Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Gluten-Free Baking Book: 250 Small-Batch Recipes for Everything from Brownies to Cheesecake

The Gluten-Free Baking Book: 250 Small-Batch Recipes for Everything from Brownies to Cheesecake
Publisher:  Robert Rose (2011)

Fewer than five years ago, a diagnosis of Celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder requiring a lifelong abstention from gluten) meant suffering through endless meals of rice, corn or potato side dishes and eschewing baked goods altogether. Bread, cookies and muffins did exist, but they were either hard as rocks, turned to sawdust upon handling or were worse than old kitchen sponges in both taste and texture. Thankfully, for those of us forced to live gluten free (or who love those who are), things have drastically improved in the baking world – hundreds of flours, mixes, starches, gums and recipes have become more or less commonplace in the market (especially on the internet). The science of those ingredients and how they work together has also grown by leaps and bounds, leading to a wealth of cookbooks. One of the books that caters exclusively to the bakers amongst us is The Gluten-Free Baking Book: 250 Small-Batch Recipes for Everything from Brownies to Cheesecake by Donna Washburn and Heather Butt, and it strives to let the gluten-avoidant enjoy the craft again.

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Muffins
Chocolate Chip Muffins (p. 161)
Washburn and Butt know their baking well, both professional home economists who own and operate the site as a companion to their company, Quality Professional Services. Based on reviews of their previous book The Complete Gluten-Free Cookbook: 150 Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free Recipes, Many with Egg-Free Variations they wrote the recipes in Gluten Free Baking to make smaller batches. This not only keeps costs down when experimenting with the new lifestyle (many gluten-free products are still more expensive than “standard” ones), but accounts for the fact that many gluten free recipes are only eaten by those living with the condition, as opposed to other family members and friends.

The recipes in this book are easy to understand, and contain nutritional information. They call for ingredients that people familiar with a gluten-free diet will recognize and likely stock in their pantries, and if not are available at many grocery and health food stores. The recipe pages are comprised of 250 bakes ranging from No-Knead Yeast Breads (p. 33) to Cakes & Cupcakes (p. 193) and even the conventionally challenging Pastry & Tarts (p. 233). A medley of recipes perfect for special occasions (yet don’t necessarily fit anywhere else) find a perfect home in Gluten Free Baking’s Holiday Baking section (p. 279) – readers will find items such as the decadent Individual Pavlovas (p. 286), which are a treat for the whole family and fun for kids to help make too. On the savoury side, bite-sized Broccoli Cheddar Mini Quiches (p. 295) are perfect for brunch buffets or as passed canapes at a cocktail party, and again will appeal to all ages as well as both gluten free and non.

"Cranange" - Millet Muffins
Orange Millet Muffins (p. 156)
Many of the recipes lend themselves well to adaptation and substitution, though the authors don’t provide suggestions outright. I achieved delicious results making the Chocolate Chip Muffins (p. 161) both as written as well as switching the pricey amaranth flour out for millet and the tapioca starch for cornstarch, and the Orange Millet Muffins (p. 156) turned out just fine when using an egg replacer as well as switching the ratios of amaranth and millet flours. Unfortunately, unless readers already have some prior experience in the gluten free kitchen, they may fall victim to sticker shock when purchasing some of the flours!  I did appreciate the authors including “master mix” style recipes for things like Cupcakes (p. 212), Oatmeal Muffins (p. 135-138), Cornbread (p. 107-108) and Biscuits (p. 121-122), which are handy to keep in the pantry as cost-savers – especially if you buy the flours in bulk.

To satisfy your brain’s hunger, the authors included an in-depth, 20 page primer on the various ingredients, equipment and other jargon used in Gluten Free Baking. This is a must-read for complete gluten-free newbies, but is worth a scan even for the seasoned pro. A well-done index makes finding almost any baked good in the book a breeze as well, and most of the recipes have their own tips in the sidebar. Photos are encapsulated in two “blocks” within the book – a fairly common Robert Rose practice), and reflect the actual foods readers can make, rather than appearing as stock photos.

Overall, Donna Washburn and Heather Butt accomplished the goal of making The Gluten-Free Baking Book: 250 Small-Batch Recipes for Everything from Brownies to Cheesecake an accessible, approachable, and inspiring resource for every baker. Gluten free or not, preferring savoury or sweet, cookie-holic or cake star, you’ll be able to find a wealth of temptations between the covers.