Free From Baking

25/10/2016 09:10:50

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Bakery and freefrom are very much the curate’s egg – good in parts – or, to be more specific, easy to achieve in some parts but definitely not in others.

Easy are the cakes and biscuits, difficult is the bread which although it has made massive strides over the last 15 years, is still a problem product for freefrom bakers.

Back around 2000, chocolate brownies were the first gluten-free kids on the block. But given that many chocolate brownies contain little if any flour, this was not too hard a manufacturing process. All that was needed was to exchange the small amount of wheat flour for oats, or cornflour or potato flour.

Adventurous bakers, small and large, were soon experimenting with other cake recipes substituting polenta or rolled oats, or combinations of rice, gram or millet flour. Provided that they used butter and eggs, little was lost in terms of flavour or texture, the butter providing the flavour, the eggs the elasticity and holding power that would normally have come from the gluten in the wheat flour.

Excluding dairy as well as gluten did not pose much of a problem as many of the cheaper products used palm oil rather than butter anyhow. For the small commercial bakers, PURE dairy free spreads made from soya or sunflower were good substitutes for butter as they delivered a good baked texture even if they were rather short on flavour. But that was easy to replace with chocolate, fruits, ginger etc.

Biscuits, which rarely used eggs, were even easier, the only serious problem being preventing them from crumbling without making them tooth-breakingly hard. A problem that commercial bakers, at least, seem now to have solved quite satisfactorily.

Small commercial bakers’ lives were made even easier when Doves Farm developed their range of gluten free flour mixes using a combination of rice, potato, tapioca, maize and buckwheat to which they could add a little xanthan gum to provide elasticity. These work so well that they are now widely used throughout the freefrom industry – and even in the food service industry where Pizza Express use them to roll out all of their pizzas in their restaurants so as to avoid contaminating their gluten free offer with wheat flour!

More recently superfood, seed and nut flours have been introduced adding back the flavour in buckets full and offering new exciting textures. Many of these also allow bakers to leave out the eggs which remain essential in most standard gf/df baked goods.

Bread, however, did not have such an easy time. This is because bread relies almost entirely on flour; very, very few standard breads include any sort of fat or eggs.

Moreover the whole bread making process relies on the yeast working synergistically with the gluten in the wheat flour to raise and then hold the mixture to give it a light and spongy texture. Remove the gluten and you remove one half of the process. You can add yeast to other flour mixtures but while they will raise it, there is nothing in those flours to ‘hold it up’ so it falls flat and you get solid, rock-like loaves.

Using endless combinations of flours and xantham gum to provide a little elasticity, home and micro bakers did come up with edible loaves but they staled very quickly so had no serious commercial potential. The only saleable loaves were the much heavier wholemeal or pumpernickel style loaves which had always been solid anyhow.

And then in 2009, there was the Genius moment. Lucinda Bruce Gardyne, a professional chef with a gluten intolerant son, had created a home bake bread which worked pretty well.  The breakthrough came when she got backing to take it to a large commercial baker where, using higher levels of fat and egg white, it was developed into a ‘supermarket’ bread which not only looked and tasted like a standard loaf with a standard loaf texture, but had a viable commercial shelf life.

The bread was not perfect. It did include egg and was higher in fat and sugar than a standard non-gf loaf and it did, and still does, have a tendency to develop holes. But it was light years better than anything that had come before and swept all before it. (Genius is now a multi million pound brand selling across Europe and further) And of course, once Genius had cracked it a number of other manufacturers followed in their footsteps including Warburtons and a number of the supermarkets.

Genius, in somewhat of a miracle of freefrom manufacture, has gone on to develop gluten and dairy free croissant and pain au chocolat. Not, reasonably enough, as good as the original fine wheat flour and Normandy butter ones, but certainly an acceptable alternative for those who can never eat the originals.

The artisan bread market meanwhile has gone down a more wholefoody route, experimenting with alternative grain, superfood and new world seeds such as teff and quinoa to create a very viable range of freefrom wholemeal-type breads.

It will be interesting to see what the next few years will bring.


©Michelle Berriedale-Johnson

Editor FoodsMatter

Director FreeFrom Awards

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