Last month I was honoured to be asked to judge a bread making competition. The Tiptree World Bread Awards no less, and it saw me spending an afternoon in the Hall at Westminster Cathedral squeezing, sniffing, prodding, and of course tasting. Hard work, but it’s nice to feel like you’ve got an actual role sometimes (that doesn’t work written down does it? And it’s someone else’s joke anyway* what am I thinking!?). Partnered with Bake Off 2014 finalist Luis Troyano we judged the Great British White category and the loaf we chose to be the winner of our category ended up winning the top prize of best loaf in the end. To be frank our’s was a rather boring table and we agreed that we’d both have much preferred to have been judging sourdough, fruit bread, wholewheat or one of the many other groups that presented a broader variety and diversity. Not surprisingly amongst them was gluten-free.
I’m not in the mood for entering a debate about the popular rise of gluten-free dietary requirements. I appreciate that coeliac disease is a real affliction but I wonder if a lot of people are adopting a gluten-free lifestyle following ill-informed advice or simply a ‘herd-following’ mentality. Still, on the bright side it presents the person in the kitchen with a challenge and as I’ve said many times before, limitations breed creativity. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. And who knows, we’re learning new things and debunking old theories and ‘facts’ every day. Maybe in fifty years time gluten will be considered a poison. Or an essential dietary requirement.
A member of my household is presently following a gluten-free diet. Dairy-free too. And so the other evening, as we were going to a friend’s for a night of bread, cheese and games, not wanting Mrs Egg to be left out of two thirds of the activities I made the following contributions. And very nice they were indeed.
Cannellini Bean Humous
1 tin cannelloni beans (drained but keep the liquid)
3 large spoonfuls tahini
juice of 1 lemon
1 large garlic clove
1 tsp cumin seeds (dry toasted and ground)
big pinch cayenne pepper
trickle of date syrup (or honey)
lots of olive oil
big pinch sumac
salt and pepper
Ideally you’d use a food processor, but you could try it with a blender or even better you could make the whole thing in a giant pestle and mortar.
Tip the beans, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, in fact everything except the olive oil and the date syrup or honey into the food processor and turn it on. Then trickle in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. It’ll be thick. You want it thinner, and you want it thinner than you think because it has a real tendency to thicken once you leave it alone for thirty minutes. To thin it, add the liquid from the tin in a trickle. It will emulsify and give a lovely creamy whipped consistency.
When you’ve got it to the consistency you like taste it and correct the seasoning with more lemon, salt and balance it with a trickle of sweetness from the syrup.
I spooned mine into a shallow dish, flattened it out and waited for it to firm up a bit before shaping it into a shallow crater with the back of a spoon and drizzling it with a bit more olive oil and some toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, salted and sprinkled with a bit more sumac. So that’s the hummus. (There’s so many different spellings I’ve tried to use as many as possible).
I can’t really take any, (or at least not much) credit for the pitta as it’s a recipe straight from the Great British Bake Off, although I’ve tweaked it by increasing the salt (they were woefully bland the first time), omitting the nigella seeds and adding a sesame seed topping. Oh and slightly adapting the baking technique.
Gluten-free Pitta (makes 8)
15g psyllium powder
325g gluten-free strong bread flour (I use Doves Farm)
1 tspn sugar
1.5 tspn salt
1 tbspn dried yeast
2 egg whites
1.5 tspn cider vinegar
3 tbspn olive oil
white sesame seeds
Mix the psyllium powder with 150ml water and leave the mixture to thicken and jellify, and to another 150ml water add the yeast and give it a whisk to dissolve.
Put the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and combine before making a week in the centre and into the well put the egg whites, vinegar, olive oil and psyllium mixture. Stir it together until it starts to combine and then pour in the yeasty water and mix until you have a very soft dough. It’ll be quite wet but that’s ok. Put it in a floured bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave it for about an hour.
Get the oven as hot as it’ll go (230ºC or even better 250º if it’ll go that high) and either put a heavy tray in to heat up or even better use a baking stone.
Divide the dough into eight equal pieces and roll them out to circles or ovals about 5mm thick. Paint one side with a little soya milk, sprinkle with sesame seeds and slide onto the hot baking stone (use a baker’s peel if you have one) and then before you shut the door splash a cup of water into the bottom of the oven to create steam. Shut the door and give them about 4 minutes on one side and about 2 of the other. That’s a guess as it depends on how hot your oven is and how thick your pittas are, but they should puff up like balloons.
As soon as they’re done wrap them in a tea towel and they’ll stay nice and soft. Then rip them up and dip them in the houmous. Or fill them up with avocado and radishes and crunchy salt. Or chuck them out the window. I don’t care.
*Excellent comedian and equally talented photographer Steve Best used to, and perhaps still does, have a lovely joke – ‘You remember the TV sitcom ‘Bread’? I had a small roll in that’