A few nights ago I dreamed I received an email from a new company that was opening up a bakery where my husband and I could safely take our allergic little girl, a bakery filled with crusty, aromatic loaves of sourdough rye, soft and moist whole-grain sandwich bread and crisp long brown baguettes just waiting for a slather of nut-free chocolate spread… and with not a trace of nuts, a wash of butter, a hint of egg or a stray sesame seed to be found in the entire facility.
And then I woke up and remembered—that bakery is in my apartment. ONLY in my apartment. And I had better mix up some new loaves before my three-year-old started demanding another sandwich.
I consider myself a serious allergen-free food sourcing sleuth, but I don’t know of a single widely available brand of sandwich bread—white or whole wheat or even gluten-free—that is free of all my daughter’s allergens. (But, dear commenters—I would so LOVE to be proven wrong! PLEASE?)
If you have never managed a severe sesame allergy, it might be hard to understand my bread problem. After all, my daughter isn’t allergic to wheat. But based on the dozens of emails I’ve sent to various companies and bakeries in search of a safer sandwich bread free of traces of nuts, eggs, dairy and most especially SESAME… I might as well be searching for a mystical talking purple rainbow unicorn with green dayglo wings.
Sure, many bakeries make simple baguettes made from nothing more than flour, water, yeast and salt, or “plain” bagels. But they are mixing and shaping those baguettes and bagels in the same area and often on the same equipment where sesame seeds and tiny bits of sticky egg and butter and tree nuts are flying through the air, just waiting to land in the dough for that “plain” baguette. (Also, I imagine the sesame seeds and milk droplets and tree nut shards cackling evilly as they fly about. But maybe that’s just me).
So bake I must. And now that I’ve embraced it and made it part of my weekend routine, it’s less of a chore, and more of an obsession. So without further adieu… my top five favorite whole-grain bread recipes! Some are tricky, some are easy. All are tasty! (With safer sourcing ideas below).
1. Peter Reinhart’s 100% Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread (from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavors)
Peter Reinhart is on a mission to make homemade whole-grain breads just as delicious as the paler variety without lots of artificial added conditioners and additives—and he has succeeded. His techniques might seem a bit fussy and overwhelming on first try, but after a little practice, are well worth the effort. My three-year-old daughter sometimes turns her nose up at crusty rustic rye breads, but adores this moist, soft, bitterness-free sandwich bread for all her favorite safe sandwiches—she calls it “Mommy bread.”
- The loaf: a soft, moist perfect sandwich bread that also happens to be 100% whole wheat. (AND it has a sourdough option. SOLD!)
- Difficulty: Moderate. Probably not a starter loaf, but his directions are meticulously well-detailed and illustrated.
- Special hard-to-find ingredients required? Nope. Just whole-wheat flour, non-dairy milk, water, instant yeast and salt. (Sweetener and oil are optional—I generally do add the honey, but leave out the fat).
- Allergy-free adaptations required? No—he actually includes non-dairy milk as one of the suggested ingredients.
- Find the recipe: In Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. I initially got the book from the library, but after 5 or 6 renewals and a similar number of happy whole-grain bread successes, realized I just needed to buy it already. The blog Home Cooking in Montana also has the basic outlines of the recipe, but in a butter & dairy-packed incarnation.
This half-rye, half-white loaf is crusty and delicious, soft and moist inside with the earthy taste of rye and a hint of orange zest and caraway. I like to bake a round boule, slice it thin and spread with jam or just eat it plain. Best of all, it’s easy: no kneading and no fuss. I make mine with a live sourdough starter, but the recipe has a commercial yeast option as well.
The sourdough version stays fresh for at least 2-3 days at room temperature (then I slice and freeze the rest, if any).
- The loaf: a crusty (sourdough optional) rye.
- Difficulty: Easyish. The recipe includes detailed tips and two very clear instructional videos.
- Special hard-to-find ingredients required? Sort of. Safer rye flour can be hard to find (I like Hodgson Mill, but I usually have to order it in bulk online). But other than that, it’s just all-purpose flour, yeast/sourdough, a zest-worthy orange, water, salt and some non-sesame allergy-friendly seeds of your choice (if any—see sourcing ideas below).
- Allergy adaptations required? Not for us. Your choice of seeds (or none at all) may vary.
- Find the recipe: At Breadtopia.
(And since the proof is the crumb, you can see an interior shot of breads 1 and 2 at the top of this post. Still working on getting some more oven spring, though.)
3. The Master Whole-Wheat No-Knead Recipe from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients
This was my gateway recipe into the world of no-knead whole-wheat bread, and I would still bake it every day if I hadn’t shifted my obsession more to the sourdough side. The master recipe can be adapted for sandwich bread, free-form loaves, pizza dough and more, and could not be simpler (though I wasn’t crazy about the bagels–they just tasted like bread in the shape of a bagel, and weren’t quite BAGEL-y enough for me). It’s not 100% whole wheat, but it’s pretty darn close.
- The loaf: Whatever you want it to be—sandwich bread, boules, baguettes, pizza. Your choice!
- Difficulty: Easyish. The recipe includes detailed photos and instructions.
- Special hard-to-find ingredients required? Fraid so. You’ll need some vital wheat gluten free of your allergens. We like Hodgson Mill’s vital wheat gluten, but please be sure it’s OK for your allergen set. (Fun tip: if you have more gluten flour than you can use for baking, you can make seitan with it!)
- Allergy adaptations required? Not for us.
- Find the recipe: On the Breadin5 website, or in MUCH more depth and detail in the book.
OK, so this recipe is technically for a white flour baguette, but I made it with 50% whole wheat and it was still light, crisp and delicious. My daughter, husband and parents raved about these baguettes, and thoroughly enjoyed their from-scratch banh mi sandwiches (above photo).
- The loaf: A crisp, soft—and not at all crusty or sourdoughesque—baguette, perfect for homemade banh mi. (I used the recipe from Andrea’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, but am eagerly awaiting her banh mi handbook as well.)
- Difficulty: Moderate. Lots of steps (though well-illustrated).
- Special hard-to-find ingredients or tools required? I used a baguette pan as recommended, but you could probably do without. The recipe is just flour (she highly recommends Gold Medal as it produces a less rustic loaf), water, yeast, salt and sugar. I made mine with 50% whole wheat.
- Find the recipe: At Viet World Kitchen.
This recipe is much quicker and easier than my #1 Reinhart 100% sandwich bread, but requires some trickier ingredients you may find harder to track down. It’s similarly light and delicious (sorry, forgot to take any photos!).
- The loaf: A perfect soft whole-wheat sandwich bread, without a hint of bitterness.
- Difficulty: Easy-peasy. Quick and well-illustrated, too.
- Special hard-to-find ingredients or tools required? Yeah, sorry. You’ll need to replace the milk with non-dairy milk, and either leave out the milk powder or use a soy milk powder (if no soy allergy, obviously—I use Better Than Milk). Potato flakes are also a key ingredient—I subbed in some Ener-G potato flour.
- Find the recipe: On the King Arthur website. I also adore pretty much every recipe I’ve made from my well-worn copy of King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains BUT I have found some are harder to adapt to egg-free and dairy-free than others.
Safer Sourcing Ideas:
DISCLAIMER: Please proceed with caution, check with companies yourself and use these allergy-friendly sourcing ideas as a starting place only. These are the options that work for our particular family and our daughter’s allergies and sensitivities as of the time of this writing. Ingredients and labels and cleaning practices can change at any time without warning.
- Wheat Flour:
My main bread flours are King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour, King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour and King Arthur Bread Flour. As of an email exchange in February 2014, their main flours in the 5-lb. bags (all-purpose, whole wheat, bread and white whole wheat) were safer for our allergens. For softer, less rustic, breads like the Vietnamese baguettes, I used Gold Medal (General Mills labels for our allergen set).
- Rye Flour: I get my whole-grain rye flour from Hodgson Mill, as their wheat and rye flours were nut-free and sesame-free as of a recent email.
- Sunflower and flax seeds (for adding into breads): We buy top-8+-free sunflower and flax seeds as part of a regular order every few months of seeds and dried fruit from Gerbs Allergen Friendly Snacks. (Sign up for their mailing list to get free shipping coupons).
- Caraway and anise seeds (again, for bread add-ins): We go with McCormick, as they seem to take allergens and cross-contamination more seriously than other widely available spice brands.
- Milk substitute: Use your favorite faux milk in the recipes that call for non-dairy milk, though my daughter and I love unsweetened organic oat milk. It’s easy to make, or you can be lazy like us and buy 12-packs of Pacific Organic Oat Milk by Amazon subscription for slightly over $2/quart. Do note that Pacific runs some products containing cashews and dairy on the same line, but told me they take their cleaning practices very seriously—your comfort zone may vary here.
- Potato flour (for King Arthur’s whole-grain bread recipes): We like Ener-G Pure Potato Flour.
- Dry non-dairy milk powder (optional, for King Arthur’s whole-grain bread recipes): I use Better Than Milk soy milk powder. As of January 2014, I was told the only allergen in this soy milk powder is soy—there is egg and in the same facility, but they keep it strictly segregated on another line as part of an allergen control program.
Allergen-friendliness: These recipes can all be made free of dairy, egg, nuts, peanuts, fish/shellfish, soy, sesame and mustard. They’re also all vegan, if you use a non-honey sweetener.
Happy sesame-free baking! What’s your favorite bread recipe or cookbook?
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