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...