As a kid, I loved flipping on the oven light and peering in to watch cookies and cakes and bread as they baked—their edges slowly rounding and rising, the tops browning—which makes the dominant trend of baking bread in a sealed Dutch oven something of a downer. Under the cast-iron dome, I can’t see the magic that occurs as the heat kicks the sourdough into overdrive and the gases it produces pushes the dough skyward, resulting in a beautifully burnished, round loaf.
Because I can’t observe it, there’s always a moment of fear when I go to lift the hot lid. Did the bread fall flat? Will I find a sad, slumping loaf inside? It happens on occasion, but when it does, it’s more the fault of my sourdough starter and my own baking skills than of our greatest partner in making tall, holey, “rustic” breads. That partner, a baker’s best friend, is gluten. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and other grains, is what gives bread—and pizza, and pita, and laffa, and focaccia—its architecture. Without gluten, leavened breads—anything that has risen with yeast or sourdough—just don’t work.
Despite this magical role in making the stuff of life—one that’s been taking place on the communal hearth of human existence since back when the Great Pyramid was shiny and new—gluten is vilified. As Jimmy Kimmel joked on his show last night, “Here in L.A. it’s comparable to satanism.” Except a lot of the beautiful people in the City of Angels who avoid gluten like the plague have no clue what it is. At least that’s what a very unscientific investigation by the Jimmy Kimmel Live production staff discovered.
The show interviewed gluten-free Angelenos at what looks like Ruynon Canyon (where people go to exercise and to be seen exercising by other people who are out to exercise and be seen exercising), none of whom have celiac disease. Despite proudly declaring their gluten-free status, none of them could say what, exactly, gluten is. “It’s like a grain, right?” one answered. Another said there’s gluten in rice; despite what some people will try to tell you, there is not. “This is pretty sad,” noted one of the gluten-free crowd, “because I don’t know.”
Kimmel admitted that he had to look it up himself and said that he couldn’t be anti-gluten “because I am very pro-pizza,” and you need gluten to make a good air-bubble-pocked crust. So there you have it—never mind the history, the magic of making bread—if you hate gluten, you hate pizza, which has to be some sort of crime.