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Week 46: "An Experiment in Gluten-Free!"

Daniel Barash

It’s been a long time coming, and now it’s over; my first experience with gluten-free baking! I had been meaning to try my hand at this improbable challenge for quite some time, but had managed to find one excuse or another week after week.

But this past Friday we were preparing for a preschool weekend camping trip, and as preschool Director Molly Skuse eats a gluten-free diet, the perfect opportunity presented itself.

The first task involved finding the right recipe; a Google-search of “world’s best gluten-free challah” landed me on “Just Call Me Chaviva’s” blog post “The Best Gluten-Free Challah Recipe You’ll Find.” Done deal, just follow the instructions right? No one will ever know!?

Not so fast; first, there were the ingredients I had never used before—oat flour, rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, anyone? I tried to locate most of these ingredients at 6 AM from a 24-hour Safeway aisle, but had to make some substitutions, which was probably the first sign of trouble.

Then there was the concoction that resulted when they were all mixed together with the help of water, salt, honey, and yeast. It didn’t spring, and it was frankly a mess--I had certainly never appreciated the wonder of gluten the way I do now!

Finally, the baking! I had been warned that a gluten-free dough is not able to be shaped in the same way as your traditional variety, making a braid near-impossible. The solution; buy a baking pan in the shape of a challah, and then fool Shabbat guests into thinking that you actually braided! After another extensive Google search, I finally settled on a Kaiser Bakeware 15-Inch Classic Braided Loaf Pan. Into the pan went my batter, and into the oven went the pan, upside down, to both rise and begin baking. Mid-bake, the loaf was flipped over to a baking sheet for its duration. 

The result? Aesthetically speaking, a wanting imitation of a gluten-ous cousin! Taste-wise? Ditto! Do I blame the blogger who posted the recipe? No; as I mentioned, I made some ingredient substitutes, some of which could have fundamentally altered the recipe. 

I that ultimately, this kind of baking is just a new frontier for me, one that can only be truly known with a lot of trial and error, and perhaps some baking tutorials from those who have preceded me.

In the end, the challah was proudly (if not a little embarassingly) presented to Molly and Gabby (a friend and fellow preschool parent). Though not consumed entirely like most other challahs on most other weeks, seconds were reached for and enjoyed, which is saying something, yes?!

Here’s to trying new things, however scary they may seem…