hand, palm-side up with your fingers closed as much as possible over the flour, give it a smooth side to side shake, not slow, not fast, but with a definite smooth, sifting motion to release the flour over the workspace.
Before you start shaping the dough, if you are using any pan other than the baguette pan, you will need to dust it with cornmeal to prevent the bread from sticking to the pan, unless you want to use a Silpat mat. I’ve never tried the Silpat with bread, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.
To make baguettes, divide your dough into three pieces as evenly as possible, laying one in the center of your work space, and the other two at the top. Press down the one in the center, working it with your hands to make it into a long, narrow (about the width of your hand) rectangle. The length should be just shorter than the length of your baking sheet. Try to keep in the same thickness as you work. At any point, if you’re not happy with the end result, pick it up and start over. When the rectangle is the recommended size, starting from the long side of the rectangle that is away from you, fold it or roll it toward you into a baguette-like shape. Turn it seam side down, pinch the ends closed so you don’t have a furled blossom-like end. Lay it on your sheet pan or baguette pan. Do the same with the other two, so that when you are finished, you should have three fairly uniform baguettes. Take the sharp knife and slash across all three loaves diagonally three times from one side to the other.
Take that cake pan and fill it with water about 2″ deep. Arrange your oven racks so that the bottom rack can hold the cake pan and the next shelf up can hold the bread. Place the pan of water in the center of the oven, lengthwise, and place the pan of loaves above it. Close the oven door, set your oven temperature to 425° and set your timer for 30 minutes. The bread will rise and bake beautifully in a steamy oven, and have a lovely, crisp crust. You may see clouds of steam coming up out of the oven at some point, but don’t worry, that’s completely normal.
At 30 minutes, open the oven, and, with a mitt, turn one of the loaves over so that the underside is up, and tap on the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it is done. If it does not, put it back in the oven for another 5 – 10 minutes.
When it’s done, remove the pan to the oven top or counter and turn off the oven. As soon as you can, remove the hot loaves to a cooling rack, and allow the loaves to cool considerably before you cut it. Cutting it too warm produces what my grandmother used to call “sad” bread, it sags and looks doughy. Of course you want that first slice warm, and that’s okay — just a little warm.
Enjoy in moderation!
For other shapes, just shape it as you want, as one long french loaf, as one big round boule, as two football shaped loaves with the ends tucked under. Always place on your pan seam side down. Any of these take around 40 minutes to bake instead of 30. Testing doneness is the same, the hollow sound on the underside.
Photo is my own bread just out of the oven!