Whole Grain Gluten-Free Sourdough Bread

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This summer, myself and a group of fellow nutrition students and alums are reading Deep Nutrition for a book club we’ve started. The theme of the book is about the benefits of traditional diets, somewhat in the Weston Price tradition, for optimal health. I cannot yet comment on what I think of the book as I haven’t read enough to have a strong opinion, but the idea of eating more in the traditional style with its emphasis on whole foods as close to the source and as untouched as possible from chemicals and the like has been a major theme in my nutritional courses over the past two years. It is also a viewpoint I adopted years ago when figuring out how to truly recover from the diet culture I was immersed in and which was contributing to my eating disorder behaviors around foods. In my classes, we’ve also delved a lot into the need for promoting gut health, since a healthy, happily functioning gut can be thought of as the foundation to health in the body and mind far beyond our digestive region. This also happens to be a topic that is near and dear to me because it’s one of my main health struggles.

As I’ve mentioned before, The three major nutritional practices that promote gut health are eating more fiber, eating more fermented foods, and reducing sugar and refined carbohydrate intake.

 

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Last summer, after a particularly rocky winter and an autoimmune lab marker coming back positive, I began a very focused fine-tuning of my diet and lifestyle, in relation to improving gut health and my reaction to stress, since both strongly contribute to autoimmune conditions. As part of that process, I began a return to making sourdough.

Sourdough, as the name suggests, is a traditional fermentation process where wild yeasts ferment the flours, making them easier to digest because the yeasts create lactic acid, and which then break down anti-nutrients that plants make to protect themselves, such as phytates and lectins. These anti-nutrients block mineral absorption and the resulting sourdough can contain a lot more readily absorbable nutrients than the original unfermented flours or grains. Additionally, the process of fermentation more generally makes all the proteins in the bread easier to digest, and it is the protein that is usually causing an inflammatory reaction for those with GI issues like intestinal permeability, malabsorption, celiac disease, and other autoimmune conditions. Due to our hectic lifestyles and often very non-whole-foods diets, many, many of us have at least some of these symptoms and/or diagnoses that could be improved by adding more fermented foods, in addition to the other two gut health promoting practices of eating more fiber and reducing sugar and refined carbohydrates.

 

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For someone that is very sensitive to gluten like me, there’s also good news from eating gluten-free sourdough, as there are research indications that the fermentation process involved in making traditionally fermented gluten-free bread reduces the release of inflammatory compounds within the gut for someone who has recently adopted a gluten-free diet due to a celiac diagnosis, whereas consuming other types of gluten-free bread did not reduce these inflammatory responses1.

 

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Maybe it’s the tea-drinking, sweater-garbed, sourdough-baking wise grandmother in me, but I can’t help but think, of course, to that news. It simply seems that our systems recognize and respond better to the more traditionally made foods like sourdough. Whenever I have a GI flare-up these days, I definitely try to put extra focus on avoiding those refined gluten-free products and even whole grains that weren’t cooked really well, and emphasize sourdough for my grain consumption. I’m finding this helps me return to balance more quickly. For someone that doesn’t react so strongly to gluten, consuming sourdough instead of regularly-baked bread still contributes all the positive benefits I mentioned above about keeping the gut happy and increasing nutrient absorption.

So now, after more than a year of refining my gluten-free sourdough method, I have a recipe I feel good about sharing!

 

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Whole Grain Gluten Free Sourdough Bread, makes 1 sandwich/toast loaf
– Adapted from Baking MagiqueWholehearted Eats, and with tips from Bad Hunter Stories.
– I have a 100% buckwheat starter that I began using this formula. I did not add any outside culture, but simply created it from the wild yeasts in my home. This meant it took a little longer for the starter to get good and active initially.
– For the buckwheat and oats, I often start with whole grains which I grind in my coffee/spice grinder each time I bake and feed the starter.
– I only make this using a kitchen scale rather than measuring cups, and I’ve found I can interchange the flours, by weight, using this method.
– Using slightly different flours along with the the outside weather will result in needing to change the amount of water. Err on the side of having a fairly moist dough that still comes together. 

