It took me a long time to settle on the title for this post. Why? Because it’s quite a statement to suggest that a humble loaf of bread will change your life.
I am willing to be so bold.
When I began eating healthier, bread was definitely on my hit list. Not because bread is inherently “bad” (in my books nothing is that black and white), but that I knew when I was basing three meals a day around a loaf of crusty, white French loaf, something had to give. I realized that if I replaced a few slices of bread a day, I could make room for things like greens, fresh fruits, legumes, and that I would be getting more nutrients from the same amount of calories. Light bulb moment.
Now, that isn’t to say that my love affair with bread ended there. Oh no. When I moved to Denmark four years ago I fell head-over-heels for bread all over again, except this time, it wasn’t light and fluffy – it was kind of like the weather – dark, deep, and intense. The Danes are excellent bread makers, especially when it comes to sourdoughs and of course, rye. Bread here is hearty, filling, and a single slice is almost like a meal in itself. I love going to the bakery on Saturday morning and getting a loaf of rye that has naturally risen for days, been baked for 24 hours, and looks and feels like a brick.
People often ask me why I don’t bake my own bread, and the answer is simple: the Danes just do it better. And I like the ritual of walking down the canal to the bakery (rye bread is one of the few things I actually purchase “ready-made”). This way I appreciate bread on a whole other level and it becomes special. I savour every slice instead of making it every meal.
It wasn’t until I went for lunch at a friend’s place a couple weeks ago that my life changed. When I walked into her apartment I could smell it. Something malty and definitely baked, toasty, nutty…when I rounded the corner to her kitchen, there it was. A very beautiful loaf of bread, pretty as a picture, studded with sunflower seeds, chia and almonds, golden around the corners and begging me to slice into it.
She served it with a number of spreads; pesto, lentil hummus, some veggie pate. It magically seemed to compliment everything I slathered across its speckled flesh. Moist, dense, chewy. Hints of sea salt here and there, nestled between the oats, around the corner from a golden flax seed. So beautiful and more than tasty, this was a revelation. “Please tell me this is good for me!” I begged her.
Friendly Fiber: Psyllium Seed Husks
You’re probably asking yourself how the heck this bread holds itself together without any flour. Nice observation, and the answer is psyllium seed husks.
Psyllium seed husks are one of nature’s most absorbent fibers, able to suck up over ten times their weight in water. For this reason, you’ll often find psyllium in over-the-counter laxatives, stool-bulking agents and colon cleansing kits; basically anything having to do with poo. I just came back from running a detox course in Lisbon where I got all the participants in-the-know about this amazing little supplement that also helps to reduce cholesterol levels, aid digestion and weight loss, and alleviate diarrhea and constipation.
Psyllium seed husks contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. The soluble fiber dissolves in water and soothes the digestive tract with its mucilaginous properties, while the insoluble fiber acts like a broom to sweep the colon free of toxins. Taken during a detox, juice cleanse, or fast, psyllium can greatly improve the body’s ability to eliminate impurities. But the good news is, you can take it anytime – many people find that a daily dose of a teaspoon or two in a glass of water really helps them get their bowels moving, (or slow them down if necessary).*
But what does this have to do with bread? Well, the idea here is to use psyllium to bind all these lovely ingredients together without resorting to flour. There have been some low-carb bread recipes floating around the ‘net as of late that take advantage of psyllium and I think it’s a great idea. Eat delicious bread, have good poops. I’m in!
Psyllium is available at health food stores and most pharmacies. It comes in two forms, the raw husks themselves, and powdered, which are just the husks that have been pulverized. It is easier to take the powdered form as it dissolves easier in water, but that is not important in the case of this bread – either type work just fine.
Now, allow me to explain the title. I know you’re just burning for me to back this up with a few good reasons, so here we go.
First of all, when I make bread, there are bowls, spoons, measuring cups and flour everywhere. There is always a mess to clean up, and my biggest pet peeve is trying to get the very last bit of dough unstuck from the mixing bowl. Serenity now.
The only thing this bread leaves you with is a used spoon and a measuring cup. Everything that you mix, you do so right in the loaf pan. Genius.
Secondly, bread almost always requires some kneading, then some waiting, and then perhaps more kneading. Maybe more waiting? I’m confused already.
This bread, on the other hand, is kind of brainless. Dump all the ingredients into the loaf pan, stir, and let it sit for a couple hours. Or overnight. Or all day. Or however long or short you find convenient. Whatevs. You rule the bread, not the other way around.
