Gluten-free Bread


This week I managed to make a pretty good vegan gluten-free bread! Not an easy task. I’ve spent years experimenting with gluten-free baking, with varying success. I’ve been meaning to actually write down recipes and post them, rather than just doing things by sight/memory/improv. Hopefully I’ll get some more gluten-free recipes up soonish. I have a few gloriously gluten-less cakes in mind, like lime-coconut, lemon gel, and mocha gel. But I digress into cake territory, yet again.


Here’s the dough rising for its first hour. I had to switch over to a wooden spoon at this point.


The ingredients together before being whisked, clockwise from left: sunflower seed meal, yeast, flax, baking powder, olive oil, buckwheat flour, molasses, and salt.


To make sunflower seed flour/meal, just grind raw sunflower seeds until powdery in a coffee/spice grinder. You could also sub out any other nut meal flour, like almond or cashew.


Vegan Gluten-Free Sunflower Seed Bread

makes 2 medium loaves


4 c sunflower seed meal

3.5 c buckwheat flour

4 tsp flax seeds, ground

1.5 tsp salt

2 TB molasses

2 TB olive oil (Edit: or coconut oil or sesame oil)

1 TB yeast

3 TB baking powder

4 c warm water



Whisk together all ingredients and let sit, covered, to rise for an hour. Switch to a wooden spoon, and give the batter/dough a good stir before allowing to rest and rise for a second hour in the bowl. Gluten-free flours, being often of hearty whole grains, benefit from longer sitting to allow the flour to absorb and fully hydrate.

Grease two medium bread pans (not used for glutenous bread). Split the dough between the pans, smoothing the tops just a bit. Let rise in the pans for 40 minutes, until just puffing above the edge of the pans. Gently place in a 350 F oven, bake for 45 minutes. Let the bread cool in the pans for 15 minutes after removing from the oven. Use a butter knife to run along the sides of the pans, then dump the loaves out onto a cutting board. They may need a couple of taps to pop out.

Then, a golden crust. A strong crumb that holds together. A tasty, toasty, nutty flavor that is yeasty like bread, and otherworldly delicious! Whether you’re gluten-free or you have gluten-free friends, a loaf like this, steaming from the oven, is a sight (and taste, and smell) to behold.

Sure, the peculiar taste of buckwheat isn’t for everyone, I just happen to be a lifelong fan of it. Buckwheat is high in magnesium, a natural muscle relaxant. Mixed with the extra protein of the sunflower seeds, a wonderful nuttiness comes out strong, if you enjoy that like I do.

Today I also attempted another VGF bread made from red lentils and rice flour. It was less picturesque, although a pleasant dusty sunset color, and tasted great flavored with basil & rosemary. But that is a bread for another day.


Celebrating Spring with Mint & Mango


Fresh-tasting split pea soup with mint & mango (& other green herbs: thyme, parsley, sage, tarragon, celery, plus turmeric & white pepper). Surprisingly delicious, savory combination! We happened to get a surplus stock of 20 cases of very ripe mangoes… time for smoothies & mango salsa!


Deep dark loaf: whole wheat, oats, rye, buckwheat, molasses. Sweet & Earthy.


The courtyard in bloom, complete with kitty & lilacs


First rhubarb harvest of the year! Mango-rhubarb jam?

Flour + Water + Yeast + Salt + Determination

It has been a while since my last update – July?  The last 6 months have been magnanimous; an otherwise brutal 2016 has thankfully been personally abundant. Our freezers are full of okra, peppers of all colors, squash, and soon our first beef slaughter of 2017.

Sadly, I let my sourdough stay in the fridge for the past 3 months, and have yet to revive it. There were about 6 weeks this fall when our usual bread flour supplier fell through and we were stuck buying all-purpose bleached flour and using up older stock of whole wheat. In just that time I got out of the habit of twice-weekly sourdough maintenance, though I may try to get back into a new sourdough this spring. Just goes to show that determination may be the fifth critical ingredient in bread, not just flour + water + yeast + salt.