80 g brown rice flour
140 g cold buckwheat sourdough starter
110 g water
————–
350 g water at room temperature + more as necessary to reach the desired consistency
20 g psyllium husk
10 g ground flax seeds
————–
60 g of each
– sorghum flour
– oat flour
– buckwheat flour
– millet flour
– teff flour
24 g / 2 Tbs. sugar or honey
1 tsp. sea salt

  • In the evening: Mix brown rice flour, sourdough starter and water in a bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let sit overnight (about 8-12 hours) in a warm and non-drafty place.
  • In the morning: Mix water, psyllium husk and ground flaxseeds in a bowl and whisk until a thick gel forms. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl mix all of the dry ingredients.
  • Add the sourdough starter that you made the night before to the wet ingredients and mix.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is fully incorporated. Add a small amount of filtered water, if needed, to arrive at a moist ball of dough.
  • Line a loaf pan with parchment and dump the dough into the pan, smoothing it out into a loaf shape and leveling it into all the corners. Cover with the clean kitchen towel or plastic bag and put in a warm place away from drafts. Allow to rise for 4-6 hours. This will depend on your kitchen warmth. Mine tends to stay cool so I err on the side of 6 to even 6 1/2 hours usually.
  • Preheat the oven to 500°F/260°C. Once the oven’s hot, remove the towel or bag from the loaf, and score the top with one or two good slashes with a sharp knife.
  • Put the loaf in the oven and turn the temperature down to 450°F/230°C. Bake for 50 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches a little over 200°F/90°C.
  • Let the loaf cool on a wire rack for at least an hour, before slicing.

 

1. Calasso, M., Vincentini, O., Valitutti, F., Felli, C., Gobbetti, M., and Di Cagno, R. (2012). The sourdough fermentation may enhance the recovery from intestinal inflammation of coeliac patients at the early stage of the gluten-free diet. European Journal of Nutrition,51(4). 507-12. doi: 10.1007/s00394-012-0303-y.

cardamom + vanilla birthday cake

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I’ve noticed the last few months have brought little breakthroughs in my baking experiments, perhaps because I have not been practicing. I finally made a truly good gluten-free soda bread on my first attempt of the season. I wowed friends with this chocolate hazelnut cake. I made animal crackers that tasted better than any we’ve had before on the first try. Holiday pie crust and sourdough pizza, and likely more that I’m forgetting.

And without too much thought, after years of attempting and tossing out countless recipes and versions of gluten-free, dairy-free vanilla cake, I opted back to my very own chocolate recipe, transitioned it to vanilla and somehow topped it off with a truly amazing caramel-esque non-dairy “cream cheese” frosting to boot.

I’m not bragging by mentioning this so much as reflecting on this last year, my 30th, and reflecting on what it is I put my effort, intention, and attachment into. For sure it has not been baking, or recipe creation in general.

But I wonder sometimes what I have to show for that which I have put my focus towards? To hint, it’s been a lot of nutrition grad school, delving deeply into mindfulness and the often invisible soulwork, and running, always running. I wrote down three big goals for the year in early January and I’ve stuck them in a place where I see them regularly. Each time I’m reminded of the process, how it’s slowly unfolding, how I fail routinely and try again. My goals are process goals, not dependent on the outcome I’d like. But I’m coming to value the day in and day out of quietly working in the trenches, unknowing whether there’ll be a big payout.

In meditation lately, I’ve been envisioning myself sitting, floating on nothing, nothing above or below, nothing to grasp on to. This experience of complete lack, control over nothing, is absolutely uncomfortable even in a visualization exercise. And as I seamlessly transitioned into 31 the other day without much fanfare and devoid of celebrations minus a lovely cake in the flavors I craved that finally and unexpectedly worked out, I think I’ve come to understand a little more: the intentions I set, the high intentions, stories in my head and visions of “glory,” the culmination of work and work and work, on whatever it is I’m working on, very rarely pan out the way I envisioned. And that’s okay.

Because the real magic, I think, is in learning to become more comfortable in the floating, in the space between, in the process, in the unknowing.

Welcome to another rebirth-year. For sure, there’s at least really good cake.

 

Cardamom and Vanilla Birthday Cake, makes a 6-inch two-layer cake
Cardamom is a strong spice, one I love as an adult but was turned off by when younger. Add the amount you desire, starting with less, tasting, and adding more as needed. The frosting amount is intended to just slightly enhance the cake. Double or triple the amount for a fully frosted version.

