Jan 24 2011
This one is really a challenge: as part of the New Year, we were supposed to bake using an ingredient, tool or technique that is completely unfamiliar to us. Since I’ve drop-kicked gluten out of my life for awhile, I figured I’d tackle the scary world of baking with gluten-free flour.
Ha! That’s so dramatic. Really, gluten-free flour isn’t some new-age concoction of chemicals that give you rise without the structure of gluten. It’s just ground up flour versions of stuff we’re already familiar with: potato, tapioca, corn and/or beans. Bob’s Red Mill is pretty much the #1 brand for g-free stuff and Bob has a whole display at Shoppers so it was easy to find!
I can’t turn the scientist in me off so for this experiment, I needed a control. I can’t judge the quality of a g-free baked good without having a g-full sample to test against. What if it turns out disgusting but the recipe sucked or the yeast was half-dead?? Confounders!
Thus, the Great Breadstick Challenge.
I chose Almost Famous Breadsticks from Food Network as my test recipe. How can you go wrong with something that is almost famous? Plus, the small amount of sugar and butter could be substituted with honey and olive oil to avoid two more no-nos of the diet.
Breadsticks +/- Gluten
Adapted from Food Network’s Almost Famous Breadsticks
- 1/8 cup warm water
- 1/2 package active dry yeast
- 2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour (g-free for the new version)
- 1 Tbsp butter, melted
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1/2 Tbsp fine salt
- 1/2 cups plus 3 Tbsp warm water
Make the dough: Place 1/8 cup warm water in the bowl of a mixer; sprinkle in the yeast and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, butter, honey, fine salt and 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons warm water; mix with the paddle attachment until a slightly sticky dough forms, 5 minutes. Knead the dough by hand on a floured surface until very smooth and soft, 3 minutes. Roll into a 1-foot-long log; cut into 8 equal pieces. Knead each piece slightly and shape into a 7-inch-long breadstick; arrange 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a cloth; let rise in a warm spot until almost doubled, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Brush the warm breadsticks with a bit of melted butter combined with garlic powder, salt and oregano.
So we tried both kinds. Greg got to really try–I actually had a blue vs. yellow blind tasting set up, you know, science and all, but he walked in the kitchen and said, “I know which is which!!” Fine, don’t play along. I just had a bite of the regular sticks. The g-free ones aren’t terrible; in fact, dipped in a little bit of my homemade marinara sauce (from Maryland tomatoes in August!) they were a welcome carb-loaded reprieve from my veggie-laden diet. If I had a gluten allergy or celiac disease, these would be a welcome addition to any Italian dish or salad meal.
However, the regular breadsticks blew the g-free ones away. For those that can process gluten, this is like choosing between Kim and Khloe Kardashian–neither one is very good for you but one is clearly more appealing than the other.
Those who watch Good Eats know that gluten is the protein in flour that forms an elastic mesh-like structure, giving support and stretchiness. It’s the stuff that allows pizza dough to be tossed around and stretched without breaking and traps carbon dioxide as bread bakes to give it rise. The lack of gluten is so obvious when making these sticks side-by-side. The g-free dough rolls out easily and dryly like cookie dough or PlayDoh; the regular dough stretches and pulls like pizza dough. The g-free dough has little rise, the regular puffs up a bit. Finally, even though the taste is comparable, the g-free sticks are harder, denser and more crumbly while the regular is lighter and has a softer center.
So, all things being even, I’d say the regular sticks win this challenge but I’m encouraged by my experience with g-free flour. Maybe something requiring less fluffiness, like cookies or crackers would be a more appropriate application. I still have half a bag of Bob’s Red Mill so you never know what might show up next…