Bread Baking: Bella Gluten-Free Multigrain Sandwich Bread Mix

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[Photograph: Donna Currie]

It's probably obvious that I don't have gluten issues, but on the other hand, I'm not anti-gluten-free. Over the years, I've tried gluten-free baked goods, and I've even made gluten-free bread. I'll happily sample gluten-free products without prejudice.

But for the most part, my opinion of most of the gluten-free products I've tried is that they're good if you can't have gluten, but few of them impressed me enough that I'd choose them over similar wheat-based products.

Yes, I'm a wheataholic.

When Mary Capone launched a line of gluten-free mixes, Bella Gluten-Free, and offered samples at Cayenne Kitchen, my local kitchen store in Longmont, Colorado, of course I had to try all of the samples.

It was quite a surprise. In a blind taste test, I doubt anyone would be able to pick out the multigrain sandwich bread as gluten free. And not only was it indistinguishable from yeast bread, it was actually tasty all by itself.

The last gluten-free bread I made would have been fine for sandwiches or slathered with something flavorful, but it didn't entice me to nibble. This was nibble-worthy. It might have been the sesame seeds that tipped the balance, but I kept going back for more samples of the bread. So of course I had to get some mixes to test at home.

The Ingredients

The bread mix bag notes that it's free of wheat, gluten, soy, nuts, peanuts, eggs, lactose, and casein, so it covers a lot of allergy issues. It's also free of modified starches and GMOs.

But what's in it? The ingredient list: "Tapioca Flour, Brown Rice Flour, Sorghum Flour, Potato Starch, Flax Seed Meal, Sesame Seeds, Sea Salt, Sunflower Seeds, Xanthan Gum, Yeast Package, and Love!" Yes, that's what it says. Retail price of this is $5.49, which isn't bad compared to some of the designer brands of cake mixes.

The instructions offer a number of alternatives. Whole eggs, egg whites, or egg replacer. Sugar, honey, or agave. Stand mixer or food processor. Bread or buns. Grease or baking spray. Oven or bread maker. Additional toppings or no toppings.

I opted for sugar, whole eggs, stand mixer, bread, baking spray, oven, and sesame seeds for a topping.

The Baking Process

The mixing instructions were simple, even with all the options. Unfortunately, it was all one massive paragraph, probably because of space limitations on the package. I combined the included yeast with warm water and sugar and let it sit for ten minutes in the stand mixer bowl before I added the eggs, oil, and the mix, and let the stand mixer blend it for five minutes. Then it went into a prepared pan for a 40 minute rise.

It was all going well until I came to adding my chosen topping, Directions said to spray the top with water after rising, and then add the toppings. I put sesame seeds on before it rose. They stuck, so no harm done.

The only other glitch was with the instruction to slash the loaf with a sharp knife. I'm used to slashing bread doughs, but this was like slashing a cake batter. I could have used a broken toothpick and gotten the same effect. I slashed before rising and after, and it didn't seem to accomplish much except to create a little line down the middle of the dough. I'm sure that if I made a few more loaves, I'd figure it out. Maybe a wet knife would have worked better, keeping the dough from sticking to the blade as it went through. But it didn't really matter.

After rising, the dough baked for about 50 minutes. It rose nicely, browned well, and came out of the pan willingly.

The flavor is much like other multigrain breads I've made. The wheat flavor isn't missed, probably because all the seeds and grains add so much to the loaf. And somehow this bread managed to rise and form lovely holes without any gluten to provide the structure.

I'm not ready to abandon wheat breads entirely, but the success of this bread gives me more incentive to be even more creative with my own bready experiments.

About the author: Donna Currie has been cooking for fun and writing for pay since the days when typewritten articles traveled by snail mail. When she combined those talents in a food column for a newspaper in her area, she realized that writing about food is almost as much fun as eating. She most recently launched the blog Cookistry and has now joined the Serious Eats team with a weekly column about baking.

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