I’m hoping to get back into the habit of writing regularly again, and have a few topics in mind. Stay tuned…


Swept Away By Spring Update: Kale, Kombucha, Sourdough Redux, & More

Swept Away By Spring Update: Kale, Kombucha, Sourdough Redux, & More

Well, it’s been a while since my last post. I should have been writing about the boatloads of kale we’ve been getting from our garden and turning into kale chips, salads massaged or otherwise, smoothies, hummus, pesto, kimchi, kale slaw, pickled stems, and just about everything we can come up with. Kale-pocalypse, as we call it, has been two weeks of Iron Chef: Kale. It is a superfood with large amounts of vitamin C, iron, and more.

There’s also been lovely spring onions :), great lettuce, and still beets & carrots aplenty. I’ve taken some not-so-super photos with my phone, but I should get back into the habit of bringing my Canon DSLR… sorry for the quality and blurriness and lighting issues. I’ve also been meaning to get out and take more photos of the spring beauty all around – flowers and the garden sprouting – and now we’ve had several days of rain. I’ve gotten a bit swept away by the beauty and peace this month, reconnected with some friends, and got out of my winter cave. I even went to an awesome indie rock concert for the first time in a long time, at Richmond’s Broadberry, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, with Little Scream and Avers. Sometimes you gotta rock out:


Thao & The Get Down Stay Down is touring with their new album “A Man Alive.” Their song “Meticulous Bird” has been playing on loop all week on my mp3 player.


Little Scream (from Canada) was great too, they opened for Thao.

Anyway, here are some food things I’ve made lately:


Kale salad with shredded beets, blood oranges, and red onion



A bouquet of rainbow chard stems


Chickpea salad with olives, kale, & tahini


Potato casserole with homemade yogurt, fresh herbs (chives, chervil, parsley), eggs, & olive oil



Fresh sourdough loaves ready for a spring picnic


My first attempt at babka – cocoa cinnamon swirls in a banana bread dough


Blood orange kombucha (we were recently gifted a bunch of blood oranges, which is awesome. So pretty. Cheers!

A couple of notes/corrections on my last blog, about sourdough:
– A friend found out that there is no GMO wheat grown in the US, yay!
Rye is safer than I thought. Of course folks have used rye in sourdough successfully for a long time. The concern about trippy rye mold is mostly null in modern times – the specific mold that causes hallucinations, the ergot fungus, grows on the rye while in the field. It’s removed after harvest now, and affects not just rye, but many grain crops like wheat, oats, barley, & more. Rye flour & berries mold easily if left out in the climate in VA, which should be avoided in general, but it’s not the ergot fungus.
– Some folks say it isn’t best to feed sourdough a 100% whole wheat diet, that variety is best. You’ll find that every sourdough baker has something that they prefer to feed their dough pet: white unbleached, rye, oats, leftover porridge grains. One friend swears by feeding his sourdough dehydrated potato flakes, and you know what, it tasted great and was fluffy. Just goes to show ya that many methods work.

Coming soon: More spring harvests, the herb garden, and birthday cakes.

Sourdough Philosophy


Happy Breadiversary!!! 3 years ago today, my sourdough was born, a constellation of yeast colonies, who, many millenia of generations later, are still thriving in the bread I bake today. How magical is that?!

Here’s another magical thing: King Arthur has dubbed this Flour Month and is giving away a year’s supply of flour each day of the month! Check out the King Arthur Flour website to enter:


I sometimes get questions or wonderments about sourdough, so I thought I’d make a bit of a Q & A. Sourdough FAQ:

Q: “Is Sourdough safe? It seems kind of gross and old”

