Make Mine a Gluten-Free Cheese Sandwich

Toasted gluten-free sandwich bread. With pickle.

When food bloggers were challenged by a recent article in Food & Wine magazine to write with more verve and snap than a "boring cheese sandwich" I knew I had to head to the kitchen. Not to begin unwrapping my favorite snowy goat cheese (creamy with only a slight tang and a finish that barely flutters with August grass blowing in a southerly Aix-en-Provence wind breeze) but to bake.

Because, Dear Reader, in order to make a cheese sandwich- boring or not- you first need bread.

And bread is a rare event in my gluten-free kitchen. I bake bread perhaps twice a year, even though it's the perpetual tap-dancing Holy Mother of a Grail to the ever widening gluten-free world, the numero uno item verboten most newly minted celiacs yearn- with quasi-religious fervor- to replace.

The reason for my culinary indifference?

I've yet to sink my teeth into any gluten-free bread slice worthy of my undivided in the moment zen attention. Not to mention my desire (which, I assure you, is not passed around like cheap candy Valentine hearts). I have, instead, focused on other pursuits, alternative pleasures brimming in diversity, texture and taste beyond the comforting toothy sink into a little flour, yeast and salt [yet unlike the article's author, not so diverse as to embrace the slimy, coagulated, clotty, gelatinous, rubbery, or undulating]. Unlike the annointed bloggers praised in the Food & Wine piece, I'm a texture sensitive individual. Ask anyone. I'm not a fan of octopus. Or deer heart. I don't intend (ever!) to eat snake or head cheese. Forks and spoons are chosen with dead seriousness and a keen eye toward sizing to avoid contact with tooth enamel. My favorite spoon is plastic (and purple). But I digress.

The challenge facing me in light of the Pete Wells challenge was obvious. Bake a gluten-free bread worthy of a decent cheese sandwich- or at least, not a fucking boring cheese sandwich.

Having failed at several alternative bread attempts in years past (don't believe what they preach say about the wonder of bean flours by the way, unless you secretly long to sport a stretchy pair of K-Mart elastic waist jeans in order to accommodate your gassy girth) I looked to the burgeoning market of gluten-free bread mixes. Choosing one without the bloat-inducing legumes or worse, soy flour, I settled on a Gluten Free Pantry mix called Country French Bread and Pizza Mix.

The texture I was looking for in my cheese sandwich was rustic and crusty with a chewy, slightly salty bite. You know- very French or Italian. Like a torn off piece of focaccia. Worthy of your best Italian extra virgin olive oil. That was my daydream, anyway.

I beat up the Gluten-Free Pantry bread mix in my custard yellow beast of a Kitchen Aid according to package directions. Well, all right. Almost. I hardly ever follow directions. I made a tweak or two. Or five. Here's what I did, Dear Heart.

I proofed the yeast first in 105 110 degree F water (the amount of liquid listed on package directions) with a tablespoon of clover honey.

I used three whole organic happy eggs instead of two.

I added twice as much sea salt and a tad more light tasting apple cider vinegar (not that residue laden unfiltered sludge).

I thought I'd toss in some dried Italian herbs and a taste of minced garlic and onion, too- remembering (with a distinct shudder) the utter blandness of rice flour.

I scraped the dough into an oiled and floured 9-inch cake pan and did not cover it with oiled plastic wrap as suggested; I placed the pan in a warm oven (turned on to 200 degrees for a couple of minutes, then turned off) and let it rise for an hour.

A note on the cake pan choice. My virginal gluten-free experiences in attempting to recreate the breads of those golden and innocent pre-celiac baking days (how I loved to knead and bake fresh bread) taught me not to bake the dough in standard shaped loaves (it's not even dough, really, in any classic stretchy kneadable way, it's batter; and very sticky, stubborn beater-breaking batter at that). I had better luck baking it- instead- as a peasant style round loaf in shallow cake pans or pie plates. For some slightly miraculous reason, this creates more stretch and more air holes, resulting in a texture more closely resembling actual bread (not the usual gluten-free texture).

For this particular loaf I chose my 9-inch Springform cake pan. After the hour-long rising, I turned the oven on again- at 375 degrees F- and baked the bread for 30 minutes. It's done when it is firm in the center and sounds hollow when you thump it. Yes, on its bottom.

