Review of Jennifer Katzinger’s “Gluten-Free & Vegan Bread,” Starring Caraway Buckwheat Boule and a Caprese Sandwich
by Ali Seiter
Crisp, crackly, crusty, artisan, aromatic, homemade, comforting bread: the only food that continued to tantalize me after I took the gluten-free plunge. My Italian upbringing and frequent jaunts to visit my aunt in Florence certainly contributed to this deliciously carby love affair. After all, not eating bread in Italy basically translates to not eating; indeed, Italians munch with a fork in one hand and a piece of bread in the other. The quality and variety of Italian bread only intensified my longing—pillowy ciabatta, herby and toothsome focaccia, twisted crisp breadsticks called grissini, and pure-flavored unsalted Florentine bread, to name a few.
Happily, upon transitioning to a gluten-free diet (which I do not regret doing in the least and would never return to eating gluten due to the wonders eliminating it has achieved for my digestion), I discovered a bounty of creative alternatives to wheat bread, including socca, simple tortillas utilizing lesser-known whole grain flours, and a whole host of raw options such as wraps, loaves, and flatbreads. While immensely enjoyable in their own right, these recipes simply cannot substitute for the doughy, yeasty, hearty spectacle of a legitimate loaf of bread. Oh, how I lamented the absence of sourdough in my life! Alas, how I rended myself from the ancient grain, wood-fired breads from Cress Spring Bakery! Dammit, how I just wanted some panzanella and a sandwich!
Yet finally, like a beacon in the night, after 16 months of wallowing in a bread-void abyss, Jennifer Katzinger answered all of my gluten-free prayers with her genius new cookbook—Gluten-Free and Vegan Bread: Artisan Recipes to Make at Home. Considering my deep adoration of bread pre-gluten-freedom and unfulfilled cravings for it post-transition, I nearly wept with joy upon downloading this book onto my Kindle as a Christmas gift from my generous mother. Perhaps it has become a cliche in the vegan cooking community to affirm a yearning to make all of the recipes included in any particular cookbook, but I honestly gasped with excitement at the title of every single bread featured in Jennifer Katzinger’s bible of gluten-free/vegan yeasty goodness, determined to, yes, make them all. How could I not devote every ounce of my being to crafting homemade, artisan, gluten-free and vegan breads when they boasted mouthwatering names like Kalamata Olive Bread, Caraway Potato Bread, Russian Black Bread, Multiple Grain Baguette, Quinoa Sandwich Bread, Cinnamon-Walnut Loaf, Swedish Braided Bread, Orange Chocolate Bread, Apricot Kuchen, Pecan Cinnamon Rolls, Pumpkin Sage Loaf, Arepas, Indian Roti, Focaccia con Funghi, Blueberry Streusel Brad, Date Oat Bread, and Raspberry-Rooibos Tea Bread? Be still my beating heart.
The Petite Buckwheat Round comprised the first recipe I attempted on the road to baking my way through this new cookbook of mine. Like most of the recipes in the Yeasted Breads chapter, the Buckwheat Round began with by dissolving active dry yeast with maple syrup and olive oil (though I used agave nectar instead), combining it with a chia seed gel, and then mixing in a blend of whole grain flours and starches (buckwheat flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot, and flaxseed meal in this particular recipe). Though the ingredient list did not include caraway, I threw in a scant tablespoon of the classic rye spice since I thought it would nicely complement the buckwheat’s nutty, hearty flavor. I opted to allow my handy-dandy stand mixer to form the dough before shaping it into a round on a cutting board dusted with more buckwheat flour—Jennifer specifically notes that “minimal handling is optimal” and that “really what you want to do is shape the dough and not actually knead it”—and scoring the loaf with three curving lines to create a floral pattern. After popping the shaped dough into the oven and waiting for two agonizing hours while the aroma of caraway wafted from the kitchen, a gorgeous loaf of deeply golden bread, complete with an impressively crunchy crust and a bottom that sounded hollow when rapped upon, emerged. Yes, folks—this bread was the gluten-free real deal.
