When my friend Gigi was coming over to celebrate Serbian Christmas with us, I wanted to develop a gluten-free version of my treasured family recipe for Božićni kolač (pronounced bo-zheech-nee KO-lach) so that I could share this delicious tradition with her. It took several iterations, and I finally got something that comes close, very close. I hope you'll enjoy this moist, chewy, mildly sweet creation.
The big discovery was including whey protein. I found a couple of sites, including Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, that recommended whey protein isolate, which is really pricey. Instead, I ordered a container of my favorite whey concentrate brand, Jarrow unflavored whey protein. It has a little more non-protein content than whey protein isolate, but it still magically transformed my loaves into something much, much more like regular wheat bread. The crust, crumb, and rise are all better. The stretchy, tough characteristic of wheat gluten is the missing link that whey protein provides.
Another innovation here is the use of corn flour. Corn flour is absolutely not traditional in any holiday kolach recipe I can imagine. But in this recipe, it adds a robust quality to the flavor and texture of this brioche-like bread that was otherwise missing from these rice-flour based loaves.
This recipe is for the mini-loaf that I made. I image that you can multiply it as desired for a bigger round of kolac (kolach) as you desire. However, I haven't tried it. If you do, please let me know your results.
I used Namaste brand all-purpose gluten-free flour mix. I have no idea if this recipe will work with other mixes. I haven't done much gluten-free baking.
I can vouch for the success of the metric weight measures. I provide here cup equivalents of the measures, but such equivalents are notoriously unreliable, so I can't vouch for them.
From Gluten-Free on a Shoestring's book Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread, I also learned that it's safe to heat your yeast-liquid solution much higher than everyone else tells you. Nicole, the author/blogger at that site, reports that the thermal death of yeast occurs at 140º F. Warming milk or water closer to this temperature is far more effective than the tepid 100º to 110º F that is recommended practically everywhere else.
If you use salted butter, use less salt.
Note that you want corn flour and not corn meal.
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed to 120º F to 135º F
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbs. sugar
1 egg, separated
1 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
2 g (1/4 tsp.) salt
80 g (1/2 cup + 2 Tbs.) Namaste brand all-purpose gluten-free baking mix
15 g ((1/4 cup + 1 tsp.) Jarrow unflavored whey concentrate
20 g (3 Tbs.) Bob's Red Mill gluten-free corn flour
Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the warm milk. Add the sugar. Stir together until completely dissolved. Place the mixture someplace warm for about 15 minutes for the yeast to activate. I turn on my oven to its lowest temperature and place the mixture inside. I turn off the oven when it reaches temperature, and let the inner warmth just coast.
Stir together the gluten-free baking mix, whey powder, corn flour and salt.
Add the dry mix to the yeast-sugar-milk mix.
Add the egg yolk and stir the mixture vigorously. You'll have a silky, stretchy, soft mass.
Reserve a teaspoon or so of the egg white for brushing the top of the loaf later. Place it in a teacup or similar vessel.
Beat the egg white until it forms stiff peaks. Do not overbeat, or it will break down into liquid and won't form bubbles anymore. Stir the beaten white into the dough. You'll have a softer, still silky and stretchy mass.
Grease a small loaf pan. Mine is a stoneware pan with a capacity of 1 1/2 cups.
Pour the batter into the pan. Let rise an hour or so in a warm location. I use the inside of the oven, set to 150º F and turned off to coast at warmth, as before.
When the bread is nicely risen, remove it from the oven (if it's in there) and turn the oven to 400º F.
Brush the top of the dough all over with the reserved egg white. This will bake into a beautiful gloss.
Make an aluminum foil tent for the bread pan that leaves lots of room for it to rise more. You want to protect the top from over-browning, create a little steam chamber for nice baking, and also be sure that the rising dough doesn't stick to the inside of the foil. Cover the pan with the tent.
Place the loaf pan in the 400º F oven. Immediately turn the temperature down to 350º F.
Bake 1 hour. Remove and check with a toothpick. When it's done, it'll make a hollow sound when you thump it, and a toothpick will come out mostly clean but with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.
Slice and enjoy! Prijatno!