I also want to add a note about color- rice flour will not produce as brown or dark a crust as wheat flour, so don't let the lighter crust color fool you into thinking it needs to cook longer. Do the thump test.

Cool it on a wire rack for a few minutes, and then release the bread from the pan to let it breathe. Don't let it sweat in the pan. No one likes a soggy bottom, you know.

And as for tasting it (I know you'll be tempted, before it's completely cooled), just make sure it's somewhat cool before slicing or it may just fall apart. And Babycakes, please. Use a sharp serrated bread knife.

Encouraged by the looks of how well this loaf turned out, I proceeded. Now, the fun part. What sort of sandwich did I have a hankering for? I decided to go with mozzarella as the cheese of choice because although the deft, sweet artisan log of goat cheese called to me, the gleaming creamy globe of mozzarella won out. We had found some shockingly vine-ripe tomatoes that morning (it pays to get out to the market early). Nothing tempts me into Sandwichville like perky fresh tomatoes and creamy mozzarella.

My contribution to the blogging of cheese sandwiches is this toasty wheat-free beauty crafted with warm-from-the-oven gluten-free herb bread, grilled until slightly golden in a dab of Italian extra virgin olive oil. In the center are slices of vine-ripened tomatoes seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, drizzled with a kiss of organic balsamic vinegar and crowned with a cool round slice of mozzarella. I broiled it just until the cheese melts ever-so-slightly; then finished it with a selection of fresh bitter baby greens drizzled with a touch of organic balsamic and olive oil. The sandwich is served with a crisp, garlicky Kosher pickle.

How was it, you ask?

Not boring. In fact. It was blogworthy.

Gluten-free sandwich bread.

Update notes to reader inquiries - or how I stopped hating gluten-free bread and learned to love toast again...


Torrey :) said...

Ah, it is not quite 11 AM and I am already salivating for lunch time! That sandwich looks fabulous! Thank you for sharing!

Chris said...

They obviously weren't referring to the gluten-free crowd. I would KILL for a good grilled cheese sandwich. Yours looks divine...

*stomach rumble*

Kalyn said...

Fantastic job. Bread is quite a challenge for the low carb crowd too, although not quite so much for South Beach. I hope all your GF readers will love you for the extra effort as much as I do. (And thanks for calling me a goddess!!)

ilva said...

Really interesting Karina, I'm really really curious about GF bread! It looks so nice... But is it possible to do it without using flour mixes or is it too difficult? Maybe I have to check out some GF baking site, any suggestions? btw, I think I have come up with a recipe for a polenta cake, I just have to try it out!

MM said...

In Asia, they have these breads which are gluten free which they call some kind of cake. I tried it before and absolutely hated it. I think yours looks very yummy. Fabulous sandwich and how odd that a few of us all had the same mozzarella and basil leanings today.

reginae said...

I'm reading your marvelous post as I'm eating my peanut-butter sandwich . . .on homemade rice flour bread. :-P But, the GF Pantry bread mix -- or rather, the magic you have worked with it! -- looks absolutely fabulous.

I just checked out Gluten Free Pantry's website and requested a catalog.

AK said...

And here I just finished lunch and your sandwich has me heading back to the kitchen for some cheese and bread. Hmm. I guess that'd be a cheese sandwich? (Fun post. You really open my eyes to the diligence/creativity that's needed to live well with celiac disease.)

Brendon said...

Beautiful photography. A well-told story. Useful information. Inspired result. Maybe I'll work up to baking GF bread too. Then again, maybe I'll start with the cake that uses 12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. That one inspires me too!

mg said...

I have enjoyed reading this! You've just tempted me to get me some gherkins (or shall i say Kosher pickle). The photos are so tempting and fresh and the writing is just as exquisite!

Definitely blog worthy!

Oh, and thanks for visiting my blog :0)

karina said...

Hi Torrey! My pleasure!


Hi Chris! Hope you found something yummy to quell the rumbling.


Kalyn! It was a fun Cheese Sandwich Day - yeah? You've got to feel good with all the support out here in Food Blogland. ;-)


Ilva~ To be honest, if I didn't have to bake a bread without gluten I wouldn't. It's just not the same [though I can come reasonably close, I can't ever replicate the elasticity of gluten]. Desserts are another animal. Totally doable. And brown rice pasta is terrific. But the key to solving the bread/pizza issue remains elusive...

