Gluten-Free

Gluten-Free Girl: Bread for Everyone

March 15, 2016

To accompany our very competitive, NCAA-style tournament of cookbooks, we asked you—our readers!—to get in on the fun and test and review 15 cookbooks dubbed Piglet Community Picks. Keep up with all the reviews here.

If you ask people who follow a gluten-free diet what three things they miss most, they will probably say: bread, bread, and bread!

Gluten-free by choice, I would say the same, so I was excited about Gluten-Free Girl American Classics Reinvented. In it, authors Shauna James Ahern and Danny Ahern share their tried-and-true recipes for gluten-free breads of all kinds, starting with recipes for their proprietary flour mixes.

After tackling the all-purpose flour and grain-free flour mixes, I was ready to begin making my first homemade loaf of sandwich bread. The Aherns say they tested this recipe against others for years—and found this version to be the best. So it must be a slam dunk, right?

The recipe looked easy enough: 12 ingredients, 8 simple-to-follow steps—this didn’t sound so bad. I followed each instruction to the letter, and everything was great until the dough-rising instructions: “Allow the batter to rise until it is nearly at the top of the pan, about 1 hour.”

After 30 minutes, the dough had barely risen an inch, so I moved it and waited another hour. Not much improvement; I put a cloth over it and left it 30 minutes longer. By the end of 2 hours, the dough had doubled, but it was still almost two inches from the top of the pan. I am not a baker, and there are no descriptions in the book to tell you what to do if the bread doesn’t behave, so I stuck it in the oven and hoped for the best.

30 minutes later, it was done per the instructions, but it was a 3-inch-high brick that looked more like barely-risen banana bread than sandwich bread. The taste was somewhat reminiscent of banana bread, too, in that it was complex and unusual and not what you'd expect from a neutral sandwich bread. Oh well, I thought—I tried.

Next I made the brownies—foolproof, I thought. The recipe calls for a completely different flour (teff), so I unfortunately couldn’t use the flour I had already invested 30 plus dollars in. Still: 9 ingredients, 4 steps, well-described instructions—this was feeling promising.

As I was preparing the batter, though, I realized that the recipe did not call for salt. Almost all baked goods need a little bit of salt. When the brownies were done, I pulled them out of the oven, let them cool, and tried one: They had a strangely underdone texture (although they were cooked through) and really could have used some salt!

Onto the cream of mushroom soup, something I love but have been missing—all of my family's recipes rely on flour. The book’s version looked fantastic; it called for chicken stock (I had just made some from scratch!), dry sherry, thyme, and garlic in addition to 1 1/2 pounds of mushrooms. I was suspicious of the final component—coconut milk—and indeed, found the addition to be a little off-putting in the final result. Maybe that's just me.

I was 0 for 3 in my recipe testing. I love the idea of a gluten-free cookbook that would allow me to make sourdough bread, cinnamon rolls, pie dough, bagels, and the like, but my experience with the bread and brownies from this book has me hesitant to keep cooking. I may try a few more to use up my new gluten-free flour blends—then I'll go back to dreaming about the crusty, flaky, gluten-filled varieties.

Another community member also tried the recipe for sandwich bread—with different results:

The sandwich bread lived up to Dad's hopes—it had a nice dense crumb, no holes, and the slices held together. We already had a stock of gluten-free flour mix on hand, given that the introduction encourages substitutions. Sometime I will make the flour mix in the box from scratch, but the Aherns gave clear rules for adaptation and didn’t make it seem as though your attempt at baking would fail if their recommendation was not followed precisely.

Plus, if the recipe notes hadn't said that the dough would be the consistency of thick pancake batter, I wouldn't have believed it was ready to go in the pan. But it was, and it rose and baked up beautifully, and I so enjoyed making my dad happy with bread that really looked and tasted like bread. —Tanager

Since the jury was still out, we tried it, too—here's what our tester found:

In the end, this recipe produced a nice loaf of bread—not too dense, good texture, and a great overall flavor—but the recipe left a little to be desired. First, I wasn't sure which psyllium husks to use (flakes or powder) so I went with flakes. And the instructions never say how long it takes to proof the yeast. (This wouldn't phase a seasoned baker, but it'd be a nice point of clarity to add for those who aren't.) Or how long to let the mixer run to "incorporate air into the batter." 2 minutes? 5? I went with the latter, because my dough was looking pretty thin.

