Sunday 23 May 2010


I made the fougasse work this time. And just in time. This weekend is the "Go GF Challenge" - an invitation to non-gluten-intolerant people to try living gluten-free for a weekend, as part of Celiac Awareness Month. And my Love has agreed to take on this feat. (And considering what an avid bread-eater he is, yes, it is a feat.) So I wanted to make something good. Specifically, I wanted to make bread that is good.

And it is.

Is it perfect? Well, no.
Is it a little dry? Yes, but not terribly so.
Will I keep playing with it, and post a revision at some point? Yes, quite probably.

Which brings me to an interesting point, one I've been considering lately.

In trying to replicate traditional breads - a standard that has been set by stretchy, gluten-y dough - I think the true potential of some of my gluten-free baking is being compromised.

Gluten-free dough is wet. Almost always. It is not the sort of thing that holds a shape well. You can turn out a perfectly good, soft loaf of bread, but to get there, you probably had to spread batter into a pan. Wheat bread shapes easily. To replicate that shape with a GF dough (and even to make a dough, not a batter) I've found the finished product often lacks moisture. I'm sacrificing texture to carry on the tradition of appearance.

Alternatively, sometimes I compromise appearance to get a more flavourful flour blend. Sometimes I give up on whatever concept I had in mind, and instead focus on creating something unique. In fact, some of my best results have come from not trying to make any specific thing, like my Honey Sandwich Bread. It will definitely be very good in its own right, but the flavour and appearance won't necessarily resemble any particular type of wheat bread. And in many cases, that's fine.

However, I've written before about my thoughts on traditions. Food traditions. Bread traditions.

This is my dough just before I put it in the oven. It looks, I imagine, much like fougasse in Provence has looked for generations.

It's said that the slits are meant to resemble an ear of wheat, but the design arose more from practicality than pure symbolism: this originally was what bakers would make from leftover dough as their ovens cooled at the end of the day. The slits ensured that even as the oven temperature dropped, the bread would cook all the way through. Eventually it became popular in its own right, and is now a recognisably traditional French loaf.


                                                                                                           Here it is freshly baked. Just as it should look.

But I know it could still taste better in some ways. How do I choose, though, between the way the bread of my heritage looks, and how the bread from my memory tastes? I don't think that would be fair, really. To me, the idea of bread - and what it means within a culture - is nearly as important to enjoyment as the taste.

Part of me knows that I am now a part of a different culture - the one of gluten-intolerant people coming together to create (and, of course, share) good food. And the internet is such a wonderful tool for uniting this relatively new community. Yet other parts of me still feel the pull of connection to something older, as if I'm carrying on a story that's been told for generations. Which do I bring to my table? I don't think it's a choice I could make. And honestly, I don't think I have to choose; I believe I can find a balance.

So I keep baking until I find that balance. It will just take time, patience, and a lot of loaves. Many may not be perfect, but they are certainly still good. Good enough to call my own.

So in the meantime...have some bread. Enjoy.

Fougasse with Herbes de Provence

100 g potato starch
50 g tapioca starch
25 g buckwheat flour
20 g sorghum flour
20 g Expandex modified tapioca flour
15 g brown rice flour
10 g chestnut flour
5 g soy flour

3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pectin
1/2 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp Herbes de Provence

100 mL (about 6 T) warm water
1 - 1 1/2 tsp honey
1/2 T yeast

Mix the flours, salt, pectin, herbs, and gums in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat the egg and oil together. Add the honey and yeast to the warm water, and let it foam for a few minutes. Meanwhile, work about half the flour into the egg-oil mixture. Next add the yeast-water, followed by the rest of the flour. If the dough is too sticky, work in an additional tablespoon or two of tapioca flour.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking stone and set the dough on it. Lightly press out the dough with your hands, stretching it lightly outward as you press, and shaping it into an oval. Make 6-10 diagonal slits with a wet knife, and stretch the slits apart with wet fingers. Make the slits large enough that they will not close as the bread rises (see the picture of the unbaked loaf). Brush all exposed surfaces with olive oil. Set the baking stone in a cold oven and turn it immediately to 210 C/400 F. Bake until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 30 minutes. Allow the bread to cool completely before eating.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Take Two

French fougasse with Herbs de Provence: sounds just about perfect, no?

Well. It cracked again.


I only seem to have this problem when I try to make flat loaves. Maybe it's a surface area problem - no loaf tin to restrain the sides of the bread as it puffs.

Result: more ugly bread.

This round was a little more chewy, even more flavourful, and had more air pockets than my last attempt. This dough is being very stubborn, though. Now it's a little dry instead of being too wet...yet it still split. But you know what? I am more stubborn. And it's a beautiful sunny spring day here. I'm going to walk to the Co-Op to get some more cage-free eggs, so I can try again.

And hopefully the rain stays away until well after I perfect this bread - it would be delightful to have a picnic. Herbed rustic bread, some cheese, fruit, maybe some wine...oh dear, now I'm going to be daydreaming about France. I think it's this warm sunny weather, making me fanciful - it's usually cool and rainy here!

Anyway, they say the third time's the charm, right? If that's true, I will have a recipe to share very soon!

Friday 7 May 2010

County Galway Cottage Pie

Okay, I know this is not bread. Not even remotely. But it does go in the oven, and it is traditional, simple, and most importantly, delicious. 

It also comes with a little bit of a story.

In the more rural parts of Ireland, many roads have significant stretches that are not lit at night. At. All. Combine this with the fact that further north along the western coast, all of the road markings change to Gaelic (if the road is even marked). So you may find yourself driving in the dark, across what seems to be - as near as you can tell in the dark - a huge rolling pasture with a single narrow path paved through it. (Well, part of it is paved anyway.) All you have to guide you is the reassurance that you can't have possibly taken a wrong turn, because this was the only road on the map.

So here we were, driving blindly forward towards the tiny, dim glow ahead. After a time we came to the town. (Which, much to our relief, was in fact the town we were trying to get to. This is no small feat when you have passed no signs of civilisation for the past hour!) And as we drove through this town, my mum spotted a restaurant that - surprisingly for such a late hour - appeared to still be open.

The inside of the restaurant was not what I'd anticipated. It was very quiet - there was no traditional session music like there would be in a pub, and there were actually only two other people in the place. It also was not homey or quaint like what I would expect in a small coastal town. I was sceptical, but it was really our only option for hot food. Also it was a seafood restaurant. They had to have something good. I ordered, as the menu called it, "baked cod," or something equally ambiguous.

When it was brought to the table, though, it was not just plain fish. It was a sort of pie, with mash potato on the top. And inside was...cream sauce? With fish? I was now very sceptical. I could not think of a single example where fish plus milk seemed like a good idea. But I took a bite, and my mind was changed completely. It was rich, and warming, and completely delicious. Here in this empty, unwelcoming restaurant, I had discovered a brand new comfort food that tasted like it could have come from a cottage kitchen.

And here is the recipe for you.

Cod Pie

(Note: This recipe makes a serving for one person. Measurements are approximate. Increase recipe for the number of individual pies you wish to make.)

For each pie you will need:

One small glass or ceramic baking dish (holds about a cup of volume)
One small cod fillet
One potato, sliced up but not peeled
Thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper


Heat the oven to 218 C/ 425 F. Place the potato into a pot, cover with cold salted water, and bring to a boil on high. Boil until tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the cod into small pieces and lay them in the baking dish. Pour a little milk and cream over until the fish is about half-covered - enough to thoroughly moisten and flavour the fish, but make sure it won't bubble over the edge. Add some fresh thyme and parsley, and generous amounts of salt and pepper.

Mash the potato with a knob of butter, a little cream, and milk, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mash in a layer over the fish. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the potato begins to turn golden. Garnish with freshly snipped scallions, if desired.