A perfect gluten-free bread loaf

For our wedding, Alex and I got a breadmaker. (I think we had it on our list.) It’s a good breadmaker, and we’ve used it many, many times, though we had eventually stopped using it for the baking aspect — the loaf size was odd, and if you forgot to take the paddle out, the hole in the bottom was annoying.

Then, about a year ago, Alex started an elimination diet that eliminated wheat from her plate. Thus began the long (and not-infrequently bad-tasting) search for something to replace the gluten (and thus, wheat) that had been removed. That meant finding a different way to make bread.

It was much harder than I thought.

There’s a lot of wheatless bread recipes out there, and I think (at some point) we went through nearly all of them. Many were dense and gooey, some had a terrible aftertaste, and there were a couple that I never even tasted — they just went in the garbage.

But, finally, nearly a year later, we’ve found something that produces what we consider to be one of the best loaves we’ve had since starting this search. And since I know there’s people out there in similar circumstances, the least we could do is share our discovery with you.

Now, point of note: this uses eggs and almond flour. If you are avoiding either of these, you’re going to have to keep looking. We’ve done the egg replacer thing, too, and … well, frankly, it doesn’t work the same. Not remotely. And the almond flour seems to impart a few properties that rice flour on its own can’t bring to the table. (At least, this has been our experience. Your mileage may vary.)

Also, if you’re doing this sort of thing, we really recommend a flour mix that seems to be a solid “all purpose” gluten-free flour. It’s a 1:1:1 combination of white rice flour (water absorbency), brown rice flour (more of a glutenous texture), and almond flour/meal (taste, and really helps with the browning). We keep a large canister of this stuff handy for bread, cookies, pancakes, and so forth.

Okay, so on with the recipe! You’ll need the following:

In a mixer with a large bowl (we use a Kitchenaid, which is perfect; a breakmaker may work for this, but we haven’t tried), add in the salt, sugar, vinegar, and hot water. Get the mixer going at about 40% speed, and make sure all the salt and sugar are dissolved. Then add the eggs, while the mixer is still going. It should froth a little.

While your wet is mixing, combine the flours and yeast. Once the wet has been mixing for a couple of minutes (so it’s well-mixed), turn the mixer off, add the flour, and resume mixing at about 20% speed. It’ll thicken pretty quickly, and look a little like a thick hummus. Let it mix for a couple of minutes, then stop and scrape down the dough that’s stuck to the sides and on the paddle (which, if yours is like ours, it’ll collect in a bit of a ball). You’ll want to do this twice, just to be certain.

While the dough is mixing, turn your oven on to its lowest possible setting. Most ovens seem to go no lower than 170 F/76.6 C. This is to help your dough rise. You get one shot at this (gluten-free breads can’t do multiple rises), so it’s important that your oven be warm.

When it’s all mixed, scrape (you’ll need to, trust me) the dough into a bread pan (we use a silicone one which is fantastic, and requires no greasing). Try to smooth the top out as much as you can — any peaks will be make their way through the final bake.

Now here’s the catch with the oven — yeast will die above about 104 F/40 C. So before popping your loaf into the oven, turn the oven off (trust me, this is important), and open the door for about a minute to let out the excess heat (relax, your oven will retain quite a bit of its latent heat). Insert ye olde pan and dough, close the door, and don’t you dare think of opening it again until it’s all done, hear me?

Set a timer for 30 minutes. Walk away.

After 30 minutes have elapsed, you’ll note that the bread only looks a little risen. Don’t panic. Turn your oven back on using its lowest setting (i.e. “Keep Warm”). Set the timer, another 30 minutes, and walk away again. When you come back, you’ll find (don’t open the door!) that it’s risen considerably.

Now set your oven to 350 F/176.6 C. If your oven can change temperatures fairly quickly, set your timer to about 50 minutes; if yours is slower (like mine), set it for 60. Again, walk away…

After the final timer goes off, make sure you get that loaf on a cooling rack as quickly as possible — there’s still quite a bit of moisture in that bread, and it’ll turn the bread to mush if you leave it in the pan. Also, you might want to turn the loaf on its side, as I’ve found it keeps it from sinking. Let it rest for at least an hour before cutting — you need to give it time to firm up.

So, yes, it’s a bit complicated but the results are worth it. You don’t need to freeze it (unlike some other gluten-free breads), and if you keep it in an airtight container, it’s good for almost a week, and maybe more … but we always eat it before then.

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