Friday, September 28, 2012

Another journey

One journey I have been taking over the past few years has been that of learning to eat a diet and prepare food that is gluten free, having discovered the hard way that I am sensitive to gluten.  I'm not sure when this realization took place: maybe ten years ago?  I've not been definitively diagnosed as coeliac because I never wanted to go back on the gluten in order to test its effect on my body, and when I had a blood test, I had already been gluten-free for quite some time.

Gluten-free food has improved no end since the early days of my need for it.  Back then, the bread resembled Madeira cake more than bread and was really hard to swallow as it seemed to swell in the mouth, while gluten free pasta was inclined to disintegrate into a starch paste in its cooking water.  More recently it has been possible to cook gluten free penne al dente and the breads are much more palatable, although still prone to disintegrating into crumbs or transpiring to contain such large air holes that the slice falls apart and the filling of a sandwich is not contained.  I have had spells of trying to make my own bread, with and without a breadmaking machine.  I had a long love affair with spelt pastas and flours until those too seemed to cause my symptoms of sensitivity and I had to stop using them.

Earlier this summer I discovered a gluten-free baking course at the Waitrose Cookery School where Adriana Rabinovich taught a heartening session on making gluten-free pastry and bread.  She uses Dove's Farm Gluten Free White Flour for most of her recipes, and this is increasingly widely available in most supermarkets (though sadly not in our local Co-op).  I have been making my own bread, quiches and sweet fruit tarts since then, not often as I don't want to put on all the weight I have lost over the past 15 months, but enough to stay in practice and to feed visitors!  Earlier this month I attended a second of her workshops on Pizza and Pasta making, this time in Abingdon.  Today I have made some Buckwheat Lasagne, which I intend to serve for dinner tomorrow, but it's looking good.  Adriana has given me a lot more confidence in preparing good, gluten-free food which does not feel like a compromise and which will be willingly eaten by the rest of the family (because cooking "normal" food for everyone and something different for me is too much faff).  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to benefit from her excellent teaching and hope I'll have future opportunities to learn more from her.

I recently visited a friend who gave me a Herman (Friendship Cake Starter), which was not gluten free, but by feeding this sourdough starter with gluten free flours, the gluten content should soon become infinitesimal, or maybe homeopathic...  My thoughts were not of using my Herman to make cake (lovely article here) but as a sourdough bread starter: other friends have been raving about theirs.

Today seemed the right day to proceed in my endeavour.  My Herman had reached critical mass, I had found a recipe (here) and had eaten all of my last loaf of bread, and the ingredients were all present in sufficient quantity in my larder.  

Well, when I say the ingredients, I did my own twist on the recipe and used 8oz of Buckwheat Flour and 7oz of Doves Farm Gluten Free Plain White Flour in place of what the recipe specified.  I used most of my Herman mix, so my friends can rest easy, safe in the knowledge I will not be trying to pass on pots of the stuff (though it could probably be arranged, if anyone is desperate) - in fact, I may have to build up my Herman supply to keep up with my breadmaking requirements!

This recipe calls for baking the slowly risen bread in a Dutch Oven - which seems to be American for cast-iron casserole, and thus my trusty orange Le Creuset pot was called into service and preheated in the oven once the dough had risen.  Then the whole package was transferred from bowl to pot, still wrapped in a couple of tefal baking sheets (we'd run out of baking parchment) and put in the oven for an hour - it didn't seem quite there when I looked after the specified 45 minutes.

Look at that texture!  Isn't it beautiful?  And the flavour is really, really good.  My best beloved described it as having a slight tang of treacle, in a good way.

Now, the challenge is to eke it out rather than wolfing it down - I may well slice and freeze a good part of it, to be defrosted as required.  I am looking forward to sandwiches and toast from this loaf.  Herman certainly came up trumps for me on this occasion!

I'd love to know if anyone has a recipe for making their own starter/Herman/mother from scratch.
Oh, the satisfaction in making a loaf like this!