Zoe Francois

Gluten-Free Bread. Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg. Book Review

Zoe Francois keeps those hot loaves coming!

Another gorgeous artisan bread book by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, hot off the press.  Their artisan No Knead bread gamut is constantly expanding, this time to include Gluten-Free no knead bread. I was so excited when I received my advance copy for this review I ordered copies for my children.

I trust Zoe Francois’s book couldn’t be more timely or more welcome:

Just what all gluten-free bread lovers have been praying for: They likely want to ignore most mediocre commercial gluten-free bread offerings, and make their own gluten-free bread in their own home, with super nutritious and super delicious grain flours, the super easy no knead way Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg have become synonymous with.

May I start with a gripe, then move on with the good stuff?

Zoe Francois doesn’t define gluten.

Strangely, although Jeff and Zoe discuss celiac disease and wheat sensitivity, quite knowledgeably I might add, since Jeff Hertzberg is first and foremost a medical doctor, not a word is said about gluten itself, which, given the theme and the scope of this book, begs the obvious question: What is gluten? And why does gluten cause so much havoc? More to the point, who does gluten cause havoc with? In my opinion, the reason why there is so much confusion about Gluten-Free, and why so many people switch to gluten-free without any celiac diagnosis (only people with celiac need to be off gluten completely), or why they eliminate gluten altogether instead of just reducing it and exploring with gluten-free options to help reduce gluten, is, quite simply, because they don’t know what gluten is.

So much gluten-related literature and so many gluten-free commercial food products have been created in the last decade, coming in fast and furious, that many people have come to perceive gluten as the enemy. Fashion? Fad? Fetishism? Prevention? Unknown? All above “reasons” have great numbers of people  instinctively running from it as from the devil, and increasing numbers of restaurants and food manufacturers are bending backwards to accommodate gluten-free diners when quite often no accommodation is necessary, thank you very much. If gluten was well defined, it would help countless people determine for themselves where they fit in the spectrum, and how they should deal with all things gluten. It has been established that the American diet contains absurd amounts of gluten, but what is the solution to that? Gluten in moderate amounts, a little, a lot, none?  Why rough it and go through unnecessary deprivation? Why try to put the whole nation on a gluten-free diet? For many people (again, not celiac), eating moderate amounts of gluten and exploring with low gluten options keeps them healthy and fit.

 Now that we’ve had this little talk, let me say this book on gluten-free bread looks and sounds too good to be true, that is, until you try the recipes and see for yourselves:

Zoe Francois’s gluten-free bread works! 

Do not expect your boules and your baguettes to look as luscious as the ones on their book, not until a couple batches later (remember: they’ve been at it for quite some time, so it’s only fair that theirs should look this spectacular), but for those of us who are wheat-intolerant and celiac, this is like a dream come true. The flour mixture you start with is key, and Zoe and Jeff have included two master gluten-free bread flour mixtures, so you can make large batches of each mixture in prevision of several batches, to simplify your labor on the day you make gluten-free bread. I must say I find flour mixture #2 (brown rice, teff, sorghum, oat and xanthan) somewhat nobler than flour mixture #1 (White rice, sorghum, tapioca, potato and xanthan). Oat flour and sorghum flour are my personal favorites.

Up to their usual  high standards, just as in their previous books (The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day is reviewed on this blog), Zoe and Jeff walk you through every single step of the process: choices of flour mixtures, listing of all good gluten-free bread flours and sweeteners, refrigerating, mixing, rising, baking. As importantly, every step that is not necessary to the success of good bread baking is listed as well:

No proofing, no kneading, no punching, no fussing. Yay!

Bread baking made simple? We will be baking bread more often! No commercial gluten-free bread will come close to theirs.

A handful of Zoe Francois’s recipes use inordinate amounts of the nutritionally quasi worthless corn starch:

Brioche, panettone, chocolate chip muffins. So, either I am not going there, or better yet, I will experiment with healthy corn starch (at least partial) substitutions, but the great news is, those are occasional special treats, and when it comes to essential basic Gluten-free bread and dough-based recipes, the book is chock-full of fabulous treats which use the whole gamut of gluten-free bread flours, including almond and coconut: Baguette, boule, pizza, Challah, pain d’epi, pull-apart, cornbread, even a fantastic gluten-free rendition of caraway rye bread.

Many of Zoe and Jeff’s gluten-free bread loves are so nutritious they come close to a whole meal:

They liberally include seeds, nuts, dried fruit, vegetables, savory and sweet seasonings. It sounds all fantastic but there are some favorites I can’t wait to make: “Pumpernickel” date-nut bread; challah; Ksra, the beloved bread of my childhood; cornbread and cranberries; almond coconut loaf; Wisconsin Beer-Cheese Bread.

Dear Zoe Francois, Kudos for another wonderful bread book!

Much success taking your gluten-free bread book places. And thank you for demystifying so much about bread baking, and for your valuable contribution in shaping a generation of fearless bread artisans! Just what Dr Jeff Hertzberg ordered!