I used to love focaccia bread. Its soft and springy texture with the thin golden crisp salty crust, studded with herbs. Since having to go gluten free I never thought I would eat it again, but all that changed when I tried this recipe from The Gluten-Free Baker by Hannah Miles.
I was recently sent a copy of this book and enjoyed looking through its pages, bookmarking recipes to try. Hannah Miles herself does not need to follow a gluten free diet, but does have an interest in baking of all kinds. Some people might remember Hannah from the final of Masterchef back in 2007. She also writes her own blog. The book is split into sections including cakes, cookies, breads, pastry and desserts, with many delicious sounding recipes to choose from. I don’t really know why I settled on the focaccia as my first recipe to try, especially as my own experiments with gluten free bread baking have been a bit hit and miss. The photo of the focaccia looked so inviting and ‘normal’ (see below) that I yearned to be able to create something equally as good.
I followed the recipe to the letter, with the only slight variation I made was to use red onion instead of olives and natural yoghurt in place of buttermilk, but as it was only a spoonful, I didn’t think this would matter. The dough was more like a thick cake batter than bread dough, but this is a consistency I am learning is most suited to gluten free bread baking.
My dough looked promising and once I studded the top with some tomatoes, red onion and little sprigs of rosemary I was beginning to feel quite excited by it. One point I learnt is don’t prod your fingers into the surface to create little dips like you do with a normal focaccia, or else you’ll just make a deflated hole in your dough as there is no gluten to make it spring back! I only did this once and a handy tomato covered the hole so no one was any the wiser.
Once baked the bread looked and smelt amazing. It didn’t rise quite as tall as the one in the photo but it wasn’t far off! It had a thin crispy golden crust and an airy springy underneath. I love how studded with little holes it is. It was even a little flexible without crumbling or falling apart at all! I think using eggs and a little vinegar seemed to help stabilise the dough.
The taste was amazing! It was just like regular focaccia. Light and springy with a wonderful flavour from the sweet roasted tomatoes and onion and a slight saltiness from the little sprinkling of rock salt. The best focaccia I’ve ever made – gluten free or not and definitely the most successful and delicious gluten free bread I’ve ever produced!
It was fabulous the first two days, after which it got a little drier, but using it to make a toasted cheese sandwich soon transformed it back to deliciousness once more. It was so good. I’ve already made another one and frozen it in wedges to dig out when I need. I’m thrilled to have a recipe for a more artisan type bread that really works. I can’t wait to try out some of the other recipes.
All of the recipes in the book use ingredients that are readily available which helps make them feel approachable to all bakers. For the purposes of a fair review, I will also add a slight negative comment that I’ve noticed with the book. A lot of the cake, cookie and savoury recipes use ground almonds as a substitute for flour. Although I know this often works quite well, it can result in a heavier, denser, moister end product which is not always desired. Plus, not everyone likes the taste of ground almonds, so I felt they were a little too relied upon. However, I’m sure you could replace some with gluten free flour if you liked. Don’t let this minor point put you off the book, as all of the recipes I have so far tried have been wonderful.
Now onto the exciting part. I am delighted to be able to offer a copy of the book to one lucky person. With Christmas coming up it would make the ideal gift for a friend or family member who might have recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease, or even if you’ve just got an interest in gluten free baking.
To be in with a chance to win, simply leave a comment telling me a bit about your own experiences of gluten free food. Do you or anyone you know have coealic disease? Do you have a go-to gluten free recipe you produce should the need arise or are you daunted by the idea of it and want to learn more?
residents only. Competition closes at midnight on Monday 14th November 2011. UK
Gluten Free Rosemary, Tomato & Red Onion Focaccia
(Recipe from The Gluten-Free Baker by Hannah Miles)
450g gluten free white bread flour (I used a mix of maize, rice, potato & buckwheat)
1½ tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp fresh yeast (I used fast action dry)
2 tsp honey
2 tbsp warm water
300ml warm milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp buttermilk (I used natural yoghurt)
1 tsp fine sea salt
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
20 pitted black olives (I used sliced red onion)
Few sprigs fresh rosemary
Olive oil for drizzling
Sea salt flakes for sprinkling
Generously grease a deep sided 33x23cm/13x9inch oven tray.
Put the yeast, warm water and honey in a small bowl. Stir and leave for 10-15 minutes to become foamy.
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, add the proofed yeast, xanthan gum, warm milk, eggs, vinegar, buttermilk and fine salt. Beat everything together using a spoon or spatula to form a thick dough.
Spread the dough into the greased tray and spread it out into an even layer.
Cover the top with clingfilm or a clean towel and place in a warm place to proof for 1 hour or until risen and puffy.
Preheat the oven top 190C.
Dot the halved cherry tomatoes, slices of olive (or onion) and small sprigs of rosemary over the surface of the dough. Don’t stick your fingers into it though!
Drizzle the surface with olive oil and scatter the top with sea salt crystals.
Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and crisp on top.
Allow to cool in the tin to room temperature before cutting into large squares and serving.
Tastes delicious on its own or served with soups, chutneys, cheese or split in half and toasted to make sandwiches.
Eat within 2 days or freeze in portions on day of baking.