What's in a loaf? Ramblings of a Gluten Free Baker...
Gluten Free Sourdough Boule

Most of us who cannot eat gluten will have tried to bake a loaf of gluten free bread at some point in our food journeys. It tends to end in one of two ways: either we create something with the texture of a brick and the taste of sawdust, or succeed in making a passable loaf of slightly cake-like bread that can be used as a missile on the second or third day after baking. The majority of us (including me!) will give up and go back to buying our loaves of bread from the supermarket. They crumble if we try to butter them, if we make a sandwich and try to lift it up it disintegrates (so we learn to pack all sandwiches in foil or plastic to hold them together as we eat), if we bite into it it dissappears in a mouthful of air and fluff, but we're desperate for a small piece of the normality that our gluten-full brethren get to enjoy on a daily basis with nary a care for the exquisite textures and flavours that they are about to devour. So we pay the crazy prices supermarkets demand for their processed starches and flour additives, and learn to accept that we will never get to eat 'real' bread again.

Gluten Free Sourdough Spiral Loaf

When the new ranges of gluten free 'sourdough' breads appeared on the market, I was overjoyed! Finally! Real Bread! Then I tried them and realised the 'sourdough' label was not much more than a marketing schtick because it was nothing like the sourdough bread I remembered eating and it pushed me over the edge and into the kitchen. Enough was enough! I would have bread! I baked loaf after loaf after loaf. Each loaf brought me one step closer to the dream, and made yet another loaf of breadcrumbs for my increasingly rotund chickens to enjoy. It was an uphill climb filled with mathematics, bizarre grains, strange techniques and gloopy pastes. Nothing that used to work for wheat bread seemed to work and the challenge was compounded by the fact that I wanted my bread to be vegan as well as gluten free! Did you know that pretty much every single gluten free loaf on the market contains egg as a binder? I blended flour after flour until eventually, I came up with a combination of 10 different whole grains and flours that gave me a loaf that was every bit as exquisite as the loaves I enjoyed in my wheat-eating days. It had a crust so crunchy you could chip your teeth, surrounding a soft and light crumb that somehow, was still edible (untoasted!) a full week after I had baked them. Fermented for days (making it wonderfully digestible), made predominantly with two of the most nutritious grains available in the west (Buckwheat and millet), with a sourdough starter innoculated with all the beneficial bacteria found in water kefir (which is renowned for its probiotic goodness). It was so delicious in fact, that I simply had to share it with as many people as I could, because everyone deserves to eat real bread! If only it was so simple...

Gluten Free Vegan Sourdough

The grains I used were organic and ground by hand by myself. Each loaf was shaped with love, scored with care, baked with painstaking attention to detail and took three days to make from start to finish. This made it incredibly expensive to produce, but I wanted to keep it as affordable as I could while still making enough to fund further product development. The final pricing structure means it is about the same price (or cheaper if you buy the bigger loaves) as those supermarket loaves I mentioned earlier, but world's apart in flavour and goodness. Yay!

Gluten Free Vegan Sourdough Loaves

The kind of product development I do requires an in-depth knowledge of non-gluten flours and how they behave, as each recipe I create uses a different balance of grains, flours and starches to achieve the final result. It's the kind of knowledge that took me years to get, but that I will be sharing with the participants on my upcoming Gluten Free Masterclass on the 21st and 22nd of January. You can find out more and book a place Here . In the meantime, I hope you'll come and visit us at the Wildcraft Bakery when we reopen on the 10th of January.

We'll also be taking part in Veganuary and holders of the Vegans of Leeds Discount Dining Card can get an exclusive 10% off their purchases at the bakery so don't forget to buy your cards at the Vegans of Leeds Website!

Vegans of Leeds
Nourishing Nettles

I love nettles. They really are one of mother nature's most incredible superfoods. The leaves are chock full of every trace vitamin and mineral your body could need. 100g of blanched nettle leaves provide (among other things!) 48% of your RDA of calcium, 40% for Vitamin A, 28% of dietary fibre and 39% of your manganese requirements. Herbally speaking, nettle leaves contain histamine that, when ingested, get your body to produce anti-histamines. Why buy piriteze and the like during pollen season when you could just teach your body to make its own? They're also great for your kidneys, help to clear up dandruff, nourish your body and do tons more besides! I've written about uses for nettles before on my foraging blog ( see Nettle Dolmeh and Nettle Gnocchi - please excuse the lack of pictures as we've moved hosting services and haven't had time to manually re-upload all the pictures from the blog!), and this spring I even made some Nettle Leaf & Sherbet Lemon Whoopie Pies which I sold on my stall at Kirkstall Deli Market.