Perhaps you noticed that I mentioned not a word about allowing the dough to rise before baking it. Not only does crafting gluten-free bread require minimal kneading, it also yields an immensely more preferable structure and texture when placed directly in the oven after mixing rather than undergoing the traditional fermentation process. Jennifer explains that “because doughs that are gluten-free have so little structure to begin with, if they are allowed to ferment and rise on the counter, the enzyme activity (which defines the bread’s flavor and structural strengths) will increase, and protease (an enzyme that works on protein chains) will regretfully leave something that is so crumbly and weak in structure that one could hardly call it a bread at all.” However, these yeasted gluten-free breads do indeed still rise; they simply rely on the yeast’s increased feeding/carbon-dioxide-emission rate experienced when the dough’s temperature begins to rise in a hot oven to create a rising method known as oven spring. This dependence on accelerated yeast activity also renders the use of eggs and copious amounts of xanthan gum, both of which show up quite frequently in most gluten-free breads to provide additional binding and leavening, unnecessary. Who knew that simply bypassing a supposedly integral step in bread-baking would produce perfect gluten-free vegan bread without depending on the questionable ingredient of xanthan gum?
If, like me, utilizing various types of gums (xanthan, guar, carageenan, etc.) causes you discomfort, either physically or mentally, I’d like to offer a note on the inclusion of xanthan gum in Jennifer’s book: addressing the prevalent problem with the commonly genetically modified nature and tendency to cause bloating in some individuals of xanthan gum, Jennifer asserts that her “preference is to avoid xanthan gum when possible.” However, though certainly used in much smaller amounts (1/2-1 tsp) in this book than in the vast majority of other gluten-free bread recipes, xanthan gum appears in all of the recipes in the Yeasted Breads chapter and a couple in the Flatbreads and Quickbreads chapters. Taking a bit of a chance, I decided not to include xanthan gum in my first experiment with Jennifer’s recipes and nonetheless reveled in the impeccable flavor, texture, heartiness, and crust quality of the bread. My verdict? Omitting xanthan gum from the recipes in this book still yields stellar results.
While I enjoyed a slice of my Caraway Buckwheat Boule (my new name for my customized creation) on the night of its conception with a steaming bowl of French Green Lentil & Butternut Squash Soup with Kale, the bread starred in the role I had originally intended for it to play the next day during lunchtime when it provided the base for a gluten-free, vegan Caprese Sandwich. The eminence of this sandwich stems from my middle school days, when my friends and I referred to it simply as “The Sandwich.” No other combination of three perfectly complementary ingredients applied to sandwich form could compare to the unification of mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto nestled between two slices of toasty, crusty bread. On any given day, at least four of the girls in our lunch group would munch on some variation of “The Sandwich,” while those who discovered a measly PB&J in their lunchbox scowled jealously at the lucky lunchers. Though it pains me to say it, back in my middle school days, the mozzarella featured in my caprese sandwiches was the blood-and-pus-filled byproduct of the egregiously oppressive and inhumane dairy industry, while the pesto harbored just as much suffering due to its inclusion of parmesan cheese (which is actually not even vegetarian).
Clearly, this new-and-vastly-improved rendition of “The Sandwich” proves 100% cruelty- and gluten-free, due to its implementation of my Caraway Buckwheat Boule, the vegan mozzarella featured in Miyoko Schinner’s “Artisan Vegan Cheese,” and Kristy’s Oil-Free Pesto, along with a couple halved cherry tomatoes. Oh, how I relished the nostalgia…and the creamy decadence slathered between slices of homemade bread.
Anywho, I’d recommend sprinting to your nearest bookstore or furiously typing “Amazon.com” into your address bar to pick up a copy of Jennifer Katzinger’s, Gluten-Free & Vegan Bread, immediately—I can promise that your life will change with the first sniff of artisan bread emnating from the oven. Perhaps then you, too, can revel in the sandwich-inspired memories of your childhood.
Until next time, Ali.