When my now 14-year-old son Isaiah was diagnosed as gluten intolerant at age 10, Wonder Bread was our single most mourned food. Saying goodbye to his pillowy soft sandwich bread nearly crushed his culinary innocence. So I did what any other mother would do. I went out in search of something, anything, that could pass as a replacement. I bought every loaf of gluten-free bread I could get my hands on at the time: frozen, refrigerated, shelf-stable, boxed mixes. They were either too dry, crumbly, or dense, and all tasted like cardboard.
Then, I tried to make my own—and failed. And failed. And failed some more. They were all flops—literally. So I re-engineered what we called sandwich bread and enlisted our waffle iron's help for perfectly shaped gluten-free "bread." Satisfying? Yes. Sandwich bread? Well, not exactly.
Years went by. I had given up hope. Thankfully, store-bought gluten-free breads were experiencing a serious makeover for the better. Still, I craved baking bread for my family with my own hands, so this Spring I returned to the kitchen. I baked countless loaves. I tested baking with different gluten-free grains: white rice, sweet white rice, brown rice, oat, corn, millet, quinoa, soy, and sorghum. And with different starches: arrowroot, cornstarch, potato starch and tapioca starch. I tried using whey powder, cow's milk powder, and rice milk powder. Leaveners included yeast, baking powder, egg whites, whole eggs, and seltzer. For fats I tested canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, and melted butter. As a sweetener—and to feed the yeast—I tried granulated sugar, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, and agave syrup.
As I baked each new loaf, I made egg washes, dusted the tops with flour, slashed the tops with knifes, brushed the tops with water, and sprinkled on seeds. Some loaves didn't rise; others over-proofed and cracked wide open. I baked in a small loaf pan, then a large loaf pan, on 350º, then on 500º, on a pizza stone, then off, with steam, then without. Some of my loaves sunk in on the top and on the sides. Some were under-baked and wet inside even though they registered 211 º on a thermometer, well beyond the bread baking standard 200º measure for doneness. Still others were as heavy as bricks, and many lacked an interesting crumb or any real depth of flavor.
Then, in the middle of my testing frenzy, the unthinkable happened: My son's taste buds hit puberty. My taste-tester through all of the variations, he began to lean more and more toward the multi-grain, less "Wonder" breads that I tried. That caught me off-guard, but he was right. At last, our long-awaited loaf of gluten-free sandwich bread was born on the belief that there are only two attributes that matter: Flavor and appearance. This sandwich bread tastes just right, looks just right, and it just so happens that it is also good for you. Now, that's a true wonder.
Silvana Nardone is the author of Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals and founder of SilvanasKitchen.com.