Little else says "welcome home" like the aroma of fresh-baked bread. A tender loaf emerging hot from the oven to be slathered with butter and jam is the sort of pure comfort a mother lives to offer.
Unless you have a child who is allergic to wheat. And eggs. And milk. And nuts. Then, trying to bake bread is a torturous reminder of all the things she can't have but that I wish she could.
The tricky part about making an allergen-free bread is working without gluten, a vital protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten helps bread rise, firm up and have that elastic quality. Eggs and dairy make it easier for gluten to do its job. Making a tasty bread without some combination of this trifecta is a Herculean feat.
I've tossed more than half a dozen store-bought gluten-free brick loaves into the trash. I've been stung by loaves I was assured were allergen free, only to find that they weren't. Most safe substitutes, which are made from corn, rice or potato, are expensive and will pass in a pinch if toasted and smothered with butter or jelly. But you don't want to eat a sandwich with these crumbly, Sahara-like breads. And, unless frozen, the loaves last two or three days at most.
So I was intrigued when I ran across a recipe for Mark Engelberg's Gluten-Free, Vegan Bread on the Aprovechar allergy blog. The array of foreign-sounding ingredients—millet, teff, sorghum flour, tapioca flour and xanthan gum—intimidated me. My heart raced. I thought I'd collapse from sticker shock at the store. I paid about $40 for what would be the flour base of my next few loaves. I'm no Martha Stewart. Heck, I'm not even Rachael Ray in the kitchen. But I was determined.
My 1980s stand mixer labored under the heft of flours, olive oil and yeast. Clouds of powder rose in the air. The batter seemed thin at first, then gummy as it spun up the side of the beaters. I've since found a KitchenAid mixer is more efficient.
After it rose, I put the dough in a 400-degree oven. A slightly familiar smell and a ripple of smiles floated through the kitchen. I rushed to take the loaves out. A sort of pale, pasty, mottled white, they were not attractive. When smelled up close, there was a discernibly "off" odor. A half smile plastered on my face, I told my 2-year-old we'd wait for them to cool. I nervously sliced through the warm loaf. It felt familiar, dense like sourdough but spongy, too.
I spread a vegan butter on a slice, followed by strawberry jam. My hopes lifted. Talia took a bite and declared it "dewicious!" My son asked for a slice, too. Though not quite what gluten eaters would prefer, it is one of the best allergen-friendly bread recipes I've found. We ate half a loaf in one sitting. I swathed the remainder of the loaf in foil and placed it in a Ziploc bag on the counter. I sliced the other loaf, bundled it in plastic wrap and froze it. I've learned to never refrigerate gluten-free breads, because they dry out quickly.
This bread works well sliced thin for sandwiches the day it is baked but it begins to dry out after a day or two. Talia enjoyed the bread the next two days for breakfast and dinner.
I may not have found the answer to all of my bread quandaries. But, at least for a day, my daughter and I found the sweet comfort we were craving.