Tuesday 8 November 2011

Gluten Free Rosemary, Tomato & Red Onion Focaccia! A Review and A Giveaway

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?
Open to UK residents only. Competition closes at midnight on Monday 14th November 2011.

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.


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

That looks amazing and just as risen and delicious as a regular foccacia! :D

Unknown said...

My friend is coeliac, she lives in the US and always asks for British Free From foods - apparently, we are quite spoilt for choice here:-) It is easy to buy presents for her - I just buy lots of gluten - free biscuits, English muffins etc from Sainsbury's and she is as delighted as if I've sent her Jimmy Choos:-) I am sure she'd love this recipe book, too, as she is a keen cook.

Johanna GGG said...

wow that definitely goes into the I-can't-believe-it's-gf category! I've seen lots of gf breads about and they are all really dense - this looks light and springy - I must try this for my sister and niece! (Though my niece was diagnosed with celiacs disease so young that she doesn't miss bread like my sister does) - hope the book might in Australian stores so I can check it out

Caroline said...

It looks amazing - well risen and light. It's great that you've found a bread recipe that works for you, because it must be so frustrating to not be able to replicate what you're thinking of!

My mum's friend has coeliac disease and I've made a couple of things for her. Her additional difficulty is that she's not keen on chocolate and cannot eat citrus plus I cannot eat nuts, which makes some gluten free recipes difficult to adapt (if I'm being greedy and wanting a taste!). It looks like a really interesting book but from what you said will probably rely fairly heavily on ground almonds :-( Good for you! not so good for nut allergies!!!

katie F said...

This looks amazing. I found out that I have a mild wheat intolerance a couple of years ago and have only ever attempted a couple of cakes, usually just substituting the self-raising flour for gluten free. i'd love to try some of the recipes in this book!x

Nisrine said...

Your GF foccacia looks soo good. Must try it soon.

Jane W said...

Wow your focaccia looks delicious - its so well risen and light. My friend at work has coeliac; I always enjoy the challenge of baking something that everyone at work can enjoy, including her. She is always appreciates the effort.

The Caked Crusader said...

I thought of you when I saw that book - glad you got it

BTW, my advent calendar arrived this weekend - thanks so much!

Amanda said...

This looks great and I'll certainly give it a try. I discovered that I had a gluten intolerance when I was in my 50s, after a lifetime of illness and mis-diagnosis. I've declined being tested for coeliac, there doesn't seem much point, and I'm not eating gluten again just for a test. My most made recipe is for a lemon polenta cake which is terrific, and gets made regularly for local fairs, WI teas, anywhere that we're likely to have tea and that may not have GF cakes, visitors, friends etc etc. A real winner.