Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Starting out gluten-free- bread basics

I love bread. It's so easy for a quick lunch or tea with a toddler to make a sandwich, beans on toast, egg and soldiers, crumpets, pizza bread. It's also handy to grab a sandwich from a cafe if you're out and about and get caught short for a snack.
So sourcing gluten-free bread was the initial dilemma we had when Alex was diagnosed with coeliac disease. Do we make our own? Use a mix? Shop bought? Scrap the bread and look for an alternative?  Well, we've tried them all with varying degrees of success.  (By the way, I am not sponsored nor do I have any connection with any of the brands mentioned in this blog, these are just my personal experiences.)

DIY from scratch:
Initially I thought I would be a super-mum and make all of my own gluten-free bread from scratch- not a problem, anything for my little darling, and we could all have beautiful fresh home-made bread every day. HA HA!
Well for a start, I could not find a decent gluten-free bread recipe. Either I needed about 10 different flours (rice flour, corn flour, maize flour, chestnut flour-yes, apparently there is such a thing-chickpea flour etc etc), or if the recipe had ingredients I'd heard of and could get hold of, I just could not produce a decent loaf. They all came out either stodgy and brick like or crumbly and falling apart. I'm sure there are many parents with fantastic skills in this area, but I had to accept that I am not one of them!

DIY with a bit of help:
Next I tried the bread mixes. Glutafin does a gluten-free bread mix (available on prescription or in some supermarkets), as do Mrs Crimble and Organ (available in Tesco and some other supermarkets). Juvela does various flour mixes with recipes specifically for bread-makers. These were all slightly better than my from-scratch attempts in terms of taste and texture and the bread-maker that my parents gave us made it fairly straight forward to do- bung in all the ingredients, press the right buttons and wait. However, it wasn't the perfect solution to our bread troubles. First of all, while the taste was acceptable, Alexandra wasn't that keen. The texture was always a bit heavier than 'normal' bread and myself and the hubby decided that we would not be giving up our Hovis Best of Both to unite the family palate. There was also the issue of perish-ability. My fresh home-made(ish) bread did not stay fresh for long and I ended up throwing out vast majority of the loaves. If I tried to freeze the bread it ended up quite soggy when defrosted and was not pleasant. I have spoken to other parents who have had better success with the bread maker, and know of one Dad who had a great response when he rang Juvela's free helpline ( ) to discuss changes in quantity for his specific bread-maker. However for me, it was not worth the effort.
By the way, if you want to try any of the mixes, most of the companies that provide gluten-free food on prescription offer samples to people who are newly diagnosed with coeliac disease- ask your dietician for more info.

Vacuum packed supermarket bread:
Most of the larger supermarkets (certainly Sainsburys, Asda and Tesco) offer a range of gluten-free  bread products, including the type of sliced loaf that comes vacuum packed in 2 sections. This was a bit better. On the plus side, it doesn't taste too bad, it's not as soft as standard bread, but it's not quite cardboard either. It freezes ok, but actually, because it's packed in 2 sections, Alex usually gets through a section before it goes stale anyway. On the down side, for some reason the slices are quite small in size, and the bread can crumble easily. We tend to use this type of bread for toast, and occasionally sandwiches. Well, I say sandwiches, in fairness, it is often more of an elaborate form of packaging, in that Alex will just eat the filling and leave most of the bread behind, but she'll eat the odd slice!

Fresh sliced gluten-free bread:
The next option we looked at was the fresh sliced loaf. Genius and Warburtons appear to be the market leaders here, and to be honest, aren't too bad at all! If we are doing GF sandwiches for any non-coeliacs who are used to 'normal' bread, we tend to use this as it's closest to what we're used to. We did consider whether to use it as a family, but at £2.50-£3 a pop for a small loaf decided that it wasn't a viable option. You can get fresh bread on prescription, but it only comes in larger quantities, which would use up most of the prescription points for a child. However, over all, fresh sliced is not a bad option.

Which side is your bread buttered on?
We learned very quickly that you can't share butter with a coeliac child. When Alexandra was first diagnosed her stomach lining was damaged and extremely sensitive to any gluten. Even a crumb of bread would make her vomit for hours. We have a separate tub of butter, squeezable condiments (it's so easy to put a used knife back in the jar) or separate jars of jam etc for Alex. (Morrison's do mini jars like you get in B & B's, which are perfect for her). In our fridge, if it's got a sticker on it, it's safe for a coeliac. The other thing that's handy is toaster bags, so we can keep Alex's toast safe from cross-contamination.
This isn't always easy to explain to others when we go visiting. Very early on we went to a party where the mum had bought gluten free bread and had made sandwiches specially for Alex. I was thrilled that she's been so considerate and didn't even think to ask about what she had spread on the bread. Needless to say Alex puked herself to sleep and I spent the next day cleaning out the car seat (I'll tell you more about her reactions another time).
Now, I always take a spare sandwich to any party or social gathering- just in case!

Do you have any recommendations for gluten-free bread products or any bread recipes you can share? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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