Third. Bread recipes are specific. Use this kind of flour, and that kind of yeast…
What if I told you that if you don’t have hazelnut, you could use almonds? If you don’t like oats, you could use rolled spelt. Out of maple syrup? Use honey! See where I am going with this? The only thing I will emphasize is to replace the ingredients in the same proportion and with a similar ingredient for the best results. The rest if your call.
Fourth, breads require a rising agent, whether that is a sourdough starter (this takes days to make) or commercial yeast (which should really be avoided if possible). This bread doesn’t. Great.
Fifth reason, your typical loaf of bread is not really that healthy. It uses flour, which has often been stripped of much of its fiber, bran, essential fats, and unless milled mere hours before baking has lost most of its nutrients through oxidation. It is high in carbohydrates (often refined ones at that) and low in protein and healthy fats. It is high in gluten, something many of us are trying to eat less of. And sometimes bread has kooky ingredients like corn syrup and food colouring. Seriously. Read those labels.
The Life-Changing Loaf uses whole grains, nuts, and seeds. It is high in protein. It is incredibly high in fiber. It is gluten-free and vegan. Everything gets soaked for optimal nutrition and digestion. I will go so far as to say that this bread is good for you.
Sixth, this bread makes the best toast. Ever.
The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread
Makes 1 loaf
1 cup / 135g sunflower seeds
½ cup / 90g flax seeds
½ cup / 65g hazelnuts or almonds
1 ½ cups / 145g rolled oats
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
4 Tbsp. psyllium seed husks (3 Tbsp. if using psyllium husk powder)
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt (add ½ tsp. if using coarse salt)
1 Tbsp. maple syrup (for sugar-free diets, use a pinch of stevia)
3 Tbsp. melted coconut oil or ghee
1 ½ cups / 350ml water
1. In a flexible, silicon loaf pan combine all dry ingredients, stirring well. Whisk maple syrup, oil and water together in a measuring cup. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix very well until everything is completely soaked and dough becomes very thick (if the dough is too thick to stir, add one or two teaspoons of water until the dough is manageable). Smooth out the top with the back of a spoon. Let sit out on the counter for at least 2 hours, or all day or overnight. To ensure the dough is ready, it should retain its shape even when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it it.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C.
3. Place loaf pan in the oven on the middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove bread from loaf pan, place it upside down directly on the rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool completely before slicing (difficult, but important).
4. Store bread in a tightly sealed container for up to five days. Freezes well too – slice before freezing for quick and easy toast!
I realize that few pleasures in life will ever be able to compete with tearing open a fresh baguette, or slicing into a thick-crusted country levain, and I am not suggesting that those pleasures be forgotten. On the contrary, let’s let those things be what they are and enjoy them from time to time. And for now, and hopefully the better part of your bread-munching days, I offer my latest and greatest pleasure to you; a loaf with no down-side, a bread with personality, a triumphant flag raised high exclaiming that deliciousness and health are not exclusive.
This bread changed my life. Will it change yours too?
Join My New Roots Grow to watch a class on The Life-Changing Loaf as well as lots of other cooking classes 🙂
Q & A:
To answer the number of questions about substitutions coming into the comments section, I will answer some here. Please be advised that I cannot guarantee any results beyond the recipe above. To help out, if you do make a successful substitution, let me know in the comments! Thanks!
1. There is no substitute for the psyllium husks. Whenever I write an entire article about a specific ingredient, it is because THAT is the point of the recipe, as it highlights one way you can use it. For those of you who can’t find psyllium, buy it online. It’s cheap.
2. For nut substitutions, the bulk of this bread is nuts and seeds so you’ll have to skip the recipe. If it is JUST a nut allergy and seeds are okay, replace the nuts with seeds.
3. You can use ground flax seeds instead of whole, but you’re going to need a lot more water as the ground flax seed is highly absorbent.
4. Substituting the oats with quinoa flakes may work, but again, they absorb a lot more water than oats do. Add more water accordingly.
5. Oats are inherently gluten-free, but if you have a sensitivity to gluten, make sure to purchase certified gluten-free oats.
6. For sugar-free or low-sugar diets, use a pinch stevia to replace the maple syrup.
7. A flexible, silicon loaf pan is best because you can test to see if the dough is holding together, and it’s easy to remove the loaf from the pan, BUT, a regular pan should be fine.
8. This bread is not raw. I haven’t tried drying it out. If you want to make it raw I suggest *trying* to slice it before you bake it and dehydrating the slices individually.