This is the best loaf of gluten-free bread I’ve ever tasted, with a delicious, yeasty flavor and a satisfying crunch as you bite into the sturdy crust. Tear off a chunk like you would with your favorite loaf of artisan wheat bread and savor the contrast between the perfect crust and a moist interior. The bread doesn’t crumble after freezing either. But best of all, it makes great toast. I’ve made a lot of gluten-free bread over the last seven years and this loaf rivals any made with wheat. We use this bread for communion at my church and no one guessed it was gluten-free.
While many gluten-free cookbooks recommend using teff flour in small amounts, I always thought it could take center stage in a loaf of bread, as it makes a delicious porridge, with a sweet, nutty flavor that’s vastly superior to most of the alternative grains. By itself, it’s too heavy, but when I combined it with tapioca and white rice flour it created a great loaf with a mild flavor that pairs well with any food. Teff originated in Ethiopia, where it’s used to make a sourdough flatbread called injera. Teff is also famous for being the world’s smallest grain, with seeds so tiny you can barely see them.
When I’m baking bread for someone with celiac, I buy the flours in sealed packages to make sure there’s no cross contamination with a gluten-containing ingredient. If your only problem is fructose malabsorption, you don’t need to be as careful and you can use flours and starches from the bulk bins at the store. For best results, use a scale and weigh the dry ingredients. Volume measurements are notoriously inaccurate. The volume measurements in the recipe are calculated for Bob’s Red Mill brand flours and may not give the same results if you use another brand. Some brands are coarser than Bob’s, so the only way to measure the correct amount of another brand is to weigh each ingredient on a digital scale. It’s also very important to use a stand mixer and mix the dough for 3 minutes, as instructed in the recipe.
If you plan to make this bread often, measure the dry ingredients for multiple batches at the same time. Fold down the tops of several large Ziploc bags and weigh each ingredient in a small bowl, filling each bag with the same ingredient before moving on to the next ingredient. Don’t add the yeast: make a note on the bag to add it on baking day or you might forget to do it. Unfold the tops of the bags, label and seal them, then store them in the freezer. On baking day, take out the flour early so that it can reach room temperature before you use it. If you use cold ingredients it will take a lot longer for the dough to rise.
By the way, to get a really crisp crust, freeze the bread and reheat it in the oven. Baking the loaf a second time makes the crust extra crisp but the bread crumb will still be moist. You’ll have to experiment if you prefer to use a different gum instead of xanthan. This bread needs less water when it’s made with guar and the dough seems to over proof. Dough made with guar doesn’t freeze very well either, so stick with xanthan for the best all around results.
Gluten-free Rustic Artisan Bread
Makes 1 round loaf, 8 1/2 inch (21.5 cm) diameter
200 grams (1 1/2 cups or 350 ml) teff flour
200 grams (1 3/4 cups or 420 ml) tapioca flour (starch)
150 grams (1 cup or 240 ml) white rice flour
1 tablespoon (15 ml) instant yeast (bread machine yeast)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) xanthan gum
1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 ml) Kosher salt or 1 teaspoon (5 ml) regular salt
345 grams (1 1/2 cups or 360 ml) warm water (110° F or 43° C)
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup (60 ml) canola or grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons (30 ml) corn syrup (glucose syrup, i.e., Karo)
Put the teff, tapioca and rice flours in the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the yeast, xanthan gum and salt. Use the paddle attachment. Mix on low until the dry ingredients are combined. In a medium bowl, whisk together the water, eggs, corn syrup and oil. Add the liquid to the flour and beat on low until mixed, then scrape down the beaters and sides of the bowl. Beat on medium for 3 minutes to hydrate the xanthan gum and develop the structure of the dough so that it will support the yeast as it rises. The dough will look like a very thick cake batter. Do not add extra flour or the bread will not turn out.
Put an 8 3/4 inch (22.2 cm) foil pie pan into a 10 1/2 inch (26.5 cm) skillet and press the bottom and sides into the skillet so that the pie pan is rounded like the skillet. Remove the pie pan. The finished bread will not stick to the pan, so don’t grease it. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough into the center of the pie pan. Shape the dough into a mounded circle about 7 inches (18 cm) across, gently smoothing the sides. Wet the spatula between strokes to keep the dough from sticking to the spatula. The dough will be quite sticky. Cover the pan with an upside down plastic shopping bag, making sure that the plastic doesn’t touch the dough (it will stick if it does). Let the dough rise for 60 minutes. It will double in size, filling the pan.
As soon as the dough begins rising, put either a baking stone or a 10 1/2 inch (26.5 cm) cast iron skillet on a rack in the center of the oven. Place a broiler pan, or other heavy pan with low sides, on a rack directly below. Don’t use a glass pan or it will crack later on when you drop ice cubes into it to make steam.
Preheat the oven to 450° F (232° C). If you’re using the skillet, take a piece of heavy-duty foil (8 x 18 inches or 20 x 45 cm) and fold it in half length-wise. Place the foil underneath the pie pan to form a sling for transferring it in and out of the hot skillet. After the dough has risen 60 minutes, take a serrated bread knife and dip it in water. Slash the top of the dough in a cross pattern or two parallel lines. Because the dough is sticky, it’s easier to cut each line in two strokes, moving the knife from the outside edge to the center and re-wetting the knife before cutting the other half. Make cuts about 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep so that the bread can spring up as much as possible before the crust hardens in the oven.
Use a rimless cookie sheet to transfer the pan to the baking stone. If you’re using a cast-iron skillet, take it out of the oven and put it on top of the stove. Close the oven as quickly as possible, so the heat doesn’t escape. Use the edges of the foil sling to pick up the pan and lower it into the skillet. Quickly place the skillet on the center rack of the oven and close the door.
Fill a small bowl with ice and dump the ice into the broiler pan, opening and closing the oven door as quickly as possible. The steam from the melting ice helps the bread rise higher and creates a crisper crust.
Bake the bread for 40 minutes. Loosely tent it with foil for the last 5 minutes to prevent over-browning. Use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature in the center of the loaf. The bread is done when the thermometer reads between 200° and 205° F (93 – 96° C). If you don’t have a thermometer, thump the bottom of the loaf. It should sound hollow. Cool it on a wire rack. Don’t cut the loaf until it’s completely cooled or the insides will squish into a sticky mass. The inside of the bread may look gummy at first, but it will develop a bread-like texture after it’s cool, so be patient.
If you’re serving the bread on the same day that it’s baked, cover it loosely with a towel to keep the crust crisp. Otherwise, store it in a plastic bag where it will keep for 2 days at room temperature. This bread must be reheated to restore the texture if it’s been frozen. Freeze the bread for up to three weeks. If you plan to use it for toast, slice the loaf before freezing it and toast the slices straight from the freezer. Thaw a whole loaf at room temperature or in the microwave before reheating it in the oven. I microwave a frozen whole loaf for 2 minutes, then flip it over and microwave it for another 2 minutes, but you may have to adjust the time as microwaves vary greatly in power. Once the bread is thawed, wrap it in foil and reheat it in a 450° F (232° C) oven until the interior temperature is 120° F (49° C) when checked with an instant read thermometer. This takes about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the temperature of the loaf before it goes into the oven. Let the bread cool before serving.