The Proof is in the Bread Box

After a successful-yet-leaves-room-for-improvement attempt at last month’s Daring Bakers challenge I wanted to try the given recipe again but tweak it a little.

What I’d ended up with was a tasty, if somewhat dry, pastry that I thought could do with some enriching to make it work better with the vagaries of gluten-free baking. In order to create a more tender dough, I planned to add an extra egg (providing both fat as well as some extra protein for stability), a little more butter, and using all milk instead of 3:1 milk to water.

In addition to the recipe changes, I knew the other hurdle I had to jump were the conditions that the dough resting in during rising. I’d yet to have gluten-free yeast doughs rise the way standard doughs would and my hypothesis is that they (the gf breads) are super sensitive to temperature and drafts. To be truly scientific I suppose I’d need to make two doughs, identical but for the flour used, and see how the compared. But I had company coming over and I opted to test a solution, instead of proving the problem.

Back in my pastry chef days, we were lucky enough to have these amazing proof boxes that kept a truly balmy humidity. At the Plantation, before I started making breads from scratch, they’d load muffin pans with slices of frozen bread and pop them in there and they’d be just shy of over-proofed in no time flat. I don’t trust my current oven, even at its lowest setting, not to cook the dough before it’s had a chance to rise (though the pilot light of a gas oven does work wonderfully for this). Instead, I needed to manufacture a safer environment for the delicate dough in its place–and I figured the perfect environment was hiding in my garage.

Not the garage itself, of course, but my counter-top roasting oven!

This combination of pans and racks allowed for just enough warmth, humidity, and protection from drafts for a perfect rise.

After mixing up a slightly stickier dough than previously had been made, I stacked the dough in it’s oiled bowl on a rack over a pan on another rack in the roasting oven. Sounds convoluted, but I promise it’s simpler than it sounds. To keep the lid slightly open I’s flipped the included rack upside down so the “wings” propped open the lid, then heated the roaster at 200 degrees F while I mixed up the dough, with the empty cake pan inside. Then, when it was time to add the additional rack and the dough, I poured some cold water into the warm pan to create some steam, turned off the roaster, and “closed” the lid.

After an hour the dough had actually doubled, though it was still a little sticky (not uncommon with rich doughs) but a gentle kneading with a bit of extra flour took care of that.

My modified "beautiful bread" twists worked so much better this time.

I used a similar technique to roll out, fill, and form the decorative twists and this version of the dough was much more pliable than the first (though I only used a double thickness for each twist instead of the quadruple, so that could be part of it, too). And instead of the cinnamon-sugar of the original, I used some Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter (not entirely Low-FODMAP, it does contain honey, but I’ve been able to eat small amounts of this spread without trouble), but kept with the practice of brushing the dough with milk before baking, and letting it rest 15 minutes before baking.

DB Challenge results on the left, the "proof" of improvement on the right.

Even tough I was encouraged enough with the progress so far, the real proof came when we pulled the pan from the oven and saw the soft, risen bread just begging to be gobbled up. Fresh from the oven it was wonderful and even after it’d cooled for a few hours it was denser, but not hard or dry–another common outcome of gluten-free breads. It was still best warm, though, so a toaster oven or microwave will be any leftovers friend.

Possibly the best King Cake's I've made, yet!

I made a triple batch of the dough a couple days later to make a King Cakes for Fat Tuesday, making long rolls of dough filled with strawberry preserves (Welch’s Natural qualifies as Low-FODMAP from what I can tell) and topped with a powdered sugar glaze and colored sugar for the holiday. While wonderful as a coffee cake, it also worked well after dinner, warmed and topped with a bit of lactose-free Ice Cream.

Proof box trial #2 was effective but still not as good as the first try.

On the last batch I tried just using the roaster with it’s buffet inserts–and it worked okay–but I think it’s best to do the multiple-rack version. The steam hitting the bottom of the thinner buffet inserts started to dry out the bottom of the dough and not-quite cook it, so unless I’m making another boatload of bread dough, I’ll stick to the stack of racks and sturdier bowl.

Not to mention that it’s just pretty cool to find another awesome use for the counter-top roaster oven!

**This post first appeared on ScrapsOfLife.com and is being shared with Circle Of Food by the author.**

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