Let’s be honest: Gluten-free flours are not much like wheat. When used alone, they can be gritty, moist, dark, a little sweet. But, in the right combination, they create tasty bread that’s actually pretty simple to make — no proofing, no kneading, no punching.
Thanks to the new book by the innovative local duo Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, I baked flatbread for a gluten-free friend — and no one suspected it was not its floury cousin. “Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” (St. Martin’s Press, 291 pages, $29.99), like its four bestselling wheat predecessors, tells us how to make up a big batch of dough to keep in the refrigerator and use it to make freshly baked baguettes, boules, pizzas, bagels and sweet loaves over the following five to 10 days.
Success didn’t come easily. “This was the hardest challenge of my career,” said François as she sliced into a golden, crusty, dense and toothy boule.
“I almost gave up,” admitted Hertzberg. Getting the blend of flours to interact with yeast the way wheat does was no small feat. It took persistence, imagination, experience and a lot of trial and error.
“For example, we wanted the pizza dough to have enough tensile strength and realized we needed more protein, so we added egg whites to the recipe,” explained François. The research took about five years, and the resulting recipes and techniques are as good as, and in some cases better than, breads made with wheat.
“Every recipe had to pass muster with our family,” Hertzberg said.
For François, “My dad thought the gluten-free brioche was the best bread he’s ever had, not knowing that he was eating something made with rice, tapioca, sorghum and other gluten-free flours.”
As soon as “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” hit the bestseller list in 2003, Hertzberg and François, both of Minneapolis, were flooded with requests for gluten-free options. “People said they loved the method, but couldn’t eat wheat, so we set off to develop recipes that fit our fast and easy methods using gluten-free flours,” François said. “We wanted to give these readers more than the short chapters in our other books.”
“It had to be as easy and fast as our recipes with wheat flour,” Hertzberg said. “That’s the promise we make in the title, and that’s what we wanted to be sure to deliver.”
Through their interactive blog (www.BreadIn5.com), the two authors have knit a tight community of readers that makes these books especially relevant and easy to read. No question or comment goes unanswered.
Far more than a collection of recipes, “Gluten-Free Artisan Bread” gives context and guidelines for this genre of baking. It provides a glossary of alternative flours and substitutes for allergens or difficult-to-find ingredients, and it addresses the most frequently asked questions with tips for troubleshooting common problems. Although grocery store shelves now hold several gluten-free flours, the book’s recipes for blending your own are easy and fail-safe.
With more than half a million copies of their books in print, Hertzberg and François continue to work on the blog, have launched a new website (www.GFBreadIn5.com), and are mulling future projects. (A holiday baking book, perhaps?) Now, everyone can live by bread alone (and some pretty good pizza, too).
Beth Dooley is the author of “Minnesota’s Bounty” and “The Northern Heartland Kitchen.”