Holy Loaves


Got so many dietary needs that bread is a no-no? Yeah, me too. Until now.

A dozen or so years ago I had the good fortune of spending several months in Norway with relatives. Much of my time there revolved around food. No surprise. And around bread specifically. I was amazed at what Norwegians could do with bread.

Their sandwiches, nothing like "our" sandwiches, were little works of art- open faced canvases painted with sweet and savory nibblies- made with everything from jams to herring to caviar from a tube. From a tube! Brilliant! And each sandwich was unique to it's maker. Malin preferred mustard and pickles. Erik always used herring and sardines and lots of fresh dill. And Hans was a master with pate and onions.   

Their breads were dense, dark and seeded.  "Chunky" is how I described them at the time. And invariably home made. I was a restaurant pastry chef at the time, but I didn't do breads. It never really appealed to me. The making of it, that is. The eating of it, now that was a different story. Eating bread was a holy experience, and one I indulged in with great enthusiasm and regularity. 

It should come as no surprise then, that years later when I had to give up gluten to heal my rheumatoid arthritis I was faced with a monumental struggle. Initially I gave up bread completely, opting not to lower myself to the realm of freezer-section GF breads at Whole Foods. But eventually I needed my bread. And I do mean that I NEEDED it.

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Interestingly though, I didn't find myself craving the crusty baguettes of France, or the musty sourdough loaves of San Fran. I was missing the dense and chunky breads of Norway. The open-faced sandwiches topped with whatever would thrill you in that moment, that's what I needed.

The freezer-section breads weren't going to cut it.  So I got into the kitchen and did what I do best. I baked and tested and tasted. The results were good but I found that the resulting GF breads didn't agree with my system. A little bread disrupted my digestion and a lot of bread aggravated my arthritis. Hmmm...

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After much trial and error, research, confusion, and anger, I finally pinpointed the problem. Much to my horror I found that I was soy, egg and yeast sensitive. Now, "horror" may seem like a strong word, but when you're already eliminating gluten, dairy, corn and nightshades (potatoes, etc) , finding that you can't eat soy, eggs and yeast pretty much shuts the door on bread consumption. Or does it? I wondered...

Which takes us back to Norway. I racked my brain for memories of baking with MorMor. I remembered her breads to be yeast and corn free, so at least that was a start. I dug into my old recipe notebooks and files and finally found her dark bread recipe scribbled onto a scrap of paper. It contained gluten and eggs, but no yeast, and lots and lots of nuts and seeds. Having just finished writing my gluten free (and mostly vegan) cookbook, I was a pro at removing gluten and eggs from my favorite recipes, so I jumped right in.

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The resulting bread is dense and chunky, just like I remember MorMor's. It's also vegan, and free of corn, gluten, soy, yeast, eggs, nightshades, and processed sugar. It can easily be nut free as well. It's high in protein, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids. It's sliceable, toast-able, and sandwich-able.  It's perfect. It's holy. 

I've made a number of variations on this loaf, and all were delicious and satisfying. Further down is the precise recipe I've made most recently, but you can play around and make it your own if you adhere to these proportions (full recipe below!):

2 cups base (oats, flax meal, etc. Use at least 1 1/2 cup of oats and the rest you can play with) 

2 3/4 cups seeds and nuts (or seeds only) 

8 tablespoons binder (I'd stick with the 5T psyllium and 3T chia in the recipe below unless you're super experienced with baking)

1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon coconut oil or ghee

2 cups water

seasoning and liquid sweetener, to taste

The recipe below is fairly neutral in flavor, not sweet or salty, allowing for the maximum variety of appropriate toppings. I'm planning to do a chocolate version of the recipe this week, adding raw cacao powder and nibs, and maybe even throwing in some dried cranberries or figs or apricots. Mmmm...

I like to use mini baking pans, you'll get 4 from this recipe. It's easy to always have a loaf on hand if you keep one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.  I use disposable aluminum pans but I don't toss them after one use. Line them with parchment paper so they'll be reusable and so you avoid food contact with yucky aluminum. 

The psyllium husks will probably be unfamiliar to many. In the US you'll find it in the supplement aisle with the fiber products. I use NOW brand and order it from Amazon.com.

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Holy Loaves  (Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free, yeast-free)

1 1/2 cups gluten free oats

1/4 cup flax meal

1/4 cup flax seeds

3/4 cup sunflower seeds

3/4 cup whole almonds

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup almond meal

1/4 cup hemp seeds

5 tablespoons psyllium husks

3 tablespoons chia seeds

1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon coconut oil (melted) 

2 cups water

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon organic maple syrup

Line your mini loaf pans with parchment paper then spray the paper with coconut oil spray. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well, I like to use my clean hands but I'm weird that way. You can use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula if you like. Spoon the dough into your pans and set aside at room temperature for about an hour to allow the water to be fully absorbed. Heat your oven to 350 and bake the loaves in the center of your oven for 20 minutes. Rotate the pans and bake for another 20 minutes. Cool completely before storing in the refrigerator or freezer.



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Posted on September 16, 2013 .