Thursday, August 05, 2010

Gluten-Free Crusty Seeded Bread

Good crusty bread seems to be the final frontier in gluten-free baking. Cupcakes and cookies certainly take a bit of skill and care, but if you have a good recipe (especially one with a lot of fat and sugar to do the heavy lifting), you'll end up with something delicious. Sandwich bread needs to be able to stay together, sure, but usually they're topped with enough flavorful ingredients and tasty spreads that by the end it doesn't matter too much. But a good, crusty hearth loaf? The sort of old-school, artisan boule with a toothsome crust and a rangy, airy crumb? For most gf people, these can be a sad, distant memory.

A good friend of mine recently went off gluten, and has been sorely missing these loaves. Before the dietary shift, gluten was a big part of her existence. She bought flour in 25-lb sacks, and on weekends would mix up a double batch of Jim Lahey's famous no-knead bread, stud it with seeds, and bake the loaves up for the family to enjoy throughout the week. It's a pretty hard thing to say goodbye to.

But thanks to some amazing gluten-free bakers, you don't have to. The wonderful Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois, along with Shauna James Ahern came up with a gluten-free loaf that does a shocking job of passing for its gluten-filled inspiration. A mix of several different gf flours, xanthan gum, eggs and oil combine into a a crusty, satisfying hearth loaf. In keeping with the tradition (and my own hippie leanings), I tossed a good handful of seeds into the dough, and scattered more on top. The results are amazing.

Would you mistake this for standard bread? Possibly. It's pretty darned close, I'll say. Although it's definitely "bready," if you pay close attention you might find it a little more spongy, a little less rangy and airy than the usual hearth breads. In that way it's similar to the spongier Italian semolina loaves, sort of a hybrid of that style and the leaner artisan boule. But mostly, it's just good. Really really good.

Gluten-free Crusty Seeded Bread

yields 1 2-lb loaf

Adapted from the Gluten-Free Crusty Boule in Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois' lovely book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Things to keep in mind:

1) You will see the word "gently" appear in this recipe several dozen times. Gentleness is key, it turns out. While all unbaked doughs are somewhat delicate, gluten-free dough is especially so. If you handle it roughly after it's risen, you'll knock out those hard-earned air pockets, and lose your lovely texture in the finished product. A bit of babying will pay off mightily.

2) While you'll want to tear into this bread right away, it continues to cook internally and set after removing from the oven. You break it open, you get gummy bread. So you must wait, sadly.

3) Many people with gluten intolerance are sensitive to even the smallest amounts of trace cross-contamination. If you're not gluten-free but cooking for someone who is, make sure you use clean, nonporous equipment and avoid any traces of gluten. If your Dutch oven has been used on other gluten-y meals, use a large enough piece of parchment paper to prevent the dough from coming in contact with the pot.


1 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups tapioca starch
1 Tbsp xanthan gum
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/3 cups water (slightly warm, especially if your rising area is cold, but not so warm that you kill the yeast -- just comfortably warm)
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
2 eggs
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp neutral oil, like canola
1 Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup whole flax seeds
3 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1 egg, beaten with 1 small splash water (aka "the egg wash")
3 Tbsp raw pumpkin seeds
2 Tbsp whole flax seeds
2 Tbsp sesame seeds

Mix together the rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer (or another large bowl), pour the water and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the yeast to soften. Add the eggs, oil and sugar, and mix thoroughly. Add the gf flour mixture, and mix thoroughly to combine. If you're using a mixer, use the paddle rather than the dough hook. Continue to mix together until the dough is well-combined and smooth. The dough will not seem like a traditional bread dough -- it's somewhere between a cake batter and smooth mashed potatoes. Add the pumpkin, flax, and sesame seeds, and stir to combine.

When the dough is mixed, place it in a lightly-oiled covered container, and let sit, loosely covered, at room temperature for 2 hours. If your rising place is particularly warm, cut this down to 1 1/2 hours. After it has risen, gently take the container and place it in the refrigerator. Chill at least overnight, and up to about a week.

When you're ready to bake, gently take the dough out of the refrigerator. Tip it out onto a piece of parchment paper, taking care to not deflate any of the air that it has captured. Using a wet hand, shape the dough into a round, and smooth out the surface as best you can (keep wetting your hand to prevent the dough from sticking, and to wet the surface of the dough enough to smooth it out). Cover loosely with a piece of plastic, and allow to rise an hour and a half (less time if your rising area is warm).

Half an hour before the rising time is done, preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Place a large Dutch oven and its cover (making sure the cover doesn't have a meltable plastic knob) in the oven to preheat. While this is preheating, mix together the seeds for the topping.

When the dough has warmed and risen slightly, brush the surface completely with the egg wash (use a pastry brush if you have it, otherwise just wad up the plastic you'd used to cover the dough, and use it to gently blot the surface of the dough with the egg wash). Sprinkle the seeds for the topping evenly over the surface. Take a sharp serrated knife, and gently cut slashes 1/4" deep over the surface of the dough.

Carefully remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven. Gently pick up the piece of parchment paper around the loaf, and gently lower it into the preheated pot. Cover, and gently place in the oven. Let bake 25 minutes, then remove the lid, and lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Let bake an additional 20-25 minutes, until the surface of the dough is browned (it may be difficult to see under the seeds), and the dough seems done to your liking. Lift it out of the pan, and cool on a rack. When nearly completely cool, slice and serve.


  1. You sound like a really good friend! I bet it's tough to find store-bought GF products that stand up to the best loaf of wheat bread; props to you for taking matters into your own hands.

  2. This is exactly the sort of recipe I've been searching for. We're not gluten free, but we have lots of friends & relatives who are. And it's always great to be able to bake for them when they join us for dinner.

    This loaf looks so amazing.

  3. Maddie: I think the gf crusty hearth loaf is at a double handicap. This one is surprisingly delicious.

    Lo: This loaf nearly reduced a gf friend to tears. Definitely a supreme present for your gf nearest and dearest.

  4. I know you posted this recipe quite awhile ago, but I've just finished baking it. Wow! What a beautiful loaf of bread.
    I do think, having tasted it though, that there may be a typo on the salt? 1-1/2 Tablespoons was a lot of salt, and I think maybe it is supposed to be teaspoons instead? Nevertheless, I will definitely make this again with less salt. Really nice! Thank you!

    1. Oops you're right on the salt — apologies! I'll make the correction. Good to hear it was still tasty. I do love me some salt, but...

    2. Hello Jenn Maly, are you the same from Liberty 5 bakery ?
      I was told about your GF products by a mutual acquaintance recently and I want to try some.
      I'm in need of a great sandwich bread since I went 99% GF two years ago. Still searching.
      We live in SF and Sebastopol on weekends.....whats the best place to buy your breads ?

  5. I would love to try this recipe, however have a difficult time with xanthum gum. Would it be possible to use psyllium husk powder or chia seed paste?

    1. I haven't tried this particular recipe with psyllium, but feel free to play around — make sure to add extra water to accommodate...

  6. I just made this loaf and it is truly amazing! My gf family members love it! But, the best part: so do the regular wheaty eaters! It takes some planning but overall the results are like good artisan bread. (uh oh, I just read about the salt. I used T and it wasn't too salty.)

    1. Glad it worked out! And I already adjusted the salt down in the recipe (though I'm also someone who veers toward the salty side in bread).