My dough also took longer to rise than the recipe specified—about an hour and 40 minutes compared to the quoted hour. And it was done a little early; at 25 minutes (instead of 35 to 45), it was dark on the top and registering at 200° F (the recipe's indicators for doneness). Chrystie Adams' height wasn't far off—my bread was only 2 1/4 inches high. Good flavor; decent texture; small sandwiches. —Kate Knapp

Have you cooked from Gluten-Free Girl American Classics Reinvented? Tell us your experience in the comments.

6 Comments

amazondotcom March 15, 2016
Voracious reader. Book lover. Filex Unger.
 
WillowontheWater March 15, 2016
I gave up on GFG recipes loooooong ago. Everything I tried was mediocre at best to downright awful at worst. I mixed her flour blend up (not paying her asking price plus shipping when I can get the components locally) and did a side by side test of three popular cup/cup flour blends using a standard cookie recipe from Epicurious' website. The batch with the GFG blend flour was the hands down loser. They spread, loosing their shape, cracked, and most importantly had a very unpleasant aftertaste from I'm assuming the millet. A bit more research taught me that millet is contradicted for hypothyroid patients - and so that was the final nail in the coffin for me. I threw out the rest of her blend I had mixed up. I did use my favorite flour blend in a recent GFG recipe from the blog, not the book and the muffins were so bland not even teenage boys would eat them. Teens picked the blueberries out of the muffins, leaving the muffin behind. And that was after I UPPED the spices and salt! TL; dr - her recipes are rubbish. Much better recipes out there - and with easily accessible flour blends in just about every market, just make your favorite recipes. Very few things require a complete reworking.
 
Laura L. March 15, 2016
Definitely Shauna's mom!
 
Jessica H. March 15, 2016
I find that Gluten Free Girl's recipes don't work well, and have ended up in the "expensive mistake" column of our celiac family's baking archives. My family has been GF for a couple of decades now and we've gone through most of the ins and outs of GF cooking and baking, flour substitutions (some disastrous), expensive mistakes and inedible breads and cakes. The last 10 years have been magical because of the number of cup-4-cup GF flours and premade baking mixes on the market, and smarter cooking minds than ours figuring out the combos of which flours and ingredients to combine to make all GF things taste great. Gluten Free Girl was one of the earlier bloggers and we gave it our best shot to follow her for a while, but her recipes missed the mark as often as our own creations did. I find her breads to be heavy and flat, or to have that weird "GF aftertaste" that would eventually be eliminated with the advent of better flour mixtures freely and economically available. There's just no reason anymore for GF food to still taste weird, or for bread recipes to be hit or miss, or for baked good to cost so much to get bad results. That's a 1990's problem, now solved. So honestly, no, I don't have success with Gluten Free Girl recipes and I don't know many people who do. There are too many excellent recipes available for free online to spend more money paying for cookbooks with bad GF recipes these days, so unfortunately I never recommend this author anymore, nor use any of her recipes.
 
Gail H. March 15, 2016
It's too bad that the author had poor experiences with the recipes she made out of the Aherns' latest cookbook. This hasn't been my experience. I've made the sandwich bread at least a half dozen times, and the times it did not rise (like the author's), I was using yeast that was past its prime. I've had the sourdough bread, pizza dough, pretzels, and bagels from this book and they're winners. I recently made the banana hazelnut bread and the sunflower seed butter cookies and we couldn't stay out of them. Yes, baking gluten free can involve buying a handful of different flours, but the result is much more complex, delicious, and nutritious than commercially-available gluten-free flours with all white starches. This book is one of my favorites.
 
Baker D. March 15, 2016
Hi Shauna's mom!