If it helps at all, the mixes I prefer feature a combination of flours: rice, potato, tapioca or cornstarch, with some guar gum or xanthan gum for the missing gluten. It's truly more like cake batter than dough. And it behaves differently. [sigh.]


mm! I tell you - something was in the air today - some Italian love magic.


Hi Reginae - Excellent! They should give me a free bag of mix. ;-)


Hi Alanna! It is a hyper-vigilant lifestyle. That's why I've chosen to cultivate a sexy-zen approach to it all, LOL! To keep sane.


Brendon! Hey! Thanks, Buddy. I also highly recommend the Dark Chocolate Brownies. Actually, they're my favorite.


Mae! Thanks for visiting! Yup. Sometimes ya just need a good Kosher pickle.


xoxo to all...

Peggy said...

Mmmm.... I have the mix, I have the herbs, I have the fresh mozzarella. After a quick trip to the market for tomatoes, it looks like I have lunch. Yum!

sofasophia said...

great sammy -- and great food, as always -- but it's your writing that keeps me coming back here every day!

hereandthere123 said...

That's the best looking gluten-free bread I've ever seen! Thanks for the great writing and the very handy directions and tips. You truly are a goddess!

Jennifer said...

Lovely, as usual, Karina. Your claim to have "almost" followed the package instructions cracks me up -- it sounds like you follow directions about as well as I do. It's so much more about feel, isn't it?

karina said...

Hi Peggy~ Cool! I hope the bread turns out for you, too.

Sofasophia~ Thank you so much - I appreciate it!

Hereandthere~ You are welcome - my pleasure. And thank you!

Jennifer~ Yay! I'm glad I'm not the only one - LOL! And yeah - it's all very intuitive [and I am seriously impaired in the following-directions department]...


Anonymous said...

Hi Karina,

I'd really appreciate a step-by-step version of how to make this bread, exactly what you did, since it looks delicious. Some of these questions are really basic; it's just that I've never baked GF bread or even "real" bread and don't have a bread machine (and am too afraid to use my parents' machine for fear of contamination). Here are my specific questions (sorry for their stupidity and magnitude).

Utensil Questions:
-Could you make this in a silicone cake pan? Or do you think a springform pan is really best?
-If I don't have a Kitchenaid standing mixer, would a regular electric mixer do the trick?

Generic baking questions:
-How do you proof yeast? Which yeast is GF? How do you know how hot the water is? How long does this take? I've heard that it needs to be done a day ahead of time but it doesn't look like you did this.
-Which apple cider vinegar is GF?
-Which herbs did you use? Fresh or dried?
-How do you have a warm oven if it's turned off?
-Thump test: Where do you thump? The bottom of the pan?

Would you post the GF Pantry Mix Country French Bread and Pizza Mix recipe/instructions (preferably answering the above questions/with your variations).


karina said...

Dear Anonymous,

I've clarified some of your questions in the text above [through the miracle of on-line editing]; and while I'd love to take the time to type out the GF Pantry instructions, I think it best to visit their website and check out their recipes and suggestions first hand.

On the points I didn't get to::

Proofing is easy: it's taking the yeast and adding it to the warm water - 110 to 115 degrees F - with some honey or sugar to feed the yeast and letting the yeast get happy and drunk and poofy [you can see it happen] before adding it all to the recipe. It takes all of five minutes.

The apple cider vinegar I use is Eden organic.

I use McCormick Italian Herbs.

Good luck with your bread baking. If you don't expect much, gluten free bread can be worth the effort. It's all about tempering your expectations to a level appropriate to the end product. If you know what I mean.

Heather Gilman said...

Thank you!!!!!!!!!
My husband has recently discovered he had celiac disease. It has been a bit hard for a sandwich loving Italian man to give up warm crusty breads and sandwiches.
I tried this recipe and WOW!
Tasty and satisfying. Truly delicious! I wish there were more chefs liie you that make delicious gormet gluten free recipes.

Thank's again!

~Heather said...


Anonymous said...

I'm interested in baking a "sweet" version of this bread for the Jewish new year (aka Rosh Hashanah) since there will be at least 2 gluten free folks. (We don't want a cake bread that bakes in a loaf pan). With this bread, instead of dipping challah into honey, we'll dip GF bread into honey. Since the bread bakes in an oven (as opposed to a bread machine) and it is round (symbolizing a good, full year), it looks perfect.