 

Gluten Free Nettle & Sherbet Lemon Whoopie Pies

Gluten Free Nettle & Sherbet Lemon Whoopie Pies

But we're not talking about nettle leaves today, we're talking about nettle seeds! If you want to read more about the leaves, Lucinda Warner has an excellent article on her blog. Nettle seeds have many of the same properties as nettle leaves with a lot more besides. They are a rich source of α- linolenic acid (a valuable omega-3 acid ), and are an adaptogen, helping to bring balance to our bodies. Henriette Kress has written a short article on nettle seeds on her blog, as has Kiva Rose here.

I'd like to tell you about my personal experiences of using nettle seeds. I find it incredibly stimulating when fresh. When I used to have an allotment, I would pick the fresh seeds and add them to my smoothies while on site to help me power through all that weeding. I would use about 2 pinches of the seeds at a time and that was enough to keep me going through hours of digging. When it's nettle seed season, I always spend ages talking about the myriad benefits of it on my foraging courses and encourage people to try some. At least one person I've given it to has found it a bit too stimulating and felt like she was having heart palpitations. That is why nettle seeds are recommended for use from dry. Once dried, they are much gentler on the body and work to support the adrenals and rehabilitate your body after burnout. When we're constantly stressed for so long, our body is constantly producing adrenaline and it reaches a point where it no longer knows how to produce the right amount for the circumstances at hand. Is a sock left on the floor a good reason to go all Hulk on someone? Probably not! But have we done it before? Oooh yeah. When you reach that point where every little thing is like the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, that's when you need nettle seeds. They do need to be combined with a lifestyle change too so you will need to figure out what's making you so stressed out and try and deal with it somehow, but nettle seeds will give your body the support it needs to help you through that process. The easiest way to take them is to simply take anywhere from a pinch to a tablespoon (do start with the pinch first as a tablespoon can have some people bouncing off the walls!) and chew it or sprinkle the seeds on your porridge, in your smoothies, granola, whatever you like really! The next way to do it (which is actually my favourite) is to make something called an electuary. Basically, grind the seeds down in a spice mill until they become a powder (this also helps us to absorb more of the nutrition from the seeds) and add enough runny honey to make a paste which you can then have about 1tsp full a day to keep your body in tip top shape. You can also make a tincture with them. I haven't done this myself but Kiva Rose says "Tincture ‘em. Works very well as a kidney trophorestorative this way and moderately well as an adaptogen. You miss out on the extra mineral goodies though. Dosage starts at 2 drops and usually goes up to about a dropperful depending on the person and what exactly is going on in the body."

So now that you've decided to go out and forage nettle seeds...how do you know which ones to pick? If you have a look at the picture below, there are 3 little bunches of nettle seeds. The ones on the very bottom are actually still just flowers. Keep walking. The ones in the middle? They're nearly there but not quite ripe yet. The ones on the top? Those are just perfect! Big, fat, green and juicy. They were hanging in pendulous clumps from the central stem of the nettles. Now to pick!

IMG_2020.JPG

Before you can eat them, you have to pick and process them. I've done every method you can think of under the sun:

  1. I have picked the whole plants, hung them up to dry at home in bunches, stripped off the bunches of seeds and passed them through a sieve (I ended up with seeds all over the floor and my yield was seriously impacted)
  2. I have picked the whole plant, brought it home, stripped the bunches of seeds off, layed them on trays to dry then rubbed them through a sieve. This worked really well but took FOREVER to do. So much so, that it took me another 4 years to summon up the energy to harvest seeds again.
  3. My new method which I will outline below. Suffice it to say I will never harvest nettle seeds any other way again!

I went out without any marigolds so I used a thick plastic bag as a glove and just ran my hand up the nettle plant, stripping off everything that was attached to it, leaves and all. To make things as easy as possible for you, I filmed a short video of me harvesting the seeds so you can see what I mean.