120 grams / 3/4 cup brown rice flour
30 grams / 1/4 cup almond meal
14 grams / 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon. ground cardamom
150 grams / 3/4 cup sugar (I used the slightly less processed organic cane sugar)
56 grams / 1/4 cup coconut oil, soft, but not melted
2 tablespoons ground flax with 6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
110 ml / 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F and line the bottoms of each cake pan with parchment paper.  Then rub a little coconut oil up the sides of the pans and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the ground flax and warm water to form a slurry.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and spices and then set aside.  In another large bowl, combine the sugar and coconut oil and whisk until it’s light and fluffy. Add the flax slurry and then the vanilla and milk; mix again until it is combined. Next, a bit at a time, stir in the dry ingredients and combine.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Check after out 20 minutes so as not to over bake.
  • Transfer the layers to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes; then remove layers and rest them until completely cool.

 

Cream Cheese Frosting
115 g / 4 oz. / 1/2 cup of non-dairy cream cheese (I used a 1/2 batch of this recipe)
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • While the cake is baking, make the frosting. If you want to make your own cashew cream cheese, you’ll want to start ahead to allow time to “culture.”
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy smooth.
  • Transfer to a bowl and place in the fridge for at least an hour to allow it to set up before frosting the cake.

Gluten Free + Vegan Irish Soda Bread

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For a few weeks in the late winter or early spring, I inevitably begin cooking more simply, or more simply than I usually do, and turn my meat and potatoes-snubbing nose towards the flavors of home, or of home in the old country. It’s been nearly nine years now since I lived in Ireland, a place that some deep ancestral vein in me recognized as home from the first moment I stepped out for an exceptionally early morning run there, in the late summer of 2008. I rarely talk so much about my time in Ireland any longer, but on rare days I find myself especially longing for that feeling I recognized there immediately, that of truly having an origin and belonging to a place in a way that goes beyond this lifetime.

Rather than dwell on the past, I instead tend to celebrate the memories I have. And just when I especially long for spring, it comes, and I invite it in all the more because the earliest spring vegetables here are the exact same as from the Irish countryside and farms, what with nettles, watercress, overwintered cabbage, sprouting kale, parsnips, potatoes, and the like. And then of course, I bake brown bread.

I read recently that Myrtle Allen of the esteemed Ballymaloe House in County Cork once said, I was many years married before I first triumphantly put a really good brown soda loaf on the tea table. I smiled when I read it because Myrtle’s Brown Soda Bread recipe was the one I baked on repeat before making major dietary changes. And it just so happens that six years after I first began experimenting with a gluten and dairy-free version, and incidentally nearly six years married, I baked a really, really good loaf.

 

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Gluten-Free + Vegan Brown Soda Bread
Brown bread is dense, craggy, and in the traditional recipes, contains no more than wholemeal flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. It’s the best bread for afternoon tea, with thick vegetable-heavy chowders, or simply to provide some extra nourishment to your Irish-themed march meal(s). When I lived in Ireland, it’s the item I’d always order when out for a midday meal, along with whatever pureed vegetable soup was on for the day. If you choose to make this, know that I’ve begun baking almost exclusively by weight these days, which makes the flours a little more interchangeable, if you’ve a kitchen scale. Amaranth and/or teff provide a good dose of nutrition and hearty flavor while the millet and brown rice flours lighten it up a little. I milled my own millet flour from fresh, as it’s a grain that tends to go rancid fairly quickly, but feel free to substitute with store bought millet flour. 

1 cup amaranth or teff flour (120 g)
1 cup millet (140 g), milled into a course flour
2/3 cup brown rice flour (110 g)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 Tbs. ground flax seed + 3 Tbs. warm water
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) plain non-dairy milk
A splash of apple cider vinegar

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and prepare a baking pan with a piece of parchment paper on top; set aside.
  • Combine the ground flax with water to form a slurry, and then measure out the milk and add a splash of cider vinegar in a separate dish and allow it to thicken a little. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  • Pour the flax slurry and milk into the bowl with the flours, and then mix, stirring gently until the ingredients come together and form a ball (sticky but not too wet). Work quickly and do not overwork the dough as it will make the end result more dense.
  • Flour your hands and work the dough gently to shape it into a round. Using a sharp knife or a pair of scissors, make a cross on top of the bread. (This as you may know, lets the fairies out). Transfer the round to the baking pan and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden in color and a thermometer comes out at 190-200 degrees F.
  • Let cool on a rack. Like all true soda breads, this bread is dense, and it’s best eaten within a day or so.