It seems these days that longterm sourdough is less common than a brief fermentation of 24-hours or less. The shorter ferment time takes a bit less commitment and preparation. I have found that some of my contemporaries cringe at the thought of a “3-year old dough,” as though it is somehow expired. Modern times have a slightly overgrown sense of sanitation, and need for quick, shortened recipes for people who have busier lives with more roles/jobs. We find ourselves fitting cooking into our schedule between other things like 8- or 12- hour workdays. There’s nothing wrong with shorter fermentation for bread – it does create a lot of flavor in a relatively small amount of time, and then everything can be cleaned up and moved along and forgotten about. Back before commercial bread, before breadmaker machines, before commercialized yeast – we’re talking a mere 110 years or so – people couldn’t just drop a dollar for a bag of wonderbread. To get bread, you needed to find a baker or make it at home. The commercial (as well as home) baker 110 years ago relied upon natural methods of preserving yeast in the air. They relied on keeping their sourdough alive – like a fire kept going through a long night, the yeast supply needed to be kept going indefinitely. With some luck, consistent use, and prayer (yeast was once thought to be “god’s grace”), a sourdough yeast colony/grain ferment could live decades or even centuries.

The Dutch were far ahead in their understanding of yeast, having discovered its microorganic properties in 1680, they began selling a commercial form of captured yeast (a liquid ferment) as early as 1780. I’m guessing progress after this initial discovery might have been equally motivated by bread and booze. In the 1850’s, the next big finding was brought by French Louis Pasteur (who also developed “pasteurization”), when he proved that yeast was in fact a living organism, rather than a force of god, or chemical reaction, as previously believed. It was in the 1870s that commercial yeast production spread throughout Europe, and then the US with the entrepreneur Charles Fleischmann. Before 1876, American bakers relied solely on sourdough to capture wild yeasts. While dry active yeast is a huge convenience, its effects on baking norms took about 70 years to change bread to how we know it today. Economically, there was the boom of the busy industrial era followed by the Great Depression, and then finally after the end of WW2, the subsequent baby boom in the 50s & 60s, leading into the retro era, many home and commercial baking improvements happened. Over the decades since then, sanitation & food handling rules have changed, as well as women working more. All that has all led to the widespread popularity and ease of supermarket bread rather than bread made at home or in a small bakery. The commercialization of yeast, bread, and food in general, has changed our cultural narrative of bread from long storage being desirable, to “freshly made and then thrown out quickly;” from multi-generation community bakers to “made cheaply in massive bulk and shipped across the country.”

This is all a long-winded attempt to re-normalize sourdough, and reassure my doubtful contemporaries that “old” dough is good, safe dough (even though it might appear or sound “yucky”). In a sourdough starter, there are many kinds of microorganisms naturally present, but in order for it to be successful, it must have a monopoly of yeast – the takeover of the yeast as well as its byproducts, lactic acid, alcohol and vinegar, prevent undesirable bacteria from infecting the batch. Over time, the sour flavor deepens and changes, but a 500-year-old sourdough is as “safe” as a 1-year old starter.

A: Yeah, I’m aware that wheat is not well-digested by some people, and that modern GMO & pesticides aggravate allergies. This is why I always look for non-GMO, unbleached, organic, or stoneground varieties of wheat flour, as well as using a variety of grains. Really, you could try making sourdough with any type of grain. Some folks prefer sourdough because of its flavor, or for its health benefits. As well as providing several strains of probiotic cultures, the grains get pre-digested by the fermentation process, thus making wheat somewhat more digestible for some folks. Let those who thrive on bread do their thing, and I’ll write a gluten-free baking tutorial another time.

Q: “Ok, I’m convinced that sourdough is great and want to try making some. How do you start a sourdough from scratch?”
A: Half flour and half water (non-floridated, non-bleached), whisked vigorously at least twice a day, lightly covered to prevent flies/mold/dust/etc, for several days until it starts bubbling on its own (that’s the wild yeast catching on). If you’re having trouble with this stage, you could add a tiny pinch of dry yeast to jumpstart the process, or double-check that your water doesn’t have yeast-killers in it like bleach, etc. Use most of the starter to make your first batch of bread, but save and re-feed about a quarter or a fifth of the starter to keep it going. I’m in a hot, humid climate that makes it a good idea to refrigerate sourdough starter in between uses. Mine stays in the fridge most of the week, and I just take it out to warm up to room temperature for a day or two each week.

Q: “What do you feed your sourdough starter?”
A: I mostly feed it whole wheat flour, and sometimes other leftover cooked grains – plain oatmeal (makes a very sour flavor), sometimes barley, millet, etc. Mainly wheat and oats.

Q: “So, I’m experienced with contemporary dry-active yeast bread baking, but when it comes to adding sourdough starter, I’m at a loss of where to start. If you don’t start bread with those magic granules, what do you do?”
A: Traditionally, sourdough starter replaces the yeast, at least half of the water, and some of the flour. Pour off a portion of the starter (saving a portion to re-start with), and stir in flour to make a dough. Let this dough rise & ferment for a few hours, kneading occasionally. Then form into loaves and let rest for the final rise until nearly doubled in size, which is usually slower than with commercial yeast. When I make commercial yeast bread, my rise is only about an hour. Sourdough-only rising action takes about twice as long. Keep loaves lightly covered for the first hour, and then remove the cover for the second hour. Some people mist their loaves with water to keep them moist; others keep a pan of water in the oven. The extra steam helps the sourdough have a secondary rise in the oven while baking. If you’re lucky, and the conditions are right, the loaf will “pop” up in the oven.

Personally, I love the taste of sourdough, but also the fluffiness or sandwich quality of modern bread, so I add some dry yeast to my sourdough. The way I usually start my bread is as follows (makes 13-16 loaves, 2 lbs each):

1)Soak 4 cups dry oats in 1 gallon very hot tap water, covered, for 20 minutes, whisking occasionally to break up the oats.
2)Add half a cup of molasses (or honey, up to 3 cups for a sweeter bread)
3)Add half a cup of dry active yeast (I prefer Red Star), whisk well, and let sit for 5 minutes – it should get a little bubbly.
4)Add 12 cups of sourdough starter to the oat mixture and whisk.
5)Add 6 cups whole wheat flour, plus 6 cups of white high-gluten bread flour, and whisk well, until clumps are mostly gone.
6)Let sit & ferment (covered) for anywhere between 20 minutes and 4 hours.
7)Add 1 cup oil (canola or olive), plus half a cup of salt.
8) Turn mixer on (with bread hook attachment) and add the rest of the flour (I do half & half whole wheat & white, until the dough forms a clump on the hook, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl).
9)Let dough rest for one hour.
10)Transfer dough to bread table dusted with flour. Knead briefly for cohesion.
11)Cut loaves weighing 2 lbs each.
12)Knead each loaf for a couple of minutes, form into a loaf shape, and place in a greased breadloaf pan.
13)Let loaves rest in pans and rise until almost doubled in size (poofing above the pan edge), about one hour (less if warm weather, longer if cold weather). Score tops if desired.
14)Bake in a 350*F oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove loaves from bread pans, let cool for 1 hour (the center keeps cooking and steam escapes the crust).

Q: “What are some tasty things to add to bread doughs for flavor?”
A: Just not all at once: fresh or dried herbs (like basil, oregano, rosemary, dill, etc), hot peppers & cheese, cinnamon & honey, spinach (pre-cooked & chopped), caraway or dill seeds (if you like that “rye” flavor).

Q: “I noticed that you didn’t mention rye flour. What about rye?!”
A: So, I like rye too, and I’m not anti-rye, but I do have a caveat about it which is that you want to make sure it’s kept mold-free, and it seems to mold easily in a humid climate. This might be mostly superstition, but one theory behind the Salem Witch Trial phenomenon, is that the entire community ate bread made with moldy rye, which can theoretically under the right conditions produce LSD, leading to hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. Who knows… but I’d rather just play it safe and keep my rye mold-free. Because of this theoretical chance, I never put rye in my sourdough bucket (I keep 3 to 5 gallons of starter in the fridge), keep my equipment clean, keep bulk rye in the freezer, and keep an eye out for mold. Any time I make rye bread, I add it to a batch of dough around the time the yeast is added. Letting the rye ferment for a few hours deepens the sour flavor. It’s traditional to add caraway, dill seeds or poppy seeds to rye, which might be part of that familiar flavor folks think of as rye.

Q: “What kinds of things do you like to bake with sourdough, besides bread?”
A: I’ve made sourdough pancakes, which are awesome, almost crumpet-like. Also, a dark molasses spice cake with just a cup of sourdough in it.

Q: “Geez, is anyone as sourdough and turnip obsessed as you?”
A: Uh, yes, definitely, I assure you. There are sourdough turnip enthusiasts all over the world. Possible high concentration in Vermont.

Q: “Did you make up all these questions yourself?”
A: Yes, and if you have real questions about sourdough etc, I’ll happily answer them either seriously or comically.

Breadiversary re-post

In honor of my sourdough’s 3rd birthday coming up this March the 15th, I’m re-posting my first writing (from 2014) about sourdough, originally featured on Running In ZK. After the 15th, I’ll likely post more bread photos of what I’ve made during this week of sourdough celebration.
Breadiversary: the annual celebration of bread, life, & wild yeast. March 15, 2013 I began what would turn out to be a successful sourdough starter, after many false starts. For a couple of years, I had started new jars of sourdough, each only lasting 2 weeks to 2 months before meeting their various demises, either being forgotten or bubbling over or sprouting a form of life other than yeast. I had phases of discouraging feelings but persisted, getting advice from “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, and “52 Loaves” by William Alexander. Both are excellent in-depth guides, but much of the learning process must be acquired personally by each baker. I’ve been baking most of my life, bread specifically only since I came to Twin Oaks 7 years ago [in 2006]. This sourdough journey has taught me anew, mostly in patience, consistency, and perfecting the “smell test.” Kombucha has been another pet ferment of mine, and Twin Oaks can drink up to 20 gallons of it every week. For sourdough, I use 5 gallons of starter to make about 30 of the weekly 75 loaves or so that our farm’s diverse baking team makes.
How to celebrate such an occasion, of the continuousness of life: wild, tangible and tasty? I made a kind of bread that I hadn’t made before, thus honoring the ongoing learning process: Pumpernickel. Sourdough, rye, wheat, molasses, with a touch of cocoa and decaf coffee. I added cinnamon & raisins to one batch, caraway & poppy seeds to another.
I thoroughly enjoy baking for such a diverse set of tastes at Twin Oaks. Some communities, monasteries, and village bakers carry on a bread starter for decades or centuries! Let’s capture the bit of history lingering in the air of today. Maybe one day (likely a decade away) we’ll be growing & milling our own flour at the centuries-old disrepaired mill down the road and rebuilding the local bread community… I’ll be feeding my sourdough for that.

Cinnamon raisin swirl sourdough

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5-grain sourdough: wheat, rye, barley, buckwheat, & oats, plus bran & molasses! Super dark!


The bubbling brew – happy, healthy sourdough starter, 3 years old.

Put me on the Naughty List…

Yep, over the holidays even the “sustainable” get the urge to bake so many sweet things… but sweets can sometimes be tweaked to include items like homemade ricotta, or peanut butter made by friends


Braided danish bread filled with homemade ricotta & apples & cinnamon & honey


Homemade donuts with coconut, lime, cinnamon, and/or chocolate


more homemade donuts with even more shiny chocolate


“the last two gingerbread cookies at the late-night jazz bar”


Peanut butter & chocolate swirl cookies


Pull-apart cinnamon sticky bread… dripping with sugar! So naughty, so good…


Bread Gallery

From braids to boules to bagels, here are some of the bread forms I’ve used over the years.


My sourdough’s second birthday is coming up in March, which I fondly refer to as “Breadiversary.” Read my reflections of the first Breadiversary in my blog post from last year, here:

This year, I am reflecting on the past year of growth and wondering which insights to emphasize. Find a culture that works, and feed it! Persevere through the cold, sour times, by breaking bread with friends. Freedom from fraught modern food culture. Primal truth, back to times of survival only on bread. Better digested grains, unleashing nutrients. My bubbling cauldron is full of life and its unique taste, containing both past and future dough, hope, courage, and determination.