 

Once you've got your seeds and brought them home, what next? This is the tedious bit. You need to don your marigolds again and pick out all the leaves. This sounds like it should take forever but actually, the time passes surprisingly quickly. I could pretend I engaged in mindful meditation while I sorted but really, I was watching"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix. Don't judge me! The giant pile in the crate below took me about 40 minutes to process. To put it into perspective, that crate is about 60cm x 40cm by 10cm deep. It was a LOT of seeds picked in the time it took a 2 year old to finish off 2 chocolate coated rice cakes and a carton of almond milk and demand to be let out from her pram. It was heavy enough that when I took said baby out of the pram, the weight of the bag hanging on the handlebars caused it to fall over backwards.

 

A Mountain of Nettle Seeds

A Mountain of Nettle Seeds

Once I had picked all of the leaves out, I ended up with an 8L bowl full of seeds on stalks.

A bowl full of nettle seeds

A bowl full of nettle seeds

Once I had stripped them all off, I spread them out onto four cardboard crates that previously held tomatoes that I got from my greengrocer. They stack very well on top of each other and I use them to dry herbs in my airlock (a.k.a the porch). A conservatory would work equally well! Once they were completely dry, I found my coarse sieve, a glass jug, and got started with the processing. I sincerely apologise for the quality of the photo. The light in my kitchen was appalling when I was doing the processing and I only had the hour in which I knew the toddler would be down for her nap to process all the seeds! You want to use a coarse sieve because a fine one won't let the seeds through. Please wear gloves when doing this! The first time I rubbed nettle seeds through a sieve, I didn't wear gloves. My fingertips turned black and I had incredibly painful throbbing pins and needles for 3 days and then tingling in my fingertips that persisted for two weeks.

Processing nettle seeds

Processing nettle seeds

Keep going until all you have left is a pile of grey green strands and a huge bowl full of nettle seeds. You can then turn them into an electuary as I described above, or you can make my delicious oatcakes and the recipe for that is below.

Gluten Free Nettle Seed Oatcakes

I absolutely love these oatcakes and was given the recipe by the soon-to-be-mother-in-law of one of my cousins when we went to visit. They were so delicious not only did my mum and I polish off most of what she'd made, we even begged her for the recipe!

If you need these to be gluten free, do make sure you use gluten free certified oats or they will be contaminated with gluten due to the processing methods used in the growing, harvesting or production!

140g medium oatmeal (this is hard to find gluten free so I actually buy oat groats and grind them up in my spice mill until they're coarse chunks)

140g oats

10 twists of freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp salt

75ml extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp nettle seeds

1 handful of mixed seeds (I use a combination of linseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and hulled hemp seeds)

Dust 2 trays with gluten free flour. Mix all of your dry ingredients in a bowl then make a well in the centre. Pour in your olive oil then pour in enough boiling hot water to bind your ingredients into a firm, but not overly sticky, dough. Work quickly! Don't worry if you end up adding a bit too much water, just add more oats. Form your dough into a ball and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 180C.

Roll out your dough into a sheet about 5mm thick. Cut out circles using a 2 inch round biscuit cutter or use a knife to cut into rectangles. I prefer rectangles because they're less work when time is a premium!

Transfer onto your baking trays and bake for 20 minutes. Turn them over and bake for a further 10 minutes before removing from the oven. Cool on the trays for a couple of minutes before transferring them onto wire racks to cool completely.

Tips:

  1. The better the quality of extra virgin olive oil you use, the better these will taste. Trust me, they're worth it!

  2. If you can't find oat groats to grind down or gluten free oatmeal, just use more oats. They'll have a different consistency as the oatmeal gives them a lovely crunch but it'll work

  3. If all you can find is jumbo oats, blitz half of them in a food processor to make them finer or you'll have issues getting them to bind to each other.

If you'd like to learn more about foraging and how to use wild foods, don't forget to head over to my other website www.msitu.co.uk where you can book onto one of my foraging walks or Forage & Feast events. If you'd like to learn more about Gluten Free baking, I will be running a series of in-depth workshops from my new bakery when we open in October. The first one of those is slated for the weekend of the 12th and 13th of November and details can be found here.

Muhaimina Said-Allsopp
Sneaky Little Hobitses! Cinema

Good Smeagol always helps! While the timings were a little late (by hobbit clocks any way) there was plenty of lunch and dinner to be had at the Lord of the Rings Sneaky Experience this past weekend where we had serving gluten free cakes, snacks and soup. With a little luck (and the aid of the Goblin King) we'll also be at the next Sneaky Experience in June.

Please confirm all times, tickets & bookings through Sneaky Experience!