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As tall, white-haired Neville stirred weird ingredients like xanthum gum, jam setting mix, no egg replacer and tapioca flour into a large mixer he could easily have been mistaken for a wizard. Could this concoction really be transformed into a tasty gluten free focaccia bread as promised?
Once mixed for 4 minutes (no need to knead) the sloppy batter was lightly scraped out with a spatula and spread into an oven dish. Thanks to the humid hot summer weather it only took 25 minutes to double in size. Neville sprinkled it with Himalayan rock salt, freshly grated parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of chopped rosemary. Then drizzled it with olive oil. Another 25 minutes in the oven and it was ready to eat.
Shop bought gluten free breads have failed to tickle my taste buds. They are often dense and taste unusual. But this was the best gluten free bread I have tasted, with a light soft texture and a crisp crust. I’d happily serve this to everyone, not just the gluten free.
Neville and Judy Green had been invited to run a Gluten Free Made Easy Baking session at IE Produce in Takapuna. It was one of a series of seminars which Joyce from IE Produce holds on a regular basis to educate people about healthier lifestyles. These are her and the speakers’ gift to the community, the only contribution asked for is a gold coin for Hospice.
Neville’s challenge: to create both focaccia and French bread as well as pancakes from scratch within two hours. It seemed like a mission impossible but being an experienced chef he was unphased and calmly set to work fielding questions along the way.
After the focaccia the French loaves. A mixture of several gluten free flours, Xanthan gum, jam setting mix, gluten free baking powder and no egg replacer went into the mixer. The soft dough was then put in large piping bags (which are available in sets in the baking section in the supermarket.) Once filled you squeeze each loaf out in a line almost the length of the baking tray. With a bang at the finish it comes out nice and clean.
This bread also rose quickly and once baked it had a good texture and flavour. Like all French bread it is at its best eaten fresh but any leftovers could easily be made into crostini.
Although I’m a confident bread maker I’d been avoiding baking a gluten free loaf. The ingredients are much more expensive than baking ordinary bread, and I’d heard that it’s all too easy for home baked gluten free breads to turn out like bricks.
I am not gluten free so gluten free bread is something I’d like to make occasionally for my gluten free friends and relations. For coeliacs however eating gluten free is a necessity. It was to help them that Neville and Judy first started on the road to gluten free baking. A road which they have travelled for over a decade since. As Judy explained:
“We first got started on Gluten free cooking 12 years ago. It was because a lady came into our cafe and said that she could not eat anything in here. When asked why not she replied because I am a Coeliac. At that stage we had never heard of the illness.
It became an interest and then a passion and now an obsession as there is not a lot out there to help these people to bake and cook gluten free. There are plenty of things they can buy that is of very little food value and very expensive.
Many people have asked us to open up a gluten free shop but I believe in empowering people to look after themselves for the rest of their life instead of gratifying them for 5 minutes.
For us teaching people is very rewarding as we have achieved some amazing results with some very sick people, especially those with children on the autistic spectrum.”
They now hold regular cooking classes although at the time I am writing these were briefly on hold as they awaited the birth of their second grandchild.
The last recipe they made on the night was pancakes. This fast and versatile recipe is the one I would use most often.
The batter was mixed with a hand whisk. It was much more watery than the ususal pancake batter but this was the right consistency. Gluten free batter thickens when it comes into contact with heat.
Judy drizzled them with maple syrup, folded them into quarters and passed them around on a large white platter. They tasted so good they disappeared in a flash.
These pancakes can easily be adapted to make a savoury dish..
For a savoury version Neville suggests:
“Experiment with different fillings such as feta and spinach, chicken, or chickpeas.
Lay the pancakes on a bed of home made Italian tomato sauce.
Pour some white sauce over the top. Sprinkle cheese over all and heat in the oven.
These pancakes don’t go mushy and you can lift them out easily for individual servings. They can also be frozen with layers of glad wrap between them.
Here is the recipe: