Coming Your Way: Gluten-Free Challah
Gluten-free challah from an Orly mix. Ronnie Fein/JW
Orly says: If you will it, it is no dream.
Orly says: If you will it, it is no dream.
You might think that every Asher, Naomi and Shlomo is on a gluten-free diet these days. Gluten free stuff is so hot that supermarkets now have special aisles for such products. Bakeries featuring gluten-free breads, cakes and pastries have popped up here and there. And look at the labels on packaged foods; if the product has no gluten, the manufacturer will proudly say so. “Gluten-free?
Who buys it? People who have celiac disease must avoid gluten, and lots of other people find that if they avoid or minimize their exposure to it they no longer suffer from a variety of ills, from digestive problems, to asthma to chronic headache. It's this group that has cast the halo of "healthy" over the entire gluten-free category, to the point that even folks who tolerate it go for the gluten-free.
All well and good, but gluten-free eaters must change their expectations. Take bread. Gluten-free bread does not taste like bread made with wheat flour. It does not have the same texture. Gluten-free breads are dense, with a heavier mouth feel. The loaves are smaller and don't rise as high.
But so what!
The real goal is to enjoy gluten-free bread for what it is, not what it isn’t. Otherwise it would be like expecting almond butter to taste like peanut butter because both are “nut spreads.” Or expecting a peach and a plum to taste the same and have the same texture.
That said, there are several good finds out there, for both packaged products and packaged mixes. I’ve included some spelt products as well as gluten free products. Spelt is not gluten-free but the grain is a very different form of wheat than the kind used for traditional breads and cakes and many people who have wheat intolerance or allergy – not those with celiac disease – find spelt completely harmless. The other virtue of spelt is that because this grain contains some gluten, baked goods are more like traditional breads, cakes and so on.
1. Katz Gluten Free products (OU), are also parve, nut-free and preservative-free. The company started business in 2006 because the Katz children are gluten intolerant and mama hoped she could come up treats that her children would like so much they would not be tempted to eat foods that could be harmful to them. Katz Bakery is totally gluten-free so that there is no chance for cross contamination. They produce breads, cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts, pizza crust, rugelach and much more. I tasted several of the breads and rolls; my favorites were the Sliced Challah, Wholesome Bread, Whole Grain Bread and Kaiser Rolls. Products are available on line and in many retailers including Mrs. Green’s, Whole Foods and Shop Rite.
2. Spelt Right (Rabbi Weissmandl, Circle K), also came about because founders Beth and Tim George needed an alternative to classic wheat products for their son, who had been misdiagnosed with several behavioral disorders. Beth, an attorney, used her legal-thinking skills to explore the possibilities of a change of diet. After some time and some experimenting, she realized that wheat was the culprit, but that her son’s wheat intolerance did not include spelt. (The young man is now a happy high schooler.) Spelt Right produces several varieties of bread, bagels, pizza dough and snack chips. I have tried and loved the Artisan Whole Grain, Cinnamon Raisin, Simply Spelt and Rosemary Spelt breads. You can buy Spelt Right products at specialty and health foods stores, as well as at Whole Foods, from Fresh direct, and online.
3. Blends by Orly (OU) offers gluten-free mixes created by founder Orly the Baker, who studied French pastry baking at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, Australia. She needed to come up with alternatives for her husband, who has celiac disease, and because of her cooking school experience, she was able to figure it out. The company produces five gluten-free baking mixes, each for a different purpose (Tuscany Blend for pizza dough; London Blend for cookies, etc.) and will offer a Challah blend sometime after Passover 2015. I used their Manhattan Blend to make two challahs, one using the company’s printed recipe, the other adapting my own challah recipe (following Orly’s instructions to use 25 percent more water). I found the dough somewhat more difficult to work with than traditional dough – it is stickier and softer, so you must treat it gently. Still, the results were fine: dense, moist, tasty challah, just wonderful if you can’t digest classic wheat challah. Orly has an instructional video for challah baking using Manhattan Blend here. You can find the mixes in a variety of specialty stores (including Pomegranate in Brooklyn, Gourmet Glatt Emporium in Cedarhurst, Zabar’s UWS, Riverdale Kosher Market), and online.
4. Tribes-a-Dozen (OU) offers three different packaged mixes in their Voila Hallah Egg Breads line, including Voila Hallah Simply Spelt. I made a challah with the spelt mix; it was soft and appropriately fluffy. Founder Leah Hadad has made it easy for the home baker to cook up a tasty spelt loaf; the dough does not handle the same way as classic wheat dough, but is not as soft as gluten free dough. Voila Hallah mixes are available at Walmart, Acme and online.
Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein.