Sunflower Honey Bran Kefir Bread (gluten free, egg, free, yeast free)

This recipe is adapted from Gluten A Go Go's Sunflower Honey Bran Bread recipe.   She is doing some amazing things with bread lately, adapting recipes from the Culinary Institute of America's Baking and Pastry Book to be gluten-free.   All the recipes are fairly complex, employing lots of unusual flours and utilizing oddball tablespoon and teaspoon quantities (2.8 T of one thing, 1.6 tsp of another) converted from metric measurements.  But the results look gorgeous, and totally delicious.  Who wouldn't want to eat Pinenut and Garbanzo Grissini or Rosemary Quinoa Black Bean Rolls?  How about a loaf of Cocoa Chia Whole Grain Pullman Bread or Belgian Apple Cider Bread with your afternoon tea?  Or maybe a Rustic Raisin Loaf for Sunday brunch?  Oh my word. 

Then, I came across her recipe for Sunflower Honey Bran Bread. It just sounded wholesome. Lovely.  Simple. Like something that should be pulled out of the oven in a big farmhouse kitchen, while birds chirp outside, a sugar-free apple pie with a rice-quinoa crust cools in the window, and a handsome, gluten-intolerant farmer is on his way in for a hearty lunch... 

Between her description and my overly romanticized daydream, I decided I needed to make this bread.  Although the bread sounds simple, the list of ingredients certainly isn't.  But surprisingly, I was totally equipped to make it when the urge struck.  Apparently, I have a frightfully well-stocked pantry, and am not afraid to get out the coffee grinder and make my own flours when the need arises.  And me oh my, does she ever use a lot of flours: white bean flour, sunflower seed meal, and millet flour make up the bulk of it, joined with chia meal, brown and sweet rice flours, and arrowroot starch for the rest.  It is a lower glycemic, higher protein mix, which is nice.  

The primary difference between her bread and this adaptation is the removal of yeast and the substitution of goat's milk kefir for whole cow's milk.   In the original recipe, yeast is used and the dough is allowed to rise for an  hour and half, and she uses milk as the liquid.  Instead, I decided to let nature do the work and kill two birds with one stone. I  let the flours soak for about 24 hours to work up some natural yeasts from all that good, live bacteria in the goats milk kefir.  Then I added the remaining ingredients, as well as a little baking soda and cream of tartar for extra leavening, and threw it in the oven, following her baking directions.  The basic nature of baking soda reacts with the acid in the kefir and the cream of tartar, producing lovely leavening bubbles of CO2.  Same technique as traditional soda bread.  Chemistry is so cool.  
Okay, so here's a few notes on the recipe before you start:
  • Read my recipe review at the bottom.
  • The ingredient list is copied from Gluten A GoGo's site, with what I did listed in green italic print.  You'll notice the wacky tablespoon and teaspon quantities that accompany the metric system.  Just do your best to estimate.   
  • I ground the chia seed meal, sunflower seed meal, and white bean flour with my coffee grinder, which is no longer used for coffee but is dedicated to gluten free flour, seed, and spice grinding.
  • I made changes to the dough assembly to account for my flour-soaking step, so the instructions are a combined mix of the original recipe and my alterations. 
  • She recommends baking on a pre-heated baking stone or brick - I used a cast iron pan because that's what I have.  She also suggests steaming the bread during baking by placing a pan of water on the bottom of the oven and spraying the oven and loaf with water using a spritzer bottle.  This helps to create a crisp, firm crust, and is an old bread baker's trick.  It works; this bread has a very crisp crust that you just don't normally find in GF stuff.
Sunflower Honey Bran Kefir Bread

adapted from Gluten A GoGo's "Sunflower Honey Bran Bread"

Yield: 1 loaf (about 8" round)

3.1 Tb/45 g brown rice flour (4.05 g)
3.1 Tb/45 g sweet rice flour (2.7 g)
3.1 Tb/45 g arrowroot starch (0.13 g)
4.2 Tb/60 g raw sunflower seed meal (9 g)
3.8 Tb/55 g millet flour (6.32 g)
.47 cup/110 g Great Northern Bean Flour (or other white bean flour) (23.65 g) 
1.8 tsp/9 g chia seed meal (1.89 g)
2.9 Tb/42 g rice bran
1/2 T of well-crushed agar agar flakes 
1/2-1 tsp sea salt
1 cup goats milk kefir
2.9 Tb/42 g roasted sunflower seeds
1.5 Tb honey/agave mix
1 tsp sunflower oil or other light flavored oil (I used safflower oil)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

  1. Measure out flours into a bowl, grinding whatever you may need to grind in a coffee grinder!  I ground the bean flour, sunflower seed meal, and chia seed meal right before mixing. 
  2. Sift flours into a large bowl to remove any large chunks that weren't ground properly and to make the flours light and airy.  
  3. Add salt and agar agar powder/crushed flakes to sifted flours and whisk together.  Add kefir, and stir together until evenly mixed.
  4. Cover, and let sit for 12-24 hours - the longer it sits, the better it will rise.
  1. Preheat oven to 435* F/225* C. If using a baking stone or heavy cast iron pan as a baking surface, place in oven at the same time in the top 1/3 of oven.  Fill an oven proof bowl with water and place in the bottom 1/3 of your oven to steam your bread.  Fill a squirt bottle with water and have prepared!
  2. Measure together oil and honey together in a measuring cup or bowl, and stir to blend.  
  3. Sprinkle the baking soda and cream of tartar evenly over the bread, then pour in the honey/oil mixture.  Quickly stir together to evenly incorporate ingredients.  You'll notice that the dough will become lighter and airier as the baking soda and cream of tartar react.  Do not over mix!
  4. Transfer immediately to a sheet of parchment, and shape into a ball gently with floured hands or a spoon.  Sprinkle with sunflower seeds.
  5. Remove stone/cast iron pan from oven and slide the parchment paper with loaf onto the baking stone.  Spray the sides of the oven with the water and spray the top of  the bread.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Prop open the door of the oven and allow the bread to cook for 5 more minutes.  
  6. Remove the bread from oven, and allow to cook for 1 1/2 hours before cutting.
So, how'd it turn out?
I did not wait 1 1/2 hours before digging in.  I waited 15 minutes, tore off a chunk, and spread with my delicious ghee/olive oil/flax oil spread.  Hot bread + fatty stuff  = amazing.  I then proceeded to gradually eat about 1/3 of the loaf as I wrote this post.  Oops.  So, in short, I'd say the bread is good.  

The short review:
  • Very good flavor, crispy crust outside, nice soft, chewy, moist texture inside.  
  • Loaf was flatter than I thought it would be - that's what I get for not using yeast.   The dough was really really soft.
  • Next time use much less salt (quantity adjustment made in recipe above), maybe more flour, and maybe adjust the soda/cream of tartar quantities so it raises more.
  • I would definitely feed the less salty version to a handsome, gluten intolerant farmer looking for a hearty lunch.
The long review:
  • SALT: Her recipe called for 2 tsp, which is a lot of salt in only about 2 c of flour, and ended up very salty.  I reduced the quantity in the recipe above.
  • COMPLEXITY: The ingredients were fussy to assemble because there are a lot of flours, and you need to grind some fresh.  My kitchen counter was crazy.  But whatever, GF baking is sometimes fussy.  I didn't really mind this.
  • FINISHED TEXTURE: Firm, crispy, crunchy crust, and the inside was moist, chewy, soft.
  • FLAVOR: The flavor was great, with a lot of depth, nuttiness, and a light sweetness. Not at all beany.  As mentioned above, it was too salty for my taste.  But overall, GREAT flavor.  
  • DOUGH: This dough was very very soft before baking.  The original recipe calls for almost 1 1/2 c of milk.  I used only 1 c of kefir, and I also slightly reduced the amount of honey and oil, and it was still really soft.   I don't know if I did something wrong somewhere in my flour measuring, but the ratio of liquid to flour seemed totally off - like it needed more flour.  
  • LOAF SHAPE: The dough spread while baking (probably because it was such a soft dough), and only rose a little bit. I was expecting something more round and boule-like.  
  • COLOR: The bread darkened really fast - honey tends to brown quickly due to the high sugar content, but I was surprised at how dark the loaf got.  I cut 5 minutes off the final cooking time out of fear of burning the loaf.
  • FARMER DAYDREAM: My farmer and I take the loaf of bread, a large tureen of hearty bean soup, and a big beautiful salad made with his fresh garden vegetables out to the big table on the back porch.  The sun is hot, but we don't mind; the table sits under a pergola covered with flowering vines.  As we sit under the dappled shade, the sweet smell of flowers wafts over to us on the warm breeze, and we serve ourselves our lunch. We eat slowly over conversation and laughter, dunking fresh bread in the hearty soup, savoring soft, baby lettuces and crunchy carrots, and listening to birds sing in the tall trees. With a final swipe, he cleans out the bowl with a chunk of bread, and leans back in his chair, satisfied.  I tell him there's pie, and his eyes light up; there's always room for pie.  I come back, whole pie and two forks in hand.  We dig right in; he eats the middle, and I eat around the outside.  Crust has always been my favorite part.  The warm, sugar free, gluten free fabulousness of my apple pie steals his heart, and in turn, so do I.  With rounded bellies and smiling faces, we walk over to the hammock that hangs between two large oak trees.  Under the shade of the oaks, we slowly drift off to sleep, and dream of all the warm summer days, fresh salads, hot bread, hearty soups, and tasty desserts to come...
I plan on eating this bread with soup for lunch tomorrow.  It will be at the photo studio, not a farm, and I'll be eating with my coworkers, not a handsome farmer.  But I'm still looking forward to it.  
Thanks to Gluten A Go Go for a great recipe.  You must check out her Baking and Pastry Project, it is amazing to see what she comes up with each week!
6/9/09 UPDATE: 
After gorging myself on slices of fresh Sunflower Honey Bran Bread, I decided to slice and freeze what remained of the loaf.  Last night, I pulled a couple slices from the freezer to eat today, and thawed them in the fridge overnight.  They thawed remarkably well - the bread is still moist, but stayed sturdy and intact.  No crumbling, no sawdusty mouth feel, no weird texture.  It is almost as good as it was fresh!  If you want to freeze, I'd recommend slicing it first.