Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bread of life

I am a giant food geek.

It's more than just being a foodie, enjoying good food and interesting flavor combinations and cooking in my kitchen*. It's the science involved, thinking about structures and matrices and chemical reactions. I love delving into the whys of cooking and baking.

This is good, given that having gone gluten-free, my baking had to change. For several years, I pretty much didn't. If I wanted baked goods, it was purchased, or a mix. Last fall, I finally had collected enough of the odd flours necessary to start experiments, and I knew that the quality of recipes had increased greatly since my first tries 5 years ago. So I started playing. I've missed bread, but more, I've missed cakes and cookies and other chocolate delivery methods. I started learning the properties off all these odd flours that I collected, the protein-heavy ones, the pure starches, the nut flours. I started figuring out what I like in my baked goods, what can substitute in a pinch, how flavors meld or not. Also, doing a lot of flourless baking. Because why bother with substitutions?

I will say - best thing about GF baking? Never having to worry about overdeveloping the gluten. Stir and knead until the texture is right, but don't worry about how long that takes.

My priest approached me at the beginning of Lent, having seen an article at Christian Century about a quest for a common loaf of communion bread. Could we do that? I looked at the ingredient list (and of course was missing one, as per usual for a new recipe) and said I'd try.

Now the thing about that article and its accompanying recipe is that it was put together by people who are neither professional bakers or people for whom comprehensive allergen/diet awareness is a thing. It is for me, as it's a hospitality issue - can I feed my friends if they come over for dinner? and so they use honey and call the recipe vegan (sub light molasses or sorghum). It's hard to find garbanzo flour outside of just the Mexican grocery - but chickpea flour is in every Middle Eastern or Indian grocery in town, as well as at my local supermarket.

So, taking it apart - ground chia and pysillium husk are your egg-equivalents. Chickpea is the depth and nuttiness. Sweet rice is your graininess. Tapioca is your binding starch and air-bubble structure. Cornmeal and chia give the scaffolding to build the structure around. Molasses and maple syrup add sugars to feed the yeast** and to leaven the taste. Salt makes tastes pop.

This is a giant loaf. We'll see if it works - the base recipe is ok, but I've made some changes (flax for chia, molasses for honey). The goal is that by next week, for Holy Week, the entire congregation can take and eat from a common loaf.

Edited to add:
So the base recipe serves about 100-120 for communion. Don't substitute flax for chia.

One of my fellow parishioners asked why we had to have this special bread, why not bake for the majority and have the special people stuff off to the side. It took me aback, partially because why would I bake communion bread, the core of our Episcopal worship service, that I can't eat? Also, it felt like he was placing boundaries around who he would break bread with, based on diet, at our very inclusive church, even though I'm certain he didn't mean it that way.

I found it affirming that our priest had asked that this be done, and that I do it. Those are separate items. The church (universal) has an ugly history of dictating that "special" communion be done off to the side, not part of the main ritual or loaf, for "special" people, creating a second, minority class in what should be the unity of the church. This bread is an attempt to bridge that, being as allergen and diet sensitive as we can make it, so that the unity of the community at the table can be maintained and supported. I was honored that she asked me to make it, because otherwise, I have this wealth of knowledge that mostly goes to make bread for my individual household. I believe that supporting us as a community happens with the hospitality of the table, and I am happy to do what I can to not have anyone excluded because they cannot partake.

*you know you're an adult when: I love my new range! I have a 5 burner gas cooktop and an electric double oven and it has all these bells and whistles, and it makes things go!

**yeast makes it deadly for one of my friends. We may start experimenting with this as a quick bread, because baking soda/powder are less problematic.