Monday, March 26, 2012

carol fenster's gluten-free french bread

Do you see that there?  Those loaves, cooling there on that pan, basking in sunlight from the kitchen window?  I baked those crusty, French-style loaves the other day, and I'm pleased to inform you that they don't contain one single unwanted ounce of gluten.  Promise.

I have to tell you that I have this thing about bread baking.  Kind of a nostalgia for it, really.  I fantasize about bakers, awake before the sun, a film of white flour coating forearms muscled from kneading, rivulets of sweat cutting streams through the dust at their temples as the oven rages brightly- accepting balls of dough into its hot, hungry maw, spitting out loaves with their brown, crusty covers.  I can imagine the smells of bubbling yeast, alive and ready to do their heavy lifting, and the aromas of the finished product, cooling and awaiting an inevitable future on the dinner plate or beneath a hunk of cheese.

There is something so primal about the process of bread baking.  It draws me in with the assurance that I will be close to my food.  I will say hello to this flour, this egg.  I will touch them and build a relationship with them, and then I will combine them with my own hands and watch them transform from powders and liquids into an entirely different form, more than the sum of its parts, delicious in nature and a main character, in one form or another, of nearly every culture that has ever existed on the face of this planet.

Am I sounding like a complete kook-bag?

What I'm trying to say, is that I have a lot of strong feelings about the art and science of baking bread.  Unfortunately, I didn't make the effort to participate in much of it back in my gluten-eating days.  Once I became gluten-free, the idea seemed so daunting.  I read recipes with epic looking ingredient lists, overwhelmed with flours and ingredients that were foreign to my 'all-purpose flour' kind of understanding. 

A couple of weeks ago, a co-worker, known to also be gluten intolerant, was eating bread on her lunch break.  Not a slice of Udi's, people, but thick, white, amazing-looking bread that she then told me she'd baked.  Herself.
OK.  I see how it is.  You walk up in here and wave your GF homemade bread around like you own the place and leave the rest of us.... well, me... to stare through gaps on the not baking-gluten-free-French-bread side of the fence, hating life and wishing for a tiny crumb or morsel to be tossed my way like I'm a pet dog or something.  Uh huh.

You better believe I asked for the recipe.

What I was given by my co-worker was not only the recipe, but an entire collection of recipes by a lady named Carol Fenster.  The book is titled 1,000 Gluten Free Recipes, and it's girth assures one of that number. 

Flipping through the numerous pages of Carol's book, I've found so many recipes that I'd like to try.  She's come up with recipes for everything from pancakes to hushpuppies, all gluten-free.  There's definitely the potential to consume way too many baked goods, now that I have this arsenal at my disposal.

I knew that the French loaf had to be first.  The recipe doesn't quite fit with the fantasy described above.  There's no kneading or rising involved here.  But the oven was still hot, and my skin still dusted with flour as I baked my first ever loaves of gluten-free bread.

Carol Fenster's Gluten-Free French Bread
makes 2 loaves

Carol's Sorghum Blend:  make up this blend ahead of time and store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.  Try it as your 'all-purpose' GF flour mix in other recipes as well.

1 1/2 C. sorghum flour
1 1/2 C. potato starch
1 C. tapioca starch (or tapioca flour - same thing)
  • Whisk together these three ingredients until well blended.
For the bread:
2 T. active dry yeast
2 T. sugar, divided
1 C. + 2 T. warm water
3 large egg whites (1/2 C.), room temp.
2 C. potato starch
1 C. Carol's sorghum blend (see recipe above)
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. guar gum
1 tsp. salt
1/4 C. unsalted butter or canola oil, room temp.
2 tsp. cider vinegar

  • In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tsp. sugar in warm water.  Set aside for about 5 minutes.
  • Grease a French bread pan or baking sheet pan or cover with parchment paper, and set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl, combine, egg whites, potato starch, Carol's sorghum blend, xanthan gum, guar gum, salt, butter, and vinegar, plus remaining sugar and yeast mixture. 
  • Beat on low speed with stand mixer or a hand mixer until blended.  Beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl with a spatula as needed.  Dough will be very soft.
  • Divide dough in half on prepared pan.  Shape each half into a blunt-ended log with a wet spatula, making sure each loaf is of equal length and thickness.  With a sharp knife, make three diagonal slashes (1/8-inch deep) in each loaf to allow steam to escape while baking.
  • Immediately place loaves on the middle rack in a COLD oven.  Set oven temperature to 425 F and bake 30 - 35 minutes, or until nicely browned.
  • Remove loaves from pan and cool completely on wire racks before slicing.


  1. Hi,
    I've been searching for a great gluten free bread that actually resembled "normal" bread. Your pictures look amazing. I was wondering if you knew the difference between xanthan gum and guar gum. I only have guar gum at home and the other seems a bit expensive for only one recipe. Do you think this recipe would work with only guar gum ? Thanks so much for your input!

  2. Hi Paige,
    Thanks for the question. It's a really good one that I didn't know the answer to, honestly. I Googled around some and found this information on Cybel Pascal's blog:

    Cybel suggests that guar gum and xanthan gum can be used interchangeably in equal amounts, although there might be a slight difference in texture. I haven't tried it myself, but I think you should go for it. Please let me know how it turns out!

  3. Hi, the only sugar I keep on hand is Palm sugar. Will that proof the yeast or can I sub honey instead for that purpose? If yes, how much would I need. Thanks

    1. Hi! I've never tried using palm sugar or honey to proof yeast, so I think it would be an experiment. I don't see why palm sugar wouldn't work in an equal amount to white sugar. If you try it, will you please let me know? Thanks!


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