Pros: Delicious and easy
Cons: Hard crust, shaggy look, doesn’t brown well
Rating: 4 out of 5
NOTE: Review book provided by authors
I’m a huge fan of Hertzberg and Francois’s original Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook. We got it years ago and we still make bread from it. It’s a great way to fit fresh bread into a busy schedule.
One of the authors asked if I’d like to use and review the new Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Baking Revolution Continues with 90 New, Delicious and Easy Recipes Made with Gluten-Free Flours. I warned him that I don’t cook gluten-free and thus couldn’t judge it from that direction, but that I’d be happy to judge it against non-GF breads and provide that perspective.
The process is like this: you mix together a bunch of gluten-free dry ingredients following one or another set of instructions. (One of those possible mixtures is whole-grain.) You’ll need to have something like a Whole Foods near you–or a good online source–to find all of the unusual flours you’ll need. When you want to make bread you use a certain amount of one of those mixtures, add things like yeast and water, mix, rise, and fridge. Any time you want bread you shape a loaf from the dough, let it rise, and then bake (on either a preheated oven stone or a sheet pan). Let cool, and eat. That’s it.
We made three particular recipes out of this book in order to test it out. We made the basic recipe. We used the whole-grain mixture to make a half-whole grain, half-not batch. And finally we made the Portugese broa–bread with cornmeal in it–because it’s our favorite recipe from the original book. This selection made it easy for us to draw comparisons with the original book.
The plain basic recipe is my favorite in the gluten-free edition of the cookbook. It smells just like any other wonderful bread while baking. You have to wait to serve it until it’s fully cooled or the insides can get a little squooshy (that’s a technical term). The bread tasted delicious. It was dense (and thus very filling–you won’t need much), had a crust that was more crunchy than crisp. The shape was a little ‘shaggy’–it was hard to shape the dough smoothly and it didn’t have enough oven spring to correct that. I particularly recommend slices of this bread with a bit of butter and honey. Absolutely divine.
The half-whole grain bread wasn’t as good, although we still enjoyed it. The hard crust, dense texture, and shaggy shape were a little more pronounced here. The broa had similar problems. It’s my least favorite so far of the GF breads, even though it’s my most favorite in the original book. In the dense, mildly gummy GF bread, the bits of cornmeal seem really out of place. We tried both baking stones and sheet pans, steam and no steam, with little enough difference between the results.
Now, I was reading some of the helpful material that comes before the recipes–equipment, etc. The book suggested that a pale crust, undercooked crumb, and thick crust could mean that the oven’s temperature is off. Given how perfectly that meshed with our experiences, we believed that meant our oven was running cool. We got a new oven thermometer, because I didn’t want to blame imperfect loaves on the book if there was a problem on our end. However, it turned out that our old oven, which has really seen better days, is spot-on in its heating–I was really surprised.
So, to sum up: A person who has no need to eat gluten-free isn’t going to mistake these loaves for ‘normal’ bread any time soon. If you can’t have regular bread, however, it smells and tastes like the real thing; I expect it would be worth the mild textural issues. And of course, given that it can be a pain to put together all the myriad of ingredients for GF bread, using a cookbook that makes dough for a handful of loaves at a time is ideal. I imagine someday we’ll find the miracle mix of flours that can better fake a gluten-free bread, but we aren’t yet there.