My question is how to transform this recipe from a savory-ish bread to a sweeter one. Use more honey? Instead of dried Italian herbs, add in yellow raisins? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

k a r i n a said...

Hi Heather! I'm so gald this worked for you. I empathize with your husband; even though I'm not Italian, crusty Italian breads are what I miss the most!

k a r i n a said...

Hi Chris!


Switching over to Beta Blogger has allowed me to provide "Labels" in my sidebar; now you can use these labels to search for recipes.

Good luck!

k a r i n a said...

Dear Anon ~

I think this bread would make an excellent challah. The three eggs already nudge it in that direction. I would add more honey [when you proof the yeast] to sweeten the batter - perhaps 3 tablespoons.

I'd also add a pinch of nutmeg, and a bigger pinch of cinnamon to the batter as well. And golden raisins [maybe a half a cup] would be a delicious addition. [And yes, forgo the Italian herbs, and garlic.] One more possibility is to add a touch of vanilla - not too much, though.

Keep an eye on it as it bakes; the honey will moisten it and it may need another minute or two in the oven.

Baking this batter in a round cake pan really makes a nice texture.

And be sure those dipping gluten free bread into honey aren't sharing that honey dish with wheat bread!

Have a healthy, happy New Year!

Lynn said...

Yum! I think we used that to bake a cheese bread once, it comes out fabulous - I think we added about 2/3c asiago.

k a r i n a said...

Hi Lynn!

Yes, that sounds delicious. Any grated cheese would work. Hmmm...I'm thinking Jalapeno Pepper Jack!


Kathi said...

I am so glad I read all the way to the bottom!! Beth Hillson spoke at our Houston Celiac Support Group last week!! She gave lots of good ideas to use the French bread mix with too! So I'm all stocked up on mixes!! Would you suggest I use the French bread mix or the Favorite Sandwich bread to try a challa? I was just going to "skip" the challa for me and my son but now we can have it too!! And baked in a round pan is perfect!! Great idea!! There will be 14 people at our house this year.

k a r i n a said...

Hi Kathi!

I might prefer the Favorite Sandwich Bread mix for challah - if I remember correctly, it does have dairy in it, if that's acceptable.

Glad to hear you got lots of ideas from Beth. :-)

Anonymous said...

Have you ever used Namaste or Pamela's bread mixes (I know you like her all purpose pancake and flour mix)?

Namaste is great for folks with multiple food allergies/intolerances.

Prairie said...


I've emailed you once before and you probably don't remember, but it was about Tortilla Chips.

I wanted to thank you so much for answering my question, and so quickly too. Unfortunately, they don't sell Mission Chips here in Michigan, although they do sell Mission Tortillas, but happily, my parents live in New Mexico (southern) and so my mom has started sending me some!

So thank you for that, but this email is really to thank you for your bread recipe: "Make Mine a Gluten Free Cheese Sandwich"

I had tried one store-bought gluten free bread since I became gluten free and was just so disgusted, it was pretty horrible.
I had assumed that mixes were going to be basically the same thing, and so I just had resigned myself to not having bread, which was fine.

But here in Michigan it's been getting cooler, the leaves are turning and it's my absolute favorite time of year, autumn. I just love it. And autumn means it's now apple crisp (thank you for that recipe also) and soup time of year.

And with soup comes a great hunk of bread to dip in it.

So, I thought, what does the Gluten Free Goddess have to say about bread, and that's when I found your "Make Mine a Gluten Free Cheese Sandwich". And I thought, well, if it's good enough for her, then I could give it a try.

And to make a long email shorter than it could be, I made the bread today and it was so amazing, I can't even come up with a good enough word to describe it. I honestly thought I hadn't missed it that much. I've been dancing around all night singing about having bread. Stupid, I know. But, even better, my fiance, who claims to be gluten deficient : o) enjoyed it also.

So thank you thank you thank you again, and sorry for the long email.


MB said...

This bread is very, very good!
I was diagnosed gluten-intolernat just a few weeks ago. Five years ago, I had multiple allergies, asthma and other auto-immunes, but tested neg. for GI. The doctor had me do 6 months GF anyway. I saw no improvement and was not happy with my GF choices, so I went back to eating gluten and still saw no difference. After 3 years of classical homeopathy, all of my allergies and auto-immunes are gone except for my thyroid disease, which was being very uncooperative. The doctor told me that the gluten tests have improved, tested me again and I tested GI. I am very fortunate to have no stomach issues, so the carrot the doctor used to make me change my diet was the thought that my thyroid disease will improve or even go away on a GF diet. Fabulous bread, like your recipe, really helps with my motivation.
I used the Pamela's bread mix, made the changes you suggested and baked it in my springform pan. Excellent flavor and texture! I can't wait to use it in a sandwich for lunch. Thank you for sharing your excellent recipes!

