So so gorgeous. So flavorful and tender. And absolutely lovely dipped in extra virgin olive oil.
Crusty, fragrant gluten-free olive bread, warm from the oven.
Grainy, whole grain bliss.
Giving up bread is hard. Bread is basic. Almost a need. Like air. Like breathing. It is both routine and celebratory. Prosaic and divine. A simple, torn-off hunk of good bread embodies a deep sense of nourishment, for body and soul. The bewitching mix of a handful of flour, some yeast, some salt, some water.
Stir. Knead. Rest. Bake.
And as if by magic, this warm and fragrant alchemical creation called bread appears.
And all is right with the world.
When I think of our honeymoon in Italy (seventeen years ago, darling) I think of the color of the evening sky above the cypress. A shot of burnished gold that shimmered with the faintest veil of pink and lemon yellow. I think about the shopkeepers sweeping their doorsteps each morning, nodding their Buon giorno! as we walked to fetch a New York Times and a cappuccino not served in a paper cup. There was love, yes. And wine. And olives.
And there was bread.
The best bread I had ever devoured.
My go-to breakfast was a plate sized flat-bread studded with olives, paper thin tomato slices, or chopped fresh garlic. Chewy, salty, sweet, and earthy. A bread worth the walk into town. I must have eaten dozens in our too-short two week stay.
Here in southern California, I have been living almost breadless. By choice. The hundreds of gluten-free breads I have baked in the past nine years have not tempted me into the kitchen. Not even the best gluten-free bread recipes. Starch, you see, is not agreeing with me lately. I think we may be breaking up. For good. My body hums happily without it. My waistline is trimmer without it (though not quite up to honeymoon standards, I am seeing the promise of a waistline appear). But this week I started remembering.
And the craving began.
So I began bargaining with myself. The dialogue went something like this.
Okay. You want a piece of bread, darling? You're going to have to bake it without starch. Without sugar. You know that, right? And you are prepared to plunge into abject failure if this gluten-free whole grain concoction doesn't turn out? It is a risk, you know. Baking without gluten. Making bread without starches. It's tricky. It's fickle. So if this turns out badly, promise you won't despair.
I pulled out every non-starchy flour and ingredient from my snug little pantry and imagined my pre-celiac Italian memory. I stood and stared at the tumble of half-used bags and battered boxes on the counter for a good ten minutes. Steve walked by and glanced at his wife of seventeen years standing deer-in-the-headlights still.
He knew not to ask.
I grabbed brown rice flour. Almond meal. Millet flour. Quinoa flakes. Rice bran. Garlic. Sea salt. Olive oil. An impossible, motley crew of ingredients that would prompt any Italian baker to raise her eyebrows in a justified Che cosa succede?
And guess what, my Bella Bambina?
You know what.
Gluten-Free Whole Grain Olive BreadRecipe posted June 2011 by Karina Allrich.
This rustic gluten-free bread is not unlike focaccia, I am happy to say. The golden crust and tender, shallow profile remind me of the classic Italian flat bread we once devoured in Italy- celebrating our honeymoon. Kalamata olives add a salty punch.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a 9x12-inch baking pan with a piece of parchment paper, and set aside.
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup GF millet flour
1/2 cup almond flour/meal
1/2 cup quinoa flakes
1/4 cup rice bran
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 packet (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 organic free-range eggs, beaten
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey or organic agave nectar
1/2 to 3/4 cup warm water (start with less)
1/3 cup pitted, sliced kalamata olives
Dried or fresh thyme
Coarse sea salt
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sorghum flour, millet flour, almond flour, quinoa flakes, rice bran, garlic powder, sea salt, xanthan gum, and active dry yeast.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten eggs, olive oil, and honey. Start beating the eggs, oil and honey into the dry mixture.
Slowly begin adding the warm water and beat as you go, incorporating the wet ingredients. Watch the consistency of the batter, and add only the amount of warm water that you need to achieve a smooth, sticky batter akin to muffin batter. I used up to 3/4 cup liquid, but you may need more, or less, depending upon your situation (humidity and storage affects flours).
Continue to beat for one minute to lighten the batter and create a smooth, creamy dough.
Using a silicone spatula, scoop the bread dough onto the center of the parchment lined baking pan. Using wet or oiled hands, form a low, oval loaf shape, smoothing out the dough as best you can.
Stud the surface with the kalamata olive pieces. Sprinkle with a dusting of thyme and coarse sea salt.
Bake in the center of a pre-heated oven for 25 minutes. Brush the top with a little olive oil and continue baking for another 5 to 10 minutes until the loaf is golden and firm, and a bit crusty. My olive bread baked for a full 35 minutes (at sea level).
Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle a little more sea salt on top of the loaf, if desired. Allow the bread to cool for a few minutes in the pan; then gently remove it, and set it on a wire rack to continue cooling for a few minutes.
It is tantalizingly delicious warm. Use a good, sharp bread knife to cut it into wedges or thin slices. Dip pieces in olive oil and a rich balsamic vinegar, such as blackberry or fig balsamic vinegar. Heaven.
Cook time: 35 min
Yield: One loaf
Recipe Source: glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com
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I confess. We ate this olive bread all day long. First, we ate a few warm slices straight from the oven- just to be sure it was as fabulous as it looked. It did not disappoint. I kept nibbling small pieces as I photographed.
Later, we ate torn off pieces dipped in a blackberry balsamic vinegar that I picked up at the Redondo Beach Farmers' Market, and a dab of extra virgin olive oil. The bread held together beautifully. Like "real" Italian bread. It did not crumble. It did not dissolve into dust. The crumbs you see are from me breaking off tiny pieces to taste as I set up the photography shoot. It's one of the perks of photographing food.
You get to sample the object of your affection.
I am always experimenting with different flours, forever in pursuit of gluten-free breads and goodies that satisfy my taste buds and offer me more than empty, starchy calories. I choose each flour with a purpose in mind- flavor, texture, protein. So to offer substitution suggestions is very often tricky. If you sub one of my higher protein flours with a starch, for instance, your results will not be the same. And if you use an all-purpose g-free flour mix, your results will be inferior- that I say with confidence, after testing many gluten-free flour blends on the market.
Yes, I know that it is easier to reach for a single box of mix.
I agree, in fact.
It is easier.
But is it as marvelous? Is it as tender and fragrant and satisfying?
That is the real question.
For substitution help, please see my guide to baking with substitutions here.