Posted by glutenfr | Posted in bread, Product reviews | Posted on 31-01-2010
I have been making my own gluten free bread for about a year now, mainly because I find the ready-made loaves in the supermarkets often contain preservatives (which we don’t like) and eggs (outlawed at our daycare), and are only tolerable to eat if toasted.
With a bunch new bread mixes recently landing on the shelves I have begun to ponder whether I can’t improve on my existing loaf which tastes fine as both bread and toast but quickly loses its elasticiticy within a few hours of being defrosted – making it a dicey option for school lunches.
Another little bugbear is that the crust often burns when toasting which can create lots of smoke, as well as the waste and extra work of removing it. So my mission with this bakeoff is to identify a new bread that is tasty, pliable, long lasting (without preservatives), easy to bake and also makes great toast.
[UPDATE 07/02/11: Since doing this bake-off I have tried a few other loaves too. FG Roberts have put out an excellent white-bread mix that is rather hard to get hold of (we've written about it a couple of times). It is lovely but the shops don't seem to stock it -so you have to order it from their website. It also has soy as an ingredient so wouldn't suit everyone.
I have also embarked on a whole new bake-off which incluces a new mix from Well and Good, Basco, a soy-free (white) loaf from FG Roberts called Palmira's blend that I picked up at the last gluten free expo, and I gave the Simply Wize loaves another go - they have french sticks and vienna-style loaves in a mix.]
The bread makers
$5.50 (you get 2 packs in one box)
Lauke makes the Easy Bakers range of bread mix and we tried the special white which is yeast free and also boasts the abilty to morph into rolls, pancakes, pizza, tortillas, cakes, lunch wraps and even lamingtons. This versatility is quite astonishing, but unfortunately I did not get the opportunity to test anything but the bread during the bakeoff.
Preparing the mix itself could not have been easier – but it produced a very, very wet batter/mix which led me to wonder if I had followed the instructions properly. To keep things scientific, I opened the second packet of bread mix (the box contains two) and tried again. It was equally wet so I faithfully persevered.
The end result was a rather small, compact loaf with rather exceptionally elastic qualities. Indeed it was remained soft and pliable even after several hours, and was still pretty bouncy the next day too. This would have had me very excited indeed were it not for the fact that the loaf tasted a little bit salty to my palate compared with the other breads.
Although this could probably be easily remedied by a sandwich filling or spread, the crust showed even more of a tendency to burn than my existing loaf in the toaster. It remains, however, a versatile and cost effective sandwich loaf. [UPDATE 24/6/12: We caught up with Lauke at the recent Good Food and Wine show. They have been working hard on refining their recipe in the past few years so we plan to give their loaf another go in coming months.]
Easy Bake Bread Mix (white)
This is my usual loaf and has always proven easy to bake and is tasty as both bread and toast. Unlike other breads, the mix gives you the option to add milk or milk alternatives – which I do (rice milk), giving it a nice nutty flavour. Alternatively you can just use water and oil (but beware – I find the instructions a little ambiguous on this score and so I normally just go with milk and no oil).
I have also tried the wholemeal loaf but sadly never had any success with it, despite several attempts. There is something about the density of the loaf that compresses during the cooking process, though I have read happy reports from others who like the mix – so lets just put my failure down to fan-forced ovens, confusing instructions or wonky measuring pots and move on.
The Orgran loaf has the nicest flavour of all to my palate but also had the shortest lifespan too (best kept frozen). It toasts very nicely, but the crust often burns to the point where I must cut it off. But it remains one of the simplest loaves and unlike some of the others is yeast free for those with food intolerances. It also manages to avoid other potentially problematic foods like cane sugar and soy as well as being suitable for vegans. It also offers instructions for use with a bread maker. Given those factors, it is an impressive product that tastes very nice.
The real bread mix
I tasted this bread at the last Gluten Free Expo in Darling Harbour and was impressed that the bread was allegedly three days old and still reasonably palatable. I vowed to try baking my own loaf and as it has now popped up in the supermarket shelves it was a no-brainer to include it in my bakeoff.
Processing this bread mix is a bit more complicated than the others – but not necessarily more difficult. Its just that it requires use of a bread hook(?) which I don’t have in my processor or hand mix, so I had to make do with the tools at hand. It also gives excellent guidance on how to get the mix to rise prior to baking using the oven (the others all just tell you place the bread mix somewhere warm which has often led me resort to dangerous improvisations with hotplates on my stove (see video).
I plugged ahead with this mix without a bread hook partly through optimism and partly because I am so desperate to find a bread that will stay bouncy and delicious throughout the school day. The bread itself rose nicely – albeit with a massive hump on one side, and had large swiss-cheese-like holes throughout – which I attribute to my inferiour tools and lack of experience with the mixture. Even so, the bread itself was tasty and well textured, and has pea protein and psyllium in its ingredient list – which are both most welcome in our home.
It also toasted well (with fairly resilient crust), coming out of the toaster a lovely rich brown colour, smacking of good health. My only concern was that the recipe asked for a tablespoon of sugar and 1.5 teaspoons of salt. However I think I could easily brush aside my reservations in return for a tasty, springy loaf with a long shelf life. While I admit this bread wasn’t a flying success for me – it was good enough that I have already raced out and bought another packet in the hopes of cracking the long-life bread conundrum forever.
Last but not least, baking the Vitarium loaf was a fairly simple affair that yielded a tasty, supple bread. It was somewhat more neutral (and bread-like) in flavour than the other loaves, and it did seem to maintain its springiness relatively well throughout the day.
Vitarium’s sensible instructions to cover the loaf with foil for the first part of baking also meant that while it came out of the oven looking a little paler than the others – it was a joy to toast with no burning of its crust whatsoever. It also provides instructions for cooking in a bread maker.
While it did not maintain its bounce for as long as the Springhill or Lauke, it was fine when stored frozen and defrosted. So with nice taste and excellent toastability, this new mix is a very welcome new addition to the market.
What can I say. I like all of these breads for one reason or another. I still think the Orgran wins the taste test (is it the addition of rice milk in the recipe?) and it must also be applauded for having a very basic, allergen-free ingredient list, but Vitarium’s loaf was also rather tasty and we mustn’t forget how well it toasted. And while SpringHill may well have hit the nirvana of crusty, tasty long-lasting gluten free bread, Lauke’s also stayed pretty springy if you can look past its slightly stronger, saltier flavour, and the smallish size of the loaf.
In terms of what I plan to buy again in the near future – I am split between Vitarium (for toasting) and Orgran (for its taste and purity of spirit) and Springhill (for longevity and protein content). Maybe i’ll keep all three in the cupboard, as well a pack of Lauke in case I get a sudden urge to bake up some rolls, lunch wraps or lamingtons.
*For my bake-off I have only included brands do not contain egg or dairy and are widely available in shops and supermarkets. I have seen all brands included in this review in supermarkets like Coles and IGA. The Basco bread brand (most commonly found in Woolies) contains egg so we will take a look at this one separately in coming weeks.
Special thanks to Fred Loneragan for whipping up the bread bakeoff background music.