Thursday, March 9, 2023

Best gluten free bread books (and one to avoid)


Until I started baking my own break, my boyfriend thought all gluten free bread tasted like cardboard. He revised his statement to all STORE-BOUGHT gluten free bread tastes like cardboard.

I’ve been gluten free for more than a decade and I’ve watched both gluten free products and cookbooks blossom during that time. Store-bought bread has improved (in my opinion, my boyfriend is unwavering) but doesn’t begin to match the quality of homemade gluten free bread.

So what cookbooks do you need? What should you skip? Here’s what you need to know about gluten free baking books, particularly if you’re looking for delicious yeasty bread.

America’s Test Kitchen How Can it Be Gluten Free (volumes 1 and 2) – Recommended

Whenever anyone is diagnosed with celiac’s I tell them two things:

1.       Welcome to the club no one wanted to join.

2.       Every diagnosis should come with the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks

This book is not baking specific, but perfect for the gluten free newbie finding their footing in a new dietary world. It’s got all the recipes you need, from breakfast to dessert.

Favorite Recipes:

·         Multigrain sandwich bread (volume 1)

·         Wholegrain sandwich bread (volume 2)

·         English muffins

·         Hamburger buns

·         Pie crust

·         Tart crust


Canelle et Vanille Bakes Simple

Very few books changed gluten free bread baking like Aran Goyoaga’s first book Canelle et Vanille. I purchased the book during the sourdough phase of 2020. The other gluten free sourdough recipes out there were overwhelming, with pages and pages of steps. Hers read like a normal sourdough starter with simple instructions even a newbie could understand. I baked that boule many times over the course of the year. My only complaint from her first book: I wanted more baking.

Then she announced her new book Canelle et Vanille Bakes Simple, and I couldn’t pre-order fast enough. This book is so amazing, I set a goal of baking every recipe during 2022 and there wasn’t a single disappointment.

Goyoaga brings generations of knowledge from her family’s pastry shop into gluten free baking. And she doesn’t compromise for recipes that are “good enough” clearly tweaking her recipes until they’re perfect. Unlike many gluten free bread recipes, her breads aren’t made with a thinner batter that relies on the pan for shaping. Her doughs can be kneaded, braided and shaped. Every time I touch the dough it feels like a miracle.

Picking favorites from this book is difficult. Everything I’ve made has been amazing. But I’ll give you my favorites with one caveat: after baking every recipe in this cookbook, my favorites shift with the season.

·         Oat Milk and Honey Bread

·         Crusty Baguettes

·         Gingery Oat, Sunflower and Coconut Cookies

·         Meringue Cake with Roasted Apples

·         Profiteroles with Chocolate glaze


River Cottage Gluten Free

I only know about this book because Goyoaga credits Naomi Devlin for inspiring her sourdough recipe. One great thing I discovered: I can use my starter from Canelle et Vanille interchangeably with the River Cottage Gluten Free recipes. These breads tend more towards the batter bread genre, but this book is worth buying for both the yummy bakes and the British-style comfort foods. Also worth noting: Naomi Devlin teaches online gluten free baking classes. I splurged and bought the Enriched Dough course and have no regrets. I cannot make rough puff pastry without watching the video from her course every time.

Favorite Recipes:

·         Oat and chestnut sandwich bread

·         Puff pastry (from online course)

·         Sausage rolls

·         Margherita pizza

·         Flatbreads topped with lamb


Not recommended:

Gluten Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread

I’m not going to lie; I feel bad for including this section. I enjoyed the original Gluten Free on a Shoestring cookbook. However, the bread book just doesn’t work. With so many innovations in gluten free baking (including books and recipes I haven’t tried) I think it’s important for new gluten free bakers to have the tools to succeed so they don’t get frustrated and give up.

If you have already purchased this book, do not fear! I’ve joined numerous gluten free baking groups over the years and fortunately there’s a way to salvage these recipes. Add more liquid. Sometimes 50% more liquid. It’s frustrating to try a recipe, especially if you are new to the GF baking world and have it fail. I understand that every home has different humidity levels, and every oven is different. However, I’ve never managed to bake a recipe from this book without adding a significant amount of additional liquid. And from talking to others online it seems like EVERYONE has the same experience. To me that feels like something is wrong with the recipes, not the bakers especially when I’ve had success with so many other books.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Rediscovering my creativity through watercolor


Sitting at the kitchen table, I scoured the toy catalogues adding little stars to everything I wanted my mom to buy. My Christmas list always had the same theme: I want to make things. Craft kit upon craft kit would get little stars. Potholder loom? Made roughly 100 different potholders that nobody wanted or used.  Wood burning kit? Are you kidding? I still have that. Bead loom? Check. Papermaking kit? Of course.

As a child I wanted to do one thing: create.

Ipad with a video playing, watercolor of the northern lights taped to the table, art supplies scattered around

The strong urge towards creativity lasted all the way through high school. Even as a surly jaded teenager, I retained a childhood sense of wonder where art was concerned. Back them my medium was Walmart oil paint thinned with my mom’s vegetable oil (because it was cheaper). I had no tutorials, books, or guides. Just a creative urge and the local Walmart.

Then I stopped. I’m not sure when I stopped. Maybe moving into a dorm where I no longer had my own space was the death blow to my creativity. Could’ve been society’s instruction to “Grow up and do something practical with your life.” But at some point, between 18 and 22, I stopped painting. My paint tubes dried hidden on the top shelf of my closet, forgotten in my new-found adulthood.

I didn’t stop because I didn’t enjoy painting. I stopped because I wasn’t good enough to make money and that was the guiding light of being an adult.

At 36 I decided I needed to rediscover my creativity, saw an advertisement for Let’s Make Art and joined a watercolor subscription box. Back in my youth I associated watercolor with cheap dollar store palettes and plastic bristle brushes that never cooperated. I wasn’t looking to pick up watercolor. But that was what they had, and I wanted to establish a routine and a monthly subscription box seemed like the best approach. The unfamiliar medium wasn’t going to stop me.

Liquid watercolors are a dream. Not that I understood how to use them when they arrived on my doorstep. Or the brushes I bought. Or anything else. Terms like blooms and bleeding were thrown at me and we were talking flowers or ER trips.

But I was creating. Yes someone (the lovely Sarah Cray) walked me through each step. But I held the brush and the feeling was glorious, a connection with young-Cassi previously lost to the ages. This was not the sad palettes of my youth, but a beautiful and forgiving exploration of color and line.

Still, I’m a little sad to think of all the years I lost. Fourteen years where I could have been creative, honed my skills and discover my artistic vision. Because I didn’t think I was good enough. Now I believe “good enough” is a lie. It implies the reason to create is the final product. But the goal should be the act itself: creating beauty in a world that’s often overwhelmingly dark. And I am good enough to do that. The beauty I create adds, imperfections and all, rather than detracting from the world. In small little ways it improves the world, through my growing creativity and peace but also the heartfelt cards and gifts I’ve made for those I love. Making art is doing good.

Let that be enough.