Karina Allrich said...

Hey Prairie! It's so nice to see you. I am so glad you liked the bread. And thanks so much for dropping by and giving me an update. I really appreciate it. :)

Hi MB! Yay - it makes my day to hear this. ;)

And I am here to tell you - my mother cleared up her Hashimoto's thyroid issues by going gluten-free (her antibodies decreased after six months GF). And my goiter has totally disappeared. Gone!

Gluten-free living can definitely help with thyroid disease.

All the best,


MB said...

Thank you for your positive words. I hope I have the same good result as your mother. I have encouraged my mom and grandma to get tested for GI as well, since both have autoimmune endocrine stuff, (including late-onset type-1 diabetes)and my grandma had stomach cancer several years ago.I saw your posts about some of your recent problems as I was looking around the site, and I sympathize very much- I am sure you must be incredibly frustrated. I hope things improve for you!

Karina Allrich said...

Hi MB - I wish you a positive result, too. If it's tied in to gluten, going gluten-free can cause some pretty dramatic results.

Ironically, I've heard more stories of endocrinologists supporting the gluten-free approach than gastros.

Digestive cancers run in my family, too; as do other auto-immune diseases. Apparently, this is not uncommon.

Hang in there, and take good care of yourself. I'm rooting for ya!


Amber said...

You should try a cloche, I've heard they do wonders for gluten-free bread. I'm buying myself one for to as we speak!

Lil Bit and Mummy said...

Have you found a bread recipe that works well without eggs? I don't have a breadmaker yet, but am hoping to get one for Christmas... so I'm stuck making it the old fashioned way for now.

Karina said...

Lil Bit & Mummy- I've been making a round loaf in a cake pan using Pamela's Amazing Wheat Free Bread Mix and subbing the eggs with Ener-G Egg Replacer. I add a little more salt, some herbs, onion flakes and garlic. Let it rise for an hour; then bake it, as above.

It's really quite good. We cut the bread into triangle wedges; split them for sandwiches. Delicious lightly grilled.

Next on my list to try egg-free is to make the dough into a square shape so that I can cut squares for more conventional sized sandwiches.

I'll blog about that soon.


Sybil Nassau said...

If you check Beth Hillson's Gluten Free pantry newsletter, she published a great bread recipe last month, using "Tim's Light Bread Mix" (one of their products)and created a genuine Challah )egg) Bread. My neighbor and I have made it a few of them, even adding cinnamon and raisins the last time. Beth advises baking it in a 8" spring form pan. The bread was excellent- great texture, great crust but we did let it get a little too overbaked (thanks for your hints)!
I would kill for a good sandwich bread ANY time! Your recipes are wonderful, especially the recent pumpkin ones!I try a new one almost every day.PamelasProducts and GlutenFree Pantry are both great sources for bread mixes- now I gotta try yours!You're on our blog too-- http://glutenfreeontheshoreline. THANK YOU!!!

Anonymous said...

I have a quick question on the bread. Do you put the bread in the warm oven oven and turn the heat to 375 degrees or do you take the bread out of the warm oven and prehet it to 375 degrees before baking the bread? Thanks so much!

Karina Allrich said...

Anon- I let the dough rise in a warm oven. Then I turn the oven on. The dough stays in the oven as you preheat. Once it reaches 375 degrees, set your timer for the baking time.

Good luck!


Cindy said...

The reason I gave up making gluten free bread is because any that was leftover - the next day and beyond - developed an unpleasant taste that I did not enjoy. How does this bread taste the next day and the next? I love your blog!

Karina Allrich said...

Cindy- I'm wondering about the taste you experienced- was it sour- from vinegar? I always slice, wrap and freeze gluten-free bread after it's cooled and we've had the first warm slices. Freezing gluten-free baked goods helps preserve that freshly baked texture and flavor.

This particular bread I toasted or grilled leftover slices. For more options, look for Pamela's Wheat Free Bread Mix (I reviewed that) or my try my latest bread recipe with sorghum flour.


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